Christianity 201

November 29, 2015

Favoritism in the Local Church

NIV James 2 Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? 6a But you have dishonored the poor…

I remember the first time I encountered this verse. I attended a large church at the time, and there was a couple in the church who would always arrive five minutes late, which was rare in that church culture. The service would start at 11:00 AM with the call to worship, the invocation and the opening prayer; and then either just before or just after the opening hymn, this man and his wife would walk in and be escorted by an usher to a seat near the front that had been kept for them.

Imagine my surprise when someone older and more cynical (but as I later realized, surprisingly accurate) told me that their late arrival was on purpose. That the whole point of their apparent tardiness was to create the grand entrance that I witnessed each week. To be seen. To be known.

In that stage of my life I would later move on to a succession of four much smaller churches, and I could say with all honesty that this problem didn’t apply in those churches. At least not as far as I could see. The problem of favoritism toward the rich obviously was an early church problem.

Around the same time however, I remember encountering these verses from Ken Taylor’s classic original Living Bible:

LB Romans 14:1 Give a warm welcome to any brother who wants to join you, even though his faith is weak. Don’t criticize him for having different ideas from yours about what is right and wrong.

The second half of this verse has been used to shut down all discussion of doctrinal matters, which I don’t believe is the intent. The first part has been the subject of what it means to be “the brother of weaker faith” and how it is often new believers (starters) who are prone to religiosity and legalism.

The point is not have a bias against people whose doctrinal interpretation is different on secondary matters.

Both the James and Romans passage remind us that in the church we do tend to give privilege and ministry opportunity to people who are (a) in positions of socioeconomic high standing and (b) people who we’ve already ascertained ahead of time will agree with us on matters of doctrine.

Again, in our world, we have people moving through our churches who come from a variety of backgrounds. It’s said that many millennials really don’t care whose franchise name is on the door. So our churches today you might find Calvinists and Arminians sitting side-by-side, egalitarians and complementarians on the same church board, and pre-tribulation and post-tribulation interpreters sharing teaching duties on the same adult elective class or small group.

Rather, in our modern church we sometimes have a different, more subtle examples of bias and prejudice.

When it comes to fairness in any organization, the one thing the world detests is nepotism. The Oxford Diction defines nepotism as:

the practice among those with power or influence of favoring relatives or friends, especially by giving them jobs

In a church environment, this may include unpaid volunteer positions, as well as salaried positions. (For the former, the reward occurs later in heaven, right?)

When Paul and James are telling the early church not to ignore those of weaker faith, or not to prefer the rich people, they are setting out rules. A rule is something that may apply to (a) only one people group, or (b) only one location, or (c) only at one time. But the statements about people with whom we have doctrinal differences, or ignoring the poor are simply examples. In scripture, rules always derive from principles.

And what is the principle?

The principle is simply not to show favoritism. To be so circumspect in all your dealings (and dealing with the processes of hiring or appointing ministry leaders) as to not be seen as guilty of favoritism. To keep the process open and transparent. To keep accountability unbiased. To be willing to make the tough decisions if someone you’ve already placed in a position is falling short of the task required.

What’s true of churches also applies to Christians in leadership in a business or non-profit. It can apply to extended families. It can apply in neighborhoods.

I don’t know who among us needed that today, but I hope it will stay with you in situations you find yourself this week.

CEB Deut. 16:19a Don’t delay justice; don’t show favoritism.

NIV Lev.19:15a Don’t delay justice; don’t show favoritism.

 

 

 

November 27, 2015

Judgment Begins with the Family of God

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today we visit a new author who is also indexed at Faithful Bloggers. Theology in Overalls is written by Rev. Gregory Crofford. We looked at about eight different articles, but many were longer than we use here, so we settled on this one. Click on the title below, then click the “Home” button at the top to look at other stories.

Forgive us, Lord, for we have sinned!

They’re triumphant words, a hymn I sang often as a child on Sunday nights:

‘Tis a glorious church, without spot or wrinkle, washed in the blood of the lamb.

You’d think that 123 years after Ralph Hudson penned those 1892 lyrics that we’d be much closer as the people of God to that vision. But when I look at the church today, I realize how dry like a desert we are, how broken, how guilty, how desperately in need of God’s forgiveness and cleansing. We have forgotten that 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 is addressed to a group of believers, the Thessalonians. God calls the church to be sanctified, to be pure in her culture and her systems, yet we have fallen pitifully short and the watching world has surely noticed that we are no different than they.

