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When I was a child I went to church because my parents took me there.

When I was a teenager I went to church because I experienced the love of God and wanted to learn more about Him and His great love.

When I was in Bible College I went to church because it was required by the Bible College and I enjoyed the preaching.

After I graduated from Bible College I went to church because I worked with the youth group and I was married and had two daughters.

After I divorced I went to church because I needed the fellowship and support of the Body of Christ, and I was committed to contributing to the life of the church in various ways.

I have gone to church my whole life, and for the most part it has been a positive experience. I have enjoyed the music, both the richness of the old hymns and also the lively contemporary tunes. Most churches that I went to had talented musicians who made that aspect of the service something special.

The sermons were usually my favorite part. Most of the ministers were highly educated, gifted speakers who made the Bible come alive. Preachers who explained biblical passages in their cultural and literary settings, and then offered practical applications for present day followers of Jesus.

I came to Mexico to help needy children thirteen years ago. These years have probably been the happiest years of my life. Living my life helping the fatherless and the incarcerated. Making a difference in the lives of poor children who have been abused and neglected by those who should have cared for them. Seeing smiling, happy faces everyday of young ones who would otherwise be living miserable lives, is an exceedingly rewarding experience for me.  Laughing with inmates and bringing a message of encouragement to them; many who were falsely accused and unjustly imprisoned, is a great blessing for me.

Going to church in Mexico, on the other hand, is not such a great experience for me. The music is almost always too loud and hurts my ears. The lyrics are generally shallow and the theology of the songs suspect. The same can often be said for the preaching. I miss the music and sermons from the U.S.A.

So why do I still go to church? Because that is where I encounter the Body of Christ, the Community of Faith, gathered together to acknowledge the goodness of the God who has called us, redeemed us, justified us, rescued us, saved us and is sanctifying us everyday. I go to church primarily to look around and be reminded that God loves US and wants US to be happy. I go to church and see the Family of God, adopted sons and daughters of the Most High, brothers and sisters of the Faith.

In reality, every time I walk out my front door here at the mission, I go to church.  The church is the people who I work with everyday, my fellow Christians.  In one sense, I don’t go to church – I live in the church.  I live and work with people who are dedicated to making beauty, doing good and sharing the truth in the name of Jesus.  People who strive everyday to love God and love humanity.  People trying to bring peace, joy and light into dark and unhappy lives.  We do it all depending on the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the strength of the Lord and the nurturing of our loving heavenly Father.  That is the true church.

But when we all gather together, now that is something special.  The presence of God is manifest in our lives in a unique way.  I look around the auditorium and I see house parents who give their time and love to children desperate for love. I see cooks who make delicious, wholesome meals for children who previously lacked a proper diet and nutrition. I notice men who do maintenance; who keep the vehicles in working condition so the kids can go to school safely and the cooks can go and buy food and the teachers can go and buy supplies. I take in the school teachers who are so dedicated and give so much of themselves so that their students have a good education and can make something of themselves in this country where it can be so difficult to get ahead.  God’s presence is with us all as we go about our individual chores and fulfill our responsibilities.  But when we all gather together to worship God and look into each others eyes and pray for one another, that gives God an opportunity to do a work in our hearts and lives that would not otherwise be accomplished.

So I go to church and worship God with music that is too loud and where the preaching is less than stimulating, because I am part of a team that God has called. He has not just called us individually to salvation, but He has called each of us to come to Tlacolula, Oaxaca, Mexico, to work together and grow together and make a difference together. Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

I go to church to celebrate US. US who are God’s handiwork. US who are created in Christ Jesus. US who are doing good works that God has prepared for US to do.

I go to church to celebrate God with my brothers and sisters in the Faith. The God who has opened our eyes to the truth. The God who gives us a common vision of how we can participate in the Kingdom of God in the Tlacolula valley of southern Mexico. To celebrate the faithful God who gives us “strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.”

That is why I still go to church.

Don’t

live in the world

and go to church.

Live

in the

church

and go into the world!!!

