Chicken SoupA few night’s ago, I made a really killer chicken soup –  if I do say so myself.  I love to make and eat every kind of soup.  It’s the most effective comfort food for me.  However, I don’t follow recipes so no two soups that I have ever made are the same.  I may follow the basic steps for making chicken soup, but one of my habits is to use whatever is in the refrigerator so that it doesn’t go to waste.  This may not sound appealing to you at all, but I have found that leftovers of vegetables or grains that I have cooked to go with other meals are fantastic in chicken soup.  It really becomes the “everything but the kitchen sink” soup filled with unique flavors. So the most recent chicken soup incorporated leftover yellow squash from our Easter dinner, and extra green beans that I had waiting to be prepared for another meal.  I had half of a lemon leftover from Easter’s hollandaise sauce so I squeezed that in to give the broth some zing. Then I added the perfunctory carrots, celery, onion and garlic and threw in some spices.  After simmering on and off for a day, these flavors have melded together to make a really amazing broth filled with nutritious veggies and chicken.

So you may me wondering if I have started a food blog all of a sudden. No…not exactly.  But I find that the most common experiences in my life are usually the things that the Lord uses to show me deeper truths.  And so my soup became today’s object lesson.

Just as the various ingredients that were living separate lives in my fridge all came together to add their unique flavor to my soup, so it is with every church that calls upon the name of the Lord and seeks to advance the Kingdom.  If you read about the birth of the New Testament church in the Book of Acts, you find people who held nothing back from God or from each other.  Whatever skills, money, compassion or resources that they had was shared freely amongst the brethren.  I know of no church other than those in countries where persecution is intense where that open-handedness is a way of life as much as it was in the foundational days of the church.  And while most of us reading this blog are not living in a place where we are persecuted for our faith and have to worship underground, we can still strive to emulate the love that the early church displayed for each other.

Using my soup as the example, how delicious would my soup have been if it contained only chicken and water? No salt.  No garlic. No onions. No veggies. Ugh. It would have been so bland.  And that’s the way many churches are.  They are bland and only contain one or two “ingredients”.  Anything or anyone who is different is gently or not-so-gently encouraged to become like the main ingredient, whatever that is.

But our churches are filled with people who have so much to add.  Their talents, skills, and personalities are supposed to add that “special sauce” to our main dish.  The young people add one thing, the elderly add another, the middle aged another and the young singles or parents add something further.  And then there are our various cultures.  That’s like adding the plethora of spices that make a soup unique and flavorful.  And let’s not forget all of the various gifts that people can use in the church: the gift of serving, of teaching, of leadership, or organization.  Good Lord, all of these gifts lie dormant in so many of our houses of worship.

And why is that? Are the pastors or leaders self-centered control freaks? Not usually.  I think the issue lies with those of us sitting in the seats.  When opportunities come to use our gifts or talents in the church, we claim that we are too busy with our personal lives.  Getting most people to volunteer and stay committed to a project or ministry is harder than asking them to donate to a kidney.

But God has designed the church to serve so many different Kingdom-building purposes that to back away from giving our all only robs us.  Here is a quick bullet list that comes to my mind of some fantastic benefits in not just attending, but in giving of ourselves sacrificially, to a church that is advancing the Kingdom of God.

The church grows us up:  The church serves the purpose of promoting maturity in its dedicated members.  We pray for each other, we hold each other accountable, we teach each other, we set an example of faith for the new believers and the young, we affirm and applaud each other, and lovingly we push each other to reach for more.  Many of us come to the body of Christ with little to no example of how to live for Him.  Where better to see that played out and learn how to apply the Word to our lives, than in the fellowship of other believers.  But unfortunately, many people are looking for the perfect church, the perfect pastors, and the perfect friends. They want to be fed but rarely look for opportunities to be the one who feeds. And as a result, it’s only a matter of time before their self-focused attitude toward church causes them to become disgruntled and leave. If children moved from family to family every time they disagreed with their parents, they would never learn the most important skills needed for their success and the success of our society.  The same applies to Christians.  We need to grow up and leave childish things behind. We need to emulate Christ in how he came to serve rather than to be served.  I’m talking to myself here as well.  I have been very convicted in my heart about giving of myself sacrificially rather than only giving to the level of my comfort.

