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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?