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In my last post I began to write about Christian Unity, especially as it relates to Paul’s letter to the unity1Ephesians in chapter four.  In that chapter I found ten items that are important to unity in the Community of Faith.  I wrote about five critical elements last time, and will conclude with five more this time.  The five points of Christian Unity in my last post were:

1.  Walk worthy of the calling you have received
2.  Be completely humble
3.  Put up with each other
4.  Make every effort to keep the bond of unity
5.  Love one another

One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism

6.  Paul goes on to mention One Lord, One Faith, and One Baptism.  To believe in and to have only one Lord was an extremely important idea in the time that Paul lived and wrote.  There was a major player who lived at this time who also demanded allegiance as the one Lord, and that was the Emperor.  It would have made life easier for the early Christians if they could have two Lords in their lives; Jesus and Caesar.  But Paul assured the believers in the early church that they must acknowledge and worship only Christ.  Many early followers of Christ were forced to choose one or the other, and for many they confessed Jesus as Lord in their dying breath.

In the same phrase we hear Paul mentioning One Faith and One Baptism.  For me, true Faith can be boiled down to the belief that God loves us and wants us to be happy.  When people come to that belief that they can only be truly happy by trusting their lives to God and what was accomplished by Christ’s work on the cross, then they naturally want to proclaim that fact to the world by experiencing the One Baptism, in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

One God and Father of All

7.  Then Paul writes about “One God and Father of all”.  To talk about God as Father was somewhat revolutionary for the Jews and the gentiles.  The  whole Old Testament only refers to God as Father five times.  The Jews didn’t really relate to God as Father.  Jesus turned their heads and got their attention when he began to refer frequently to God as Father; not just his father, but as Father to all followers.  Paul continues with this glorious concept in most of his letters, and marks this idea as very important to Christian Unity.  The commUnity of Faith must not only believe in God in general, and look to Christ as the head of the body, but also needs to see God as the Father of the Christian family.  The Father who adopts, who loves, and who gives good gifts to his children because he loves them and wants them to be happy.

Identify and Use Spiritual Gifts

8.  Next Paul tells the church that God gave gifts to the disciples of Christ to build up the church and bring it to a greater unity.  The gifts God gave were, and still are, the gifts of apostles, prophets, evangelists, preachers and teachers.  Unity doesn’t happen in a vacuum.  Unity doesn’t happen without effort.  To grow unity in the body of Christ we need to have everyone to be first aware of their gift, then educated in the use of their gift, and finally to use their gift.  It’s like building a house.  First the carpenter has to be aware of the tools at his disposal.  The circular saw, nail gun and drill.  Then he has to know how to use the tools, and have a power source to run the tools.  Finally he has to actually pick up the tools and begin cutting boards, nailing then together and drilling holes in appropriate places.
Many Christians have spiritual gifts, but they are not aware of what they are.  A wise church or Christian organization will have classes to educate people on the spiritual gifts and determine who has what gifts.  For example, at the home for needy children in Oaxaca Mexico, where I am helping out, we are going to have a series of classes, led by our administrator, Jill Adams, to help the staff identify their gifts, learn how to use them and then put them to work to make our local commUnity of Faith stronger and more effective in ministering to the “least of these” in Oaxaca.

Speak the Truth in Love

9.  In verse 15 of chapter four, Paul writes about “speaking the truth in love”.  The number one thing that causes disUnity in the church and division in the body of Christ is the bad things people say.  Negative things people speak.  Gossip, slander, words of anger, tongue wagging lies, or speaking the truth in hate.  Paul echoes this sentiment later in verse 29, when he admonishes believers, “Don’t let ANY UNwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but ONLY that which builds up“.  Christians should never berate one another, complain about others or grumble about fellow followers of Christ.  When they speak incorrectly they are tearing down the body and not building unity.

10.  “The whole body of Christ builds itself up in love, when every part does its work.”  Paul wants all believers everywhere to know that this Unity thing is work!  Everyone and every part needs to Work at unity.  It doesn’t happen naturally, in fact most of these ten items go against our natural grain as sin bent human beings.  The World, the Flesh, and especially the Devil, don’t especially like Christian unity.  Paul goes on to talk about the great spiritual struggles we face everyday, and the need to be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power, and to put on the spiritual armor to defeat the Enemies and to grow Unity.  This isn’t easy.  It takes dedication, commitment and intention to accomplish.  In short, it’s Work!

