Body of Christ

Flying on the wings of Delta somewhere over the Mississippi River last week, I marveled again at how clouds appear from above. I chuckled to myself as I realized how we tend to describe what we cannot touch with what we can.  Clouds really do look like wispy, pulled-apart cotton from topside.  Metaphor, similar, and the “ladder of abstraction” are language tools to communicate an idea from the concrete to the abstract.

Building the church is what Jesus said He would do. Our mistake is to never elevate our understanding of it beyond the visible building, meetings, and programs.  C. S. Lewis used vivid imagery in describing the problem.  In “Screwtape Letters,” he imagined a demon describing the church as “spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners.  But fortunately it is quite invisible to these humans.”

Apostle Paul used the human body to explain that believers are the visible part of something larger than themselves. “All the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ.”  He continues, “God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired.”  The outcome of that union is that the members have various roles, we need each other, and we share joys and pains.  To make it startlingly clear, and perhaps no longer a metaphor, he wrote, “Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it” (1 Cor. 12).  As nice as civic and fraternal clubs and associations are, only the living church made up of individual members saved by grace through faith, is described as Christ’s body.  Jesus ascended after the resurrection, but he left his followers behind as visual evidence of his remaining presence.

Now what are we to do with that? The body is much better served when believers find common ground with fellow followers of Jesus, rather than focusing on denomination differences.  Jesus urged unity as vital to his mission, praying that “they may all be one, even as You Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent me” (John 17:21).  One current challenge to unity may be the proposed change in tax code to allow churches to endorse political candidates.  Churches should have that freedom, but it seems like a recipe for disunity.

In his book, “The Body,” Chuck Colson wrote, “The question of our day is not what then shall we do, but, as always, who then shall we be? Our identity in Christ will dictate our actions.  Our task, first, is to be the church, the bride of Christ, the Body.”  The more we get that right, the less abstract Jesus will be.


Reading a nursery rhyme is probably not where you would first look for life inspiration. But a keen observer knows we are surrounded with clues that point to the meaning of life.  F. W. Boreham was such an observer.

Born an Englishman in 1871, at age 23 Boreham sailed for New Zealand to accept the pastorate of a new church in Mosgiel.  A few years later, he was in a nearby town to speak.  The service went long, and he missed his evening train.  As he waited for the next train, he noticed a light at the Otago Daily Times.  He stepped in to visit with the editor and inquire about publishing essays.  The editor needed an editorial for the next day so Boreham, though pressed for time to catch the last train, jotted out an 1100 word essay.  He went on to publish thousands of editorials and essays, and over 50 books.  Ravi Zacharias calls Boreham, “my favorite essayist.”

Perhaps his most popular piece is taken from the nursery rhyme “The House that Jack Built.” The tale begins with Jack building his house, then extends to all the creatures and people affected by or connected to Jack.  Horse, cow, dog and cat make an appearance, as do the farmer sowing his corn, the judge shaven and shorn, the man tattered and torn, and the maiden all forlorn.  Boreham writes, “The intricate comedy of The House That Jack Built is indisputable philosophy.”  He explains that our lives have an indirect line of influence that we may never know.  “You can live a life that tells on (impacts) other lives, and makes the world less full of evil and of pain, a life which, like a pebble dropped in the sea, sends its wide circles to a hundred shores.”

Jesus may have anticipated this when he told stories of sowing seeds, giving cups of cold water, and going the extra mile. As we invest love, kindness, and truth in our fellow man, God can use that influence far beyond what we will ever know.  “You are the salt of the earth” and “You are the light of the world” are his appeals to lives that matter because of a God-given purpose (Mat. 5:13-14).

When Boreham was a baby, his nanny took him to the park where an old woman approached, held his hand, and said, “Tell his mother to put a pen in his hand and he’ll never want for a living.” Encouragement given to nanny, mother, then son, and now almost 150 years later, you could be influenced by that old woman by reading this.  So Boreham’s life illustrates his thought that “We are living in a world in which no person can do one thing without doing a million things.”  Life is a treasured gift.  Invest it wisely.

