The Church: Intentional in Diversity

country churchWhat should the church look like? Of course, I do not mean the building where you worship and in this instance I am not focusing on polity (the way we do church).  Rather, for today the question is more of a second commandment meditation – the way we relate to one another. Who should we seek out to make up our local church? To what backgrounds, ages, races, classes, and sociocultural groups should we focus our outreach efforts? I believe the word of God compels us to this answer: Be Diverse. Yes, I think a local fellowship should seek to reach the people in their community, and I would be shocked if that group alone is not ripe with diversity on many levels. But I, perhaps somewhat controversially, would maintain that a church should SEEK to be diverse, as an intentional part of their outreach efforts.

If I may paint with a broad brush, I believe many churches have fallen into a bit of a pit when attempting to answer this question. For the most part, people tend to make intentional relationship choices based on their personal preferences. We all have our own ideas and views on the world; along with our own way of doing life. In general, we gravitate toward people who share at least some of our main inclinations. We find it easier, if not more enjoyable, to be around like-minded individuals. The reasons for this, I think, are both practical and spiritual. My dad loved motorcycles. Riding and working on bikes took up a huge portion of his free time. So, very practically, most of his friends came from circles of people who shared his interest. Those were just the people he was around the most; the ones he met at the bike shop and those he could take weekend rides with. So, very practical. But, I also think this can be spiritual. We tend to elevate our preferences to an idolatrous level. Because we think so highly of our views, our person and our way of doing things, we consequently run with those who ‘get it’ like we do; people who are most like us. And conversely we steer clear from – even vilify – those who are different. What is the pit I think the church has fallen into? Rather than work against this paradigm, I think the church often attempts to take advantage of it in order to grow. After all, people will come to where they are most comfortable, correct? So the church works to make it easy. We separate the body of Christ into small groups, worship services and events – all based on preferences. We seek to be labeled as young or old, contemporary or traditional, family, liturgical, free-spirit, black or white, home-school or public-school, liberal or conservative – the list could go on and on. Rather than work against the dynamic, the church is tempted to use it as a strategy for numeric increase.

When it comes to our local fellowships, I do think there is a higher, better foundation than preference. And while this way represents something that is harder and perhaps creates growth at a slower rate – I believe it is the Jesus way. The very team Jesus put together when he walked among us shows this. He chose the small group of guys who would run with him, spend time with him, learn from him and then go change the world when He returned to the Father. Jesus’ team was quite a picture of diversity. These men differed vastly from their professions, to their upbringings, their political views, and their personalities. This is NOT a group that would have ran together on their own. BUT among this uncommon group was a common bond: Jesus. And it is that same diversity that will encircle the throne one day, and bring all glory to Him:

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” (Revelation 7)

My call for us to intentionally seek diversity in our fellowships is so that we reflect the intentional way Jesus is building His church. Man-centered development is fueled by taking advantage of our internal desire to elevate our preferences and be around people who share them. The Jesus way, I believe, is to intentionally seek out those who are different, join with them in fellowship and mission, and allow Him to be our common bond. This will not come easy and it will require that we are obedient to his commands on how we relate to one another; on how we treat one another. More on that next week, Lord willing…

Grace and Peace

David

 

Love, Devotion and the iPhone

I heard someone say long ago that one way to lose an appetite for sin was to watch others do phonesit. Notice someone in a fit of rage, or giving someone a lustful stare; be around someone who is entangled in the chains of bitterness or see the way deceit and gossip tear people down. See the ugliness of sin in action, despise it and then use that as motivation to destroy it in your own life. Of course there is a dangerous slope into hypocritical judgmentalism that must be avoided. But, the bible does tell us to consider the lives of others and to either follow their good example (Heb 13:7) or avoid their bad example (1 Cor 10:11).

So with that in mind, here is my recent observation: Have you noticed how addicted we are to our phones? Now, I realize this is not necessarily a sin, nor is this a new topic. More and more people are writing about the effects of our attraction to technology, good and bad. But here is the narrow window I want us to look through for a moment: How is the attraction we have to our phones impacting – in a negative way – our intimate, personal time with family and friends? If you have not already, take some time to pay attention to what is happening around you. Notice the couple sitting in the coffee shop, immersed not in each other, but in what is happening on the screen in front of them. Pay attention to the mom or dad sitting on the park bench, with children begging them to watch their adventure on the slide, while they fail to look up from the phone. Or observe the family sitting in the restaurant where 1 or 2 or all of them are engaged with Face book, texting or Twitter – rather than the people sitting right next to them. Instead of enjoying that moment in their own life, they are too busy trying to figure out what is happening in everyone else’s.

Of course if you are like me, in order to see these things – you might have to look up from your own phone. The fact is, I love technology. My phone allows me to stay connected with people I care about all over the country, with the news of the day and even receive edification from amazing bible teachers and theologians. I believe this is an incredible gift and I am not advocating for its dismissal from our lives all together. But the fact is, we are taking it to an extreme. I have noticed that I subconsciously go to my phone at any moment, in any conversation – for no real reason at all. I’m just picking it up, I’m scrolling, I’m checking social media – almost with no forethought. It just happens. And I am doing it at the worst of times – at the playground, at the coffee shop, at the restaurant. Last week I was on the couch watching a movie with my youngest daughter and all of a sudden I hear her ask ‘Daddy, will you put the phone down and watch this with me?’ I’m not even sure I remember picking it up – it was just instinctive.

