be•long, bəˈlôNG/, verb
to be the possession of, to be held by, to be in the hands of; synonyms: to be allied with, to be associated with.
Focus passages: Psalm 133:1; 1 Corinthians 12:26-27
Words matter. Notice the way we talk about church. At some point in the last twenty years people started “going” to church and stopped “belonging” to a church. The distinction may seem subtle, but it is really dramatic. This reflects a consumerism in the culture at large which has seeped into church culture. My friend Dr. Preben Vang, a professor at Truett Seminary, called this to the attention of a group of pastors one day. He said, “We belonged to the church. If for some reason my mom and dad had walked away from the faith, I knew for sure that the members of that church would have continued to help me along that road so that I would become a disciple.”
Attending a church in another city on the last day of 2017, I heard the leaders say, “Next week we will have a service in which we renew our covenant as members of the church.” I had never participated in such a “covenant” but I was intrigued by it. Covenant relationships are the opposite of consumer relationships. Paul uses the analogy of a body and says, “We belong to each other.” Our thumbs do not just “go” to our hands. They belong to our hands. Sinews and skin and bones and blood vessels connect thumbs to hands. Not to be dramatic, but separating thumbs from hands would be traumatic indeed.
As we fulfill our vision for Tallowood in 2018, we want to encourage everyone to belong to Tallowood. This means the church is not just a place to provide goods and services. I love Randalls grocery store. Melanie loves Kroger. But if either of us found a better deal on better food at the other store, we would go there. But church relationships are not like that. At least in the scriptures they are not. Church is a place where we belong. Here we find acceptance and encouragement even when we fail. Also, here we find accountability as others help us to grow in our relationship with Christ. We begin the process of making disciples and making a difference with the relationship of belonging to a church.
For Reflection: In what way do you belong to Tallowood? How does consumerism affect the way we relate to the church today? What Christian goods and services can we find in other institutions? Will we commit to a covenant relationship with our church this year?
be•lieve, bəˈlēv/, verb
to be convinced by, to trust, to have confidence in, to hold something as truth; synonym: to be given to understand.
Focus passages: John 17:23-27; John 15:1-12
I spent the better part of 2017 engaged in a slow and intentional reading of the Gospel of John. As I read and wrestled with Jesus’ “High Priestly Prayer” in John 17, I was arrested by these words of Jesus, directed to the Father “…that the world would know that You have loved them even as You have loved Me.” (John 17:23) I was stunned. Wait. What? God loves the world (all of us) in the same way He loves Jesus? I know that God loves Jesus infinitely and eternally. What was my subconscious assumption about the depth of God’s love for the world? Did I assume that He loves Jesus more than He loves the world? As I meditated on this passage, I realized that Jesus isn’t asking God to love us as He loves Him, rather He is stating it as a certainty that has always been true. If I believe this, Jesus says that I must act on it by loving others as He has loved me. How am I to do this? By remaining connected to Jesus daily. By knowing and living in obedience to His word, believing in its truth and its power.
For Reflection: What do you believe about the depth of God’s love for you? For the world? As you spend time in prayer today, ask God to teach you about His love then ask Him to show you how you are to love others in the same way He does. Stay connected to the Vine!
Focus passage: Ecclesiastes 4:9-12
Solomon is sharing his God-given wisdom with us, as he encourages us to participate with and work alongside others. An example in my life of how two can work for Christ better than one is through our service in the Senior Council ministry at Tallowood. As part of the Senior Council, my husband and I coordinate monthly trips for the 55+ group. These trips provide time for our members to get to know each other and join in fellowship. The relationships developed here extend beyond the boundaries of Sunday School, and allow us to love and care for our extended church family. When planning a trip if one of us has no clear sense of where we should go, we can always count on the Lord to lead the other. God’s word is true. Two really are better than one.
For Reflection: Do we believe that the wisdom God gave Solomon still applies to us today? Do we believe that God has invited us to participate in His family? In your daily prayer time ask the Lord how He would have you join others in His work at Tallowood. Then watch and listen for His invitation to participate!
be•come, bəˈkəm/, verb
to grow to be, to turn into, to qualify or be accepted as; synonyms: to change into, to be transformed into.
Focus passages: Genesis 1: 1; 1:27; John 1:1-14; Romans 8:29; 2 Corinthians 5-9
Genesis describes how God created mankind to walk and talk with Him in lovely and pure relationship. We failed miserably, condemning ourselves to trying endlessly and fruitlessly to fill the vacuum left. For the next several centuries, God gave us many examples of those who did believe in Him, who obeyed Him through faith, and who received His assurances of faithfulness (Hebrews 11). However, God knew that ultimately we would need a Savior—a light to pierce our darkness. He sent prophets to the people to point to and describe this Savior. John’s Gospel makes it very clear that Jesus-God’s own Son- was “the true light”, planned from the beginning to rescue us. Although as humans, we struggle with things “unseen,” God expects us to live by “faith, not by sight” as so many have and do today. While we await Jesus’ return, He promises that as we “practice His presence” (Brother Lawrence), we will take on the likeness and characteristics that are His so that the world can see His glory in us.
For Reflection: How do we daily practice His presence so that we become like Him? Do we see with His eyes? Hear with His ears? Love with His Love? Do we speak with His voice? Pray that today we practice His presence in all we are and do.
Focus Passage: 2 Timothy 3: 14-17
The exhortation in this passage is to remain faithful to the teaching of God’s Word because over time God uses it to prepare and equip believers for every good work. It is safe to say that God doesn’t mean that each one of us has to perform “every” good work by ourselves, but that the works we do should be the good ones to which He leads us.
How will we know what that is? By remaining faithful to know and live out God’s truth, by searching for areas of interest in the church and serving there. Become immersed in the family of believers through ongoing relationships that help you discover the gifts you have then plug in where there is need. Then lead others to follow the same journey of discovery.
For Reflection: Prepare and get equipped then lead others to do the same. The body will be healthier for it.
build, bild/, verb
to construct, to commission, to establish and develop, to increase the size, intensity or extent of; synonyms: to model or shape, to initiate, develop, expand or enlarge, to amplify.
Focus passages: Luke 10:38-42; Matthew 28:18-20; Matthew 5:13-16; Matthew 9:37-38
In Luke 10, Mary is commended for her decision to sit at Jesus’ feet (becoming) while Martha is chastised for being distracted by her busyness (serving). As a ‘busy’ person, I am challenged by the tension between sitting at Jesus’ feet and being busy serving (as well as Jesus’ response). As a disciple of Jesus it is essential to spend sufficient time building a relationship with Him, yet I am compelled by Jesus’ command to participate in building God’s kingdom (Matthew 28). After all, we are the sole means by which God wants to accomplish His will: that all men be saved (I Timothy 2:4).
Fortunately the tension has been resolved, as extending the kingdom of God is an end result of discipleship. Sitting at Jesus’ feet lays the foundation for cooperating with God, which teaches us to submit to the Holy Spirit. When we yield to the Holy Spirit, we develop Jesus’ character, and become properly oriented to God’s work. By Spirit empowerment we are given eyes to see God working and ears to hear His invitation to join Him.
For Reflection: Can you imagine the saltiness and light we provide as we go into a dark world, empowered to live out grace and mercy as we cooperate with God in building His kingdom?
Jesus realized the urgency of a plentiful harvest, but only had a few reapers. The urgency of the first century remains today: We are to pray that God would provide workers!
After sitting at Jesus’ feet, will I stand with God and cooperate with Him in building His kingdom?