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Yesterday, I shared my thoughts on what a model church should look like based on 1 Thessalonians 1. The picture painted there is a body of Jesus followers who allow their faith to produce work that is characterized by love and carried out with hope in Christ.

But what is the work? If our faith is to produce work, what should that work entail?

Book shelves are easily filled with books talking about the work of the church. Seminars and conferences draw attendees looking for that next big plan that will push their churches to the “next level.”

We spend hours crafting mission statements and strategies.  We evaluate and plan, we research, investigate and develop ideas.

All of those things are extremely important.  And each ministry setting is unique.  But I think the work of the church can be defined universally, at its core, as making disciples.  ThChurch Line Drawinge church that is making disciples who in turn make disciples is living out the Great Commission – the church’s marching orders.

With this understanding then, our faith should lead us to lovingly make disciples, placing our hope not in our own efforts but rather in the savior we serve.

Lord Jesus, may you find us faithful!

A Model Church

Last week, we began a new study on Wednesday night.  Over the next few weeks, we will be digging into the letters to the church at Thessalonica.  Paul wrote to encourage the new believers there and he opened his first letter with some glowing words.

He told them that he prayed for them often.  He gave God the praise for what these believers were doing.  He shared that he no longer had to tell other believers about the good things happening at the church in Thessalonica because the believers in other parts of the world already knew.  People were talking about a church on fire for God.

Paul even used the word “model” to describe the believers in 1 Thessalonians 1:7.

As I have continued to study this passage, I have become convicted that I can’t name any churches that I would consider using the word “model” to describe.  Don’t get me wrong, there are wonderful churches in the world full of sincere believers.  But I don’t know of any model churches that fit what Paul described in 1 Thessalonians 1.

In looking at the passage, I think we can point to verse 3 as the goal we should all strive to attain in our churches.  I would summarize it this way:

The work of the church should be a direct product of the faith of the people motivated by a love for God and others and continued, even in the midst of trials, through a living hope in Jesus.

If our faith moves us to serve God in concrete ways, that service will reflect a love for God and others and continue, regardless of circumstances, because of a genuine hope in Jesus.  That is a picture of a healthy church – a model church.

That is a picture of the church we should strive to become – the church the world needs.

Another Easter celebration has come and gone – or at least that is often how we see it.  We spent much effort and time planning and organizing worship experiences at our church to help each of us reflect with intention on the sacrifice of the cross and the power of the empty tomb.

I believe our time together as a church family was meaningful and it would seem that the effort did, in fact, create opportunities for people to experience God in fresh ways.  I pray that each of you had opportunities in your church to do the same.

But here we are, two days after the celebration of the empty tomb, and I have to ask myself – and you – does today look differently because of our renewed focus on what Jesus did for us?

I must admit, it is easy to now set our sights on what comes next – the next thing on the calendar.  The world, with its challenges, did not change directions while we were focusing on spiritual things last week.  Today could look very much like the Tuesday of three weeks ago.

But it doesn’t have to!

Jesus went to the cross to pay the price you and I could not pay for our sins.  Then he rose on the third day after his death, defeating the one thing the writer of Hebrews says holds us as slaves to fear (Hebrews 2:14-15).  We no longer have any reason to fear death because Jesus has shown us – he is stronger and greater!Empty Tomb

So today, we should live differently with this renewed understanding of what Jesus has done for us.  We should live without fear.  We should make decisions based on the desire to honor Jesus and his sacrifice, not wanting to do anything that would bring shame to his wonderful name.

Jesus rose in order to give us the ability to live resurrected lives ourselves.

All things are new!

Live into that truth today!

The House of Prayer

As we continue into Holy Week, we turn our thoughts to the activity of that last week of Jesus’ earthly ministry before his crucifixion.  We are told in Matthew 21 that Jesus entered the city and went into the temple courts and was angered by what he found there.  Right there in the courts of the holy place of God, robbers had set up shop.

While what was going on had begun possibly as a good idea – to make worship more convenient for those traveling long distances to offer sacrifices – the results were profiteering.  Foreign currency was being exchanged to temple currency at exuberant exchange rates.  Animals necessary for sacrificial worship were being sold for exponentially more than their true value.

tissot-the-merchants-chased-from-the-temple-746x471

James Tissot – Merchants Chased From The Temple

What was meant to be a worship experience had been turned into a money making enterprise and Jesus made a point to expose this inconsistency.

