A Reminder for the Church

12 11 2016

Yesterday we had a chance to pause and focus on something positive, honoring Veterans.  When we think of a Veteran, we don’t think of a political party or race.  We simply get to acknowledge a person’s service and sacrifice.  Their identity as a Veteran is stronger than any other label.

Those who served know you have very little choice in a lot of things.  You don’t get to pick your Commanding Officer, your roommates (in a berthing on a ship…that can be a lot of roommates!!) or the people you have to work with.  You have to figure it out because the mission of your unit is more important than your personal perspective.  Is there ever conflict?  Absolutely and sometimes that conflict is significant.  It takes good leadership and proper focus to deal with those conflicts.

By now you have looked at the title of this post and you read the last paragraph and you know where I am going.  In my last post I shared my frustration about how segregated out churches are.  If we truly are a body called to work together, we must see segregation limiting our effectiveness.  Jesus said the world would know we are his disciples by our love for one another (John 13:35).  Put that alongside Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount to love more than just the people we like (Matthew 5:43-47) and the bar is set pretty high.  So high in fact the only way we could pull it off is if we had God’s help…hmmm maybe that was God’s plan all along.

If people look in our churches and see great communities but everyone looks alike and tends to agree on issues of politics or other social topics, then the church is really no different than their work’s softball team.  The only difference is they probably feel they can be themselves at softball.

I am not advocating we focus on unity.  I am saying if we truly focus on Jesus one of the byproducts will be a community with unity and a love that is very distinctive from the world.

I was listening to a podcast on a social science experiment regarding bystander intervention on college campuses.  The researchers did not know how to handle an interesting finding.  People they classified as conservative Christians were very likely to speak up if they saw someone discriminating against a person who was gay.  I was not surprised.  I expect Christians to speak up and stand by a person being wronged.  I was proud of the Christians at that college who were being true to their faith.

So what do we do?  We take this strategic opportunity to start building bridges with people different than us.  We work to make our churches distinctive communities.  A good place to start is to reach out to people who are struggling with the results of the election.  Find out why they are having a hard time.  Simply listen and try to understand.  Then, stay connected.  Build a relationship and build a church that will stand as a distinctive light four years from now…yep we will have another election…sorry.

Four years from now wouldn’t it be amazing if there were churches where people worshiped together even though they completely disagreed on politics because they loved Jesus and each other more.  The world would be shocked.  Here is the cool part.  I believe we would also be more effective because we would be a body able to draw from all of our gifts, strengths and perspectives.

What would we tell the world?  We would say we are just following Jesus.  After all he did say, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”





When the Church gets it right

9 02 2012

Have you ever been reading and something leaps out at you?  It is like biting into what you think is a regular brownie and finding out it has a dark chocolate filling.  (Feel free to substitute your favorite filling…and you can also change the brownie to your favorite sweet.  I promise it is all zero calories.)  This happened to me when I read the final sentence in a story at the beginning of Act 6.  It is the story about selecting leaders in the church.  It is a great story at a lot of levels.  What I love is shows just how amazing the church can be when we get it right.  It invites all of us to consider the possibility of the church living up to its fullest potential.

The story begins in Acts 6:1 with the church experiencing conflict.  It is a great reminder that anytime people are involved there will be conflict.  I love the sign one of my professors hung outside his church.  It said, “No perfect people allowed.”  God was not naïve when he established the church.  Conflict and misunderstanding do not surprise God.  Instead of saying we should ignore problems or run away from them, God expects us to face them and deal with them in a gracious and respectful manner.  That is what we see in this story.  To be honest, I have seen what I call “nice disease” in too many of our churches.  This is where we are all really “nice” to each other and ignore problems.  (The other extreme is where we pick on everyone else because we are the ones who “have it right” which gives us an excuse to walk away from the church.)    Bottom line: the church is full of humans.  The story in Acts shows us how to be human and be the community God calls us to be.

The last line of the story says, “So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.” (Acts 6:7)

I want to focus on the “large number of priests.”  This is a very significant statement and what leaped out at me.  We have to take a step back and remember the early church saw Jesus as the promised Messiah for the Nation of Israel.  There would have been an expectation that the things established in the Old Testament would continue only they would continue through Jesus.  This is why you see the early church going to the Temple and worshiping there.

One of the Old Testament requirements was the expectation of the community to take care of widows.  God was both direct and specific about making sure those in need were supported.  What was the conflict in Acts 6?  They ran into a problem caring for the widows.  They managed the problem well and those in need were provided for.  For the priest this would have been inspiring.  They saw a community doing what they were suppose to be doing; taking care of each other.  Because the larger Jewish community was made up of humans, they would have experienced firsthand the frustrations of selfishness and a lack of concern for those in need.  All communities have people in need and because communities are made up of humans there are various degrees of success in dealing with the problem.  The church stood out.  They got it right.  The priests were naturally drawn to them.  They wanted to be a part of a community that really “got it” and took care of each other.

Once again it looks like Jesus was right.  He said, “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35).  The priests saw the love they had for one another.  It was a love that did not ignore problems and try to be “nice” or blame everyone else.  It was a love that let them deal with conflict with a focus on the best interests of the community.

How do we apply this?  We have to accept that churches are made up of imperfect humans and that there will be problems and issues.  We need to deal with those problems effectively and in a healthy manner.  When we do, the church is able to live up to its full potential.  Jesus established the church to be a tangible presence of his love on earth.  When the church gets it right, we make a phenomenal impact.  We care for those in need.  We are voice to those who need a voice.  We are not limited by geographic boarders or political parties.  We are motivated by the best interest of the people around us.  Everything flows from loving God and loving the people around us.  When we get it right, it is pretty amazing.

Please get plugged into a healthy church.  I will warn you now that it will not be perfect.  (That is a good thing otherwise I wouldn’t be able to attend.)  You will have to deal with conflict from time to time.  However, if it is a healthy church, it will deal with those issues and turn around and meet the needs of the people around it.  You will be a part of a community living up to its fullest potential.  Trust me, it will be worth it.