Let all Christians everywhere  strive for unity.  It’s what God wants because he loves us and wants us to be happy.  Us as individuals and as a commUnity of faith.

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FOCUS ON GOD

It seems to me that because God loves us and wants us to be happy, that when we go to church we should focus on Him. We should thank Him, glorify Him, and honor Him.  Our attention should be on God.  But if you think about the words in most of the songs we sing, the attention and focus is mainly on us.  Particularly me, myself and I.  “Here I am to worship”.  “I surrender all.”  “Above all, He thought of me.”  When I go to church, I don’t want to think about me.  I want to think first of all about God and His mercy, grace, love, power, kindness, compassion, gentleness and presence.  Secondly, I want to focus on the community of faith around me, the called out ones.  God brings us together as the family of God, and its proper for us as a community to worship and adore Him with songs and words that reflect our togetherness; words like “us” and “we” and “our”, rather than “me”, “myself” and “I”.

ONE DAY LESS
It seems to me that everyday we should thank God for one day LESS.  A lot of Christians thank God everyday for one day more.  One day more to enjoy God.  One day more of life.  One day more to live for God.   While that is all good, I think it’s better to think about the best – and the best thing that will happen to us is that one day we will see God face to face.  We will be in His immediate presence, engulfed in His love, free from this world and its sin and pain and  suffering.  Each day we live is one day less until we are with God.  Paul says in Philippians one, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain….I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far.”  In the second chapter of Peter’s second letter, he describes the awful wicked world that we live in.  In the following chapter, Peter writes, “You  ought to live holy and godly lives as you LOOK FORWARD to the day of God and speed its coming.  That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat.  But in keeping with his promise, we are LOOKING FORWARD to a new heaven and new earth, where righteousness dwells.”  Sounds like Peter and Paul were thanking God for one day LESS.

IT’S IN OUR HANDS

It seems to me that everyday we should thank God for putting the day in OUR hands.  I hear a lot of Christians telling God that they are going to put the day in His hands.  I don’t quite understand that because everything is in God’s hands, including the days.  As far as I can see, the real miracle, the real special thing, is that God puts the day in OUR hands, and gives us the freedom to use it as we see fit.  We can use it for good or bad; for blessing or cursing; for making the world a better place or worse place; to bring beauty and productivity into the  kingdom, or ugliness and destruction.  God has put the day into OUR hands, and it seems to me we should thank God for that and seek His guidance for the best way to use the day to glorify and honor Him.

LIVE IN THE CHURCH

It seems to me that Christians should not live in the world and go to church, but that we should live in the Church and go into the world.  God calls us into a community of faith, into the Body of Christ.  We best flesh out our “personal relationship” with God, within the framework of fellowship within the Church.  God doesn’t want no “Lone Ranger” Christians who don’t participate in a Christian Community.  “Lone Ranger” Christians who want to live in the world and occasionally go to church.  No, God calls us to follow Him as a body, as a group of disciples whom He sends out into the world to be salt and light; to be healers and helpers; to be pro-claimers of the Good News that God is inviting people into the Kingdom of God.

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In the plan of the Great Dance plans without number interlock, and each movement becomes in its season the breaking into flower of the whole design to which all else has been directed.  Thus each is equally at the center and none are there by being equals, but some by giving place and some by receiving it, the small things by their smallness and the  great things by their greatness, and all the patterns linked and looped together by the unions of a kneeling with a sceptred love.  Blessed be He!       C.S. Lewis in Perelandra

The staff at Cristo Por Su Mundo (Christ for the World), a home for needy children here in Oaxaca, Mexico, which is part of FoundationFor His Ministry, recently began a five day study of what it means for Christians to live in community.  I felt like this was an important topic for us to delve into, since we are a faith community with almost two dozen staff members and sixty children, and we had never had an in-depth study of what the Bible or Christian leaders have to say about this important topic.

