A Royal Time in Persia

Laura and I drove to Kingman, AZ yesterday for a wedding rehearsal and wedding that I will be officiating this afternoon.  Kingman is not a big town, so once the rehearsal was over we were looking for something to do.  Thankfully there is a movie theater in town, so along with some friends we decided to see what was showing.  After a quick perusal of the offerings (and checking them against my favorite movie review site) we decided that “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” was for us.

You can read the Plugged In review here.

I was interested in this movie because I used to manage a video game store.  This movie is based off of a video game of the same name that was one of my favorites.  It had a good plot line, lots of acrobatics, and a neat “hook” that let the makers of the game make it very difficult but still playable.  I was really hoping that the movie would carry the art style of the game forward and that it wouldn’t be campy.

I was really pleased with the results!  I am very sensitive to sexual content, and while the love story between Dastan and Tamina was one of the major plot arcs the presentation was really tasteful.  Laura is really sensitive to graphic violence and with the exception of a single scene she thought it was great too.  So from those perspectives the movie was very watchable.

The good:

I loved the cinematography.  The art style and action sequences were amazing.  The CGI of the wide shots of Persian cities was fantastic, and the acrobatics of the movie were really top notch.  Just like the games of the same name, the movie showcased an acrobatic style reminiscent of parkour or freerunning

I loved Sheik Amar, who was played by Alfred Molina.  He is an unabashed capitalist and entrepreneur, whose goal in life is to avoid paying taxes to Persian bureaucrats.  He was consistently hilarious throughout the movie.  Jake Gyllenhaal plays a very believable Dastan.  Laura and I were both impressed with the casting of Gemma Arterton as Tamina, the princess and love interest.  She was feisty and funny in appropriate places; more than that, while she is attractive she breaks the mold of bombshell beauty that leading romantic interests often take.

I also really appreciated the moral message of the movie.  (plot spoilers ahead)  In the very beginning of the movie, the king adopts Dastan because even though he is a street boy he shows integrity and a willingness to sacrifice himself for others.  The movie is a classic good vs. evil play as well, with the good guys overcoming in the end.  Dastan is framed for his father’s murder, and through the course of the movie he maintains loyalty to his family at great personal cost.  He never tries to take advantage of Tamina and grows as a character. 

There is a great scene in the movie where Dastan’s father tells him that he is a good man, but that he has the capability to be a great man and should do the right thing regardless of the personal cost.  Dastan follows his dad’s advice at a pivotal moment late in the movie, and it pays off for him in earning him the trust of his brother who has assumed the throne.

The bad:

The movie is set in ancient Persia, so there is a pantheon of gods.  Tamina is a priestess of a god who isn’t named.  The whole movie revolves around a dagger that has the ability to turn back time in 1-minute increments which was given to humanity by the gods, who will be angered and destroy the earth if the dagger is misused.  Personally this didn’t make the movie difficult to watch for me, because the whole premise of the movie is fantasy.  Go in knowing that there will be no authentic worship of the true God!

Tamina is introduced in a fairly clingy outfit and wears a revealing outfit once.  I wasn’t bothered by her attire and I am sensitive to sexual imagery.

The title of the movie is biblical…Daniel 10:20 in particular.  In that text, the Prince of Persia is likely a reference to Satan!  However, I don’t think that the movie picks that up at all and certainly Dastan is an honorable and good man.

The verdict:

I loved this movie.  I thought it was well-written and directed.  I thought the characters were well played and interesting, and the plot had a nice development and twist in the end.  It’s not quite the spiritual training that The Book of Eli or The Blind Side are, but it’s fun.  Laura and I liked it enough that we are thinking that our oldest two kids (13 and almost 11) would probably enjoy it and it would be okay for them.  If you’re looking for a good action movie with a love interest in it, this is a good one!

Why Church? (Part 2: “Consumer” vs. “Community”)

When I started this series I was concerned with Christians who have abandoned the church and decided to become “lone rangers” in their Christianity.  Before we go any farther, though, we need to define terms and see exactly what I am writing about when I say talk about being connected to a local church.

