Grace Words

A Daily Bible Reader's Blog

Presented by Mike Tune and Amazing Grace International, Inc.

Grace Words: A Daily Bible Reader’s Blog

Uncompromising Honor

“I hate the assembly of evildoers, and I will not sit with the wicked” (Psalm 26:5)

Between November 28 and December 1, 1943, Winston Churchill, Joseph Stalin, and Franklin Roosevelt met in Tehran to coordinate military strategy in the war against Germany. In his podcast “Reflections of History,” Jon Meacham tells about an evening meal the three leaders shared on November 29. During the dinner, Stalin bragged that he planned to execute 50,000 German officers after the war.

When I heard that, immediately I figured everyone laughed, being reminded of an old “lawyer joke” with the punchline “a good start.” Indeed, Roosevelt tried to lighten the comment by saying perhaps only 49,000 should be killed. Churchill, however, was having none of it. He pointedly reproved Stalin and said such talk was barbaric and then, visibly shaken, got up from the table and walked into an empty nearby room to be by himself.

Churchill needed Stalin and Roosevelt. Together, they had a chance against Hitler. Churchill knew that alone, Britain would be toast. And yet, principle and honor and decency was at stake. He could not abide such cruel talk and would not be a part of it.

And I thought “wow.” I then thought of the Psalm text above, as well as Psalm 1:1 and Job’s comment “I stand aloof from the plans of the wicked.” Whatever else history may say about Churchill, there was an admirable moment.

I’m tempted to say “we need more leaders like that, who exhibit in their dealings an uncompromising devotion to justice, honor, decency, and mercy – come what may, cost what it will.” But really, we need to be a people like that. And when we are, we’ll have the leaders we need. For followers of Jesus, such a life is not an option. It is our calling. Nothing less will do.
Mike Tune

The Indispensable Church – Keeping It Alive

Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:14-15).

In my last note I wrote about the life-cycle of a church, how that, inevitably, it will die. But no one should read those words as if that truth is inconsequential. When a church dies, it is very consequential.

When a church dies, because it is the presence of Christ in a community (remember, the church is the “body of Christ”), it means that Christ no longer has a presence there or, if the congregation is one of several, the presence of Christ is diminished. It is through the work of the church that the knowledge of God and salvation through Jesus Christ is to be made known in a community (see Ephesians 3:10-11). When a church dies the means of this knowledge is also diminished.

Note our text: The church is the “pillar and foundation of the truth.” The phrase is significant. The church does not “originate” truth. Truth comes from God and is found in His word. But that truth is supported by and rests on the church – the family of God. Without the church, God’s truth is but an idea – perhaps an ideal. But in the church, that idea comes to life, is seen to be real and seen how it can be real in the lives of people. God’s truth is lived, proclaimed, encouraged, and supported by the church and when a church dies, that fleshed out image of God’s truth dies too.

It is a truth, churches die. But it is important that they not die, that they be kept alive (but not on life support), vibrant, healthy, growing as long as possible that the truth of God might not just be proclaimed, but seen in a world that desperately needs it. By the way, none of that happens unless those members who make up the church actively, intentionally, and faithfully, make it so.
Mike Tune

The Indispensable Church – Living, Growing, Ageing, Dying

“Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household . . .” (Ephesians 2:19).

A variety of terms are used in the New Testament for God’s people — kingdom, church, body, city, and family are just a few. Each of these helps describe who we are and something of our relationship with God. No one of them is adequate for a complete description. I turn now to focus on just one: the “household.”

The word translated “household” means simply “house” and most often in the New Testament it refers to a literal dwelling. But it is also a synonym for “family” and it is in this sense that the local church is called the household of God..

The “Kingdom” of God is eternal. But the “family” of God, as a local body of people, like all families, is not. Families have a life cycle. You begin with a marriage. The family grows as children are brought into it (by birth or adoption). It also grows when those children marry, and even more when the children have children. But eventually, family lines die. Sometimes couples cannot have children, or the children do not get married, or the children do not have children. In time, that line dies. You no doubt know of families slowly, inexorably, coming to an end. It can be a sad thing, but it is a natural thing. It gets sadder when the remnants of the family line stubbornly refuse to plan for an orderly and dignified end.

The same is true for the local family of God. The local church serves as a branch on the great tree of God’s family and every branch, eventually, comes to an end. When a Church fails to bring in new family members or fails to raise new family members from within its own ranks, that family line ages and dies. It’s natural. Sometimes, something can be done: Christians can be roused from their lethargy to share the good news with their friends and neighbors, new people can be brought in, and there is a resurgence of life. But sometimes, the field (to pick up another metaphor Jesus used) where the church is situated is played out – infertile. No matter how much seed you sow, how much you fertilize, there will be no harvest. Sometimes, it’s too late. The remnants are simply incapable of saving the family line. The line is coming to an end and wisdom decrees the inevitable should be accepted and plans made for a dignified and noble end worthy of the people of God.

