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Is There Room?

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Is There Room?

And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. –Luke 2:6-7

The greatest story ever told begins in a manger.  With a star shining above, the animals, visiting shepherds and a baby sleeping on the hay. Due to the large influx of people for Caesar Augustus’ census, Bethlehem was sprawling with people. The city was over capacity and as a result, Mary and Joseph are relegated to the stables opposed to their own room at the inn (or the guest room). As we look at the story, we are sometimes hard on this “innkeeper” because we know the rest of the story. The innkeeper should have made room. He/She could have made room. How cruel to turn away a pregnant woman.  We know Christ resided in Mary’s womb and changes our perspective.

Is the church “the inn” today?

This Sunday in our Bible Discovery class, we asked a question about our experiences with a church being “welcoming”. EVERYONE in the class had a negative experience of being “accepted” at a church. Stories of LGBT+ friends/family being shunned, hard handshakes without hearts, etc. Recently my parents left their church of 30+ years and went church shopping. In two of the churches they visited, they had very little interaction.

It was not the pastor,  message, facilities or music driving them away,  it was the people!

In one church, no one talked to them during the dedicated fellowship time. I wish I could say these stories were outliers, but sadly are not.

At a church, Krys and I served we had some friends (a married interracial couple) come with us on one Sunday. In a church of about 200, one person greeted them (outside of us) and had a conversation with them. Within the last two months at Otley Church, a family passed through a greeter, the welcome center and sat on the benches before anyone greeted them.  I’ve seen young ladies come into a church and get immediately ushered over to the young boys trying to play “Cupid” opposed to simply receiving and welcoming them.

Today’s church is the inn. There is no room, because we do not make room, and we don’t seem to care.

Why is there no room at the inn (in the Church)?

We have not made room for anyone, despite having more space than ever. 85% of churches are either declining or plateauing in attendance. Yikes! We do not have any space because we do not make space. We do not take the time to invest in the lives of those new people around us. We sit in our holy huddles and chat about the latest TV Show, weather, corn prices, or gossip.

 

Functionally, we say there is no room for refusing to acknowledge their presence or treating them as though they have contracted a deadly disease. We give the sterile handshake and leave them be. It is the greeter assembly line, open door-shake hand, say hello, repeat.

Making room at the Inn... Be NICE

We must re-evaluate how we are receiving those who walk through our doors. We must be welcoming, but not overbearing. Some people are going to be gregarious while others may feel like a handshake is nearly breaking their personal bubble. Be sensitive to their needs.  

Name- Ask their Name(s) and use it/them.

This is one of the most important questions to ask. Why? Because it shows our level of concern and caring. Using one’s name is personal, it is authentic, and it makes them feel more comfortable. Be genuine in asking these questions. This is not a time to play 20 questions (or Dutch Bingo) or a list of specific things you must have answered, let conversations flow freely.  Once again, be sensitive towards their needs.

Invite- Invite them to tour the facilities with and sit with you during church.

One of the worst feelings ever is to walk into the church and not know what you are doing or where you are going. For those of us who have been coming to Otley Church for some time, we forget about it. Believe it or not, churches are different and vary between locations and denominations. When do you stand? When do you sit? Do you say “debts...and debtors” or “trespasses...trespasses against us.” What is this connection card? Do I have to put something into the offering plate? By extending an offer to have them sit with you, it provides a safety net and someone to answer any questions should they arise.

Children- Provide for the Children (if applicable)

Showing you care for their children is primary for parents. Parents will overlook a lot of “flaws” if their children are happy. If their child is very young, suggest the nursery and introduce the person who is taking care of the kids for the day. If they are able to go to worship, consider getting the child an activity bag next to the welcome center. If they would be going to Bible Discovery Hour, introduce them to Chris VK, their teacher, or some of the other kids in their class.

Exit- Encouraging send-off

Many times, churches put so much emphasis on the pre-service; they strike out the after service. Going back to my parent’s experience, both of the times where they were not greeted or talked to was after the service (and one of these churches it was not their first time attending!). After the service, be sure to escort them to the welcome center to get their gift bag. Go and get them some coffee and a cookie in the fellowship hall and sit with them, perhaps introducing them to others. If they have time, invite them to a discovery hour class. When everything is concluded say something like, Thank you for coming, we are glad you came and I hope to see you again soon. If it is not too awkward and you’ve “hit it off” consider inviting them out to lunch and continue to form a relationship.

