Thick glory

The priests brought the ark of the Lord’s covenant to its assigned place in the inner sanctuary of the temple, in the most holy place, under the wings of the cherubs… Once the priests left the holy place, a cloud filled the Lord’s temple. The priests could not carry out their duties because of the cloud; the Lord’s glory filled his temple.
1 Kings 8:6, 10-11

Some days we get so caught up with church responsibilities that we lose the focus of church. Surely God is there, but He sometimes goes unnoticed. In the name of excellence, we make church out to be about the stage looking presentable, the music sounding perfect and the ushers smiling. Or in the name of authenticity, church becomes about having representations of real people, making worship accessible and fellowship accepting of differences. None of these things are necessarily bad, but none of them can bring us to the climax and focus of church.

Look at what happens when God’s presence comes into His temple that was built by Solomon. It says that “the priest could not carry out their duties”, because “the Lord’s glory filled his temple”. Imagine how thick the cloud would have to be to make the priests unable to carry out their duties. It would have obstructed the priests from performing sacrifices,  blowing trumpets or reading the Law. In a cloud that thick, everything comes to a stand still and the only thing that anyone can focus on is the thick cloud – God’s glory (Psalm 46:10).

Was God being obstructive? Did He intentionally interrupt the service? Yes He did, because once His glory is revealed, nothing else matters. The revelation of God’s glory is the fulfillment of all the priestly duties and service. It is the climax of church and it is something that only God can do. God and His glory has to take its rightful place in the center of every church. Lets not lose the plot of church.

Temples and service

The God who made the world and everything in it, who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives life and breath and everything to everyone.
Acts 17:24-25

After Paul had spent a considerable time considering the sanctuaries and religious rites of the idols worshipped by the men of Athens, he came to this one conclusion: their understanding of god is small. In his opening address to the Council at Areopagus, he sought to expand their minds with the glory of Jesus. He spoke of God who is not constrained by altars, temples or sanctuaries. This God is the creator of all the world and all that is in it, encompassing even the worship places built for Him (Colossians 1:15-17). He spoke of God whom human hands can do no favors for. Because even the hand that seek to serve Him are made and sustained by Him and for Him. Human service only offers Him what already belongs to Him (1 Corinthians 4:7)!

For in him we live and move about and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, For we too are his offspring.
Acts 17:28

Yet because He sustains all of creation, all of creation is indebted to Him. We are accountable and responsible to God. And we owe it to Him not to fashion God from our feeble hands or minds as if He was the created and we are the creator!

Heres the Christian oxymoron: How do we as debtors repay what we owe when the lender needs none of it back?

Why the church?

“God’s perfection means that He is complete in Himself. He lacks nothing; He has no flaws. He is perfect in all the characteristics of His nature. He is the basis for and standard by which all other perfection is to be measured (Job 36:4; Psalm 18:30; 19:7; Matthew 5:48).

“By contrast, man’s perfection is relative and dependent on God for its existence. As applied to a person’s moral state in this life, perfection may refer either to a relatively blameless lifestyle (Genesis 6:9; Job 1:1; James 3:2) or to a person’s maturity as a believer (Philippians 3:15; James 1:4). Because perfection in this life is never reached, man will continue to sin (Phil. 3:12, 15; I John 1:8). A believer’s perfection in the next life, however, will be without sin (Ephesians 5:27; Colossians 1:28; I Thessalonians 5:23).”
Hayford’s Bible Handbook

“Christians are not perfect, just forgiven.”
Anonymous

“Why the church?” is a question often comes to mind when the raw humanity of the church is revealed. In the same way the the kingdom is here but not yet, we are perfect but not yet. Christians, evangalical or not, church going or not, are just as flawed as anyone else. Through the lens of Christ, we are made perfect (Hebrews 10:14); through the process of santification, we are being perfected (Philippians 1:6, 3:12-15), but on this earth, we will never be perfect (1 John 1:8-10).

In Ethics, we studied the concept of dirty hands (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dirty_hands). No matter what we do, even with the best moral or spiritual interest, will result in getting our hands dirty (Isaiah 64:6). Because of this, the grace of God is always relevant. It is just as relevant before you were a Christian as when you became a Christian and even after you’ve been a Christian for many years. The grace of God is still relevant. It will always be relevant, especially for the church.