Until the end comes however, there is something important to remember, and important things to be done – the subjects of our next essay.
Mike Tune

The Indispensable Church – A Living Sacrifice

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:1-2).

In writing to the Roman church, Paul addresses a divided congregation – a division (mostly along ethnic lines) which has led to a misunderstanding of faith. You see the division in the last chapter of the book where Paul mentions several “house churches.” It’s usually assumed the Roman Church was composed of a number of congregations – which it was, but the real question is why? Perhaps there was no one venue big enough to hold them all, but that’s just an assumption. Deep seated division, I think, is the better answer. Sixteen times in that chapter Paul commands them to “greet” one another. Why do that unless he is wanting to draw them all closer together?

But to our text passage:

Paul urges them to present themselves as a living sacrifice. We usually read that to mean “you each present your life as a living sacrifice to God,” but that’s not what Paul says. If he’d meant that, he would have written “present your bodies as living sacrifices” (plural). But he doesn’t. They all, together, as a united body, were to present themselves as one living sacrifice (singular) to God. The point is driven home in the next sentence where Paul urges them to transform their “mind” (not “minds”). The thinking (and action) of the church was to be united in its singular devotion to God and one another, and only this united body could possibly be a holy and acceptable offering to God.

In verses three and following Paul goes on to write about what this unity looks like, and when he does, he addresses the members individually (note “I say to every one of you”). Why? Because a united church can only exist when individuals behave in a united way.
Mike Tune

The Church – Indispensable to Spiritual Growth

. . .we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:15-16).

Since the Church, by its nature (the body of Christ, the family of God, the temple of God), is important to God (see previous posts), and since the Church can only be visible through the local congregation, we turn now to look at the function of the local church.

Our text picks up on the church as the body of Christ which, when you think about it, is a challenging image. The local church is Jesus in the community. At least, that’s what it’s supposed to be. It’s most often not seen that way, but that’s Paul’s point: it, as the congregation of God’s people (His family), is supposed to aim in the direction of it’s head so that, over time, it grows to look like Jesus to the world. It’s a process.

This only happens of course if Jesus is the church’s example. But you can’t just claim it. Each member of the church must determine to hold the church together so that it is seen as a united body growing to become like Jesus. And, each member of the church must fulfill his or her role as a well functioning part of that body with love toward the other parts of the body. There is a responsibility here that cannot be abdicated.

The church is God’s community where Christ-like traits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, equity, justice and righteousness are encouraged and developed.

But your church doesn’t exhibit all these things? That’s part of it really. Growth doesn’t happen without challenge. Peace seldom comes without conflict, nor joy without the challenge of sorrow. Patience must be tried to become perfect. Christ-likeness cannot be developed in isolation. The church is that family where Christ-likeness is taught, seen, encouraged, mentored, and challenged to become stronger – and that makes the church indispensable.
Mike Tune

The Indispensable Church – 2

Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth. (1 Timothy 3:14-15)

In a previous blog (see #1 in this series) I pointed out the indispensable nature of the Church to a relationship with God. You should, however, keep in mind that in no sense is the Church is simply an idea or notion without concrete existence.

The word translated “church” in our Bibles is a Greek word for “assembly.” But it was not, in the ancient world, just any assembly. It was specifically the assembly of free voting citizens (always a minority) in a (non-Jewish) city which met to determine the course of that community. Can you imagine then how non-Christians felt when they heard Christians (many of them poor and some even slaves) speak of themselves as the Church? But with their terminology, the Christians were making a not so subtle point: It is God’s people who are the truly free, and as God’s servants, we are the real deciding factors of a community’s future.

Theologians refer to the Church (capital “C”) as the “great church” or the “universal church.” Local churches (congregations) get a small “c” church designation. In this thinking, churches everywhere make up the Great Church. But the Apostle Paul never uses such terminology. The Church is the physical fellowship of God’s people that assembles together in every community.  The congregation is the Church.

Individually, the movers and shakers of ancient communities may have been free, land owning, citizens, but they were not seen as “the assembly” until they gathered. In the same way, disciples of Jesus are seen to be the Church when they gather – which is why the local church (congregation or assembly) is so important, and why being a part of one is indispensable to being a part of the Church. You can’t be a part of the Church if you are apart from the church. Or, stated another way, you can’t be a part of the household of God if you are apart from the household of God.
Mike Tune

The Indispensable Church – 1

Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth. (1 Timothy 3:14-15)

If the Gospels are any indication, Jesus didn’t have much to say about the Church – the word occurs only twice and both times in Matthew (16:18; 18:17). But that doesn’t mean he thought it was unimportant. In fact, Jesus made it plain that the Church was an integral part of His mission. He came to build it. In fact, it is the only thing Jesus ever said he was going to build.

New Testament writers advanced the understanding of the Church in a variety of ways: It is, as our text says, the “household of God” (or God’s family). It belongs to God (a point made explicitly seven times in the New Testament). It is called the “body of Christ” (Ephesians 1:22-23) and “God’s temple” (1 Corinthians 3:16).