Heard In Heaven

Acting out a parody of Barry Black, Saturday Night Live had him praying, “Lord, bless and forgive these braying jack***es.” The man they parodied is a retired Rear Admiral, now Chaplain of the U.S. Senate.  How did he appear on SNL’s radar?

Actually, Dr. Black took it all in good humor. It happened during 2013 when the government “shut down” over budget bickering.  His pointed and colorful prayers in the Senate chamber obviously attracted attention outside the room, hence his “appearance” on a comedy show.  But his prayers were quite serious, asking divine intervention on behalf of the Senators, “replacing cynicism with faith and cowardice with courage.”  “Save us from the madness.  Deliver us from the hypocrisy of attempting to sound reasonable while being unreasonable.”  The man of five academic degrees, whose biography is entitled “From the Hood to the Hill,” speaks with courage and authority.

So with Dr. Black as the featured speaker, dignitaries gathered with great anticipation at the 2017 National Prayer Breakfast. His concern was not that his booming baritone voice be heard in that room, but that God’s people make their voices heard in heaven.   He noted the many weekly Bible studies and prayer gatherings for officials and staffers on Capitol Hill, and the many prayers for God’s will to be done in the last election.

Quoting Tennyson, “More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of,” Dr. Black is convinced of the efficacy of prayer. He said, “When we make our voices heard in heaven, it makes a palpable difference” on earth.  His principal text was also Franklin Graham’s at the inauguration, 1 Tim 2:1-4, which calls for prayer “on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority.”

He explained that we pray from our need and with intimacy. “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer…let your requests be made known to God” (Phil. 4:6).  Need motivates prayer, both personal and national. Our nation needs healing and restoration of common decency and purpose.  Jesus called his disciples “friends” (John 15:15).  It is an intimate touch when God’s hand is on you, like on Jabez and Ezekiel.  He wants you to trust Him as a close confidant.  Dr. Black urged prayer that God’s hand would be on those who govern us, to which he received a hearty applause.  “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes” (Prov. 21:1).

Our prayers are founded in hope. From Edward Mote’s hymn, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness.  On Christ the solid rock I stand.”  Dr. Black’s message is well-timed, that your hopeful voice can be heard in heaven!

Be Gentle

Forcing a point of view with violence is, well, pointless. Last week, fire destroyed a mosque in Texas.  Authorities haven’t cited arson yet, but the site had been a target of vandalism in the past.  During the presidential campaign, a Mississippi arsonist burned his own church’s building as a protest.  Isn’t there a better way to disagree?

Our country is in a season of protests. In our nation’s capital, anarchists try to disrupt the inauguration, women march to protest the new president, and pro-lifers plead for compassion in response to Roe v. Wade.  At times our national conversation is more coarse than discourse.

Lately, I have seen two exchanges among my Facebook friends that acknowledge the need to tone down the rhetoric. In one, “Jack” stated he is an atheist, then recited his positions on issues.  In response, “Jill” stated that she is a Christian, and offered a counterpoint.  Other friends liked the cordial tone.

It was a good idea to let that chat conclude, but let’s unpack the logic. If Jack is right that no transcendent authority exists, then each person’s perspective is just a choice so he must respect Jill’s right to choose.  If Jill is right, she respects Jack’s point of view since God created us in His image with free will.  But both cannot be right on the existence of God or the morality of the issues, despite the post-modern view that opposite claims can both be true.

Oliver Wendell Holms introduced the metaphor “marketplace of ideas” into our jurisprudence of free speech and religion. It conveys the idea that eventually truth will prevail if given air to breathe.  Shouting down or burning down the opposition cannot stifle what is true and right forever.  Christians use this principal by continuing to offer God’s revealed truth and by defending ourselves and religious freedom, but no one need defend Him, His character, or the created order.  A god that exists only by human argument is more terrestrial than transcendent.

Consider this charge from a man that walked with Jesus: “Even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed.  And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, but set apart Christ as Lord in your hearts, always ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence (1 Pet. 3:14-15).

The takeaway is that not only does a truthful point of view matter, but also does the manner in which you litigate your case. If you must disagree, do it with gentleness.