Why We Still Need the Church

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“Whoever seeks Christ must first find the church. Now the church is not wood and stone but the group of people who believe in Christ. Whoever seeks the church should join himself to them and observe what they teach, pray, and believe. For they certainly have Christ among them.”

~Martin Luther

There is a popular trend in the social media sphere that has really been picking up steam in recent years. No, I’m not talking about Snapchat or Dubsmash. I’m talking about the tendency by many to attack and criticize the church. And while, in some ways, criticizing the church is nothing new, what surprises me about this trend is that the ones leading the way this time around are Christians.

In fact, it is a rare week that I don’t see some article or blog post about the ways in which the church is failing to reach the young, the old, the hipsters, etc. Likewise there are countless “Things the Church Should Stop Doing” posts and top ten lists. I know because I’ve heard the gripe-fests, read the blog posts, and even tweeted and re-tweeted a fair number of them.

But I would argue that while the church is imperfect, that is also the very reason we need the church.

You see, the problem with the church is that it is filled with people like you and me. The church is a place filled with people who are simultaneously justified and sinners, and it exists for the purpose of reaching imperfect and incomplete people. As such, it will always be a dysfunctional, imperfect, and oftentimes hurtful community of people. It will continue to be a place that has rough edges, weird practices, bizarre programs, and strange tendencies. BUT that is because it is doing exactly what God has called it to do: reaching the lost with the saving message of the Gospel.

St. Augustine once said, “The church is a whore, but she’s still my mother.” He recognized that the only reason he was saved and has a relationship with Jesus Christ is because the church, messed up and imperfect as she is, reached out to him with the message of God’s unconditional love and grace.

In fact, I would argue that the church is at her best when the people who make up the family of God don’t have it all together, but rather are incredibly aware of their own brokenness and their need for forgiveness. When Christians come to see themselves as sinners saved by grace, they suddenly become a people who can most effectively reach out to the world that desperately need God, because they are speaking with the authority of those who’ve experienced God’s love, even though they are horribly undeserving of it. Our brokenness becomes the very platfrom from which we proclaim the “excellencies of Him who called [us] out of darkness and into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).

But we need the church for another reason as well. It is the one place where true transformation can really happen. This is because the church is the only place where you will actually be confronted with your own brokenness and simultaneously be extended grace and love.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it this way:

“The physical presence of other Christians is a source of incomparable joy and strength to the believer…The prisoner, the sick person, the Christian living in the diaspora recognizes in the nearness of a fellow Christian a physical sign of the gracious presence of the triune God. In their loneliness, both the visitor and the one visited recognize in each other the Christ who is present in the body. They receive and meet each other as one meets the Lord, in reverence, humility, and joy. They receive each other’s blessings as the blessing of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

~Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

The church is the one place in which broken people can come together, in humility, and call each other to new life in Christ. It is for this reason that the church is indeed precious and beautiful. It is the place where Christ’s presence is found in the midst of his people simultaneously offering the words “neither do I condemn you, now go and leave your life of sin” (John 8:11).

This really came home to me when I was working in college ministry. After my first year, one of my co-workers approached me and, honestly, called me out for my pride. But then she said this, “Your pride hurts me, but more than that, it is hindering the amazing work that God wants to do in and through you.” In one sentence she showed me my sin, but also assured me of God’s love and ongoing work in my life. She confronted me with the Law and comforted me with the Gospel. One of the things that I love about the Church is that it is the one place, the one community, where I know people will be brutally honest with me, but also incredibly loving and gracious.

So don’t be so quick to write the church off. Remember who she is: the bride of Christ. She is our mother and the bearer of the Gospel for a world that desperately needs the grace and mercy of God.

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Taking the “Me” Out of Service

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Growing up, service was always a big part of my family. Even before I was a Christian my parents were teaching my brother and I the value of serving others. So it was no surprise that, when I became a Christian, I was trying to find ways to connect my faith to a life of service. As a result, when I got to college I started to spend time with friends doing service projects and being active in the surrounding community. I was burdened by the question, “How can my faith be an active part of caring for my community?”

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The Problem With Being A Good Person

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For several years I worked in college ministry in the city of Chicago. Every year we would host various outreach events which were aimed at answering peoples’ questions about the Christian faith and introducing them to Jesus.

During one of these meetings I was approached by a young man who had a very good question.

I don’t know why Jesus is necessary. I mean…you guys keep saying that we need to believe in Jesus in order to be saved, but I just don’t know why. Why isn’t it enough to just be a good person?