So what’s the point?

There is no relationship with God apart from the family of God. There is no connection with God without belonging to God. There is no relationship with Christ without belonging to His body. There is no indwelling of God’s Spirit without God’s temple, and no temple without the Church. Altogether, the Church is an indispensable part of a relationship with God.
Mike Tune

Voting on Worship

“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9).

“The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).

It took me totally by surprise. I’m used to billboards advertising churches – “Come worship with us!” But this one was different. The church name was displayed prominently at the top (not so unusual) but at the bottom, in big bold letters were the words “Voted Best Place to Worship 2022.” That was a new one.

So I wondered: voted by who? Their own members? Isn’t there a Bible passage about that? Something along the lines of “people who measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves are not wise” (of course there is – 2 Corinthians 10:12). Might there be a cadre of people whose job it is to visit houses of worship to see which is best? (I’m new to the area so maybe that’s a thing here.) What were the criteria for making this judgment?

We need to be careful with this. Worship is all about the exaltation of God. When God’s people live holy lives, then gather to praise God, listen to God, talk to God, and remember what God has done for them (which leads back to praise), that’s worship. It’s not about “place.” Through all this, I may be encouraged, renewed, motivated and instructed, but worship is not about what I get. Worship is about what I give and specifically, about what I give God. The most important thing about it is whether what we offer pleases the Lord. He is not required to accept whatever we offer (Isaiah 1:10-15) and if our text passages are any indication, what gets our vote probably isn’t getting His.

And His vote is the only one that counts.

Not Just Something You Get Through

“Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth” (Revelation 3:10).

Through the trials of life, no matter why they come, God calls His people to “patient endurance.” But what does that mean?

Buddy Cannon tells about being on Willie Nelson’s bus in Austin Texas. They were parked at the Austin City Limits theater and people were coming and going to visit with Willie. One of the bus drivers brought a woman on board who was distressed. She sat at the dining table and she and Willie talked – she crying and Willie listening sympathetically. A family member had died and her grief was deep. At one point she said: “I just don’t know how I am ever going to get over this.” And Willie, who never took his eyes off her, replied: “It’s not something you get over . . . but it’s something you’ll get through. A bulb came on in Cannon’s mind and later, he and Willie wrote the song “Something You Get Through” (see the official video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rdtx-pxjX8A).

I love the song and the story behind it. It reminds us: No matter what happens in life, if you live through it, you’ll get through it. My mother called it “putting one foot in front of another.” You just keep on keeping on, plowing ahead no matter how the rough seas rock your boat.

But that’s not the endurance Jesus has in mind in our text. It’s not a “keep on keeping on no matter what” kind of thing. It is “patient” endurance, which speaks to “how” one endures. You keep on keeping on in a spirit of calm and restraint and (yes) confidence – all components of patience.

Why?

Because for us it is not just “getting through it.” We have the assurance of the abiding presence of God to shepherd us through our trying times. As Phil Johnson wrote: “He didn’t bring us this far to leave us. He didn’t build His home in us to move away. He didn’t lift us up to let us down.”

Or as an older hymn goes:
I walk with the Savior each step of the way
I trust Him to guide me, by night and by day.
Not dreading tomorrow, nor what it may bring,
I’m safe in the keeping, of Jesus the king.

It’s the difference between just “getting through,” and being victorious.

What Are You Looking At?

Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light, but when it is bad, your body is full of darkness (Luke 11:34).

In the previous verse, Jesus says the purpose of light is to illumine the path – so you don’t stumble around in darkness. I would guess we have all had that latter experience. In that sense, the Psalmist says, God’s word is the light to illumine our way to God (Psalm 119:105).

But here, Jesus changes the metaphor. The eye no longer follows the light. The eye is the light, and the body follows it. Jesus’ point is that your life tends in the direction of where you are looking. If you are looking at the wrong things (ie. have an unhealthy eye), you’ll head in the wrong direction – toward darkness.

Eve found the fruit of the forbidden tree “pleasing to the eye.” If I might paraphrase: “she couldn’t keep her eyes off it” and she just kept circling back. The solution of course was easy, but hard. Look at something else. But she didn’t, and before long, she couldn’t. The light that was her eye went bad. It led to discontent and ultimately, sin.

In her essay “My Year of No Shopping” Ann Patchett writes of the year she decided not to buy anything. The decision was born out of two realizations: First, that her shopping had become a (poor) way of handling anxiety and second, she already had far more than she needed. She writes: “The trick of no-shopping wasn’t just to stop buying things. The trick was to stop shopping.” Stop looking – advice that would have saved King David a lot of heartache.

But “stop looking” isn’t only what Jesus has in mind. He calls us to something deeper. Realize what you are looking at, what you are focusing on. Is it  necessary? Is it good? Will it make you a better you? Will it contribute to holiness? No? Then turn away and focus elsewhere. In time (unless you keep circling back), you’ll find its hold lessening, the attraction fading and your life will take a turn toward the light and healthiness God always intended.