People are people

1 Timothy 5:1-8
Yesterday, I based my sermon on Mark 12 when Jesus told his listeners to beware of the scribes. These religious leaders used their position and authority for their personal gain. In the process, apparently, they preyed on widows. Instead of helping and caring for them, they took advantage of them. Jesus said those men can expect the “greater condemnation” (Mark 12:40).

Think about why someone might use a widow. They’re an easy target. Who else is going to protect them?

Now, let’s change direction. Think about why a widow might use the church.

That’s the context of our reading today. Of course, widows were women who lost their husbands to death. The biblical idea of a widow goes further. These are the women who have lost their husbands and have no one else to care for them. Their family is in no position to provide for them. They have no sons they can rely on. For all practical purposes, they have nothing.

But not every widow was in that position. Some had families. They may not have had everything they did before, but they were alright. It was these widows who were taking advantage of the church. This was a specific example the apostle Paul talked about in 1 Timothy. It could be these were part of a group of women causing trouble in the congregation at Ephesus.

There are a couple of lessons I take from their situation.

The first is that whether it’s religious leaders or widows, people are people. Our tendency is to think of our own good. We prioritize what we want and make every effort to get it. Is there any hope we can overcome that? Yes! Part of the good news is learning how different life is in God’s reign. So, Jesus tells us to beware of the religious leaders and Paul tells us how to truly take care of each other.

With God’s help, we are a new creation.

That leads us to the second lesson.

When Paul instructs Timothy about the cheating widows, there’s an assumption he makes. The church will take care of its needy. God’s church becomes God’s agent of care.

And as we learn to live in the reality of God’s reign, we learn to trust God more. The more we trust God, the more we know God will provide for us. There’s no need to take advantage of other people. I don’t need to worry about getting ahead. I’ll have all that I need.

So, we are God’s way of providing for others. We are also to stand up for those in need and against those who would abuse the church’s generosity. People are people. But God’s people are God’s people!

Stay blessed…john

An important announcement

Deuteronomy 15:1-11
I finally figured it out.

For years, I’ve heard people say they don’t know what’s going on in church. Never mind that we printed in the bulletin for three weeks. It was in the newsletter, too. I mentioned several things after Bible study as well. I guess people missed the PowerPoint slides and Facebook posts. Oh, don’t forget our church email, printed calendar and the flyers posted in the hallway.

So, what did I figure out? Besides that people don’t listen?

I’m not asking you to just trust me on this. You can verify it yourself. People do know what’s going on in church. I just do announcements differently. Announcement time is always a strange thing. Do you make them at the beginning or end of our worship? At one point, it was innovative to land them during the offering. I’ve told people I’ll let them sneak one in during prayer if they wrap it in prayer language.

With all this thought and effort we put into the announcement time do you know what still happens? People don’t listen. I can give you a handful of examples right off the top of my head. My big mouth stood right in front of a microphone and gave all the details (that were already printed in the bulletin). But people still asked me about some upcoming event they hadn’t heard about.

Now, as a leader and communicator, I have to take responsibility for people not hearing what I’m saying. That’s why I try to get rid of announcement time. Well, at least the way most of us are familiar with it. Let’s focus on one announcement at a time and communicate it well. That’s what I like to do. If everyone lets me is another story. Not taking ten minutes to read a list of announcements makes people feel like they’re missing out on something. 

Announcement time shouldn’t be a ten-minute occasion. As important as your event might be to you, you lose people after about thirty seconds.

Okay, what does announcement time have to do with our walk with Jesus? First off, it gives you something to pay attention to in your church. More importantly, it allows me to bring to attention something I seek to do.

Our primary task on Sunday is to worship together. So, let’s focus on our worship. I like to say “Let Sunday be Sunday.” That applies to announcements and any other church business.

Instead of cramming as much other business as we can into our short time together, let Sunday be Sunday. We don’t need organizational meetings or fundraisers on our sabbath. If the work we’re doing is that important, find another time to dedicate to it.

Relearning sabbath prepares us to live and work faithfully to God. All our announcements and Sunday meetings cloud our vision of how important sabbath is to God. God rested after creation. God establishes the sabbath for us. It could teach us trust and dependence on God. It could bring renewal to our hearts and minds. It could help us slow down enough to better sense God’s presence with us. It could prepare us for greater work.

God commanded the Israelites to forgive debts every seven years. This was an idea built upon the sabbath. It would make no sense by itself. The weekly rhythm of rest framed the idea to forgive debts every seven years. It was a way to “open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.”

Learning to trust God each week prepares us to do what seems impossible. Look into the concept of the Jubilee year. You’ll see that gets expanded into further impossibility. But it starts with sabbath. 

Let Sunday be Sunday. I promise you we’re not hiding church events from you.

Stay blessed…john

Who do you love?

John 13:31-35
The call to love is at the heart of who and what God calls the church to be.

It should be difficult to attend a Christian worship gathering or Bible study, for example, and not hear something about the love of God. All conversation about doctrine and religious practice has to stem from our understanding of love. Love drives the way we interact with one another. And love forms the character of the church.

If you happen to leave a Christian gathering without the prompt to reflect on some aspect of God’s love, I’d ask why. What was more important that day?

Jesus made sure his disciples heard it before his arrest. He told them with his words. And he offered a shocking foot-washing demonstration. We tend to remember the last words we share with people. When someone dies, it’s almost automatic to think of the last time you saw them. You recall what you were talking about and what they said. So, what was the overriding theme Jesus wanted to impress upon his followers one last time?

Love.

We already know Jesus thought the greatest commandment was to love God, and to love your neighbor was just as important. Now, he presses the issue further. So much, in fact, that he says, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Some churches want to be known for their lively worship. Some want to stake their reputation on their tradition. Others would be okay to not be known at all. None of that means much of anything without the foundation of the love of God. If we’re thinking construction, then the foundation and whole structure needs to be built on love. It is to be our most distinguishing quality.

One question that arises within this conversation is who do we love? In a way, we ask the same question, Who is my neighbor (Luke 10:25-37)?

Yes, we’re still trying to narrow down who we are to love. One extreme idea that comes out of that says our sense of love doesn’t apply to non-Christians. That when the Bible mentions acts of love and compassion, it’s meant to demonstrate how we interact with people of faith. When Jesus says, the idea goes, that you have love “for one another,” he only meant you and your church.

I wholeheartedly reject that notion. 

If we’re only willing to share the love of God with people who are like us, we don’t understand the scope of God’s love. An insider-only notion of the love of God is not the love of God. “But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). We weren’t on the inside when God first offered love to us.

To be sure, non-Christians know how to love. Our understanding, though, is different. It’s based on the reality of God and God’s kingdom. Its call surpasses mere emotion and congeniality. And it’s not only something we do. It’s a part of everything we are.

God was willing to show the entire world what love really looks like. Now, as Jesus followers, we get to do the same thing. It’s who we are.

Stay blessed…john