Tag Archives: Body

Cooperation, not Competition

What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task.
1 Corinthians 3:5 (NIV)

Our local gathering of Jesus followers has two venues for worship, and each Sunday there are worship services that run in both rooms at the same time. For the past few years I have had the honor of working with a team of individuals who are developing their gifts and skills in teaching. Every season there is a rotating team of people who take turns teaching on Sundays and then meeting mid-week to discuss their experience and improve their skills. It’s a diverse group of both men and women of different ages, educational backgrounds, and vocational experiences. It’s been a fascinating experience for me to lead and participate. I’ve learned a lot.

One of the things I’ve tried to impress on our team of teachers is the reality that each week I get up to teach there will be those who are excited to see me up there, and those who who are not. As we represent a diverse cross-section of humanity, we each will appeal to different individuals within our gathering. Those who are gifted teachers and develop those gifts will naturally develop broader appeal, but no teacher enjoys universal appeal (not even Jesus). It just is what it is. I think that’s why Jesus’ followers are called a “body” and the spiritual gift of teaching is given to a diverse number of individuals across all parts of the body.

As I’ve been studying the early history of the Jesus Movement, I am repeatedly struck at how quickly the story shifts from the original twelve apostles to a host of other characters. In many cases, these almost anonymous individuals, such as Ananias (Acts 9:10-19), pop onto the scene like a bit player with a walk-on role, then make their exit never to be heard from again. Others characters are only referenced or mentioned, but nonetheless they played a large off-stage role. Apollos was one of these.

Apollos was from the city of Alexandria in Egypt, a city of great influence in the ancient world. Apollos was from the upper crust of society in those days. He was highly educated and trained in oratory, the art of speech and debate, which was arguably the most esteemed skill at that time of history. We don’t know how Apollos became a believer, but he arrives on the scene using his speaking and debate skills arguing that Jesus was the Messiah. He was such a powerful teacher and speaker, in fact, that he naturally developed broad appeal within the Jesus Movement, especially with many of the believers of Corinth. Division sprouted among the Corinthians believers as some in the local gathering there began to treat it as if it was a “The Voice” type of competition. Some were on “Team Paul” and other were on “Team Apollos.”

Paul immediately shuts down these notions of competition between the two. It’s not a competition, Paul argues, but a cooperation. Both Paul and Apollos had a role to play in the Corinthian believers faith and spiritual growth. Each brought his own unique personality, style, background, experience, and appeal. Every believer in Corinth had something to learn from both Paul and Apollos. This wasn’t “either, or” it was “both, and.”

In the quiet this morning I’m thinking of the diverse team of individuals with whom I partner to teach among my local gathering of believers. It’s been a blast for me to watch each of them develop their own voice, speak from their own unique experiences, and watch our gathering grow and learn from such a broad range of voices. It’s a weekly and constant reminder that “the church” was never to be a monument to a particular, persuasive teacher or leader. Every local gathering has both a Paul and an Apollos (and an Ananias, and a Priscilla, and an Aquila, and a Chloe and….).

It’s not competition. It’s cooperation. Or else, we’re doing it wrong.

Outside of the Lines

In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!”
Acts 9:10 (NIV)

I’ve always had a bit of a rebellious streak in me. Working inside of large institutions typically brings it out though I don’t have a lot of examples to share because I’ve never been able to work well inside of large institutions. I’m allergic to bureaucracy. I believe God made me to work best from the outside in.

I was a few months shy of my 15th birthday when God first called me. “You will proclaim my word,” was the simple message I received. I was just naive enough, and just maverick enough not to ask questions about how. I just figured I was meant to start immediately. I delivered my first message just two months later, and within a year I was part of a team of young people traveling the state each week and speaking about Jesus wherever I was given opportunity.

As I read through the book of Acts, I’m continually struck by how the body of Christ expanded. My maverick heart immediately recognizes that it didn’t happen institutionally. In today’s chapter Jesus dramatically calls Saul, a man eager to be Jesus’ greatest enemy. Remember when Jesus said, “love your enemies and bless those who persecute you?” Yeah, Jesus did that with Saul.

Then Jesus calls on a man named Ananias. We don’t know anything about Ananias. We don’t know his background, where he came from,  or how he became a follower of Jesus. His name was quite common in that day. It’s like God choosing a guy named John Smith. Ananias was just a guy in Damascus sitting at home praying. He wasn’t one of “The Twelve.” He wasn’t in Jerusalem where the leaders of Jesus’ movement were headquartered and deciding things. Out of the blue this nobody in Damascus gets tapped by Jesus to heal the man who was His self-proclaimed worst enemy. His name only comes up one more time in the Great Story.

From a leadership perspective, I love what Jesus is doing. He isn’t confining the work of His movement to be channeled only through his chosen leader, Peter, and the other eleven proteges. Jesus is expanding the work through everyone who believes and follows. Holy Spirit is filling everyone. Spiritual gifts are being distributed to everyone; Even an unsuspecting, common man named Ananias sitting at home in Damascus praying.

