Thursday, September 11, 2014

To Those Who Feel Disenfranchised from Church

A few years back, I heard a sermon preached by a friend who moved away, went to seminary, and then moved out west to plant a church. The sermon was dealing with one of the women in Jesus's lineage from Matthew 1: Rahab. In the Old Testament, we read that Rahab had not only risked her life, but she also had given up her entire culture, worldview, friends, and security to help God's people -- and to become part of their community.

And yet, Rahab was never allowed to become a full-fledged member of their covenant community. This part of her story can seem painfully familiar to single women in the church, who don't always experience the same depth of connection to the "covenant stuff" that the families are afforded in local churches.

I have often wondered whether Rahab sometimes felt pain and sorrow and darkness over being treated as a perpetual outsider among the Israelites? Did she ever think that maybe she had made a bad deal by joining and following God's people? Did she ever experience unbelief, wondering whether Yahweh was harsh and demanding? Did she ever feel tempted to return to things of the past which were comfortable and familiar to her? What kept her faith from sinking into the abyss? How did she avoid slipping off into oblivion?

I also wonder if there are people in our churches who sometimes feel like less than full covenant members because of their season or station in this life. Being aliens and pilgrims in the world and having cast their lot with the people of God, is there any place where they feel like they actually fit in? I know at times in my walk it has felt pretty desolate and lonely in this sin-struck world.

The Good News is that as we joyfully and faithfully seek the Lord and serve in the body of Christ, we experience our true hope which is found in Jesus Christ alone. In one sense, we know that, whether we are married or single, the full experience and consummation of the Lord's covenantal promise has been deferred until His return. However, we also know that the Word of God promises an eternal covenant of peace in which he is compelling us to participate now. 
The Eternal Covenant of Peace (Isaiah 54) “Sing, O barren one, who did not bear; break forth into singing and cry aloud, you who have not been in labor! For the children of the desolate one will be more than the children of her who is married,” says the LORD. 
“Enlarge the place of your tent, and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out; do not hold back; lengthen your cords and strengthen your stakes. For you will spread abroad to the right and to the left, and your offspring will possess the nations and will people the desolate cities. “Fear not, for you will not be ashamed; be not confounded, for you will not be disgraced; for you will forget the shame of your youth, and the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more. For your Maker is your husband, the LORD of hosts is his name; and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called. (Isaiah 54:1-5 ESV) Click here for entire chapter>>>
We take His covenantal promise by faith, realizing that the eternal impact of our lives and our participation in the body of Christ cannot be fully seen or understood in the here and now. Just think about Rahab. Did she have any idea that the lineage of the Messiah would come through her very own offspring? Not at all. And like her, we have no idea what the eternal impact of our lives and relationships will be. We are called to trust God with our obedience and know that by faith we have an eternal inheritance that is beyond what we can even ask or imagine. Think about what Isaiah goes on to write in Chapter 56 about foreigners and eunuchs:
Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord say,
    “The Lord will surely separate me from his people”;
and let not the eunuch say,
    “Behold, I am a dry tree.”
For thus says the Lord:
“To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths,
    who choose the things that please me
    and hold fast my covenant,
I will give in my house and within my walls
    monument and a name
    better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
    that shall not be cut off.
“And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,
    to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord,
    and to be his servants,
everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it,
    and holds fast my covenant—
these I will bring to my holy mountain,
    and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
their burnt offerings and their sacrifices
    will be accepted on my altar;
for my house shall be called a house of prayer
    for all peoples.”
The Lord God,
    who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares,
“I will gather yet others to him
    besides those already gathered.”

So, here's the wonderful, amazing truth about life in the Church, this side of the Cross -- we who are in Christ are full covenant members of the church!  Jew/Gentile, Free/Slave, Man/Woman, Married/Single? It makes no difference. Christ came to reconcile us - to repair our "disenfranchisement" from Him and His people. 

Let us not believe the lies of the world, the flesh, and the devil that would try to hold us in bondage to the idea that His atoning blood was not sufficient to fully in-graft us into his family of believers. And let us encourage each other with this truth!

"For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise." (Galatians 3:27-29 ESV)

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