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.”


22 02 2012

What comes to mind when you hear the word “repent?”  I think of a guy yelling on the street corner or a fire and brimstone preacher.  It is safe to say we tend to have a negative stereotype of people who tell us to repent which makes us have a negative view of repentance.  This is Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent.  These are major events within a large number of Christian communities.  The idea of repentance is part of this season.  Because it is not an idea we talk about often and there is a tendency to have a negative view of it, I thought it would be appropriate to pause and focus on it.

My definition.  I see repenting or repentance as a two-step process.  Step one is to stop doing something that is wrong.  Step two is to start doing something that is right.  What if the guy on the street corner was Martin Luther King?  He called us to repent.  He wanted us to stop segregation and start being a just society.  We see this with those who promote environmental awareness.  They call us to stop polluting and wasting resources and start recycling and conserving resources.  I could list any number of causes and most likely you have a couple close to your heart such as human trafficking or AIDS.  No matter what the issue is we see value in calling people to stop doing something harmful and start doing the right thing.  Now the guy on the corner can add value.  We need to be called to repentance.  Sometimes we get it wrong and we need people who will call us out and make us change.

Of course if this was easy, we wouldn’t need to spend time talking about it.  If you are like me, we have no problem pointing out other people’s shortcomings.  We just “telling it like it is” or “shooting straight” with them.  However, just let them try and do the same thing to us.  This is a benefit of Ash Wednesday.  It forces us to pause and reflect.

I see two paths people tend to take that miss the point of repentance.  The first path is to blame something or someone else.  “It is because of my past” or “If she hadn’t of done that” is our defense.  Yes our past affects us and yes other people can influence us but at the end of the day we have to take personal responsibility for our actions especially if they hurt someone else.  The second path is to tear ourselves down with no hope we can change.   We create a negative image of ourselves and get stuck in a vicious downward spiral.

As a follower of Jesus, I look to him to get repentance right.  One of his first messages was “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near” (Matthew 4:17).  Here is the amazing thing.  He doesn’t begin to list a whole bunch of things we have to do.  Jesus has what I like to call a “byproduct mentality.”  In other words, when my focus is right I naturally do the right things.  In other words, my actions will be the byproduct of my heart.  When a parent truly loves a child, the parent doesn’t have to be told to take care of their child.  They naturally provide and do what is in the best interest of their child.  They may need help or education.  However, they want to learn and they accept the help because their focus is on the wellbeing of their child.  You see the same thing in a healthy marriage.  A husband wants to show love to his wife.  If he hurts her he is sorry and repents.  Repentance is easy because of the love he has for her.

This is why Jesus is so harsh with the religious leaders.  They stopped focusing on their relationship with God and focused on all the things they had to do.  They were actually hurting the people around them.  Jesus’ call to repentance wasn’t for them to add more things on their “to do” list.  He was inviting them to refocus on their relationship with God and care for the people around them.  Jesus says everything hangs on the commandment to love God and love others.  Both Matthew 22:34-40 and Mark 12:28-33 are great snapshots of Jesus sharing this principle.  This makes sense.  When I focus on loving God and you, I naturally do what is good for the relationship.

Jesus’ call for repentance is an invitation to focus on our relationship with God and each other.  The cross stands as a huge reminder Jesus was focused on our relationship.  Let’s use this season to slow down.  We need to look for where we have gotten out of step with loving God and each other.  As we see those areas and as we reflect on the cross, may our response be to repent.