You Can’t Be a Christian and…

This message was shared on August 30,2015 at Centerville UMC in Centerville, IN. 

The passage of Scripture we heard from the Gospel according to Mark addresses a heart issue. In this exchange, Jesus is essentially asking, “where is your heart?”

In this passage, the religious types were consumed with legalistic rules and regulations. They ask Jesus, “Why didn’t your disciples was their hands?”

Jesus’ response would get their attention as he quotes the prophet Isaiah, “You honor God with your lips, but your hearts are far from God. You are more concerned with man-made religious rules than you are with the commands of God. You are more concerned with these supposedly religious rules that, in and of themselves are not necessarily bad, than you are with the far superior ways of God.”

When we encounter these religious folks who are consumed with “churchy rules”, we should probably pause for some inward reflection.

Where are our hearts? Are we more concerned with pursuing and filling our hearts with the ways of God or with keeping up religious appearances? Are we just putting on a show? Listen, throughout the years, I’ve encountered numerous Christians who have participated in church and Bible study all their lives, yet are still convinced that there were only two of every animal on the ark. They have accepted the nursery rhyme and Sunday school version of the story. They have never read Genesis 7! Yet, they boast and brag about being in this Bible study, that Sunday school class, and how busy they are with “churchy things” and they are just consuming what is being spoon-fed to them without asking deep questions and exploring for themselves. What we were taught in Sunday school isn’t the whole story…it’s not the whole truth and nothing but the truth. And, today, we still teach the partially true version! Amen! Hallelujah! Praise the Lord! Again, where are our hearts?

So, the religious folks of Jesus’ day were consumed with legalistic rules and regulations that appear to be good, but failed to capture the heart and the essence of the way of Jesus. They preferred to point out the shortcomings of others rather than examine their own hearts and relationship with God. They were merely concerned with looking good, with looking holier than their neighbors.

The reality is, we too can be like the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. We are all too quick to point out the shortcomings of others while glossing over our own hearts and failures. You see, when we point out others shortcomings we, at least for a time, feel better about ourselves and somehow morally and religiously superior to “those people.”

So, we find ourselves consumed with pointing out that…

  • Well, at least I’m not like “those people”
  • At least I don’t have as much debt as her
  • At least I’m not as vain and self-centered as him
  • At least I don’t waste as much time on TV & online games as her
  • At least I’m not as overweight as that lazy glutton
  • At least my children aren’t as unruly as hers
  • At least my lawn looks better than the pastors. Doesn’t he know how to use a rake? I’m pretty sure we provided him with a weed eater. Maybe he doesn’t know how to use it. I mean, the grass is as tall as the trees in the neighbor’s yard.
  • Have you seen their kids, do they own a comb?
  • I don’t think the pastor used hand sanitizer before he touched the communion bread. I mean, that’s just gross! Sure, we’re all going to go up there and touch it, but seriously, just use the hand sanitizer, pastor.
  • And, not only that, he starts his sentences with conjunctions and ends them with stranded prepositions. Sure, the Oxford Dictionary Myth Debunkers, a Harvard linguist and other modern-day grammar experts have proven that these supposed grammar rules are ill-informed and inaccurate, but it just sounds so normal and unprofessional. He must have graduated from Ball State.
  • Another thing, why would his wife allow him to leave the house with his shirt untucked? He just doesn’t look, act, or talk like a pastor should look, act, and talk.

When we point out the shortcomings of others, it momentarily takes the spotlight off us and reflects it onto others. Jesus is saying to us, much like he said to the religious folks of his day, “Enough!”

Many of the legalistic religious rules we have today were handed down from generation to generation (much like the version of Noah’s Ark we teach our children).

This week, I sought the help of my online friends and acquaintances via Facebook and came up with some of the “rules” we church folk sometimes communicate.

