Friday, February 09, 2007

Building a New People For God -- Part 1

Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands—remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.
Ephesians 2:11-22

Over at Voice of Vison I was reading this post about how we as Christians are not to think we can do it on our own. As I considered that post, and looked at the various comments that have been made, it reminded me of a pastor friend of mine who often struggles with the fact that some families in the congregation he serves have left for a church that is larger and has more youth programs. Particularly they have need activities such as, if I remember correctly, a rock climbing wall.

As I considered that in the Meta, I asked the following:

I wonder, in the long run, will that rock climbing wall keep those young people in the church? Does it do anything to nurture and build up a child in the faith. Is it an example of a way the body builds itself up, or is it only a way to keep the kids occupied?

As I considered this more and more, it brought to mind this section of Ephesians. It brought it to mind because is says so much about Christ building a new people. I don't think in one post I can deal with the whole passage, so I will try to work through it in several posts.

As this section starts, it starts with a reminder about what things are like in a world dominated by sin. It is a reminder because those Paul is writing to are already believers, but in that reminder it also points to what things are like for those who do not believe in Christ. We read, "Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands—remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.

Here Paul looks at those Gentile believers, and says in essence, remember what you were. Remember that before you believed you were separated from Christ. You were alienated from the people of God and that promises that they have from God. You were without hope. You were without God. You were in the world with all its emptiness, alienation, and all that means.

That was what they were, and that is what any person who is outside of Christ is now. If you do not trust in Christ and what he has done, you are living in a world where you are alienated not just from the people of God, but from one another. You are living in a world where you cannot get to God, and where ultimately there is no hope. That is true for all those who are outside of what Christ has done, and the only way to receive that is through faith.

Many people don't realize this, at least not in a way they can put their finger on it. Others, do realize it. They look at their life and the world around them, and they see no purpose, no hope, nothing bigger than the futility of one life in a world of billions. A life that when it ends will have no lasting meaning. So they start to look for that meaning in the various spiritualities around them as if they can find it that way. Yet, the real problem cannot be solved that way, because no matter how much you look in yourself for answers, it is your very self that will keep you from finding them. Others, who may or may not realize they are without God and without hope in this world, may seek to deal with this through entertainment, work, or a whole host of other distractions; but as soon as they are alone with themselves, back it comes. It comes back, because that sense of aloneness, alienation, separation, etc. is part of what it means to be separated from Christ and from God.

This is why it disturbs me that we somehow think that rock climbing walls, sports programs, movie nights, and all the rest are what will keep young people, or not so young people, in the church. It disturbs me because not one of these things will move a person from being separated from Christ to being joined to him. Not one.

Now again, don't get me wrong. I am not against fun or enjoyment. I don't think any of these things are wrong in themselves, but when a parent or congregation thinks that without them there is no hope for their children, then I say you are missing the point, because these things may keep your kids in church for a while, but when they grow up, if they have not received Christ in faith by the grace of God, then they will find that the world does a much better job at entertaining them than the church ever did. If they do not love Christ, trust Christ, want to worship Christ for Christ, then they probably don't believe, and no rock climbing walls, cool gymnasium, or any other entertainment will change that. They are separated from Christ, alienated from God's people, without God and without hope. It is in realizing that, that you can start to see that the only solution is to point them to Christ.

It is only there that this situation be changed, and that will only happen in a congregation where the Word of God is preached. Where the Bible is proclaimed and lived out as the very word of God written. Where people strive to learn and understand what God is revealing in the written word which all points to the living Word Jesus Christ.

None of that requires all those other things that so many are thinking are important today. It does, however, require that you as a believing parent realize the importance of being part of a church where the things that really matter happen, even if it doesn't have a lot of children, or rock climbing walls, or a gymnasium, or all that stuff. It also requires that you realize how you treat church will have a lasting effect on how your children treat church. If you act as if it is optional, or you constantly complain about it then don't expect them to value it or what it stands for.

If you find a church where the Bible is preached as it should be, don't look and decide based on the excessive number of gray or bald heads, don't decide based on the lack of various 'fun' activities for children, decide based on whether they will be taught of Christ and challenged to put their life in his hands. Anything else will never deal with the real problem.


Shawn Abigail said...

Good thoughts.

Perhaps I can give one caveat. It is possible to preach the Bible in a way young people can't understand and can't appreciate. If this is happening, the preacher can kid himself into thinking the kids want to go to the rock climbing wall because they are fleshy or careless about spiritual matters. There are in fact two equally bad extremes - preaching that young people can't relate to, and young people thinking rock climbing walls is what makes for a good church. Preachers need to think long and hard (and it's hard work!) figuring out how to reach young people with serious solid teaching from the Bible.

Even So... said...

I'll be following this series, God bless you as you go through it...

Rileysowner said...

Shawn, I agree completely. The good news of Jesus Christ can be presented in a way that is not understandable by people, especially younger people. One of the most heart warming things I ever heard from some of the youth in our congregation was that they were thankful that I had been brought to the church because they understand what I am saying when I preach.

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