So I know this may not come as much of a surprise, but I love having fun. I love playing games and being crazy. But one of the most important things you have to take into account when having fun is you have to make sure everyone understands the rules. As recently as this week, I was part of one such occurrence. This Monday was our annual Memorial Day picnic for our church. Since it was going to be roughly about 1,000 degrees outside, my wife and I decided to fill up water balloons to bring to the park for the kids. But before the battle could ensue, I had to make sure everyone understood the ground rules. No hitting anyone in the face. Little kids this is your bucket and big kids this is your bucket. Make sure you step five steps away before you begin to throw. And thanks to these simple ground rules, everyone had fun, no one got hurt and we all were able to cool off for a little bit.
I feel like lately though, we as adults have forgotten how to have fun and get along. Even in the church we have allowed ourselves to succumb to worldly division and talk that just doesn’t belong. Remember Paul said to the Philippians once upon a time regarding the world and the church that, “Their mind is set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven.” – Philippians 3:19-20 So to help us on a little refresher course and make sure everyone gets along, I decided to help us out with a few ground rules today.
- In the Kingdom of God, it is never okay to refer to other children of God as animals. Regardless of what someone has done, Jesus died to save us all. Sure in Scientific classification we are all animals, but this is the church and not science class. Therefore let’s all refer to each other as humans or even brother or sister.
- In the Kingdom of God it is never okay to compare a person of color, particularly an African American, to a monkey or an ape. This is not only dehumanizing but historically very racist.
- In the Kingdom of God we don’t fly or promote symbols that are linked to racism. And although you may claim the flag of the Confederate States of America is historical in nature, it was a history that fought to keep my son in chains and for the right to own people. Let’s keep it in the text books and out of our yards or off our clothing.
- In the Kingdom of God it is never okay to refer to women as gals or chicks or anything that would make them feel less than the equally gifted and called children of God that they are. And let’s also stop blaming them for the violence, abuse and even rape that for centuries has gone unreported, even in the church.
- In the Kingdom of God we don’t think less of anyone because of their country of origin or their international and/or undocumented status. We seek to be Christ to all because at some point someone was Christ to us.
- In the Kingdom of God we seek to know a person’s name and award them their humanity regardless of their perceived status. A whole lot of misunderstanding and hurt will be avoided if we simply get to know each other.
I know sometimes that people think the world has become insane or difficult to manage, but these ground rules really aren’t that hard to follow. At the end of the day if we simply start treating other people as if we are all one, instead of us versus them, we would get a lot further. After all, Paul said in his letter to Galatians, “There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” – Galatians 3:28 And if you are still struggling as to how to implement these simple ground rules, maybe we can take it back to the words of Christ himself, “Therefore, you should treat people in the same way that you want people to treat you; this is the Law and the Prophets.” – Matthew 7:12 I hope this all helps. Now go out there and have fun and love people for the children of God they are.
Yesterday morning, in the midst of all of the hullabaloo of trying to get the Arp family out the door, I decided it was high time. It had been piling up for weeks and enough was enough. So for about fifteen minutes I decided to wade into the quagmire of the entrance to our garage and get busy. You see, we as the Arps have tried to do our part for the planet and engaged in a few forms of recycling; namely plastic, aluminum cans and cardboard. The plastic and the cans can pretty easily be put into garbage bags and taken care of in that fashion, but the cardboard boxes are another matter entirely. So, we engaged in a little practice I like to call “out of sight, out of mind” and simply tossed the empty cardboard boxes into the garage haphazardly. Or should I say, I tossed the cardboard boxes into the garage haphazardly. Well, when my gracious wife pointed out yesterday that one could no longer get into the garage and that it seemed I was becoming a trash collector, I decided it was then “high time” to engage in a little box breaking down session. And I’m happy to report that after an intense fifteen minute session of ripping and folding and maintaining my faith, that one can now enter our garage without needing climbing or spelunking equipment.
It kind of reminds me though of how we treat certain areas of our lives. Sometimes we may place our health on the back burner. Or we may save issues with certain relationships for another day. Or perhaps there are those things that the Spirit has been revealing to us as sin that we simply seek to justify because the change would be too difficult. Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living”. The apostle Paul said it this way to the Galatian church, “If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions…for each one should carry their own load.” – Galatians 6:3-5 In the introduction to the sixth chapter of this letter Paul begins to speak about sin and holding each other accountable and being supportive in bearing each other’s burdens. But then he adds, that each person shouldn’t think that this in any way, shape, or form makes them superior to each other. In fact, we are responsible for our own actions, our own work, our own selves…for that is what we will be held to account for.
I think about this and breaking down boxes. Did it take me all that long to break down the boxes? No, not at all. But I saw it as something superfluous until I realized that it affected more than just me. There are things in our lives that sometimes we may see as superfluous or “not hurting anyone”, when in actuality even our “hidden sins” or our “passive aggressive” behaviors can be detrimental to the lives of others and even to the kingdom of God. So I encourage you today to break down some boxes. Make some paths in the wilderness (garage). Examine every avenue of your life physically, spiritually, emotionally because you never know where the Spirit may be calling you to action. And know, that it might not take long to break down some boxes, but it could possibly do a world of good.
