In the middle of my lawn there is a stone, mostly hidden, too large to dig out by hand. It does no harm except to ding the blade of my mower when I fail to steer around it! It exists, singularly, without purpose. Several feet away, there are hundreds of stones, neatly aligned, built into a gracefully curved wall that adds a touch of beauty to the landscape. Those stones illustrate two types of Christians – those who exist disconnected from God’s Church and those who align themselves with others for the purpose of creating a place of beauty in this world.
Thousands, millions perhaps, of Americans believe in Christ Jesus but cling to an independent life. They profess, with no hint of irony, their refusal to ‘fit in’ with any formal church structure, reveling in their supposed ‘freedom’ in Christ Jesus. Their reasons for not connecting with a local fellowship are many – hypocrisy in leadership, disagreement with the way resources are spent, uninspiring worship, or some past experience that has left them wounded.
Others just choose not to connect with a local church because they can tune in to listen to a celebrity media pastor or enjoy a service from Mega City Church elsewhere in the US that their local church cannot begin to replicate. Their choice allows them to ‘feed’ their soul without making any demand of service.
The refusal to be an engaged, committed, serving Christian in a local assembly is without Scriptural foundation. Peter reminds us that “As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 2:4-5, NIV)
There is no way to become all that God desires apart from the Church. Yes, Jesus is our ‘personal Savior,’ as we like to say. Of course, God knows us individually. And, He calls us INTO His Church where as we connect with others we become part of something larger, more beautiful, declaring the Glory of God. Christians who are committed and connected and those who exist alone are as different from one another as a stone cathedral is from a rock on the ground!
Paul changes the metaphor of our relationships. In his first letter to the church at Corinth, he challenges their ego-focused faith, one that exalted favorite preachers and spectacular ‘spiritual gifts’ over humble, faithful, committed church life. “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body.” (1 Corinthians 12:12-15, NIV) A hand finds its purpose only in connection with an arm, directed by a head! A foot maybe hidden in a shoe, but it serves the body. A severed hand, a single ear, a disconnected leg may still be recognizable but it is lifeless, without purpose.
Is the Church perfect, always loving, a place of beauty? As one who has spent his entire life of 65 years as part of the local church, with the vocation of ministry, I know as much as anyone how difficult Christian relationships can be. God’s people can be amazingly wonderful, generous, and loving and they can be selfish, judgmental, and territorial – just like me, just like you!
We are works in progress, graced by God and graceful. The Church is the plan of God for our spiritual development, a living organism into which we are called where we grow. Some use “the love of Jesus” as an excuse to become parasites in the Body, draining life from the church. Others drink deeply of the Spirit and are changed, growing into persons of splendor, as they shine with Jesus’ light. That’s church life.
Are you just a rock or are you a “living stone built into a spiritual house?”
Here is a word from the Word. I hope that it will encourage you to choose to become part of the temple, the Church where God reveals His purposes in us and through us.
“Most of all, love each other as if your life depended on it. Love makes up for practically anything. Be quick to give a meal to the hungry, a bed to the homeless—cheerfully. Be generous with the different things God gave you, passing them around so all get in on it: if words, let it be God’s words; if help, let it be God’s hearty help. That way, God’s bright presence will be evident in everything through Jesus, and he’ll get all the credit as the One mighty in everything.”
-The Message, 1 Peter 4:8-11
Come set Your rule and reign
In our hearts again
Increase in us we pray
Unveil why we’re made
Come set our hearts ablaze with hope
Like wildfire in our very souls
Holy Spirit come invade us now
We are Your church
We need Your pow’r in us
We seek Your kingdom first
We hunger and we thirst
Refuse to waste our lives
For You’re our joy and prize
To see the captives’ hearts released
The hurt the sick the poor at peace
We lay down our lives for heaven’s cause
We are Your church
We pray revive this earth
Let the darkness fear
Show Your mighty hand
Heal our streets and land
Set Your church on fire
Win this nation back
Change the atmosphere
Build Your kingdom here we pray
Unleash Your kingdom’s pow’r
Reaching the near and far
No force of hell can stop
Your beauty changing hearts
You made us for much more than this
Awake the kingdom seed in us
Fill us with the strength and love of Christ
We are Your church
We are the hope on earth
Chris Llewellyn | Gareth Gilkeson | William Herron
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