Jesus isn’t creating an institution. He’s creating an organism just like He did back in the opening chapters of Genesis. He’s creating a complex living body made up of millions of individual cells each called on to do their individual part for the whole, that it may accomplish its purpose of love and salvation.

This morning I’m sitting in my hotel room getting ready to go work with a client, who happens to be a large, global corporation. Like I said, I work best from the outside in. It’s how God made me. I’m sitting here thinking about the stories of an angry man named Saul and a common man named Ananias. I love that Jesus works outside the lines. I love that He’s not a God of bureaucracy but a God of living, breathing, creative power and beauty. That’s the Jesus I know. That’s the Jesus who called to me when I was 14 and still inspires me almost 40 years later. That’s the Jesus this maverick will follow each day of this earthly life (and then into eternity).

 

A Radical Shift in Paradigm

“We will not neglect the house of our God.”
Nehemiah 10:39 (NIV)

Over my journey I’ve worshipped in many different places. Growing up, there was a lot more emphasis that people placed on the church building itself. I still remember the Methodist church where I grew up. The area of that altar in the sanctuary was considered hallowed ground along with the “eternal light” that hung above it (which was a light bulb I’m quite sure needed to be replaced on occasion).

As I grew in my understanding as a follower of Jesus, I began to recognize that the special attachment Christians placed on their particular house of worship fell into two camps. The first camp were those who considered their local church building to be some kind of holy place that was, itself, sacred because it was a church. The other camp considered their local church special because the community of believers had built it together. It was communal space for worship and they wanted to take care of it.

In the days of Nehemiah, the temple where they worshipped was a holy place. It had been designated such by God when He gave the plans to Moses and called for its eventual construction. When Jesus came, however, the paradigm changed radically. Jesus made it clear that the times they were a changing. When confronted by the Samaritan woman at the well about where you should worship, Jesus replied, “But the time is coming—it has, in fact, come—when what you’re called will not matter and where you go to worship will not matter.”

With the pouring out of Holy Spirit into the hearts of every believer, our bodies themselves became the temple. Our worship center became wherever we happen to be at any given moment. The focus shifted from bricks and mortar to flesh and blood. We may appreciate and tend to our local church building because we want to be good stewards of the communal worship space, but the church building is not hallowed in and of itself. It’s when I and my fellow believers bring Holy Spirit in with me to worship that makes it a worship center.

Today I’m thinking once again about my body being a temple of Holy Spirit, a vessel in which God dwells. It lends a more intimate meaning to the commitment made by the folks in Nehemiah’s day: “I will not neglect the house of God.”

Guess I’m working out today.

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Developing Parts for the Good of the Whole

But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.
1 Corinthians 12:18 (NIV)

One of the things I love about creation is the way that God layers what He makes with all sorts of parallels to who He is and how He has ordered other things. In today’s chapter, Paul uses the physical body as a metaphor for how a local gathering of Jesus’ followers spiritually functions.

A body is made up of many parts, Paul explains, but it’s one body functioning together for the common good. He goes on to explain that God’s Spirit instills in each follower a spiritual “gift” (e.g. teaching, service, hospitality, intercession, and etc.) which makes that person a unique “part” of the body. Each person, Paul continues, should perform their unique “part” to provide their essential function in the health of the entire “body.”

Over the past couple of years, our local “body” has been doing something that is functionally unique in my experience. For a long time now, most churches have established a fairly rigid paradigm for vetting those authorized to teach in a weekly gathering for worship:

  1. Go to college and get an undergraduate degree
  2. Go to seminary and get a graduate degree
  3. Become ordained by your particular denomination

Of course, just going through this process does not necessarily mean that you are actually gifted by God’s spirit as a teacher. It is equally true that many who are spiritually gifted teachers never jump through the established institutional hoops to in order to become institutionally approved, and therefore they may never use fully perform their part for the good of the whole.

Over the last couple of years, the spiritual leaders of our local gathering identified a number of members of our “body” who they believe may be gifted teachers. These individuals were offered an opportunity to receive some training and to actually teach our local gathering on a rotating basis on Sunday mornings. A process of oversight, encouragement, and feedback is growing. Some individuals have tried it and determined that teaching is not their gift. Others are continuing to grow and develop. Perhaps some will decide to go on for more formal, institutional training. Nevertheless, it’s been amazing to see individuals growing and developing in their gift. Despite those who expected the experiment to result in people choosing not to come to worship, our local gathering hasn’t diminished through the experiment. Rather, we are discovering that each teacher appeals to different parts of the body and that each teacher complements the whole of the team. It’s been fascinating to observe and participate.

Today, I am thinking about the diverse jumble of “parts” in my local gathering of Jesus’ followers, and the myriad of ways that these people are gifted in the healthy functioning of the whole body. Some are teachers. Others provide very different, but necessary functions. The proper functioning of every part doing its job ensures the health of the whole. I am continuing to grow in my understanding and appreciation for the fact that each part, no matter the gift and ability, is essential in its role for the common good.