 

Concluding thoughts

 

We need to pray for (and expect) visitors to walk through our doors. We need to bring them in and welcome them in. We cannot (and should not) away no matter what they look like, what they talk like, their political affiliation, or who their friends are. Christ loved and received everyone and we should as well. After all, Our task is not to be the gatekeeper, but to bring people to the gate.  

 

I’d love to interact with you. What are some of your experiences (Positive or negative) of being welcomed in church? What tip(s) might you have for greeting first-time guests?

Schism? A Response to Wes G-M

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Yesterday, General Secretary Emeritus, Wes Granberg-Michaelson posted an open pastoral letter for the pastors and members of the Reformed Church in America. His comments appear here. This is my response to his letter.

We live in a divided country. The June 26, 2015, 5-4 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges thrust the marriage debate towards the forefront of politics and social media. Posts and pictures of rainbows and "love wins" flooded Facebook. Discrimination lawsuits fight over the denial of services such as arranging wedding flowers, baking and decorating cakes, wedding photography, and hosting a ceremony. As same-sex marriage has been legalized, the current thought and marriage trends show that Americans are increasingly accepting (and supportive) of same-sex relationships.

The RCA reflects our country because we remain divided.  The RCA consists of Christians, pastors, elders, and deacons who affirm same-sex marriage and those who are not affirming. Both sides have individuals who are gay or (same-sex attracted/SSA) and those who are not. The RCA contains split families, split congregations, splits based on political lines and witnessed denominational split. 

This is not an issue, where we can take an "ostrich" approach. We cannot continue to dance around it. This is more than an issue because we are talking about people, whom God loves and we should love. We cannot and should not separate these people from our thoughts. We have individuals in our congregation who have gay children. We may have SSA or gay individuals in our congregations. I write having “skin in the game” as I have friends and acquaintances that identify as gay and family members who are homosexual. I treated LGBT+ people poorly in the past, and I am working toward lasting change on this front.

Wes Granberg-Michaelson calls for the RCA to humble itself and to come together with a sense of unity. He labels schism a sin. Schism is troubling and clearly, God condemns division in the church and desires for his church to be one. Christ prayed for unity on the cross. Psalm 133:1 says, “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” The unity of the church is important for our witness and our credibility. Discord in the body is exactly what Satan desires. A schism certainly is not what anyone wants or desires.

I do not necessarily want a schism as this denomination is (and has been) my life. I know no other denomination. I was baptized and confirmed at Southridge Reformed Church, attended an RCA college (Central), worked at both Camp Geneva and Camp Manitoqua and graduated from Western Theological Seminary. I served the historic Fairview Reformed Church in Fairview, IL (formed in 1837) and currently, serve Otley Church (Otley, IA). Until my parents recently left the denomination, my family had 3+ generations of membership in the RCA. My roots here are deep. For most of us, this is our story; we all care about the denomination. Yet our commitment to the denomination cannot supersede our commitment to Christ. If I am to choose my unity with the denomination or Christ, I choose Christ. I expect all of us would.

Throughout my time, the tensions have grown. I mourn friends and colleagues who led their churches out of the RCA to other denominations. I mourn churches who struggle to find pastors because of a lack of clarity within the theology of the RCA. I mourn church plants whom resist joining the RCA over homosexuality as well. I mourn thriving church plants started by RCA churches who left the denomination over theology. We have spent a lot of time, resources, and discussion over this issue. It is messy and complex, yet it cannot continue in its current form.

Christ calls us to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. We admittedly have done a TERRIBLE job of reaching out to the LGBT+ community and those who are same-sex attracted. It is our job to repent from our previous actions and change our vantage point. Our repentance, however, does not necessitate a change in theology.

The ultimate example of love is, of course, Jesus himself. Jesus was accepting of sinners and he was critical of those who played “religious games.” While Jesus opened his arms to the likes of Zacchaeus, the woman in adultery, etc., he still called them to go and to sin no more. Everyone in the church agrees that sin is bad. We agree one of the churches roles is to resist sin and to lead believers to carry their crosses daily. Jesus made no place for sin within the church.