I am not interested in motivation by guilt. The fact is that man-driven guilt rarely causes people to change over the long haul. So here is what I have been pondering: Is there a biblical principle that could inform and encourage us to have a healthy use of our phones, while avoiding the detrimental effects of over-use? Perhaps there are many, but here is the one that sprung to my mind: Romans 12:10 ‘Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves’. The Greek word behind honor is a word that means ‘to treat as valuable or precious’. To honor someone means that we work to show that individual that they are valuable to us. This verse is essentially commanding ‘go out of your way, sacrifice, and ensure that person knows they are of great worth to you’. How many of us feel valuable when the person we are with is more intrigued with the cyber-world than a conversation with us? How many of us feel we are worth something if we have to beg for attention over dinner or during a walk or while taking a drive? And how do our children and grandchildren process their value to us, if they constantly have to compete with the iPhone for our devotion?

We are given a scriptural charge to remind others of their value, to build relationships and to enjoy each others company. For me, that means that I need to leave my phone in the car a whole lot more. It is best to not take it to dinner or to the park or on the walk with my family. I need to leave it upstairs while we play a board game or watch a movie. Technology is a wonderful tool – but it needs to stay in its place. So enjoy those personal, intimate times – be devoted to each other and put the phone down for a while.

Grace and Peace

David

 

Warning Flags

Reg FlagThis week I saw a suggestion on Twitter that every man read Proverbs 5 and listen to its warnings. And as many times as I may have read this passage, it came off the page to me in a way it never has before. Lust is something that I have battled with to varying degrees and in varying ways throughout my life. I have not met many men (any actually) who do not struggle with it in some fashion. And honestly, the number of women who are entangled in this battle is equally as high. From pornography to romance novels, mental fantasy’s and physical affairs – both sexes are plagued with temptation to sexual immorality. And this passage is full of warnings for us to heed.

Sin desires you (Genesis 4:7). It desires to have you; to master you. And Proverbs 5 starkly warns that the evil that wishes to consume us, will come in the most attractive package possible. Regardless of the picture that the false-religious people try to paint,  sin is inviting; it is desirable. It will come at you as pleasing as possible. In this passage, sexual temptation knocks at our door ‘as sweet as honey’. This means it would be good. We will crave it. it may even seem at the moment to be worth it to give in and taste. This is what is so dangerous for us. We may think right now that we can stand – that we would never yield to this tempter. Yet no one can say that. Any of us could falter (1 Cor 10:12); and not only could we yield to this sin, but we could even WANT to fall in order to receive that which is ‘sweet and smooth‘.

The inviting nature of sin is why it is so critical that we heed the warnings. What starts out sweet, ends as ‘bitter poison‘, loss of honor and groans of anguish. The divine word is giving us a chance to see the end result beforehand. It is a plea: consider all of those who look up to you; all of those who you have influence with. Spouses, remember the one who you pledged your loyalty to. Parents and Grandparents, consider your children. Leaders, consider those who look up to you in the faith. In one fleeting moment – it is all gone. Craving that which is sweet as honey – we become dishonorable and open to ‘public disgrace‘. And then we are left in that dreadful, dark place described in verse 13: with everything lost, from the depth of our souls we would cry out ‘Why didn’t I listen?’

For those who are married or will one day be married – the bible points us to the good and right fountain, verse 18 – to be satisfied in our spouse. Pray and ask that God would strengthen you, and mold your heart and mind to only be captivated by your wife or husband; or if you are single, pray to have the strength to be sustained until you can be captivated by your (future) spouse. And pray – everyone – above all to be satisfied and captivated by Christ! It was Thomas Chalmers who said ‘A new affection is more successful in replacing an old affection than simply trying to end it without supplanting it with something better’. Christ is the something that is better!

I urge you to read, meditate and pray through this passage. I urge you to be open with those people in your life who you can trust with your struggles. I urge you to let someone know the moment you feel yourself being pulled in by the allure of sin. AND DO IT NOW, because the day may come when you do not want to be stopped; a day when you do not want to be warned. Each year people lose their life at the beach, because the inviting pull of the ocean causes them to run right past the flags warning of a deadly undertow. Do not run pass the warning flags of Proverbs 5. Let it not be said of us by future generations that we ‘died because of lack of self control’. May the Father protect us by His grace!

I love you all
Grace and Peace

David
Proverbs 5

5 My son, pay attention to my wisdom;
listen carefully to my wise counsel.
2 Then you will show discernment,
and your lips will express what you’ve learned.
3 For the lips of an immoral woman are as sweet as honey,
and her mouth is smoother than oil.
4 But in the end she is as bitter as poison,
as dangerous as a double-edged sword.
5 Her feet go down to death;
her steps lead straight to the grave.
6 For she cares nothing about the path to life.
She staggers down a crooked trail and doesn’t realize it.

7 So now, my sons, listen to me.
Never stray from what I am about to say:
8 Stay away from her!
Don’t go near the door of her house!
9 If you do, you will lose your honor
and will lose to merciless people all you have achieved.
10 Strangers will consume your wealth,
and someone else will enjoy the fruit of your labor.
11 In the end you will groan in anguish
when disease consumes your body.
12 You will say, “How I hated discipline!
If only I had not ignored all the warnings!
13 Oh, why didn’t I listen to my teachers?
Why didn’t I pay attention to my instructors?
14 I have come to the brink of utter ruin,
and now I must face public disgrace.”

15 Drink water from your own well—
share your love only with your wife.
16 Why spill the water of your springs in the streets,
having sex with just anyone?
17 You should reserve it for yourselves.
Never share it with strangers.

18 Let your wife be a fountain of blessing for you.
Rejoice in the wife of your youth.
19 She is a loving deer, a graceful doe.
Let her breasts satisfy you always.
May you always be captivated by her love.
20 Why be captivated, my son, by an immoral woman,
or fondle the breasts of a promiscuous woman?

21 For the Lord sees clearly what a man does,
examining every path he takes.
22 An evil man is held captive by his own sins;
they are ropes that catch and hold him.
23 He will die for lack of self-control;
he will be lost because of his great foolishness.