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.
1 Corinthians 12:27

 If christians are not perfect, the church is not perfect. Yup, I’ve said it. The church is not perfect. Don’t get stuck on this fact. The church is still God’s; it is built on Christ and established by Christ (Ephesians 2:19-22). We should all just admit that we’re not perfect, deal with it and move on to what Christ has called the church to.

Read more:
http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/dirty-hands/

ἐκκλησία

The common translation for church in the New Testament is ekklesia (ecclesia) but If I was in Corinth in first century A.D. and I asked a passer-by for an ekklesia to get me to a church, I’d most likely end up in civil assembly – like a city meeting. This is because ekklesia is the word for assembly/gathering and not the religious assembly we have come to know as church, but a civil assembly.

In the New Testament, “ecclesia” (signifying convocation) is the only single word used for church. It (ecclesia) was the name given to the governmental assembly of the city of Athens, duly convoked (called out) by proper officers and possessing all political power including even juridical functions.
–  Encyclopedia Britannica

Ecclesia [mediaeval Latin, and Greek – from : SUMMONED] -A regularly convoked assembly, especially the general assembly of Athenians. Later, the regular word for church.
– Oxford Universal English Dictionary

The Greeks had words for religious assembly such as thaisoi/thiasos for a religious society or synagogue for a Jewish gathering. Ekklesia was simply an assembly with no religious connotation. In Acts 19:32, 39, 40, ekklesia is a civil body in Ephesus (a disorderly group of citizens), but in every other place of its approximately 115 appearances in the New Testament, it is translated as church. Looking at the etymology of the word “church”, it is derived from the greek word kuriakos, which means belonging to the Lord (Revelation 1:10; 1 Corinthians 11:20). So why is the word church used where assembly or gathering might be more appropriate?

Because their assembly was how they did church, it was church in first century A.D. They gathered together as an assembly, like we do. In 1 Thessalonians 1:1, Paul writes the letter “To the ekklesia of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ”, also in Galatians 1:2 (in plural form). We know that the Christians did gather together in synagogues and homes, did community together (Acts 2:42, 46, 5:42; 20:20), had a line of authority of elders and deacons and enjoyed the teaching of the Apostles (Acts 14:21-23, 15:22). Paul’s letters were written to these gatherings.

So we know that the early christians had organised meetings and at it’s core, it was an assembly of people who believed in Jesus Christ. An important point to note is that the ekklesia wasn’t just a bunch of people tied together by spiritual ties or membership in a club but it was a physical assembly. Ekklesia comes from the verb ek-kaleo, which meant “to call people together” or “to summon” people. Thus, you couldn’t be a member of an assembly without actual physical attendance – duh.

Just like the assemblies of the early Christians, when we do church, we come together, bring unbelievers to believe and affirm each other in what we already believe in. Did the early church look like what our modern church looks like? Probably not. After all, we’re comparing the first century with the twenty-first century, it would be strange if it were exactly the same. That said, we do have many of the same elements/principles in our assembly – the lines of authority, the worship, the teaching, the fellowship and community and the breaking of bread. I’m sure they had many of the same problems that we have now, just look at the letters that Paul and John wrote to the churches! We’re flawed and we’re broken, but this is church. That is why we need the Messiah.

Three points to take from this:

  • Dont be deceived that we can belong to a church without actual physical attendance – that certainly wasn’t the understanding of the early church.
  • Don’t be deceived that there shouldn’t be any authority in church other than God – the early churches had Apostles and elders.
  • Don’t be deceived that the church should be perfect and problem free – the early church sure didn’t look like that.

The Build

Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)—  remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
Ephesians 2:11-22

Ephesus was a modern bustling city of momentous proportions. It featured a library, a gymnasium, a huge auditorium seating 24,500 and an enormous temple dedicated to the goddess Artemis (Diana). Ephesus laid claim to Artemis as their own god, it was their cult and culture. It permeated all of society, causing the city to be known for its hedonistic celebrations and festivals and temple prostitutes.