The problem however, is the RCA is not arguing about love or loving people; we are arguing over hermeneutics (our approach and how we interpret the Bible). We are arguing over sin. When we cannot agree on the definition of sin, there can be no unity. To make a comparison this is like an adulterous relationship in which the party who was “promiscuous” does not believe they have done anything wrong. They do not see a problem and will continue with both relationships while the victim remains hurt and betrayed. The victim is within their right to ask for a divorce.  Infidelity is one of the few reasons offered by Jesus as a biblical reason for divorce. This does not mean that they like it they may not want it completely either. Divorce is not ideal, but sometimes the gap is too hard to bridge. Reconciliation is only possible through repentance, from both sides. Without repentance, there is no change. Without change, there is no trust. Without trust, there is no reconciliation. Without reconciliation, there can be no marriage.

Those affirming LGBT+ people in their ministries consider it their calling, an essential part of the way they carry out ministries. They truly believe they are serving God. They will not stop their ministries. They will not "repent" because in their mind, there is no sin. Conservatives will not stop calling homosexuality a sin, and preaching against it and they cannot remain in a marriage with a partner who (in their mind) is committing adultery. Their option then is to accept adultery or to file for divorce. Without repentance and reconciliation, there will be no remedy.

The Gospel Alliance and Room For All will not agree on whether committed same-sex relationships are permissible according to scripture. No amount of conversation is going to convince either side that they are wrong or call them to stop working within their biblical convictions and hermeneutics. We are hindering the ministry of Christ by wasting precious time and resources into conversations, which are keeping us from ministries and have no possible resolution. It is time to recognize the relationship in its current form is over.

Let us depart as friends, make provisions for a grace-filled exit and allow the churches to pursue God as the Holy Spirit is leading them.

 

Taking a Grenade to Gossip in the Church

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Psalm 141:3, “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!”

How many times do people ask you to pray for something? I am guessing many of us are asked to pray. Most of the time, this is harmless, someone is asking you to pray for them, for an upcoming surgery or something rough in their lives. There are other times, however when you have someone say, would you please pray for X and Y because they are having financial issues in their marriage or would you pray for G because they lost their job last week, or would you pray for R and S because S told me her husband has been dealing with pornography. Wow. Prayer is powerful, and prayer can and does change lives, but sometimes we let the power and the lure of gossip overtake us.

 As a church sometimes we are the worst with gossip. You’ve heard me say unfortunately the church is good at sharing two things: germs and gossip when we need to be good at sharing the Gospel or sharing grace. For many of us, the gold treasure of gossip overtakes us when we need to take a grenade to it and blow it up.  Today, I’d like to offer a few thoughts on how to keep gossip out of prayer requests...and it’s in the acronym of S-H-A-R-E

S- Begin with self-reflection.

This is a very important step. Ask yourself, is this something that you would want to be made public knowledge? Is this something extremely personal? Is this something which is better to deal with a smaller amount of individuals?

H- Have I checked the facts?

Today in the social media realm, news agencies are concerned with providing the story first. Everyone wants to be first, but isn’t it more important to be accurate?

Within the last few weeks, I was asked about the health of a sibling of one of our members. I had not heard anything, so at the next opportunity, I asked. No. there wasn’t anything wrong with that person. If there was, it would have been news to them! Had I prayed for them, or sent a prayer chain, I would have been (unintentionally) spreading false news. Sometimes holding off, or tapping the brakes to get the details right is important. So and so is having surgery, well is it an appendix/tonsils or is it heart surgery...major difference!

 

A – Ask for Permission.

Is this something proper for me to share? Is this the right time to share?

This ties in with the idea of self-reflection, but quite frankly some of us share information too quickly. They are an open book. Not everyone is this way. There may be other people who should share this information as well, who have more details. For instance, let’s say someone is pregnant, would you not want to let the couple announce this exciting news? Would you not want the future grandparents to share the news? Why would we not use the same parameters for information which is not so exciting?

 I heard the story of a man who asked for prayers in front of the congregation for him and his wife....without asking his wife. The couple, unfortunately, ended up divorced. Rumors can ruin an individuals reputation and severely affect their mental (and in turn) physical health.

R- Reliability of the Receiver(s).

Sometimes we need to consider the reliability of those around us. As Christians, we are called to build up one another, and we are to share in each other’s burdens. Some in our congregation may be “Nosey Nellies” or “Prying Peters.” They feed on gossip. If someone who is “loose-lipped” is in the audience, perhaps it is best to keep the information private.

