Many Parts, One Body

How do you feel about your body? Many of us hate the way we look. This sentiment makes us anxious and developing an unhealthy distortion of how we think and feel about ourselves. Women and young girls are particularly vulnerable to this kind of thinking, and as a father of two daughters, I am especially mindful of the importance of their being secure in who they are and their appearance.

I still remember 2008 Olympic gold medalist Shawn Johnson and her comments about her own appearance. She was an amazing athlete, but struggled with self-esteem and being compared to other female athletes. I was surprised (but grateful) to hear her talk about her own insecurities: “It was always frustrating to me, because in my career, I didn’t have the stereotypical gymnast body. I was always compared to Nastia Lukin who was six inches taller, long, lean, and flexible. The media called me “bulky, stocky, powerful, too big, too short, too fat.”

Unfortunately, this kind of body shaming happens all the time. A prominent example was offered by President Trump at a recent campaign rally. He commented on someone’s appearance as he was escorted out of the building: “That guy has a serious weight problem. Go home, start exercising.”

While some people struggle with their external appearance, others deal with some very real internal problems. I’ve only lived in Clinton about a month, but have already learned of several individuals who struggle with life threatening illnesses relating to what’s going on with the inside of their bodies. You wouldn’t know it by simply looking at them.

I’ve been working through Paul’s letter to I Corinthians, and have been revisiting once again the litany of problems this church had. They were eating food sacrificed to idols, taking each other to court, practicing sexual immortality, and wrestled with the issue of spiritual gifts. This resulted in the seed of pride taking root and causing resentment in the fellowship, because some people felt like they were more important than others. At the same time, there were those who felt insecure in their identity when compared to others around them.

In a way, I find great encouragement from this church especially when I compare it to the 21st century church in America.

The American Bible Society has identified “Bible minded cities” in America–this relates to how many read their Bible at least once a week and also accept the authority of the Bible. Of the top five “Bible minded cities” , two of them are in Tennesseee: Chattanooga (#1!) and at #5 the tri-cities area.

You would think people would have an easy time finding a church with this kind of recognition for the Volunteer state. However, as in other places, there are many Christians who have difficulty getting connected to a family of faith. I think some of this has to do with a fear of being judged, not being accepted, and/or simply choosing apathy as an option for spiritual formation.

While we might not deal with the specific problems that Corinth had, we deal with our set of issues that get in the way of genuine fellowship. It was difficult to celebrate diversity Paul called for with the social and gender divisions between slave and free, male and female, not to mention rich and poor. In a similar fashion, many churches in our culture elevate the importance of unanimity when it comes to how we view politics and societal concerns.

The Apostle Paul penned these words, “Therefore I want you to know that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, ‘Jesus be cursed’ and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit (I Cor 12.3).

It’s hard to overstate the danger those first century Christians experienced, especially those who said “Jesus Christ is Lord.” This was viewed as a political statement and by implication one that could be interpreted as an affront to the expected “Ceasar is Lord.’

What Paul was telling his church (and our church today) is that the only litmus test for membership in the body of Christ was an affirmation of Christ as Lord; every other consideration paled in comparison.

Life in the church is not always easy. Sometimes the people around us disappoint us with their opinions, but it doesn’t mean we should stop loving them or sharing life with them.

Margaret Mead offered these words, “Never doubt that a small group of concerned citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Churches in America are experiencing a lot of cultural and societal shifts, and the temptation to simply mimic the voices of hate can be real. But, it would be a terrible waste of resources and diminish any spiritual influence we might have. The church should model the kind of community we would hope to have in our country. We should be leading on this effort, offering another way of relating to one another.

I realize pastors aren’t as highly respected in our culture as they used to be, and sometimes with good reason. Still, we must call our people to civility in a nation that seems to be coming apart at the seams. Let’s be passionate about what we believe, but not hateful toward others who disagree with us–some of them might be sitting in the pews around us.

So, let’s leave room for each other and especially for the Holy Spirit to speak to us. Our task is to love one another, and trust the Lord to change hearts and minds through our word and witness. The Lord still calls us to his table, to “do this in remembrance of me.” May our focus be on that first, enduring creed “Jesus Christ is Lord” as we share life together as the people of God.

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