Since I became a Christian, I have attended churches from as small as 25 to as large as 5000-6000, and a lot in between.  The church I came to Christ in had about 300-400 (I am guessing somewhat here; we had two morning services and a Saturday night service, with seating for roughly 200) when we were there; when we moved to San Diego we attended a church of about 2,500.  We moved from there to Phoenix and attended a church of 5,000 to 6,000 (depending on if the snowbirds were in town).  Then I pastored a church that started out with about 25 and grew to roughly 50 before we left to take the pastorate at WG.  Right now I would say we average about 150-180 on a typical Sunday.

With that said, let me say that I’m not much of a “megachurch” guy.*  I don’t think that we should throw rocks at large churches because they attract a lot of people, and I don’t think that it is necessarily wrong to be part of a supersized congregation.  However, in my opinion that type of congregation tends to exhibit more of the “doing church” (i.e. “consumer”) mentality rather than the “being church” (i.e. “community”) mentality. 

The earliest (and I would argue best) model of what the church should look like comes from Acts 2:42-47:

42They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
43Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles.
44And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common;
45and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need.
46Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart,
47praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.

What a model for a church! (here’s the MP3 or manuscript of my exposition of that text in a series on the church if you’re interested; the whole series can be found here by choosing “the church” in the drop-down menu)  This first group of believers in Christ had a community that, according to verse 47, was very attractive to outsiders and also pleasing to God.  This “proto-church” was focused on reaching up (to God), reaching in (to each other to meet needs), and reaching out (to welcome others in to do the first two).

Why don’t I like the megachurch model?  Well, if you go look at the statistics in the link above to the definition of a megachurch there are some reasons for concern, in my opinion.  The average megachurch in the study had 3857 attendees on an average week.  They have 42 full-time staff members (between ministerial and program staff) and an average of 284 volunteer workers.  Now do the math… 284+42=326 people serving significantly, or about 8.5% of the congregation.  Now let’s say that there are an equal number serving under the 5-hour a week limit the study set and you get…17% of the congregation** actually serving Christ and meeting the needs of those in the congregation. 

That means that on a typical week 83% (statistically) are not lifting one another up.  They come and might effectively reach up and experience authentic worship, but they are not reaching in or reaching out.  That is 4 out of 5 people!  In my anecdotal experience with large churches (having attended two for about 5 years total) I met a lot of people who came to church, attended a worship service, and then headed home.  They didn’t get involved beyond perhaps giving some percentage of their income.  Church seemed to be an activity to check off the list of weekly activities. 

Smaller churches, by way of contrast, seem to experience this less.  In a church of 50 everyone knows everyone.  The congregation has to step up and serve Christ by serving one another, because otherwise the functions of the church fail.  Everyone has to serve in some significant way, because otherwise the wheels fall off!  Not only that, but in those ministries that are smaller there is not the anonymity that allows for people to skate by without participating.  Each person is vitally important to the success of the ministry!

Herein lies the big difference between the “consumer” mentality of “doing church” and the “community” mentality of “being church.”  The consumer looks at the church and asks what is there as a benefit to them.  They look for ways that the church can meet their needs and desires, and the church that does so with the highest quality is the one that they “consume.”  They come and experience the worship service, have their children trained in the kids ministry, perhaps attend a marriage conference, give a few dollars and then check it off their list.

In the “community” mentality, by contrast, Christians are driven not by what they get but by how they can serve.  Those whose focus is on “being” the church rather than “doing” church look for the place that they can build significant relationships among other disciples of Christ.  They worship not just on Sunday mornings but in Bible studies, small groups, with phone calls, etc.  They make meals to take to those who are sick, pray over friends who they can tell are struggling, and make significant community and service to God and others a priority.  They intuitively realize that “church” is not just a Sunday morning (or increasingly some alternate time) activity but a way of life.

Allow me a recent illustration.  This past week a friend came to our Sunday morning Bible study.  I could tell he was frustrated, and so could others.  Part of our class is going around the room and asking each person how we could pray for them.  My friend was burdened by some relationship challenges that he shared, and asked us to pray that God would change his heart and help him have strength.  Well, we stood him in our midst and prayed over him.  Later, after our worship service, I prayed with him again.  I wasn’t the only one, either!  He told me that he was doing much better and appreciated his friends lifting him up to Christ.  That’s the community model, when we keep our eyes peeled not for what we need, but for how God can use us to build others up in Christlikeness. 

