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Where is God’s Church?

What is “church” really all about? I mean, really? In over 2,000 years of church history, followers of Jesus have voluntarily committed to one another in local contexts all over the world to be the church. But what does that mean? Jesus Christ declared, “I will build My Church” (Matt. 16:18). No matter how we interpret it, this passage talks of one church. Christ continues, “and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” He promised that His Church could never be destroyed.


Externally, most of us have a pretty good idea of church. It means people meet together on Sunday mornings for worship services, Sunday school classes, and children’s classes. Many American churches have some type of mid-week service for prayer and study of God’s Word. Most churches have a pastor, minister, and/or elders, and/or deacons. Most churches have some type of facility whether it’s rented or owned. Most have a few, if not many, ministries for women’s and men’s groups, students, and children. Most will have some type of missions program and perhaps some type of community outreach.


But what is it all for? Or, to phrase the question in proper English, For what purpose do all these ministries, programs, and activities exist?


Laura and I have recently sold our house to move closer to the church we serve and to the school our children attend. Plus, thanks to Dave Ramsey, we’re downsizing. Way to go, Dave. In preparation for selling our house, we went through all our closets to de-clutter, we did some touch up painting, and we made a few minor repairs where needed. As we were going through all this prep work, I asked myself, “Why didn’t we do this sooner?” Why did we get so comfortable with things as they were and not pay as much attention to the details of fixing that bathroom tile caulk or that carpet that needed to be cleaned? Why? Because the purpose of our home was for us and our comfort. If it didn’t bother us that the carpet had a few stains, then so be it. The purpose of our home drove the upkeep and activities we did inside the home.


So it is with church. The purpose of the church drives the upkeep and activities we do inside—and outside—the church. If the purpose of the church is for us and our comfort, then guess what? We’ll keep the focus, activities, ministries and programs about us and our comfort. But what if the purpose of the church is not primarily for our comfort? What if the purpose of the church is for something far greater and compelling? What if Jesus, the One we claim to follow and Who is the Center of the Church, calls us to join Him on His mission, not ours? If I’m left to my own devices, I will make my life mission and our church mission to be as I want it to be for my needs, preferences and comfort. But if I align my life mission and our church mission with Jesus’ mission, then all of a sudden the tables are turned (which Jesus had a way of doing, cp. Matthew 21:12).


What is Jesus’ mission? Jesus said, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). Jesus’ mission was to reconcile the world to Himself (2 Corinthians 5:19). Jesus came not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for others (Mark 10:45). This is Jesus’ mission, and He invites us to join Him in it. Your life mission and church mission should be Jesus’ mission. The purpose of our “house” is not for us and our comfort. The building is simply a tool to gather, equip, mobilize, and release us to be the church, through the power of the Holy Spirit, as we live our lives to love God, follow Jesus and serve our world. Those are more than mere words; they are a mission for the ecclesia, the “called out community” that is God’s chosen vehicle to bring the redemptive power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to our neighbors, friends, family, co-workers and, yes, to people all over the world.

Life Lessons Learned on the New River Gorge

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to go on a father-son trip with my son, Luke, other sons/dads, and leaders from E91’s 8th grade boys’ small group. This was somewhat of a “rite of passage” trip as our sons move into high school, and the challenge was high… as was the water. Part of the experience was for us to put on a life jacket and helmet, grab a paddle, and get ready for whitewater rafting on the New River Gorge outside of Beckley, WVA. The water was about three-feet above normal levels, which our guide told us was optimum to catch some really good rapids. And catch them we did.


As we floated and plunged, and plunged and floated down fourteen miles of raging river, we passed through several Class 5 rapids along with a few lesser, yet still turbulent, rapids in Classes 3 and 4. I was proud of our little “band of brothers” that fought the good fight and finished the race with no rafts overturned and no sons (or fathers) projected out of our little, rubber vessels. Along the way, our guide taught us commands and maneuvers to aid us in our quest, and, preacher as I am, I thought of the application these lessons give us far beyond running the rapids. Here are a few of them:


Lesson #1: When you enter the rapids, keep paddling. Our rafting guide taught us that when you enter a Class 4 or 5 rapid, the worst thing you can do is stop paddling. He said that fear would grip us when we plunge six or seven feet down and are met with the insurgence of waves and the roar of the crushing water. Then when we would fly back up on the crest of another wave, it’s all we could do to keep ourselves in the raft. At that point, according to our instructor, we would do what seems natural: grip the side of the raft and stop paddling. According to this pearl of wisdom, if you stop paddling, your craft can turn sideways, you lose momentum, and you can quickly be overtaken by the waves. So, what did we do? We kept paddling. Great lesson for life, marriage, parenting, and church. When you enter rapids, don’t grip the side in fear and stop paddling. Don’t give up. Don’t give in. Keep paddling as though your life depended on it, because it very well might.


Lesson #2: Paddle together. Our little group of 8th grade—now 9th grade—boys, dads and small-group leaders was matched up with a group of Army Rangers. I kid you not. Boy’s (and dad’s) dreams come true! Who else would you want as fellow travelers than Army Rangers? As we were floating downstream getting a few words of instruction and encouragement, our guide pointed to the Rangers in the next boat over and said, “Those guys can have all the strength in the world, but if they don’t paddle together, they’ll never make it through the rapids without capsizing their raft.” He went on to explain that even if you paddle with half the strength as some of the Army’s best, you will succeed in your mission if you paddle together. When you fight against one another and each person is paddling in a different rhythm, the boat rocks and could lead to capsizing the boat. Again, the life lesson is unmistakable. If you’re going to pull through the rapids of life, marriage, parenting, or church, you have to be in sync. Paddle together.


Lesson #3: Always wear your life vest. If there was one word of instruction given over and over again, it was to keep your life vest on, and keep it snug. Fortunately, the only times we needed our life vests were when we voluntarily jumped out of our rafts to do a little swimming during the slower parts of our river journey. But our guide made it unmistakably clear that there is a strong likelihood that we would fall out at some point, and without our life vest, we would not survive. Amen and amen. We all know this to be the case in life, but perhaps we need to be reminded. You will face rapids, and sometimes they will be much bigger than you. Eventually, at some point in life, you will fall. Life happens. Storms surge. Waves come crashing down. And if you don’t have on your life vest, you might not survive. And what (or who) is our life vest? We wear the vestment of the mighty presence of the Lord God Almighty. We wear the cloak of righteousness. We wear the armor of the One who shields us from the flaming arrows of the enemy.


As the Psalmist writes, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling” (Psalm 46:1-3). Whatever you are facing right now, whether it’s a Class 3, 4, or 5 rapid, know that God Himself is your refuge and strength. So put on your life vest and helmet, grab a paddle, and get ready for the ride of your life!

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