You Can’t Be a Christian and…

  • drink, smoke, chew or go with girls who do
  • dance- because everyone knows dancing leads to sex
  • play cards- because everyone knows cards leads to gambling
  • Vote Democrat/Green/Republican
  • Be depressed or sick- If you are sick or depressed, there must be some unconfessed sin in your life. And, you don’t need professional help…just pray!
  • Be rich Jesus told the rich young ruler to give it all away
  • Be poor God wants to bless you, to cause you to prosper, to be happy
  • Wear skinny jeans or be immodest women should be silent, submissive, and wear head coverings
  • Root for the Patriots (now, I’m pretty sure that one is true)
  • Run in the church Listen, I’ve seen the dirty looks people give children in just about every church I’ve ever set foot in. Let kids be kids! The way we treat young people today will greatly impact their desire to stick around as they age.
  • Drink Starbucks
  • Drink coffee in the sanctuary Is that radical hospitality? In every church with carpet, this one included, there are stains on the carpet from communion juice. So, where do we draw the line? Is it okay to use grape juice for communion? Is it okay for a mother to give her infant a bottle?
  • Be on Facebook
  • Forget to give Bishop Mike some Cheetos every now and then (from a former DS)
  • Listen to secular music or read secular books (remember the book burnings and album burnings/meltings I suppose)
  • Go to restaurants that serve alcohol- Which brings up another one…we shouldn’t work on the Sabbath. But, we’ll gladly go out to eat every Sunday, causing someone else to have to work on the Sabbath
  • Watch R-rated movies- But, what about the Passion of the Christ?
  • Some of us have been taught these things and have also taught these things and more…like no instruments in the church, no tattoos, no piercings, no casual dress (wear your Sunday best…what if jeans and a t-shirt are my Sunday best? Did you know, there was a time when suits and ties were not allowed in the church because they were seen as divisive between the haves and the have-nots? And, our founding father, John Wesley encouraged pastors and church members to wear plain clothes as to not draw attention to themselves.)

Not all of these are necessarily bad, but these religious rules and regulations fail to capture the heart and essence of Jesus.

Jesus proclaims to his followers that we just might have missed the point. It’s not about that junk. It’s about our hearts!

In Mark 7:18-20, Jesus says, “Don’t you understand either? Don’t you know that nothing from the outside that enters a person has the power to contaminate? That’s because it doesn’t enter into the heart but into the stomach, and it goes out into the sewer.” By saying this, Jesus declared that no food could contaminate a person in God’s sight. “It’s what comes out of a person that contaminates someone in God’s sight,”

Maybe if we were more consumed with getting our hearts right with Jesus, we would be less concerned with man-made legalistic regulations. Maybe we’d be more concerned with following the way of Jesus and less concerned with imposing our legalistic rules and regulations on others.

Getting Our Hearts Right with God?

  • Daily prayer– We’re going to help you! In the back, there is a prayer calendar for the month of September. This is for focused prayer concerning our church. As you pray for our church, community, and world, spend time praying that God would help you get your heart right with Jesus.
  • Regular Bible study and devotions
  • Get involved in healthy Christian community. Not all Christian small groups are healthy. If all you do when getting together with your Christian friends is talk negatively, complain about the church, the pastor, the music, the kids, this person or that person, gossip, belittle and judge others, and so on, that’s not healthy Christian community. That’s just a gathering of the grumpy Gus’ and the negative Nancy’s. So, pursue healthy Christian community where you are encouraged, challenged, nourished, and held accountable.
  • Give sacrificially of your time, talents and treasures
  • Make time for regular worship– where your heart is connecting with God, both personally and communally with the church
  • Make a commitment to grow, give, and go together!

If we are consumed with having our hearts right with God, maybe our understanding of what it means to be a Christian will be transformed and become more Biblical and Christ-like and less focused on man-made legalistic rules, regulations, and unrealistic expectations.

Maybe our “You Can’t Be a Christian and….list would actually reflect that heart and essence of Jesus?

You Can’t Be a Christian and…

  • Exclude people (for any reason- race, religion, age, political affiliations, socioeconomic level, sexual identity or preferences because God loves all and is for all)
  • Hate anyone for any reason – remember, it is Jesus who calls us to pray for and love even our enemies! So, we can’t fail to love our enemies
  • Ignore the poor
  • Be a jerk (pray for me, I’m really working on this one!)
  • Be perfect (too often, we impose unrealistic expectations on ourselves and others – I don’t care what your momma told you, you are not and you never were perfect! Look at your neighbor, “You aren’t perfect…but God loves you!” Look at your pastor, “You aren’t perfect…but God loves you!”)
  • Overlook the oppressed – the least, the last, the marginalized, those on the fringes
  • Love money above all else (or anything other than God – that’s idolatry – money or possessions are a big one – look at your bank statement – any idols?)
  • Not want to try your best to love God and our neighbors (again, we aren’t perfect, but we need to try)
  • Judge others, gossip, slander, complain, argue- I know these things are fun, but they are not what Jesus was about!
  • Disrupt the unity of the church, which is often caused by gossip, slander, arguing and complaining- it causes us, often for selfish reasons, to hold onto what “is” and stand in the way of the movement of the Holy Spirit through the mission, vision, and values of the church
  • Be selfish, arrogant, proud, or rude
  • Not desire to share Jesus with all
  • Reject Jesus
  • Not take Jesus’ teaching seriously

So, where are our hearts today? What steps will we take to get our hearts right with Jesus? Will we make a commitment to grow, give and go together? Will our hearts and lives better reflect the heart and life of Jesus?