 

Body and Soul

source: Geof Wilson via Flickr
source: Geof Wilson via Flickr

Sovereign Lord, my strong deliverer,
    you shield my head in the day of battle.
Psalm 140:7 (NIV)

Last night I was invited to dinner by a client. One of the men at our table shared a humorous story of when he was young and trying to get in shape for hockey season. On his family’s farm was grain silo several stories tall with a ladder that extended to its height. Each morning he would get up early and climb quickly all the way up the ladder, then back down the ladder, all the way up the ladder, then back down the ladder, all the way up the ladder, then all the way down the ladder. And, he added with a laugh, “I’d only stop long enough to have a cigarette between each ascent.”

As my own life journey continues and I can see the big 5-0 sitting out there on the horizon, I have become increasingly conscious of my body and my health. At my annual physical my doctor tells me to inform Wendy that she won’t be cashing in on my life insurance policy any time soon. Nevertheless, I find my body is starting to feel the effects of time and age more and more. I feel certain little aches, pains and twinges in places that have never seemed to be an issue before. Yikes!

One of the interesting things about the lyric of today’s psalm is the allusion made to many different parts of the body:

  • Heart (v. 2)
  • Tongue (v. 3)
  • Lips (v. 3 and v. 9)
  • Hands (v. 4)
  • Feet (v. 4)
  • Head (v. 7 and v. 9)

God’s Message refers to the body in many key teachings. When we invite Jesus into our hearts, the Holy Spirit indwells us and our bodies become, quite literally, a temple. David’s use of these body parts in his lyrics reminds me that it would be wise for me to be mindful of this temple and its parts, not just in a physical sense but in a spiritual sense as well.

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The Good Stuff

Wine decanter and glasses.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Chapter-a-Day 1 Corinthians 6

Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 (NLT)

Wendy and I like to entertain. We don’t do it as often as we’d like and, while we don’t go to extremes, there are evenings when we choose to get out “the good stuff.” Paper napkins are replaced by cloth. Plates are put on gold chargers. Because we are going to bring out the good wine, the nice wine glasses are placed on the table along with a special wine decanter for pouring, aerating and serving the wine. We recognize that our guests are honored when we make the effort to break out “the good stuff” for our dinner together.

Let me be honest. The verses above have haunted me for most of my journey. I have never been uber athletic. Running marathons, competing in triathlons, or getting involved in recreational athletics have never held much appeal for me. Okay, they’ve never held any appeal for me whatsoever. Like most Americans, I like to eat. While I have given regular and serious thought to my diet and to exercise (e.g. I think about eating better, I think about exercising, I contemplate the benefits of doing so), an honest audit of my behavior over time would reveal that I have had little or no discipline in this area. This past year has been one of two periods of my life in which I’ve dropped some serious weight. And yet, the verses still haunt me.

God’s Message clearly teaches that following Jesus means inviting Him into our hearts and our lives. There is something simple and mystical yet powerfully in the act of sincerely saying to Jesus “Come into my heart. Come into my life. Save me.” Elsewhere in God’s Message, Jesus says:

“Look at me. I stand at the door. I knock. If you hear me call and open the door, I’ll come right in and sit down to supper with you.” [emphasis added] Revelation 3:20 (MSG)

The night Jesus gave Himself up for us, He took wine and blessed it and said, “this is my blood.” When I read these verses from today’s chapter, what haunts me is this: when Jesus is invited into our hearts and our lives, our very own bodies become the decanter for creation’s most precious wine. Yet, the way I’ve treated my body most of my life is no different than welcoming my most honored guest and His gift of precious wine by grabbing a dirty, used styrofoam cup off the counter and telling Him to “fill ‘er up.”

Lord, have mercy on me.

Chapter-a-Day Mark 7

Official seal of the National Organic Program
Image via Wikipedia

“Don’t you understand either?” he asked. “Can’t you see that the food you put into your body cannot defile you? Food doesn’t go into your heart, but only passes through the stomach and then goes into the sewer.” (By saying this, he declared that every kind of food is acceptable in God’s eyes.) And then he added, “It is what comes from inside that defiles you. For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you.” Mark 7:18-23 (NLT)

I have watched with interest as the growth of the natural, healthy, and organic food market. Ten or fifteen years ago the health food market was confined to small mom and pop stores in major cities and food co-ops for the granola set. Today, almost every major grocery store carries a plethora of all natural and organic foods. There are now large, national chains of health food stores.

Our culture has increasingly embraced more healthy and organic foods in contrast to the highly processed mass market foods available in every grocery aisle. I’m not adverse to this. I think it is a good thing. God advocates taking care of our bodies and treating them like a temple.

Nevertheless, I remember Jesus’ words: “What does it profit you to gain the whole world and lose your soul.” Reading Jesus’ words about food in today’s chapter, I hear Him making a corresponding point. What does it profit you to eat all natural and organic food, and work to keep your body in optimum health, if on the inside your spirit is withering in anger, depression, malice, greed, lust, or shame?

Our bodies are good for, at best, eighty to just over a hundred years. Our spirit is eternal. Where should I make the greatest investment?

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