When we learn about it as kids it seems the right thing to do. In fact, sometimes we are even encouraged to do so as it often seems the best way to settle disputes. I know many times I have found myself telling my own kids to come and tell me if their siblings are doing something wrong or hurting them in any way. Of course sometimes it results in nicknames or declarations of “tattletale” being thrown around, but for the most part it helps to settle disputes among our kids because they often don’t have the skills to settle disputes without some help. However, I think the danger for us is when we don’t understand that this model of behavior modification and mediation is intended for children to help them learn, not for adults. There is actually a very specific church word for this behavior among adults and it’s really quite deadly…gossip.
You see, in essence that is really all gossip is. It is seeing something or some behavior in someone else we don’t approve of and feeling the need to go and “tattle” to someone else; and the listening party is just as guilty of conspiring as the complainer. In fact, Jesus had something very specific to say about how we speak to one another about things that hurt us in the church in Matthew 18. “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.” – Matthew 18:15 The word in the Greek there actually says that if your brother or sister misses the mark/offends/errs against you, then go talk to them first, not someone else. My contention is that if we skip this step we are gossiping, and we may be poisoning the church.
I’m always fascinated how things work. Historically the most common poison we humans used to use to eliminate each other was Arsenic. According to LiveScience.com, “Arsenic disrupts the cellular process that produces ATP, the molecule in charge of transporting energy throughout your body’s cells so they can perform the tasks that keep you alive.” The poison actually blocks life from continuing in the body. It blocks the flow of the natural processes of how things are supposed to work. Gossip does the same thing in the church because it blocks natural ways of settling disputes/hurts and creates more mistrust, more confusion and more harm than actually addressing the situation the right way would ever do. Later on in that same passage from Matthew Jesus says this, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” – Matthew 18:20 Often times we attribute this to prayer or worship, when in actuality Jesus is telling us that he is present with us when we handle our disputes, disagreements, offenses and sins against one another in a healthy fashion. The life and movement of the body continues to be healthy and operate in the presence of God when it is void of the poison of gossip. So may we refuse to participate in poisoning the church. May we call each other to grow up a little by encouraging our brothers and sisters to speak to each other directly when they disagree and realize in doing so we are inviting the Spirit of Christ to move more freely through His body, the Church.
In 1992 there was a film released starring Jack Nicholson and Tom Cruise that received a lot of notoriety known as A Few Good Men. Although I am sure many of you, like me, may not have seen the entirety of this film, we are all on at least some level familiar with it…or at least one scene. The plot deals with a Marine Colonel Jessup who ordered a code red on a fellow marine that ended up costing his life. Tom Cruise’s character Attorney Kaffe is trying Jessup on this account and it all culminates in one of the more famous dialogue exchanges in all of cinema. “Col. Jessep: You want answers?” “Kaffee: I think I’m entitled to.” “Col. Jessep: You want answers?” “Kaffee: I want the truth!” “Col. Jessep: You can’t handle the truth!” You can’t handle the truth…wow. And yet on some level he was right. Kaffee, like many other characters in the story and many of us have a version of the world that exists in our minds that if it gets challenged could really upset the balance.
I wonder if this is ever something we struggle with when it comes to our living out the life of Christ? I especially tend to think on this during this season in the life of the church known as Advent. It’s a season of preparation and expectation for the coming of Christ. But all to often it becomes a season of stress, busyness, economic abundance and distractions that couldn’t be further from the truth of what the Christmas story was all about. Even though the book of John doesn’t formally retell the Christmas story, the writer does give us a testimony as to what this story was all about. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” – John 1:14 The Word of God himself, Jesus, took on flesh and came to us full of grace and truth. I love this last phrase. Full of truth…what is that truth? That we are hopelessly lost without God. What is that grace? God has made a way for us to be found.
Sometimes I think we haven’t been able to handle this truth. I don’t care if you are a brand new believer, still seeker, or someone who has been in the church all your life. To think you have a chance at making it without God’s grace daily being poured out into you and through you is another version of the truth altogether. Even the apostle Paul, towards the tail end of his faithful ministry had this to say, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.” – 1 Timothy 1:15 I wonder if we live out of this truth or if we somehow have started living into another version. A version that says, ‘I’m okay’. A version that validates our comfort, our possessions, our indifference towards others, our embracing of ideologies not of God or our piety. Jesus himself said that He was the truth and here is someone who was called a friend of sinners, prostitutes, drunkards and tax collectors; a blasphemer and the son of the devil. How often does our truth align with Him? Or has our version of truth aligned us so well with society that we don’t subvert the selfish norm anymore?
Maybe during this season of Advent we might find that we can’t handle the truth…but that through the grace offered to us through the Word made flesh, we just might try.