E- Examine my motives.

What is the purpose of sharing this information? Do you honestly care about the individual you are praying for? Are you sharing for the recognition of being “in the know” or being influential? Are you looking forward to the rush after someone hears about this information? Am I using this as a conduit to gain more information to share later? None of these reasons are acceptable.

Concluding Remarks.

Puritan theologian Thomas Watson said, "God has given us two ears, but one tongue, to show that we should be swift to hear, but slow to speak. God has set a double fence before the tongue, the teeth and the lips, to teach us to be wary that we offend not with our tongue." As Christian,s we need to season our conversations with love and grace, putting the interests of others above ourselves. This may include resisting the urge to share information to prayer.

Some of you may say, well, what if I share this anonymously? I would argue this is something we should avoid as well, because when we do, it may start someone else’s concern for the information. Pray for someone in our church who lost their job and immediately everyone is wondering, who lost their job! Leave a time of silent prayer together when everyone can voice these concerns.

This article is adapted from Matt Mitchell’s article, entitled Resisting Gossip. The article can be found here.

What Side are you on?

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Many people identify Calvinism by five distinctive characteristics easily remembered in the acronym TULIP. In honor of the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation, we are going to look at these beliefs which we hold at Otley Church.

 

A Very Brief (and limited) History of The Reformation and Calvinism in the 1500s-1600s

 

500 years ago, a little known monk by the name of Martin Luther stamped a paper, a set of 95 theses on the doors of Wittenberg Chapel which drastically changed the landscape of the church. Martin Luther, the father of the Lutheran church (and largely Protestantism) revolutionized the way we could approach God. Out of the reformation we came through with new perspectives on faith, bible, and salvation. Our faith is founded upon the scriptures alone and is because of grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone for the glory of God alone.

 

A few years after Martin Luther, French law student John Calvin converted to Protestantism. Due to religious persecution Luther leaves France for Switzerland. In 1536, Calvin first publishes his institutes of the Christian religion (which is considered a classic of theology and the basis for Calvinism today) and begins a ministry in Geneva Switzerland.

 

Calvinism begins to come to the Netherlands in the 1540s. Over time the Dutch Calvinists then rebelled against the Catholic Spaniards and as the counties came under Calvinist rule the people converted to Calvinism (or were forced to accept Calvinism).

 

 

Calvinism takes shape- The Synod of Dordrecht

 

The Canons of Dort, ratified in 1619 by the synod of Dordrecht form the basis for what we know as the distinctive of Calvinism. In some ways you could say the canons of Dort are more “Calvinist” than Calvin. Formed in Holand/The Netherlands, many identify the theological points of Calvinism through the acronym T-U-L-I-P.

T- Total Depravity

 

Total Depravity means that all of human life is tainted and corrupted by sin. This builds on the idea of original sin (that every person born into the world is enslaved to sin). Because of total depravity, and our fallen nature, we cannot choose to follow God on our own.

 

U-Unconditional Election

 

Unconditional Election is a term related to predestination/the actions and motives of God of eternity in the past. God chooses some to receive salvation. This is not because of our own doing, but based solely on the mercy and grace of God.

 

L-Limited Atonement

 

Limited atonement builds on the idea of unconditional election. If God “elects” some to heaven, then by the same token he “elects” some to hell. While the atoning death of Christ is payment enough for all, not all will be saved.

 

I-Irresistible Grace or Irrevocable Grace

 

This principle means that whomever God has called will not reject salvation. God’s grace will lead those to faith in Christ and in turn, eternal life.

 

P-Perseverance of the Saints

 

Perseverance of the Saints is a theological principle which holds that those people who truly have accepted the grace of God and taken Jesus as Lord will never fall away, meaning they cannot be taken away or their status in heaven is revoked.

 

A New Paradigm?

 

Recently a new The Bacon model was developed by “the Closet Calvinist.” His original work can be found here. The same theological principles are expressed here.

 

B- Bad People

A-Already Elected

C-Completely Saved

O-Overwhelmingly Called

N-Never falling away

 

What team is Pastor Mike on?

 

Calvinism surely is tied with the Dutch Reformed Church despite the fact that there are many Calvinists who are not “Dutch” The Presbyterian church is based off of Calvinism as are many non-denominational congregations. Calvin himself was not Dutch, and he ministered largely in Switzerland!  The identity of Calvinism should not be locked into “TULIP.”