A book that has heavily influenced my perspective on Christian community, is called Life Together,  by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  I took the first devotional/teaching session to present Bonhoeffer’s ideas of what living in community is all about.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German theologian, professor and pastor when Hitler was in power.  He was ultimately executed by Hitler for his anti Hitler activities.  He was head of a Christian community in Germany for awhile and wrote his little book Life Together to help other Christians who lived in community or who were considering the idea.
In our first devotional study time I handed out two pages of quotes from Life Together.  Here are some of my favorites:

The goal of Christian community – Meeting one another as bringers of the message of salvation.

Be thankful – Enter into common life not as demanders but as thankful recipients.

Jesus Christ alone is our unity – Through him alone do we have access to one another, joy in one another, and fellowship with one another.

Priorities – It is more important for us to know what God did to Israel, to his son Jesus Christ, than to seek what God intends for us today.

Learning – Only in fellowship do we learn to be rightly alone and only in aloneness do we learn to live rightly in the fellowship; both begin with the call of Christ.

Meditation – The period of personal meditation is to be devoted to the scriptures, private prayer, and intercession.  If you seek God alone, you will gain happiness.

Meekness – He who would learn to serve must first learn to think little of himself.

Helpfulness – We must allow ourselves to be interrupted by God.  God will be constantly canceling our plans by sending us people with needs that we can meet.

Jill, the assistant administrator of the children’s home also spoke about living in community.  She looked at community from a theological point of view.  She used the book called Community 101 as her guiding light.  This book talked about how community began with God, the Trinity, three in one, the first community.  Then God created Adam, and God declared that it was not good that man was alone.  Man was created to live in community, and God created Eve, from one of Adams ribs.  Thus the first human community.

Satan hates all things that God creates as good and beautiful, and seeks to destroy them, especially community.  His first attack was against community.  An essential element of community between God and man, and mankind living in community, is trust.  Satan attacks community by attacking trust.  He convinced Eve that God could not be trusted, and thus destroyed the perfect community that man had with God, and in the process, the community Adam and Eve had.  Satan continues to try and destroy Christian community, and those living in community must be ever vigilant regarding their thoughts, words and actions, lest the Evil One drive a wedge between its members.

Below are some quotes from Community 101:

Primacy of oneness – God is  eternally one.  When he created us in his image, he created oneness.

God’s gift of oneness – God’s supreme achievement was not the creation of solitary man, but the creation of human community.

Centrality of oneness – The quality of human communities depends on our willingness to be dependent on God.

Commitment to community – For a church to develop and maintain oneness is not a take-it-or-leave-it option.  It is a priority and a mandate.  We need to be constantly reminded of our true identity as a community of oneness.

God calls us to have a “personal relationship” with Him.  But that is not the end all and be all of what it means to  be a Christian.  God brings us into right relationship with Him, so that we can be part of the “called out ones”; the church; the community of faith; the  body of Christ.  God created community because He loves us and wants us to be happy.  I know that is true for me.  Although I have gone to church most of my life, and been a member of different churches, and done church for most of 50 years, I have not experienced such joy and happiness and fulfillment since I became part of this Christian community in Mexico called Cristo Por Su Mundo.  Instead of “doing” church, we are “being” the church that God called His followers to be.

Thinking on this, I am reminded of the breakfast illustration of ham and eggs.  In the making of this breakfast the chicken was involved, but the pig was committed.  Most Christians are involved in a Christian community, living at the fringes of what God truly intends for His disciples.  I think God wants all His children to take the plunge, and commit to living in community.  That is the way He wired us in order to truly glorify Him by enjoying Him.

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There are many things which a person can do alone, but being a Christian is not one of them. As the Christian life is, above all things, a state of union with Christ, and of union of his followers with one another, love of the brethren is inseparable from love of God. Resentment toward any human being cannot exist in the same heart with love to God. The personal relationship to Christ can only be realized when one has “come to himself” as a member of His Body, the Christian fellowship.

William T. Ham