Here Paul writes to a church that understands the grandeur of architecture. He uses this understanding to describe how Christ’ finished work causes the reconciliation between the Jews and Gentiles and how this builds the church. His focus is set firmly on the nuts and bolts of this building: Christ, Jews and Gentiles. He addresses the Gentiles to show how they have been reconciled to Christ even though the Law was not given to them (v11-13, 19). He teaches how Christ creates the peace between the Jews and Gentiles (v14-18). Then goes on to say how this results in building God’s temple (v19-22).

  • Pre-Christ Gentiles
    • were Gentiles by birth
    • called “uncircumcised” – not given / accepted the Law
    • was separate from Christ
    • excluded from citizenship in Israel (God’s chosen)
    • foreigners to the covenant of the promise
    • without hope
    • without God in the world
    • once far away (from God)
  • Christ’s work
    • brings Gentiles near by His blood
    • is our peace
    • reconciled the Jews and Gentiles
    • destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility
    • set aside the law with its commands and regulations in His flesh
    • create one new humanity out of the two in Himself
    • making peace
    • reconcile both to God through the cross in one (His) body
    • put to death their hostility
    • came and preached peace to those who were far away (Gentiles)
    • preached peace to those who were near (Jews)
    • is the access to the Father through Christ by one Spirit
    • the chief cornerstone
  • Post-Christ Gentiles
    • brought near (to God)
    • no longer foreigners and strangers
    • fellow citizens with God’s people
    • members of God’s household
  • Result
    • whole building joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord
    • all of us being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit

Paul outlines in detail how Christ reconciles us as one and to Him:

  • He does away with the Law that was the separation between the Jews and Gentiles. He does this by setting aside the Law and putting to death it’s hostility and divisiveness in His flesh (that was crucified). 
  • He creates a new humanity out of the Jews and Gentiles in Himself – its not evolutionary, its revolutionary. The two has been reconciled as one new humanity.
  • His one body reconciles us to God through the cross
  • His life on earth was one that preached peace and reconciliation (to God) to both Jews and Gentiles
  • He is the singular access point to the Father in the same Spirit for all of us

The purpose of the cross wasn’t just salvation for the Jews, it was also the unity of the Jews and Gentiles and salvation for the world! His death accomplished that, His life reflected that, even now, the Spirit testifies of this unity. We are united in His gospel. We are all fellow citizens, members of the same household. Our foundation is the same – build on the apostles and prophets. Our chief cornerstone is the same – Christ Jesus. The bolts that join us together is the same – Christ Jesus. In this unity, we rise to be His temple in which He dwells.

In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.
Ephesians 3:4-6

Notice that Ephesians 2:11 begins with therefore, meaning in the light of our resurrection and life with Christ (v5-6), we do not regard ourselves anymore as Gentiles. He says that we were formerly Gentiles by birth, but now we are a new person by His resurrection (and His handiwork, v10). As new building blocks in Christ, we play a role in the building. But the building is not done yet; we play a continuous role as ones who are being built together. What a picture Christ gives us! He breaks down the dividing wall between the 2 structures and builds a whole new building on top with all new handcrafted materials from the old structures. He is still building us together with them to be His building.

He describes this new building as a holy temple and a dwelling for God’s Spirit. A holy temple and a dwelling. We are a building set apart /reserved for divine purpose and activities in which God Himself lives in. That is the church. That is the product of the peace that Christ has attained for us. That we can be a part of that building, a brick in that church, is beyond what we deserve (v3). Christ has intentions for this church, work prepared for us to accomplish (v10).

His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Ephesians 3:10-11

This unity and peace we have is a marvellous thing, but lets not forget that it has a divine purpose – to spread the gospel (John 17:20-23).

Working class Christianity

Working class Christians. You don’t see them at church events held during the week. Some of them might be serving once a month in a low involvement ministry. Many of them used to be fervent Christians in their teens but seem to be caught up with their own life now. Work, houses, cars, children and hobbies seem to take up so much of their time that God takes the backseat. Church is thrown in the boot.

The working class Christian is often disregarded as unspiritual. They are labelled as bench warmers or sleeping christians. They are shunned as worldly, uninvolved in the work of the church and overly comfortable in life. They seem to have lost their first love for Christ and are more concerned with secular work.