Prayer- God of Power and Might, “create in us clean hearts and place within us a new and steadfast spirit.” Amen.

Love is a Mix Tape: One

This message was shared at Centerville UMC in Centerville, IN on August 16, 2015.

Unity among the body of believers is an important theme we find throughout the New Testament. Paul addressed unity in many of his New Testament letters. Jesus talked about unity as well.

John 17:20-23 “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

Jesus proclaims his desire that we would be one…why? So that the world will believe! Our unity is crucial to our witness as a church.

In 1991, the Irish band U2 released the album Achtung Baby. That album contained the song “One”, which would go on to be one of their greatest hits. I believe the song has a message for us this morning.

Ephesians 4:1-6 “I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called,  with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,  making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling,  one Lord, one faith, one baptism,  one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.”

What unites us? One body, one spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God.

Greg Garrett, “We Get to Carry Each Other: The Gospel According to U2”- “Our lives are for and with one another. We need one another to be who we are called to be.  And not only are we called to carry one another – we are permitted to. It is a grace and a mercy for us as well as for those who need our help.”

There are times when the church has been the most loving, peaceful, joy-filled, kind, hospitable, encouraging, self-less…a place where we do the work of Philippians 2:12-15 together “…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Do all things without murmuring and arguing, so that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, in which you shine like stars in the world.”

Yet, we also know there are times when the church can be the opposite of what it truly should be. There are times when we come to the church looking for peace, comfort, hope, encouragement, and what we find is a cold shoulder, tense interactions, and judgmental looks and words. Again, our unity plays a crucial role in our witness. Why would non-believers want to have anything to do with folks who are always bickering, complaining, gossiping, fighting, and judging one another?

Unity doesn’t necessarily mean we have to agree about every single thing. Unity means that we come together, as different and unique as we are, in Christ. Jesus Christ as Lord is the uniting force among all believers.

So, gathered here are many people with different views on political, moral, and social issues. Yet, we find unity in Jesus Christ as Lord. As a church, we might have differences of opinion, but we unite around Christ and our call to “go and make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” And so, because we are united in Jesus Christ, the church should be united…we should make God’s joy complete, united by the same love, not being selfish or conceited, but humble, considering others as better than ourselves, not looking to our own interests, but to the interests of others

Now, look at your neighbor and say, “You’re awesome!” Now, look at your neighbor and say, “But, you aren’t perfect.” Now, look at your pastor and say, “Eh, you’re okay.” Now, look at your pastor and say, “You definitely aren’t perfect.” Now, look at your neighbor and say, “However, we’re all in this together!” We are on a journey of faith together…with Jesus Christ as Lord as our uniting force.

This summer, our family spent a lot of time at the softball diamond. It was a blast! Recently, Emily and I found ourselves asking, “What if the church could be like softball?” At the softball diamond, we all came from different backgrounds…but we all rallied together around one cause…the team! We all encouraged the girls. We all cheered for the girls. We celebrated their wins. We comforted them in their losses. We got angry at the umps together! We didn’t always agree with the coaches decisions, but we supported and encouraged the coaches. We shared conversations and there was a genuine sense of concern for one another. We heard each other’s stories (the guy who met his wife after a fight and is terrified of her). Our kids not on the team played together and entertained us. It was at the softball diamond we experienced a true sense of community. We looked forward to going to the games and interacting with the softball crew. What if the church could be like softball?

What if the church was a place where we rally around Jesus…where we look forward to going, where we encourage one another, cheer for one another, celebrate together, comfort one another, share our stories and share a common story as God’s people uniquely gathered in this time and place? What if the church was a place where we could come together in” all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain unity”? What if the church were to unite together in order to “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling, without murmuring or arguing, that we might shine like stars in the world?” What if the church was like softball?

The Scriptures are rich with text on unity because God is fully aware of how much we need one another. As we walk on this journey of faith together, life can, at times, give us more than we can handle on our own. That’s why we need each other. That’s why, as the unique body of believers gathered together in this time and place, we need to stand united. There are things we will face on this earth that will seem too much to bear…and the only way we’ll survive is with the help, comfort, care, concern, support, encouragement, and love of our fellow believers.

Again, what if the church was like softball?

Love is a Mix Tape: Brokenhearted

This morning, I’ll be sharing a message using John 5:1-18 and Kirk Franklin’s “Brokenhearted” as a launching pad.

I would encourage you to read the passage from John 5, listen to “Brokenhearted”, and then read John 5:1-18 again.

After reading the passage and listening to the song, ask yourself:

  • How am I like the man Jesus encountered?
  • How am I like the religious leaders in the story?
  • Do I want to get well?
  • Are there people in my family, circle of friends, work place, neighborhood or community who need to experience the healing water?