Becoming Church: Practice

Practice—Not a Product

I love storytelling.

I think it’s one of the reasons my main hobby is writing. I can sit for hours sometimes if get an idea for a good character or story arc. For that matter, I can sit for hours sometimes just thinking up characters and story arcs. Most of my daydreaming, when I have time, is in the form of stories I tell myself, sort a test drive to see if I like the way a character or story feels. 

But one thing is certain in writing—you must write. The words aren’t always what some writers call ‘good words’ but you can’t weed out good and bad until they are out of your head and on paper. Writing is practitioner’s art, requiring time and commitment. This is something writer after writer among the greats has said. Stephen King said, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”[1] Ray Bradbury echoes the sentiment, “We must take arms each and every day, perhaps knowing that the battle cannot be entirely won, but fight we must, if only a gentle bout. The smallest effort to win means, at the end of each day, a sort of victory. Remember that pianist who said that if he did not practice every day he would know, if he did not practice for two days, the critics would know, after three days, his audiences would know.”[2] C.S. Lewis was known to sit every day from nine until one reading and writing with little interruption[3] and Lew Wallace, Writer of Ben Hur, made a habit of writing from eight until noon daily.[4] My point? Writers write or they’re not writers. The proof is in the practice. If you don’t write, you’re not a writer. 

Today’s story from Acts illustrates this point. A man sits by a gate, one of the entrances to the Jerusalem temple. As people entered, the man would beg for coins, having no other choice for survival. Some might notice, I imagine many more did not. Disabilities in ancient cultures were seen a sign of God’s (of the gods) looking unfavorably on you. I would think the man survived but barely, probably getting a few coins from those who lived out their piety with conviction. Day after day sitting in the sun or rain, waiting, hoping expectant for enough to buy bread and stave off starvation one more day.

As he sits and watches and waits, Peter and John coming walking up to the gate. Maybe the crippled man knows them maybe not. We know he treated them as he did everyone else. They came within earshot, and he asked them for a gift, a few coins. Peter and John have no money, but Peter offers the man something else. “In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, rise up and walk!” He reaches out, takes the man’s hand, and lifts him up. The man responds and finds himself standing, on his feet walking, leaping, praising God, as amazed as the people around him who also praised God. 

I think there are some things worth noting related to our idea of becoming church by means of practice. First, Peter not only offered what God could do for this man but he acted on it—“he grasped the man’s hand and raised him up” Peter didn’t offer a belief or a creed, he lived faith, bringing healing to a hurting person. Think about your own faith a minute, does your faith bring healing or hurt to the people you meet? When you “share your faith” how do people react? Is it them or is it you? 

And second, the man responded by action. He didn’t just lay there, spinning around while Peter tried to lift him. Peter took his right hand, and the man used his left and whatever ability he had with the rest of his body to get up. It was not just ‘I think its possible that I could be healed.’ It was ‘I’ll take the hand of the healer and do something about it.’ Faith is not in believing it is in responding to belief. James 2:17 says, “In the same way, faith is dead when it doesn’t result in faithful activity.” With that in mind think about your beliefs and your actions. Are they complementary, meaning do the things you say and things you do resonate with or against each other? As many older preachers had said, if someone accused you of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict? You aren’t a disciple of you and if you are you’re following the wrong person.

As a church we are not called to make programs, make buildings, or make clubs. We are called to make disciples, those who live out the Way of Jesus in the world for the world to see Jesus in the disciple. Becoming church and being part of the body of Christ—a body of disciples—is living into that way of being, acting out those beliefs. It’s not creating clubs that give lip service to a creed or list things you say you agree with. Think about the Apostle Creed. Does saying you believe any of those statements about God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit help the poor, the hurting, the suffering, the disenfranchised. What is your faithful activity in response? Or have they become empty words for an empty people?

I want to give you four things, practices I believe will as gospels put it, “change you hearts and lives.” First, the practice of contemplation. Contemplation is nothing more or less than deeply considering something, and, in this case, I want you to consider your faith. Does your faith have legs? Are the cripple man still sitting next to the gate or are you up praising God and being about God’s business. Second, is testimony or speaking to others about your faith. I’m not talking about shoving a tract in somebody’s face and telling them to turn or burn. I’m talking about an honest conversation about your faith journey, the things you’ve learned, the things you’ve experienced. If you can’t have that conversation you might want to think about your journey. You may need to do some traveling on. Next is hospitality or demonstrating faith by your actions. Hospitality calls us to show other people they are loved and care for by our actions. Too often, people who profess to be Christians act contrary to the true gospel Jesus preached and lived. As I said, what you say has to match what you do, or you are a fractured person living a split life. Finally, be creative, never put faith in a box. Just because you’ve never done something a certain way, or you personally don’t like something doesn’t mean it doesn’t have value to someone else. Churches die because they refuse to change the method while retaining the message. Is this dying for change? Are you holding so tightly to your vision of what was that you can’t allow what is to grow into what might be?

Following Jesus is a practice. You do it or you don’t do it. When we talk about it, we talk to learn things to practice not just to be talking. What is your practice? Do you have one? Do you need one? Disciples are disciples only when they follow Jesus. Who are you following?