The church protects us: There is an enemy out there who prowls around seeking whom he may devour.  And the local church is like the circle of male elephants that surround the females and the young from the lions who would try to devour them.  The strong circle around the weak in prayer, in love and in practical acts of kindness, like bringing meals, visiting the sick and the elderly, attending each other’s celebrations and mourning each other’s losses.  The church is designed to be the body that helps fight infection in the parts that have become sick and weary.  The church is built up on love and that love is supposed to be so startling and unique that the world will know that only God could do this in people’s hearts.  The church is an aggregation of imperfect people who are surrendered to a perfect God and are being transformed by a love that covers sin and heals brokenness.  Each member is consumed with the awareness of how much they have been forgiven so that they are propelled into a mission to pass that love along to everyone they come in contact with.

The Church empowers us: Everyone has talents and spiritual gifts that are given to them for the edification of the saints.  When each joint supplies that which is lacking, the members are empowered and God’s Kingdom is advanced on the earth.  When we each press into God’s presence and seek the inheritance that He has laid up for every one of us, we will obtain those gifts that the church body needs.  But many of us don’t feel that we have anything to offer.  Or we look at our weaknesses and failures and assume that we must be perfect before we can serve or give of ourselves.  Or we look at the deficits in our lives and assume that we don’t have enough time or money to invest anywhere else than our own personal kingdoms. Looking at the Book of Acts and the Epistles of Paul and Peter, we read about people who didn’t know the first thing about being a “church”.  All they knew was what Christ had done for them and they took Him at His word.  If Jesus said, “You have been empowered to heal the sick, cast out demons and raise the dead,” then who were they to argue with the Lord? They simply went out and did the works that He told them He wanted done. So what’s up with us? Why do we question God’s word and the commission of Jesus to go into all the earth and make disciples of all nations? Why do we look at our deficits and think that God’s power isn’t great enough to work through us in spite of those deficits?  Peter said that it’s in our weakness that His power is made perfect.  In our churches, we should be learning about our spiritual gifts and about how to use them for the Kingdom.  We should be taught about service and challenged to grow and get out into the world to make a difference. Thus, the Church empowers us.

I could go on and on about how the church should manifest all of the unique flavors of the members and all of the benefits to those who commit their lives to serve the Lord in His body.  But I will stop here and let us chew on the three benefits above.

I challenge you to make a commitment to your church. And if you absolutely cannot see how your church is maturing you, protecting you and empowering you, I challenge you to find a church that will.  Once you find it, commit to it.  Stay plugged in even when you start to see the flaws.  It’s sort of like a marriage – the longer you live with people the more you see their backsides and it ain’t always pretty! But it’s also in commitment and service and loyalty that we see ourselves the most clearly.  I see my own flaws the most distinctly in my home where my guard is down.  I can be all smiles and kindness to people I don’t live with, but those who I live with see the real me – the good, the bad and the ugly. And we have chosen to love each other even when we see the ‘ugly’.

So get out of your pew and do the “DO” of the Word!

Romans 12:4-12

For as in one body we have many members,and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit,[g] serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.

Now You:

  • Are you part of a vibrant, Word-centered church?
  • Have you ever considered your part in the growth and “flavor” of your church?
  • do you have a desire to serve others either with your time, talents or money?

Imagine yourself giving of your resources freely and growing in your ability to show compassion and serve others.  What does that look like? Are there ministries or charities where you can hook in and make a difference? Is there a department in your church that needs the talents or skills that you have? Get involved today!

Dear Lord, we come to You in humility asking for Your grace to be all that Your Word teaches us.  We can’t love others without Your love being shed abroad in our hearts.  So Jesus, do this work in us.  Let Your love grow in our hearts as the seed is germinated by our faith and trust in You. We thank You for Your goodness, Your patience and Your gentle leading.  We love You, Jesus and we desire to be instruments of Your peace in our world.  Amen!

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