Saturday, September 4, 2010

Building Up

Most of my adult life I have been working in one form or another to build things. Now most of the time my job was to build stuff for other people like software applications, computer networks, or marketing plans. For a very short time, however, I was focused on building people. More specifically, I was devoted for a time to leading and building teenagers as a student minister. While I am sure God used me during that time to work some good in a few peoples’ lives, I wish I had then the picture of what I now think it means to “build up” as God wants us to do.

The whole idea of building in our culture unfortunately roots in a concept of self-sufficiency and self-promotion. Our “American Dream” mentality, which was a 1930’s term by the way, pushes us to build a better “life” for ourselves and our families. It drives us to work harder and build bigger, no matter what it is we are building. This has certainly led to our country having the largest economy in the world and allowed for an incredible amount of wealth to be built for a huge number of people.

The bad thing is that this same “American Dream” appears to have infiltrated into the beliefs of the body of Christ. In most churches today, and sadly in my life as well, people (self included) have carried the ideals of the American Dream into the building of our churches here in America. We take the view that we need to better market our churches to reach more people. If we reach more people, or attract more people to our services, then we can build the church bigger. Now to be clear, I think deep down the intentions behind this “build it bigger” mentality is likely based on real, Christ-centered belief. However, this belief is being so co-mingled with the values of the American Dream that we are finding it difficult to recognize the TRUE Gospel message in the midst of a watered down or even altered gospel.

I know on many occasions I have found myself fighting to use scripture to justify what I want. But, whenever I remember to really read the Bible contextually, placing myself in the authors’ time and place, it is rarely the case that my thoughts, speech, or actions can be justified at all unless, of course, I am actually being Christ-like. It is amazing to see how much clearer it becomes that our culture is so maligned to Christ’s teachings and example when I look through a truly Biblical lens.

Take Ephesians 4:25-32 for example (read it if you haven’t lately). If you just read this, it is easy to assume our culture isn’t too far out of whack. However, when you look at this text in context to the time and place it was written, and when you consider it in light of the entire New Testament, the verses take on a much deeper meaning. This deeper meaning casts a dark shadow on our American Dream culture. It also, sadly, casts that exact dark shadow on many of our American churches.

So, what is in this text that we likely miss in a light reading? Well, let’s just look at a few words from the text in Ephesians 4:25-32: truthfully, body, building, and forgiving. When Paul says “speak truthfully” is he really just saying don’t lie to each other? Nope. This concept of truth Paul uses here (look into the Greek) is really rooted in the notion that Christ (the Gospel) is truth. So, when he says to speak in truth, he is really saying something more like speak in Christ to one another. I think this means we should always be speaking to each other with the heart of Christ on our lips – not so easy anymore. Now, moving just past that “speak truthfully” we find the phrase “one body.” Here, Paul’s usage of the term body is again a bit deeper than I think we typically read. It is not just saying we are a single part of the body of Christ (although that is indeed part of the implication). More fully, Paul intends that we should realize each of us is actually part of one another. You and I, in Christ are intimately connected. Anything I say to or about you might as well be to or about me. Any action I take for myself is in reality an action you have taken. That puts a slightly different spin on EVERYTHING we do, think or say. Now we can no longer assume what we do only affects ourselves, but according to the Bible, it affects Christ and all other believers. YIKES!

Quickly, let’s touch on building and forgiving. Paul’s use of building seems to be an idea of creating a strong foundation and continual strengthening so as to provide support for more and more people as the church grows. So, encouragement is the name of the game here. Always be encouraging to each other in order to ensure a solid and stable foundation for all believers. And this portion of Ephesians ends with Paul saying “forgive each other, as Christ did for you.” The term forgive here entails not only the release of a debt, but further it actually carries the idea of grace. It isn’t enough to drop the debt of another person, but we should do that EVEN THOUGH they do not deserve it (just as Christ did for us all). Even further, this term “forgive” for Paul is often connected with restoration. If we tie all of that together, then “forgive” here actually indicates we should with grace forgive others (since Christ did that for us) with the goal of restoring them to relationship with us.

I think a light reading of Biblical texts is great. I do. However, if we are not really digging into the scriptures we run the risk of moving our churches further and further away for the REAL TRUTH of Christ. I know for me, my deeper reading in recent months has again opened my eyes to my failings in this area. I know changes are needed in my life, and changes are coming. Every day as I study, not just read the Bible I can feel the Spirit growing stronger inside me. I am moving more towards having a servant heart. I am seeing areas where I do or say things that likely are not good for building up Christ in others, and I hope to root out those “footholds” for Satan in my life.