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Worship as Re-Formation

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When we talk about worship, what do we usually mean? Oftentimes I think we mean…well…what we do on Sundays.  Worship is about music and sermons, robes and hymnals, praise bands and ProPresenter slides. But this is not how the Bible understands worship. Worship is far deeper and more encompassing than what happens on a Sunday morning. In fact, Christian theologians throughout the centuries have argued that worship is, in fact, an inescapable reality of human experience.

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Appreciating the Small Things

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*Photo Credit: Jason Long, Unsplash.com

“For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened…”
~Romans 1:21

 When I first began pursuing my Seminary degree, one of my mentors and advisors warned me, “Seminary is a dangerous place to because it has the power to crush your soul.” The reason is because when we come to Seminary we take an internal passion (for God, the Scriptures, the Church, etc.) and we incentivize it. What I mean is that suddenly the Bible isn’t a way of connecting with God. Rather it is a textbook to be parsed, studied, analyzed, and dissected. Likewise, studying theology is not about growing your devotional life, but about giving you correct knowledge for the purpose of writing systematic papers. And, sad to say, he was right.

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Advent Devotion: Welcomed Rejects

Photo Courtesy of National Geographic

Pashtun shepherds watch over their sheep. Photo Courtesy of National Geographic

This past weekend we had the chance to watch our kids perform in our church’s Christmas pageant.  It was fun to watch the children dress up in their Christmas best with other kids dressed as angels, wisemen, and shepherds.  In fact, if you’ve spent any time around the church, you are probably pretty familiar with these images.  For myself, the image of the Nativity has become a pretty standard Christmas image, with Mary and Joseph kneeling near the Christ child, with handsome looking shepherds, cuddly lambs, and wisemen looking on in reverence.

However, as I have thought about this story some more, something really stands out to me.  In most, if not all, of these Nativity images the people included all look pretty good.  The shepherds are well dressed and clean.  Mary and Joseph’s robes are neatly pressed and colorful.  Even newborn Jesus looks like he popped out of the womb with a full head of hair looking like a three-year-old.  And this has really forced me to ask the question, “Who is Christmas for?  Is it for the cleaned up and presentable?”

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Advent Devotion: Joseph’s Quiet Faith

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One of the things that I heard a lot growing up was the phrase, “Actions speak louder than words.”  This was taught in my elementary school and reinforced in the home, so much so that it is something I now teach to my own children.  Actions have an incredible way of telling us more about a person and his/her character than words ever could.

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Healing In A Broken System

how do we fix a broken system?

For a while now I have been relatively silent on social media regarding recent events in Ferguson and New York City surrounding the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.  Up to this point I’ve tried to post articles and pieces written by people I respect and who have more insight than I do on the complex issues of race-relations, theological reflection, and social justice.

Why?  Because I need to admit that I am not an expert here.  Furthermore, I know that my own perspective is limited and I have not been as involved in addressing issues of systemic injustice and racial reconciliation as many of my colleagues.  So, I’ve tried to lift up and point to voices that I respect and who I think can help bring healing and perspective to a very deep and long-standing problem in this country.

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What is Love? Just Ask a Troll!

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WARNING: The following post is rated “S” for “Spoilers”…But seriously, if you haven’t seen Frozen at this point then you are even further under a rock than I am :p

Well, we’ve finally done it. After a year of holding out, we finally bought the movie Frozen and spent an evening as a family watching it. Since that time we have been continuously serenaded with everything from “Let It Go” to “Do You Want To Build A Snowman?” The kids love this movie! And who could blame them?! It has a walking snowman for comic relief!!!

But as I’ve been thinking about this film (I’ve had a lot of time on my hands) I’ve started to wonder if we, as a society, have gotten this movie all wrong. Here’s what I mean. Two of the most beloved songs – “Let It Go” and “Love Is An Open Door” – are also two of the most relationally dysfunctional songs in the whole movie.

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Advent Devotion: Mary, God’s Untouchable Servant

(c) Jyoti Sahi; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

I wasn’t raised in a religious household. In fact, my family didn’t start attending church until I was a freshman in high school. As a result, my exposure to the Christmas story was limited to what I saw in paintings, statues and holiday stamps. I’d seen many pictures of the Virgin Mary and the Christ child, but these images always struck me as a bit odd and otherworldly. Here was Mary, this mature, peaceful woman in immaculate robes, holding a very adult-looking Jesus with a tiny, restrained half-smile on her lips—like the Mona Lisa dressed in religious garb. These pictures shaped my view of Mary as someone wholly unrelateable and distant, an obscure figure only revered in Catholic circles with very little relevance to me, a young, evangelical Protestant.

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