When I was a boy (it seems to me) most everyone "belonged" to any number of groups, clubs, and interest groups. There were sports teams, hobby clubs, scouting groups, and sowing circles. Connections within the family were important, extending even to distant cousins. Kiwanis, Rotary, Lions Club, were viable places for social "fellowship." Church membership once served to add weight to a person's social standing in the community, whether or not the individual had a relationship with God. Loyalty to our nation was a given during World war II when the issues of good and evil in the world were much more clearly evident to all of us. I am not claiming that I grew up in the "good old days," and that everything is now all bad. But apart from God's intervention, I am convinced the course of civilization has always been downhill. God sustains nature and people and He periodically pours new life into decadent societies granting them reprieve. Because God is long-suffering love, He seeks to bless.
I do meet a lot of people today who are very isolated and lonely in the midst of a crowd of "friends." More and more disconnected people email me or want to spend time with me one-on-one. It seems rare for me to meet a young person these days who comes from an intact family, or who has close ties to even one parent. The severe family breakdown problem where I live bothers me a lot.
It has been often noted by social scientists that while some animals release their offspring into the wild soon after birth, human children have been designed to be raised with nearly two decades of nurturing and care from their parents. God's norm for mankind has never changed. It's still one dad, one mom, a good marriage and modeled family relationships of masculinity and femininity which reflect to us the image of God in our race.
When families become widely disconnected an entire society collapses. It is as simple as that. We all need to belong. We were designed to live in community, in several different social settings. I believe our nation's social fabric is almost gone right now--I don't hold out much hope for America right now.
My main concern is for that special group of people (the ekklesia, A Glorious Church) whom God has called out of this lost world to be a new kind of family, a new community which is all His own:
Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. Therefore it is also contained in the Scripture, "Behold, I lay in Zion A chief cornerstone, elect, precious, And he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame."
Therefore, to you who believe, He is precious; but to those who are disobedient, "The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone," and "A stone of stumbling And a rock of offense." They stumble, being disobedient to the word, to which they also were appointed. But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy. (1 Peter 2:4-10)
In other words, God is not saving the world and He is not busy fixing society. His main work is focused right now on a special minority--He is nurturing a small group of people on the earth today who are connected way down deep inside--to Jesus Christ the Lord. This group is the family of God--those who have been regenerated by the Spirit of God through their trust in Jesus Christ. These few--a godly remnant--constitute the very temple of God.
But, in my experience the majority of Christians I know do not seem to have discovered their oneness in Christ at the level of inner experience. Those who do not know who they are in Christ are missing out big time on what is actually real life.
In other words, (a) the body of every Christian and (b) the collective gathering of Christians in community constitute what Scripture calls the house of God. Paul prays for God's people to discover this in his letter to the Ephesians and also in Colossians:
"I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height--to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen." (Ephesians 3:14-21)
"For I want you to know what a great conflict I have for you and those in Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, and attaining to all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the knowledge of the mystery of God, both of the Father and of Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Now this I say lest anyone should deceive you with persuasive words. For though I am absent in the flesh, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the steadfastness of your faith in Christ. As you have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving. Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power." (Colossians 2:1-10)
"Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are. Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you seems to be wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, 'He catches the wise in their own craftiness'; and again, 'The LORD knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.' Therefore let no one boast in men. For all things are yours: whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas, or the world or life or death, or things present or things to come--all are yours. And you are Christ's, and Christ is God's." (1 Corinthians 3:16-23)
"Come to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. Therefore it is also contained in the Scripture, 'Behold, I lay in Zion A chief cornerstone, elect, precious, And he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame.' Therefore, to you who believe, He is precious; but to those who are disobedient, 'The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone,' and 'A stone of stumbling And a rock of offense.' They stumble, being disobedient to the word, to which they also were appointed. But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy." (1 Peter 2:4-10)
"Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19-22)
In the New Testament God's people are also called the "Body of Christ." This no ordinary metaphor: it signifies that Christians have been taken by the Spirit "out from" their identification with the secular world-system and immersed into Christ. (How God Saves Us). Christians are under new management and they all are also linked intimately with all other true Christians. They are members one of another, and all share a common life-source. This is taught clearly in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12-14, and Ephesians. The true church is not an organization but a living organism. It functions properly only when each member is functioning as it was designed to function. The analogy in Scripture is to the human body with its various "members", organs, systems, and networks all functioning together synergistically under the direction of Christ the Head.
"For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness. Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good" (Romans 12:4-9)
"...speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all things into Him who is the head--into Christ--from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love." (Ephesians 4:14-15)
These days many Christians merely attend church for an hour on Sundays and sit passively among total strangers. Or worse still, they are all alone all the time with no close friends who are also Christians. It is one thing to believe intellectually that the church is a living organism, it is another thing to experience the life of the one body. But this can happen in close, intimate friendships between believers, and in small groups! Christlike Love, Intimacy, and Small Groups, by Ray C. Stedman.
In the book of Hebrews the relationship of Jesus the Lord identifying fully and organically with His people brings about their healing and wholeness.
"Both He who makes whole [Jesus] and those who are [being] made whole all belong to one body. Therefore He is not ashamed to call us brothers." (2:11)
I find that few Christians these days realize that they are in reality connected to one another--and to Jesus--at this core, root level!