The story sounds different when you ask many (not all) working class Christians. They would say that they are trying to glorify God in their workplace, reach out to their collegues and be a positive influence in their various companies. Some of them are workplace evangalist and pastors, spreading the good news over cups of coffee and email. Their main contribution in the church might not be time and effort, but finance. 

So why aren’t some in the church more thankful of people like that? What is this disgruntled mumbling about working class Christians not doing their bit?

Churchianity

Wiktionary defines it as “Any practices of Christianity that are viewed as placing a larger emphasis on the habits of church life or the institutional traditions of the church than on theology and spiritual teachings; The quality of being too church-focused.

The church is God’s vehicle of choice for advancing His kingdom, but we forget that the church is God’s people. The church is ordinary people, in their ordinary lives, doing their ordinary jobs but with the extraordinary Spirit. Church happens when people come together on a Sunday, but also when they go out on a Monday.

I was speaking to a pastor friend of mine months ago and he shared with me a problem in his church. “No one wants to go out and work in the secular job, too many young people want to serve the church”, he says. What a strange phenomenon. It isn’t hard to see that working class Christians have a place in the church – right beside the pastors who work in the church, the students who make learning their work, retirees who enjoy the fruits of their work and housemakers who work in their homes.

So are we Christians or Churchians?

The Body

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.
Romans 12:3-8

What Paul says there, he says to each person individually. I am not to think “I am everything”; I play a part in a bigger picture. I am not to think “I am nothing”; I have a gift and function in the body. These verses explain themselves. It sounds like a simple solution to a complex problem in the church. But that is exactly what it is. Do what it says and we will start to see others in a whole new light.

What strikes me about this passage is when he says “each member belongs to all the others”. 

Think about that.

When we say that something “belongs”, it depicts possession, natural affinity and acceptance.

We belong to each other.

“Welcome Home” is what you will first read when you enter our church in Bibra Lake, Western Australia. We (I and my wife) have been struggling with calling this chuch our home. Home is not quite how we feel when we step in the church.

This is not because the church is horrible. We already know it is not perfect. What inhibits us from experiencing the kind of church that we can call home is cultural difference. While our original (racial, family and experience) cultural identity bows down to the kingdom culture and we find unity in the kingdom culture, our expression of kingdom culture is different.

This affects everything, from a macro level (administrating and organising the church) to a micro level (a single comment in a conversation). I guess we have yet to fully assimilate into the Australian culture. It simply isn’t that easy. In every conversation, my mind goes racing back and forth to find a culturally appropriate experience to what I am hearing, then speed around again to search for a culturally appropriate response, all while my face produces an agonising awkward look (usually a kind of laugh). Imagine this happening in every conversation in every single small group, ministry meeting, after church coffee time. I’m suprised I don’t break a sweat while having a conversation.

“Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art… It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival.”
C. S. Lewis

I think I have a new found respect for missionaries and bible translators. To be an alien in the foreign land and live as one of them without disregarding their cultural identity and at the same time appreciating a different culture, that takes skill. Then to mix it all together and form an appropriate expression of kingdom culture, that is all God.

Mere humanity

Who can blame them?

Who can blame the church for being misunderstood?

Awkward laugh

“Better to keep your mouth closed and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt”

I have something to say, something I think is intelligent. I become acutely aware of my own mannerisms, knowing that when I speak, there is a timbre of confidence (perhaps over confidence). I become very careful not to sound proud or arrogant. Afterall, I might be wrong. But I do not want what I say to sound unimportant or fluffy. So I juggle it all with a horrific awkward laugh.

It does seem like the only person that picks it up is Sara. She reads me like a book (and its only a 2 page book with font size 24). It is a sort of mechanism I use when I am unsure of how appropriate my response is in a particular social situation. Particularly when I have something I think is intelligent to say, but I don’t want to sound proud or arrogant. It is annoying.

First, it is annoying being in such a situation. Second, it is annoying to say something and not know if it is appropriate because feedback is not always forthcoming. Third, the laugh itself is annoying. It screams with, “I am an awkward person.” Which I would not like to think so.

It seems to be a more common occurance especially in Australia where I am not as culturally aware/in tune. I simply do not have enough unspoken background knowledge to understand how to go about putting myself out.

Now what do I do with this little problem? Has anyone had this problem as well? Has anyone else picked that up talking to me? Am I really awkward?