This is why I prefer smaller churches, say 150 to as much as 400. (though 400 is really pushing it IMO)  Those congregations are not so large that we can pass by a need in anonymity, which brings accountability and gives us opportunity to live for Christ.  Being anonymous in a megachurch, just a face in a sea of faces, robs us of chances like this.

I will say this: a large church doesn’t have to be driven by the consumer mentality. (note that in Acts 2:41 the smallish 120-member “church” experienced 3000 conversions and was therefore, by definition, a “megachurch!”)  Those 17% the study mentions are involved in meeting the pressing needs of their community of believers for sure (they know Titus 3:14 well!).  They are the ones who are engaged in a smaller group setting like a Bible study, small group, enrichment class or whatever you want to call it.  They have a smaller group of people who function for them in the capacity of what Luke reports in Acts 2:42-47.  Laura and I certainly had that when we were in large churches.  We had Bible studies we were part of, ministries we served in, and had smaller groups that kept us focused on God and not ourselves.

So what does all of this mean for us as individuals?  Well hopefully it means for you and for me that we are completely dissatisfied with “doing” church.  Showing up on Sunday morning for group singing and a Bible lesson should not be at all satisfactory to us!  I know a lot of people who are dissatisfied with what they see in the church, and a big part of that in my opinion comes from the truth that this model is not Christlike.  If you’re experiencing that dissatisfaction with church, no matter the size of your congregation the answer is not to leave the congregation.  Instead, the answer is to commit to living in the congregation not as a consumer but as part of the community!  Find a small group or a Bible study; get a group of 20 or 40 people around you who you can know and love.  Plug into a place to serve other disciples.  If you do, I am willing to bet that your heart for that ministry and for what God is doing in the church will change.

Don’t be content with being a Christian consumer.  Instead, recommit to being part of the community in Christ.  Be church instead of “doing” church, and see how God can use it to make you more like Him and more joyful and happier in the process.

* If you want to read a good analysis of the megachurch phenomenon, read this helpful article.
**As an anecdote, I looked through our membership directory and counted 64 out of 150-180 that met the definition of “volunteer” in the study. (I am the only full time staff member at my church)  That’s 34.6-42.7% of attendees…if we double that (like I did for megachurches) to account for all volunteers we get 69.2-85.4% of attendees.  About 20% of our church (30 a week or so) consists of children under 12, which accounts for much of the rest.  That’s not to trumpet our congregation, but simply to point out that smaller churches in general have a higher rate of volunteerism.

Go Hard or Go Home!

Consider the difference between these perspectives on the Christian life.  First up is Revelation 3:15-16:

15‘I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot.
16‘So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth.

What a sad statement from Jesus about a church.  The church in Laodicea had become apathetic.  A church only becomes apathetic when the people in it become apathetic, one at a time and little by little.  Compare this with what Paul says in 1 Cor 9:23-27:

23I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it.
24Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win.
25Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.
26Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air;
27but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.

And consider his own view of his life at the end of it in 2 Timothy 4:7-8:

7I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith;
8in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.

Paul wasn’t wondering if Jesus thought he was being lukewarm; he just figured that he would run hard after Christ and let Christ worry about the results.

I got a reminder of this difference this morning when out for my run with Laura.  We have a race in 2 1/2 weeks (for which I have a pretty audacious goal), and this Saturday is my last long run before race day.  With a long run on Saturday (12 miles), this morning we just wanted to take it easy and run our normal 5-miler without pushing.  I know that if I pushed hard in speed work today that on Saturday I would be tired, and since I am going to test my race preparation I didn’t want to be gassed for it.  So we took off to run easy, say 15-30 seconds a mile slower than normal.

To put it bluntly, it stunk.  We got the first mile in okay, but neither of us felt great.  Miles 2 and 3 were hard; mile 4 started off as a real chore.  I felt really, really tired and like I was working incredibly hard for the slow pace I was keeping.  Laura felt the same, so about mile 3.5 she suggested we push our pace for a little bit and then take it really easy for the last mile.  I was all about taking it easy so I agreed!  We stepped the pace up by about a minute a mile or so, thinking that we had about a half mile of hard before we could throttle back.