Since every generation has to learn the basics all over again, I recommend Ray's Stedman's classic book Body Life, http://raystedman.org/bodylife/. It is immensely relevant in helping disconnected people come together and belong to Christ and to one another--both for this life and the next. In a fractured, fragmented world, falling apart all around us, God is building a permanent house, a holy temple, a called-out holy people, a new creation. Why be left out?
We don't have to feel connected with all other Christians in this life. However, God in His goodness does give each of us--those of us who is open to receive--special friendships in this life which are filled with holy love and unutterable joy pointing us clearly to what lies ahead. "At thy right hand are pleasures evermore."
1 Preserve me, O God, for in You I put my trust.
2 O my soul, you have said to the LORD, "You are my Lord,
My goodness is nothing apart from You."
3 As for the saints who are on the earth,
"They are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight."
4 Their sorrows shall be multiplied who hasten after another god;
Their drink offerings of blood I will not offer,
Nor take up their names on my lips.
5 O LORD, You are the portion of my inheritance and my cup;
You maintain my lot.
6 The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places;
Yes, I have a good inheritance.
7 I will bless the LORD who has given me counsel;
My heart also instructs me in the night seasons.
8 I have set the LORD always before me;
Because He is at my right hand I shall not be moved.
9 Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoices;
My flesh also will rest in hope.
10 For You will not leave my soul in Sheol,
Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption.
11 You will show me the path of life;
In Your presence is fullness of joy;
At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
This discussion on being connected in Christ can easily be extended much further. There are a number of New Testament symbols for God's union with His chosen, holy people. For instance, God's people are a new family with ties and relationships with one another which in most cases go deeper than our natural, blood ties to the families we were born into. It goes without saying the church is supposed to be a healing community--where everyone feels at home with God and with one another. We may be "strangers and pilgrims in this present world," but we are not traveling alone. More about all this later
"Not Loving Good Things" There is a wonderful Greek word in the New Testament, aphilagathos, which literally means "not loving good things." One finds the word in 2 Timothy 3:1-5,
"Understand this: In the last times there will come times of stress. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman, implacable, slanderers, profligates, fierce, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God. Avoid such people..." (Seasons of Stress in the World)
What I have noticed in my own life is the ease with which I can end up reading cheap literature, watching ho-hum television or listening to low-grade music. On the other hand, I am invariably inspired and edified when I choose to listen to someone like Johann Sebastian Bach. He wrote everything to the glory of God (Sole Deo Gloria)--and this can not be hidden.
I enjoy listening to the collected organ works of Bach played by the great French organist Marie Claire Alain. I was amazed this week to learn something new from her notes on BWV 552, the great Fugue in E flat major. Listen to this Fugue in mp3 format (http://ldolphin.org/audio/bwv552.mp3)
Ms. Alain says,
"Written for organo pleno, this marvel of religious architecture brings the collection to a close. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, the fugue comprises three sections devoted to the three Persons of the Trinity. The key-signature is E flat, i.e., three flats. And the time-signatures progress from compound time (2/4) to 6/4 and thence to 12/8. The main theme itself (B flat + G + C + B flat + E flat + D) represents Bach's signature. (In German notation, the opening notes of the theme are written B + G + C + B + ES + D = 2 + 7 + 3 + 2 + 18 + 4 = 41 = J. S. Bach).
The opening panel of the triptych, describing the majesty of God the Father, is 36 bars long: 3 + 6 = 9 = 3 x 3 = Exaltation of the Trinity. There are 12 entries of the subject A, representing the Twelve Apostles and hence the Church. In the second panel, which describes Christ's humanity, there are 21 entries of subject B (21 = the number of chorales in the collection, in addition to being a multiple of 3). Subject A is superimposed on it 6 times (6 = 3 x 2, symbolizing completion, as in the six days of the Creation). This second section comprises 45 bars (45 = 4 + 5 = 9).
The third panel describes the motivity of the Holy Ghost in a sacred dance. Like the opening section, it is 36 bars long. Subject C enters 21 times, while subject A enters 9 times. The main theme therefore appears 27 times in the course of the fugue, which is the same number as that of pieces contained in the collection as a whole.
It is an astonishing edifice, a prodigious achievement on the part of a composer familiar with subtlety of musical style, from counterpoint to numerology. But, more than that, it offers a fascinating glimpse of Bach in a moment of deep exultation. Often sad and racked by suffering, he stands here bathed in heavenly light as he turns his thoughts from meditation(Fugue I) to active endeavor (Fugue II) and, finally, to transcendent joy (Fugue III)." (The collection is by Erato Records)
For many years I have been hoping some Christian musician would undertake to teach the rest of us a class on the great hymns of the faith. The composer, the setting, the words and the music of many hymns are a great, inspiring part of the heritage of the church of Jesus Christ. In our day these great old hymns are all but forgotten. This is surely yet one more serious disconnect on our part, from the historical past of our Christian faith. The community we are actually connected to is not merely one generation deep, but has been under development for two millennia. God is not the God of the dead but of the living. We are connected to the saints of all the ages with whom we will soon be gathered. I hope we can live up to the standards many of our predecessors considered everyday holy Christian living.
Other Diverse Musical Selections
The way we have been created makes us sentient creatures whose principle activity is worship. Good music, good art, good literature, good friends, can help us focus on the real God. We either live in a state of devotion to the one true God or we are worshiping some sort of false god--whether we are aware of this or not. The default mode is succumbing to the multiple idolatries of the world around us. See Why Worship, two messages by Ray Stedman.
August 30, 2020
From Newsletter #48 July 31, 2004.