In reading Dr. Jim Dennison’s Lenten devotion this week, he pointed out something that has caused me to pause.  Jesus made the point that the temple was meant to be a house of prayer but the religious leaders had allowed it to become a “den of thieves.”  Dennison reminds us in his devotion, that through the new covenant, we as believers have become temples of God’s spirit.  He asks the question – and I ask you – is the temple of your heart a “house of prayer” or is it a “den of thieves?”

Have we allowed our hearts to be consumed with things other than the pursuit of God?

Jesus died to free our hearts and lives and he rose to give us life in relation to God.

We must not allow our hearts to become distracted from what Jesus died to make possible.

We talk a lot about how following Jesus is less about religion and more about a relationship.  You have heard me say or read my words when I have suggested that God created us for relationships – relationship with himself and with others.  We are wired for community – to relate to others.

As we look at this most holy of weeks, think with me about Jesus’ desire for relationship as it became intensely evident in the final days and hours of his time on earth.

As Jesus entered the city on what we now call Palm Sunday, he did so with those closest to him – he did not make the trip alone.  As he celebrated the Seder meal on Thursday – who was there?  Those he loved most personally.  When they left that room and made their way to the garden where they had been before – together – what did he ask of those closest to him?  To stay with him – to pray with him.

In his deepest pain, he wanted his closest friends – yes, he called them friends – to be near.  He asked the twelve to stay close and pray – to be with him.  And those three that he had poured so much into over the previous three years, he asked them to follow him a bit farther and stay with him.  For them to remain present was what he wanted most.

Jesus, in his humanity, drew encouragement from the presence of his friends.  He asked them to be with him on this journey.

He asks the same of us.  Yes, we have the benefit of knowing how that week and the following weeks played out, but he asks us to stay with him.  It is easy to allow ourselves to jump directly to the empty tomb.  But Jesus says, “Go with me – stay close.”

As his follower – as his friend – stay present with him this week, each step.  Listen to his words as he explained his sacrifice in that upper room.  Walk with him down through the valley and back up to the garden overlooking the Temple.  Remain present as he agonizes the path before him.  Follow close as he is led away to a joke of a trial.  Join those gathered as they look on while Jesus is crucified.  Stay close as his body is laid in a tomb.

We do this knowing that tomb couldn’t hold him – but don’t rush through the events that led to that empty tomb.

Relationship means being near when we are needed most.  Will you walk with Jesus this week?

Be present – – stay close!

Father in heaven –

You are the God of all creation and the God of me.  In this moment, I am asking you to be the God of my time – numbered out in the days and hours and minutes of this week.  And even before we begin this journey together, I ask for your patience and grace for those times over the next seven days when I attempt to usurp your reign over my schedule.

Forgive me in advance for my weak moments of this week when I give in to the temptation to accomplish – to check something off.  Help me overcome my need for validation found in productivity and rest fully in the sufficiency that is You!  Strengthen me to move forward into your calling and action.

You are the God of all things – be the God of me today!

Amen!

What motivates gratitude?

I’ve been thinking about the idea for a while.  The more I have thought about the concept of gratitude, the more I am convinced that the ability to be grateful comes from a healthy understanding of who we are and what we deserve.

One of my biggest frustrations is to see a sense of entitlement in others.  This entitlement plays out in all areas of life – from cutting in line in traffic to expecting better service at a restaurant to how we act in church.  I get frustrated when I see someone hold up traffic so that they can cut across three lanes to go a different direction – their poor driving skills cause the rest of creation to be placed on hold while they get their way.  Well, alright, maybe that is a little exaggerated – but you get the point.

We all struggle with a sense that we are due – it is our right.

But is it . . . our right?

The truth is, if we were to actually get what we deserve, most of us would not like the results.  What our poor decisions and selfishness deserve would be eternal separation from God.  That does not sound too appealing to me.

But thanks be to God for his grace and provision of salvation.

Last night I shared a brief devotion with our deacon body from the Gospel of Luke.  The story came from Luke 17 – the healing of the ten lepers.  Out of the ten, only one returned to say thank you.  Where were the other nine.  Could it have been that they lived with an expectation that they were due the healing that they received?

We think about that and look down on their unappreciative attitude but let me ask – do we ever take God’s blessings for granted?

Gratitude comes from the realization that what we deserve is death and separation from God but what God offers is an eternal relationship with him.

That is something for which we can all be thankful!

Be blessed today.