After a half mile we should have eased up, but neither of us did.  We were running faster, but we both felt better.  My energy came back big time, the aches went away, and I got some spring in my step.  Laura was rockin’ it like always, so we kept the faster pace up and finished with our last mile being our fastest by about 30 seconds.  I was tired like I always am after my mid-week run, but I felt better at the end of mile 5 than I had after any of the previous miles we had run.

The paradoxical truth is that our bodies are used to running fast, so running slower is harder.  While I might think that an “easy” run will be a piece of cake, if I throttle back too far my stride gets all goofed up and it is actually much harder for me to run!  I have to keep my pace up or I begin to labor.  (For the record, for me that means sub-9:15 at this point, down to about 8:30 or so…lower than that and I am in speed training mode)  Going easy made me want to stop altogether; it was only by speeding up and running harder that I got over the blahs and had a good run.

Can you see how this plays out the difference between the experience in Laodicea and Paul?  They were lukewarm, shuffling along without any intent.  This frustrated Jesus to no end, to the point that He gave them a stern rebuke.  Paul, on the other hand, ran the race hard.  He knew that there would be temptation to quit, but decided to give the race of life 100% effort for Christ.  He knew that the victor’s wreath isn’t given for lackluster effort, so he laid it all on the line.  And in 2 Timothy 4 we see that he is confident that his race was well-run for the kingdom of God.  He went hard!  And everything I read from Paul tells me that he didn’t consider his Christian life to be a chore, instead taking joy in the midst of the trials he faced.  (if you doubt me, read Philippians)

So if you’re tired,  run the race hard instead of backing off.  If your walk with God isn’t what you’d like it to be or you’re feeling like you’re putting in a lot of effort for not a lot of return, make the paradoxical choice not to back off but to commit more to living life under the grace and Lordship of Christ.

  • If you’re struggling in your devotional life, spend more time in the Word of God and more time in prayer and more time with other godly people, not less!  Don’t pull away; dive in!  God’s grace comes when we realize that what we are doing is not working and we ask Him to radically transform us from the inside out, so pray like it depends on God and then live like He heard you.
  • If you’re struggling with your finances, commit to God’s method of financial success with more vigor than ever.  That might mean giving more, saving more, cutting expenses, getting a second job, and taking wise counsel.  Don’t give up; get hard core!
  • Maybe you’ve all but given up on a child or sibling, because everything you’ve tried has failed.  Don’t just plod along; re-invigorate your efforts.
  • Maybe your church is kinda lukewarm…it’s not bad, but not good either.  It gets that way when the people slowly get that way, but enthusiasm is contagious.  If you catch fire for Christ, I am willing to bet that others will come along too.  Imagine what your church might look like if you decided to pursue holiness with everything in you and invited others along for the run…and they came.

Go hard or go home, and never forget which one will be best for you and those you love today and forever.  Don’t quit; step it up instead and see if you don’t experience the same truth in your life that I experienced in mine this morning.

One Man’s Trash

Man I hate it when I get “the green-eyed monster.”  I had a pretty decent bout of it this weekend, and God used a whack upside the head to remind me that the “stuff” that I am discontent with is, to many, an amazing blessing from Him.

It all started after church. (why does temptation have to come right after church?  Isn’t that when I am supposed to be doing the best?!?!)  One of our elders asked me if he could borrow my truck to go pick up a TV he was buying for a family member; this is not an uncommon occurrence under the “if you have a truck, everyone wants you to help them move” corollary.  I have no problem with this idea, because that’s part of the reason I bought a truck! 

The challenge was in what got dropped off while the truck was being used.  He is financially well off and had just traded in his old lease on a brand new Lexus GS; let’s just say that on a pastor’s income, a new (like 400 miles on the odometer new) Lexus is probably not in the budget.  He and his wife are awesome, and while they were picking up the TV they encouraged us to go for a joy ride in their new car.  THAT wasn’t hard to accept! 🙂

Laura and I took a nice ride up to a place near us with a view; then we went to get a cherry limeade from Sonic, and headed home because I needed to clean up after Men’s Assault.*  It was a great time, and the car of course drove beautifully.  I am pretty familiar with Lexus because my parents bought one in 1989 when they first came out; I got to drive it when I was the designated driver for them as a teenager.  This one drove like a dream!  It was unbelievably quiet and really, really fast. (please don’t ask how I know…)  I joked with Laura that she married the wrong guy to be able to let her drive a car like the one we were in!