 

 

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I argue we should adopt the acronym BACON. Because quite frankly, everyone loves bacon, and tulips are temperamental and only last a few weeks a year. Bacon can and is enjoyed all year round! The theology doesn’t change and I would argue it is simpler to understand.

 

Which acronym do you like better? Are you on the TULIP team or the BACON Team? Cast your vote by commenting, liking and sharing this page!

Digging Deeper- The Remote Battle

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This is the first Digging Deeper for the Worship Vital Signs Sermon Series. 

Perhaps the longest continuing war in the in any household is the war over the remote. Everyone seems to have an opinion. When the boys go down to rest, they often watch a movie. Well, we have to have a rotation to ensure that it is equal for everyone. That way the “I don’t want to watch that” argument doesn’t hold any water. Yet, we don’t seem to grow out of it too often. Krys and I have similar taste in TV Shows, but I love reality TV. I like to watch shows like Shark Tank, American Ninja Warrior, American Grit among others. Krys would prefer to watch a crime thriller or drama such as How to Get Away with Murder. How do we reconcile that battle? We generally watch those shows on our own time. What’s the takeaway? The person with the remote carries the power!

 

In contemporary church culture, too often we’ve developed this “remote” style experience of church. If we don’t like what we see, we can change the channel (or our attendance). We’ve made the experience about us rather than about God. We’ve stopped prizing God and we’ve put ourselves on the throne (with the remote). Some may say, “Oh, it’s not true.” Yes it is. For instance, some do not like contemporary praise music, so then they may not go to church that day, or they “tune out” they hit the “mute” button and suffer through the song, hoping the next one is better. Perhaps you don’t like hymns, and you then schedule to be gone on a certain day or volunteer to teach to avoid being in that service. Perhaps you see a certain speaker is coming and you negotiate with your spouse to go to “Rollover Reformed” that Sunday morning.

 

We’ve taken the battle of the remote control to the church and we need to give it back to God. Worship is and always has been about God. Worship should stem from our hearts and it should be full of joy!

Look at the words of Psalm 100 (ESV).

 

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!
2     Serve the Lord with gladness!
    Come into his presence with singing!

3 Know that the Lord, he is God!
    It is he who made us, and we are his;[a]
    we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
    and his courts with praise!
    Give thanks to him; bless his name!

5 For the Lord is good;
    his steadfast love endures forever,
    and his faithfulness to all generations.

 

As Christians our call should be not to seek our own interests, but to seek the interests of others and in doing so we honor God. Our time and energies should be spent trying to reach and save the lost rather than making ourselves more comfortable and worrying about what I want/need. Seeking our own comfort in lieu of reaching out is not biblical. The biblical command is not to eat drink and be merry, but to go, and make disciples. The Good Shepherd did not spend his time worrying about the quality of the food, upgrading the fences or petting the ninety-nine sheep in the pen. The Shepherd leaves the pen and he goes after the lost one.

 

 

Questions:

 

Where/when in our service might you be “changing the channel” or hitting the mute button?

 

 

 

In what ways have you been more concerned about your comfort than the lost on the outside of the church?

 

 

How are you going to be joy-filled this week? How will you worship God this week?

 

 

Prayer:

God, we are sorry for taking control of the “worship remote” and making it all about us. Forgive us and set our sights back upon you seated on your rightful place, the throne of the world and our hearts. Amen.

 

Digging Deeper--Why are you following?

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This past week, we concluded our sermon series on Kyle Idelman’s book Not A Fan. Watch the complete series by going to our website, www.otleychurch.org

 

One of my favorite animals ever was my cousin's dog, Baxter. Baxter was the sweetest cairn terrier ever. He may have been incredibly dumb consuming everything from rocks to pills, but he was incredibly loving. Whenever we were at the dinner table at the Donkersloots, Baxter would be in constant “roam” mode around the table. There was no “5-second rule” at the Donkersloots because Baxter would have that scrap nearly before it got to the floor.  Our cats, Minnie and Moana, will typically wait until we are done before they will scavenge for food. The irony in it is that many times they end up with an upset stomach because they eat “people food” which is not meant for them and they end up sick.