Forgive us, Lord, for we your people have sinned!

No denomination has a corner on the market on righteousness. Across the spectrum of churches, things are awry. There’s no need to make a laundry list of offenses. That list is added to every day in online newspaper articles or on social media, undercutting our sacred mission in the world.

Forgive us, Lord, for we your people have sinned!

We look around us at our culture and see it plummeting downward. Too quickly, we are ready to call down upon those who make no claim to Christian faith the fiery judgment of God. But have we forgotten that God’s judgment falls first upon us, the church? Peter reminded his readers:

For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (1 Peter 4:17, NIV, italics added).

Acts 5:1-11 is the fearful story of Ananias and Sapphira. Because they misrepresented to Peter the price that they had received for selling their land, Peter warned Ananias: “You have not lied to men but to God” (v. 4). Later, to Sapphira he asked: “How could you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord?” (v. 9). Because of the cover-up – their complicity in lying – both fell down and died, first Ananias then later – playing dumb – Sapphira. If nothing else, doesn’t this story teach us that harboring known sin in our lives has negative physiological effects upon us? If that is true for individuals, what effect upon the overall health of our churches is there when corporately we look the other way when there has been wrongdoing? Shall we be surprised should God one day look at us, his people, and declare:

Ichabod! The glory has departed (1 Samuel 4:21) ?

The Psalmist wrote:

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:24, NIV).

My prayer first of all is for myself, that I will remain transparent before God, allowing the Holy Spirit to convict  me of sin, leading me to ongoing change in my heart and life. But can it stop there? As God’s people, the church, let us acknowledge where we have allowed wrong ecclesiastical practices to go unchallenged and unchanged. Only then can the spiritual revival we seek take hold and make us the holy people God wants us to be. Surely, only a transformed people can transform our world (Matthew 5:13).

Together, let us pray:

“Almighty God, we your people have merited nothing but your disdain. In word, thought and deed, we as your church have failed; we have sinned. Like a land in drought, we are spiritually dry. Again and again, we have sought to increase our power and wealth rather than lifting up the powerless and destitute. We have run after position and fame, forgetting that your son, Jesus, divested himself of his glory, becoming a humble servant. Grant that we your people may  see the sinful log in our own eye then trust you to remove it. Do not repay us, your church, according to our transgressions or we will surely be lost! Forgive us, cleanse us, and fill us anew with the love and presence of the Holy Spirit. Help us, we pray, as your church not to conduct business as this world does, but show us a different way, your higher way. Hear us, we pray, for it is in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, that we with humble repentance offer this prayer, AMEN.”

September 17, 2014

Compassion in Action

But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves.
 ~James 1:22 NLT

Yesterday I shared this post at Thinking Out Loud, but wanted to also cross-post it here as well.  Diane Lindstrom blogs at Nice One Nana! To read this at source, click the title below.


The Fog of a Broken Heart

Apparently, the two most common lies are “I’m fine” and “It’s OK.”

Casual conversation seems to trap us into a practiced script that alienates us from exposing the truth about who and how we really are.

It’s difficult to be honest with others because to do so, we need to believe that others care and that it will be safe to expose the restlessness in our spirits, without fear of rejection.

image 0916A young woman walked into the store last week and I greeted her with a friendly, “Hi – how ya’ doin’ today?”

She walked up to the counter, took my hand, looked me straight in the eye and asked,“Do you REALLY want to know because if you genuinely care, I’ll tell you about the sh–ty day I’ve had so far.”

It was quiet in the store — no customers around — and because I had engaged in conversations with this woman before, I decided to pursue the dialogue.

“I care, Susan. I care” was my response. I put down the pricing machine and postured myself in a way that said, “Talk to me. I’m listening.”

The young woman began to speak.

“So, here’s the story. My mouth says ‘I”m OK.’ My fingers text, ‘I’m fine’ but my heart says, ‘I’m broken.’ There’s a good chance I’m going to lose custody of my two kids because of my drinkin’ and my mother is giving up on me. I’m not fine. I’m not OK. I feel like I’m gonna’ die.”

With those words, the woman began to weep.

Oh, how humanity is groaning all around us. (Romans 8. 22,23)

The Holy Spirit breathed Jesus’ familiar words into my conscience.

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me . . . I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me. ~ Matthew 25:35-36,40

I have learned that it’s a costly choice to care.