It comes around about every two years. And you would think I would see it coming. But all of a sudden I am blindsided by it. Sometimes it sneaks into conversations. Other times I am blasted by it over the airwaves. Lately it seems like Facebook has become the ultimate venue. I’m talking about a little thing called “political banter”. And I wish I could say that most of this banter was nice spirited and even tempered…but the internet is no place to lie. The truth is that the country in which we lived is thrown into a maelstrom of political rhetoric and all to often battle lines are drawn in the sand and people are demonized before we even think about the body count on the other side of the issues. And the scariest part about all of this…the church doesn’t seem to look any better than the world of mainstream media. I see cheap shots and insults levied against political candidates and people who are taking stances by those called Christians without any consideration of the fact the person at whom said comments are hurled at is indeed one of God’s children; created to live into His image.
In regards to a solution, I guess we should start by looking at the life of the early church and their struggle with differences in their midst. Paul writes to the Ephesian church, “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.” (Ephesians 2:13-16) This specific text was written to Jews and Gentiles who were struggling through unification issues, but don’t we seem to create the same divisions in the church over stuff that in all honesty won’t carry a lot of weight into eternity. I am pretty sure there isn’t a sorting line in heaven for Republicans, Democrats and Libertarians. In fact…I hate to say it, but I am pretty sure the title American won’t exist there either.
So why do we let these conversations divide us? Why are we allowing hostility to creep into our midst? What if we, as the body of Christ, were discussing these “political” issues in a proactive way without relying on the “polls” to make the difference? I for one in my short life have come to the realization that placing hope in kings, kingdoms and governments will always fall short. Maybe we could come to the realization that spewing political word vomit on Facebook and the like really does make the Church look divided. And maybe then we could become creative instead as we seek to confront the evils of this world as One Body united through the blood of Christ with the mission to bring peace and make disciples of all nations. Now that sounds like a pretty good political campaign ;).
I once read somewhere* that Christian makes an excellent noun, but a horrible adjetive. I believe the refrence was in fact made surrounding Christian music. And it made me think for a minute…ok, I admit it still makes me think. Is Christian really the best way to label stuff? The word Christian broken down simply means little Christ and so therefore we are labeling certain things as either “little Christ like” or “not little Christ like”. In todays world there is an industry for profit that is even linked to this description…Christian music, Christian books, Christian T-shirts, Christian movies… And I am not saying that any of this is inherently wrong, but maybe that sometimes we get so comfortable looking for Christ in these “Christian” mediums that we forget that He is bigger than any of them.
I am a huge fan of all things media (ask any of my friends how nerdy I am regarding this and they are in concurrence). And I think it it is ok to admit to you that all the movies I watch, music I listen to and books I read aren’t “Christian” as identified by the general market. But does that inherently mean that they are not of Christ? Colossians 1:16-17 says, “For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” So if all things are held together in Christ and are created for His glory, then perhaps His truth can be found in media and in culture where we aren’t always so comfortable looking for HIm. There might be a song that expresses great truth about the human condition and that truth comes from God. There may be a book that opens your eyes to the suffering of others and moves you to compassion and that movement comes from God. There may be a movie that helps you speak Christ into someone’s life because of a common love and that common ground is from God.
I think my point is this: maybe we shouldn’t let any market or industry dictate to us what is and isn’t from God. Maybe through the workings of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we might just be able to evaluate that for ourselves. In fact, we are even given an evaluation formula in scriptuire with which to look at art. “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” So maybe next time we pop in that DVD, load up that iPod or turn on that e-reader (that sounded so contemporary) we should Philippians 4:8-it and then see where we stand.
* I believe I remember my source, but am excluding it due to the hype surrounding the source. I can give credit if you ask me individually.
My wife and I recently had the privilege of having a date afternoon. Someone from the church graciously volunteered to watch the kids for a few hours and so we were able to get out by ourselves. Not really having much to choose from, we decided to go and see a movie. And as we walked into the theater, we saw one of our board members and their families right in front of us. I bring all of that up for the sake of discussion of authenticity. The board member was not surprised to see one of the pastoral staff coming into the movies on a Saturday. We were not surprised to see them in the theater either. However, twenty five or more years ago, this might have been reason for dismissal for both in our young denomination. And sometimes, we still like to pretend that the things we do outside of church; going to the movies, attending major sporting events, etc., have no affect on our church life or are not really related.
Quick disclaimer: Andrew is stepping from the ground onto his soap box.
There is no difference between the life one leads outside the church and the persona that one projects inside the walls of the church. I can’t tell you how frustrated I am by the statement, “Well we don’t talk about that at church…” Really? Jesus said that the day will come when the true followers will worship Him in “Spirit and in truth.” In truth! With authentic lives that have nothing to hide. And who are we deceiving anyway? God knows our hearts. He knows our conduct outside of the church. Is He all of a sudden fooled when we step into a building of man-made materials on the first day of the week and we are pious and reverent in attitude in our Sunday tie?
I think the real issue is that we value the opinion of man over the opinion of God. The Church is crying out for authentic worship. The Church is crying out for authenticity. May Jesus find us to be the followers who worship in Spirit and in Truth.