 

As we discussed on Sunday, Jesus was constantly being followed by the crowd. They were looking for a free meal. They were looking for a show. They wanted something spectacular to happen. Jesus, sensing, that the people were merely following him for superficial reasons challenges them to look inside themselves. Why are they following him? Were they following him for some more barley bread and a little fish? Were they looking for the next miracle or were they following him because they lived through the words he was proclaiming?

 

I don’t know why you are following Christ and while there are many benefits to following Christ, there is an incredible cost as well. The road toward heaven may not be an easy journey, but it is a joyful one filled with hope and opportunity.

 

As we think about ourselves, I want to ask us this question: why am I following Christ? Are we following him (so that) intent on receiving eternal life? Are we following him hoping that he will fix our current dilemma? Are we following him so that he can improve our social status in the community? Are we following him because it is what our family does? Or are we following him as a thankful response? Consider the words of Psalm 95:2-3, “Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! 3 For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods.”

 

As you go through your week, I’d encourage you to also meditate on this scripture Psalm 34:8-10. “8 Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!
    Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!
9 Oh, fear the Lord, you his saints,
    for those who fear him have no lack!
10 The young lions suffer want and hunger;
    but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.”

 

Let us follow him because HE himself satisfies our souls.

 

Prayer

Bread of Life,

Thank you for satisfying my soul. Forgive me for trying to fill myself with that which will not satisfy. Open my heart to praise you for who you are and the forgiveness I’ve been granted instead of focusing on what you can do for me. Help me to serve, surrender, and follow.

Amen.

Digging Deeper: Church Line--Do Not Cross!

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In our Not a Fan sermon series this week we talked about rules. In some ways, Christianity has lost its core, building a lifelong relationship with our Triune God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) and sharing this relationship with others. In trying to “disciple” people, we’ve created a system and a set of moral codes that we are to “obey” in order to merit entrance into the kingdom of heaven. Over the years we have valued knowledge opposed to a relationship. And this is a catastrophic error.

Christianity has never been about knowledge, or acquiring knowledge. It’s about grace.  When we look at the scriptures, the religious elite who had the most knowledge, who spent the most time in the scriptures were the ones who understood God the least. They were the ones who tried to “outwit, outlast, and outplay.” Look at what Paul says to the church at Corinth. 1 Corinthians 3:18-19, “Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become “fools” so that you may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness.”  We have struggled to know about God but we haven’t made the transition to knowing God. Yes, we can know that there are 66 books in the bible. We can know that there are 1189 chapters in the bible, that there are 773,692 words in the bible. But the most important part is the relationship and the growth which happens.

One part of seminary I wish I could go back and re-do is that I was not very good at maintaining my relationship with Christ. Things change in your mind and in your heart when you have to study God’s Holy Word as a textbook. Unfortunately, I think we still do this. We treat the Bible as a text book that we need to recall and have ready. We treat it as though we are cramming for an exam.  And so our hearts (and our theology) reflect that. We seem to lose greater narratives of the bible by recalling the specific (and many times proof-texted) verse. We also pass misinformation. Have you ever tried to look up Hesitations 9:2? Have you ever quoted that we are to be “in the world but not of the world”? Neither one of those are in the Bible!

We need to counteract this by going back and forming a relationship with Jesus. We need to pray to him and talk with him. Then, out of love and out of grace, we begin to follow what he has for us and we look to help others follow alongside of us. Too often, in our desire to become more like Christ (i.e. sanctified/holy/pure) we cast out those very people who need Christ as well.  We establish sets of extra rules and regulations for “true followers of Christ.” Such as you can’t wear jeans or hats in church, you can’t drink coffee in the sanctuary or you can’t move in the service.  Extra rules…extra regulations. More tape.

Maybe you form rules and boundaries in other ways. We form “holy huddles” of brothers and sisters who support each other, but refuse to let outsiders in. We may say, Pastor Mike, I don’t do this…oh yes we do. I remember a story about how someone didn’t want their family member to come to their church because they wanted to keep family and church life separate. I know of small groups who refuse to break up because they have such a close knit group that they don’t want to leave each other and have to start over again.  More tape…we are telling people you cannot come in.

As you consider these ideas, I’d ask you to consider a few questions alongside of them (and the sermon yesterday). If you haven’t already, I’d recommend you listen to this week’s sermon here

Questions

1.       What unofficial rules have I adopted? What rules has Otley Church adopted?

2.       What rule am I going to try to break?

3.       What can I do THIS WEEK to separate from being a ruler keeper to a relationship maker?

4.       Am I cramming for an exam (seeking knowledge) or am I falling in love and developing a relationship with Christ? If so, how? If not, why not?