Consciously allowing our hearts to break goes against not only our natural tendencies, but also against the grain of our culture. Myriad distractions lure us from embracing pain. There are so many places to hide so that we need not heed God’s beckoning to share in the suffering of impoverished people.

But the pain and empathy I felt moved me to action.

A person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone. ~ James 2: 24

I walked around the counter and held her in my arms. Thankfully, no other customers came into the store and I was resolved to be “all there” for this hurting woman. She didn’t need advise or exhortation. I couldn’t be the answer to her pain but I certainly could be “Jesus with skin on” for those precious minutes that she needed to be held.

The fog of a broken heart is a dark fog that slyly imprisons the soul.

If we can be a beacon of light that breaks through the fog, even for a short moment, it is good and honoring to God.

We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves. ~ 2 Corinthians 4.7 NLT


Diane Lindstrom is a Canadian author who looks for Almighty God in the ordinariness of life. She has been blogging daily since 2010 and has recently published her first book, Sisters in the Son.

January 30, 2011

Imitate Me, As I (try to) Imitate Christ

Jon Swanson’s blog, 300 Words a Day is one of a very few listed in this blog’s sidebar because of his consistent devotional focus.   This piece appeared there several days ago under the much simpler (!) title, Being a Model…

Am I living a life I’d want someone to copy?

Why not?

Those two sentences found their way into my journal over the weekend, as I was thinking about a presentation I’ve got coming up. I’m going to talk about being and making disciples. (That subject has shown up as my one word and in my list of 8 ways to get better at following.)

As I thought about the idea of making disciples, of developing followers, I realized that part of making a disciple is being willing to be a model.

I hate that. So do you. The last thing we want is for someone to use our life as a pattern. We know all of the ways that we fail. We know all the strategies that don’t work. We know how we don’t measure up. We know how we hurt someone we love.  We are, we think, models for spiritual failure.

But I think I’m wrong.

Paul consistently said, “Here are my failures. Here’s what I don’t do well. Here’s what God does wonderfully, sometimes in spite of me, sometimes through me.” He said this especially to Timothy, his most mentioned disciple. (A working definition of a disciple is a person who chooses to allow the life and teaching of someone to shape his/her own life.)

Helping people learn how to follow Jesus doesn’t mean being perfect.

It means being translucent, keeping the details hidden but allowing the outline of your humanity to show. It means acknowledging the failures and the forgiveness. It means showing when you let your mouth get ahead of your brain, here is how you ask forgiveness.

When you don’t know how to talk to God, here’s where you start. When you feel like you aren’t measuring up, here’s how you stop trying so hard.

~ Jon Swanson

August 21, 2010

Being Real, Being Transparent

The word ‘transparency’ comes up in more recent worship music once that I know of, in the 1976 hymn, “We Are God’s People,” by Bryan Jeffrey Leach.
“Our cornerstone is Christ alone
And strong in Him we stand
So let us live transparently
And walk, heart to heart and hand in hand.”

But the theme is stronger in scripture, especially the injunction to “Let your yes be yes and your no be no.” (Matt. 5:37 echoed in James 5:12) Interestingly enough, that scripture got twisted to form the chorus of a hit song by Brownsville Station about a girl who is teasing a guy who wishes she would just say if she’s interested or not. The song’s a bit off the mark with its sexual suggestiveness, but in a sense, when we don’t live life transparently, we’re just teasing everybody.

When we opened our first bookstore, a well-meaning friend recognized the need for a store like ours to be a denominationally neutral zone, like Switzerland is politically. “People shouldn’t know what you think;” he told me. I took that advice for awhile and then realized, people actually wanted to know what I was thinking. In fact they were looking for someone who, as sports talk show host Jim Rome would say, “had a take” on any given doctrinal or ecclesiastical issue.

Mark gets right at the heart of the issue in Jesus’ ministry in verse 22 of chapter 1; “The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.” (NIV) Unfortunately, the NIV doesn’t use the word “Forthright” anywhere, which also describe the quality we see here. But authority (which comes from God) is as desirable now as it was when Jesus taught. People are looking for someone who is willing to take a stand. To delineate the issues. To not be concerned about possibly offending a few (or many) in the process.

I admire people who are wiling to stick their neck out to defend their position on various subjects. And it’s simply an added bonus to meet the person and consider that their public persona is not an act. Because in Jesus’ time, as now, there is a lot of acting going on. I just wanna be transparent.

~For the full lyrics and further thoughts on “We Are God’s People,” check out today’s post at Thinking Out Loud.