I didn’t have a problem with them having a nice car because I know how incredibly generous they are with their finances and how much they serve the Lord.  The problem I had was when I got back into my truck later in the day!  We had some other friends come over for dinner and Ben and I went to get a propane tank exchanged so we could grill our dinner.  As I climbed into my noisy diesel pickup truck, let’s just say that I noticed the step down in quality from a brand-new Lexus GS to an 02 Ford F250 with 170,000 miles on the odometer.

I mentioned to Ben that I had the opportunity that afternoon to drive a sweet ride, and how dirty my truck was from travelling off road this weekend.  I must say that I was a bit disgruntled with my old beast; it wasn’t quiet, wasn’t new, needed some work, and didn’t even have the four-wheel drive that would have made it more useful up in the woods for our Men’s Assault.  It has leaked oil several times recently and the air conditioning is a bit spotty.  It runs strong but occasionally the remote goes on the fritz; my battery cover for the remote is a piece of masking tape.  Yeah, I put the k in kwality!

Just as I was listing in my mind what I was frustrated with in my truck, Ben snapped me back to reality.  He looked around and said, “You know, this is like a dream truck for me.  It’s got enough room to put the whole family in, and lots of power, and it will run forever.  It’s a great truck!”

It was like God hit me upside the head with a 2X4.  I remembered again all the reasons I love my truck: it runs strong, gets decent mileage for a big monster, can pull almost anything, has a cool remote starter, and can fit my whole family and all our gear and take us on a long trip guaranteed.  It has also been a pretty awesome ministry tool, helping a lot of people move TVs and couches and whole homes, piles of dirt and everything in between.  I couldn’t do that with a Lexus!  That’s when Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 6:6-10 came tumbling through my brain about contentment:

6 But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment.
7 For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either.
8 If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content.
9 But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction.
10 For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

Contentment.  Yesterday afternoon I was lacking contentment big time.  I had let envy get between me and enjoying the wonderful blessings that God had already given me; I had let what I didn’t have stand between me and being thankful for what I did have.  It took a reminder from a friend that what I had, as many small issues as it might have, is a huge blessing from God!  If I had the new car and not my truck, I never would have been able to bless my friend and elder who needed to pick up a television.  In return he blessed me by putting about a half-tank of (very expensive right now) diesel in it!  So I got to bless him, he got to bless me, and I am willing to bet that other than my envy God was very happy with the fellowship and taking care of one another that was present.

I am grateful to God today for reminding me to be thankful to Him for His many blessings.  Even the ones that I think are a bit rough around the edges are, in reality, His hand on me and my life.  I am also grateful for authentic friends who can remind me of His grace without even trying.  I would encourage you today to look for ways in which envy has crept into your life and corrupted your heart for the blessings that God has placed in your life.  Your stuff, or relationships, or family, or job may not be as new or as nice as someone else’s, but I will guarantee you that you have a friend or acquaintance who would trade places with you in a minute.  So thank God for the many ways that He is showing you His grace today.

* We have a men’s retreat every year, but we call it Men’s Assault.  Manly men don’t like to retreat, we like to storm the hill!  So we think it’s manlier to call it Men’s Assault.

Why Church? (Part 1)

I didn’t grow up in church.  In fact, I was pretty proud of the fact that before my 21st birthday I had been in church 4 times in my life (3 funerals and 1 wedding).  My mom was raised Catholic but at some point in high school or shortly after left the church.  We never went to church when I was a kid and I never missed it.  We were a secular family who worshipped the San Francisco 49ers and Joe Montana (or as we call him, The Greatest Quarterback In History) in particular.

That changed in my early twenties.  If you’ll allow me to share some of my testimony (and why else are you reading this blog?) you’ll see why.  I was in the Navy when Laura and I got married, and when I got accepted into a prestigious commissioning program we got transferred to Oregon for me to go to college. (I am a proud Oregon State University alumnus)  I was on the path to becoming a Naval officer, so I needed to quit smoking, lose some weight, and make some life changes to be a good example to the men and women I would be leading.  We also had just had our first baby, so I wanted to be a good daddy.