The Separation of Christian and Civility

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One of my favorite movies from recent years is a movie starring Billy Crystal and Bette Midler called Parental Guidance. In this movie, Crystal and Midler star as grandparents who come to stay with their grandchildren to help out their daughter and son in law but don’t’ have much of a relationship with the kids. On the first night together and before the parents have left, they go out for dinner to an Asian restaurant. Artie (Crystal) notices his grandson is not eating his food and has it all separated out. Trying to help, Artie mixes them all together and says it tastes better that way. The kid disagrees and has a melt-down at the restaurant.

Completely separating your food makes me wonder at times. I definitely eat bites of various meals, not having my steak mixed with my mashed potatoes, but there are sometimes where it calls for everything to be mixed together. (I mean really, you can’t eat a piece of pie sans ice cream). Otherwise, there would be no place for casseroles!

Unfortunately, this idea of not mixing has entered into our country and even to our churches. We want to compartmentalize and we don’t want to mix things up and cause it to get messy. Since the genesis of the church, we've seen messes. Peter and Paul. Paul and Barnabas. Euodia and Syntyche....do we need to go on?  The church contains a group of sinners who have been forgiven. Yet, we are all called to work and operate together. We are not called to be oil and water. We’re called to be a casserole.

But unfortunately, we have gotten to the point where we have reached absolutes. We’ve reached the "my way or the highway” option. We are refusing to get along and in some cases, even talk. What do they say about the topics which don’t mix? Don’t discuss religion and don’t discuss politics. I know that I sometimes loathe spending time with certain members of my family because I have to tiptoe around certain topics or ideologies. And as a whole, our country is getting worse. Don’t believe me? Just sign into Facebook or social media. Look at the “conversations” over the NFL players taking a knee (or really any other issue). Still, don’t? Check out some of the statistics per the New York Times.

How then should we respond to this conundrum? As the political and religious tides seem to be changing, let us cling to an anchor which always holds, scripture. James 1:19-20 says, “Know this, my beloved brothers; let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger, for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” What then, is James saying to the church? It does not help for us to sit and bicker and argue. We need to set down our phones, put away the keyboards and we need to listen. We need to listen to hear. Not listen to respond. Not listen to react. Not listen to criticize. We need to LISTEN. And when we respond, we need to respond with the truth in LOVE.

For the Rest of the Week...after you listen (and before you speak), consider using this acronym

T- Is it true?

H- Is it helpful?

I -Is it inspiring?

N- Is it necessary?

K- Is it Kind?

 

Prayer:

Guide us Great Shepherd in how we speak this week. May we speak good news and words of life which point those around us back to you. Christ, forgive us for the times where we have refused to listen and responded harshly. Give us the courage to listen fully to those around us.  Amen.

Diving Deeper: A Further Look at Yesterday's Sermon

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Brief Sermon Recap:

This week we continued our series of “The Grave Robber.” This week we discussed the story of Jesus opening the eyes of a blind man in John 9:1-11. In the sermon, we looked at the big idea of Jesus being the light of the world, and as believers, we should not simply see the light of the world but we should carry it with us. We carry the light with us to: show his glory, to ensure we are not blinded by it and to allow for our obedience.

Diving Deeper Questions

1.      Jesus tells the disciples that the man who was blind did not sin, neither did his parents. Instead, this was to display the glory of God. All of us have areas in our lives where we may have some sort of limitation. What is your limitation and how might you use it for his glory or display his glory?

2.      Pastor Mike talked about how we only have a limited opportunity to make an impact for Christ. He referenced the Harry Chapin song, “The cats in the cradle.” How are you striving to advance the name of Christ? Where are you making a difference? What opportunities are available to you?

3.      There were some people in the story who were blind to what Jesus had done. They did not recognize the healing for what it was, a miracle ordained by God. Where might we be refusing to see what God has done?

4.      Sometimes we don’t follow God. We fear the cost, we fear the shame, yet it is what God has called us to do. Where can you put away your shame? How might you stand up this week?

5.      As a church....where do we see Christ calling us to carry the light into the world? How can we do this?