All that led up to the day that an elderly man knocked on our apartment door.  Thankfully I wasn’t home, so I couldn’t shoo him away or tell Laura why I wouldn’t listen to him.  He invited Laura to church; she wanted to go but wouldn’t go without me, so I reluctantly went.  I found that the place was pretty friendly and they treated us kindly, so we kept going after our first encounter.  That was in October 1997.  Fast forward to July 26, 1998 (lots happening in between…but this is the short version) and there I sat in the back row, listening to the preacher’s wife share her testimony.  God used it to ring me like a bell and I trusted Christ that morning in church.

From that moment on, we have never missed church.  At this point in life, obviously, I am a pastor so I am pretty conspicuous when I just skip church for no reason.  However, even before I became a pastor church was never an optional activity.  I accepted Christ at 22 years old, and from that moment I have wanted to be among God’s people, learning and growing and being encouraged, serving and helping and trying to become who God wants me to be.  I can’t remember a Sunday in the last 11 plus years that we just woke up and decided to sleep in, or take a drive.  My kids have always loved Sunday morning because it is the day we get to  go to church, not the day we have to go to church or God will be mad at us.

This issue has surfaced for me several times over the past few weeks, as I have been questioned about the necessity of “going to church.”  The reasoning goes something like this: God is everywhere, so I can worship Him wherever I want to.  I don’t need “church” for that.  The people at church are hypocritical and judgmental; they hide behind masks and use the church for networking more than for connecting with God.  I believe in God, but I don’t believe in organized religion because of the abuse of power in it.  They are only after your money, and God doesn’t want us to focus on buildings He wants us to reach out to the lost.  So I hang out with non-Christians so I can tell them about God. 

Well to that, I would say phooey.  I have a friend in ministry who has not only written about this issue, but experienced it firsthand!  He, like many, tried the route of isolationism as a Christian and found it to be a monumental failure.  That experience is not uncommon.  The part that hit me the hardest when I first read his post about his own journey was this:

Perhaps you have not yet learned to love the church the way that Jesus does and to love her simply because Jesus does. If she is his bride, then she is precious to him and ought to be to us. To love the husband but hate his bride is quite frankly a betrayal of monumental proportions. If you think that staying away from the church because of her imperfections is a viable option for you, then you are wrong. You are also wrong if you think that you will be able to sufficiently feed your own soul without the guidance, accountability and relationship found in and only within the local church. I can tell you from personal experience that staying away from her will only shrink your soul and harden your heart. And, if you stay away too long, you will simply wither away altogether.

If Jesus loves His bride (an image drawn from Ephesians 5:25-32), and we love Jesus, then we must love His bride.  To me, it’s that simple.  Imperfections and all, she is so precious to Him that He died for her.  I am definitely not going out on a limb to say that the Lord wants the church to be more pure and more like Him than it is, but whether or not the church listens, Jesus loves her.  And to me, if He loves her then I need to as well.

I will say that I don’t always like church.  I am really blessed to pastor a church of people who are warm, caring, and authentic.  I don’t have to deal with some of the politics that I have seen in churches, though that might be because I am the pastor and therefore dictate the politics to some extent.  I get frustrated, though, when people beat one another up, especially when I feel like I am a surrogate punching bag for someone’s anger at God.  There are times that church “stuff” bothers me because we can take the smallest slight and turn it into a fellowship-defining issue.

Even through all that, though, I am called to love church.  It is a part of being a Christian, which the author of Hebrews sums up nicely in Hebrews 10:19-25:

19 Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus,
20 by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh,
21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God,
22 let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful;
24 and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds,
25 not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.

All the theological truth in verses 19-23 are built up by 24 and 25.  We stand assured of God’s acceptance of us because of Jesus’ sacrifice alone, and therefore we must hold fast the confession of our faith.  That only comes, the author goes on, when we stimulate one another to love and good deeds.  That’s why I love church!  It is the place where I get around God’s people, where I can be built up and kicked in the pants to love others and serve Christ.  I can’t do that in isolation because it is not a self-driven process.  I can’t come alongside myself and help me see where I need to grow in Christ.  I need my brothers and sisters in Him to help me see that, to encourage me to get better, to pick me up when I fall (Gal 6:1-2) and set me back on my feet.  That simply doesn’t happen without the church.

Next post we will look at the difference between “doing church” and “being church.”  Trust me, there is a world of difference.