Do you know what the biggest problem is, that the Church has to deal with? Sinners are always attending Church. The Church would be perfect if it wasn’t for all those sinners! How do I know? Because I am one of those sinners.
As believers we struggle with being and living Christian and worshiping with people who are just as sinful or maybe more sinful. In almost 35 years of ministry I have seen a wide variety of sinners in the life of the congregation. In our Church we have an open invitation to ALL to come to the Table. So, what does that mean? We get sinners, liars, adulterers, thieves, homosexuals, greedy, covetousness, prideful, atheists, rebellious, and all sorts show up at the Table. What is the Church coming too?
When we look at the Gospels, Jesus is always around the sinner. He is eating with them, visiting in their homes and speaking to them in the crowds. In fact, he seems to welcome them, because unlike the religious, they want to hear the Word and allow God to transform their lives. We have the same struggles today. Somehow we say to ourselves that if we allow them into the Church we are “condoning” the things that they are doing. NOT TRUE. Somehow if they worship with us we are affirming things we don’t think the scripture teaches for that we approve of. NOT TRUE.
A condemner rarely speaks to the unchurched. A condemning faith forgets the love and grace that God showed the Church in Jesus. Look closely at Jesus, At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” (John 8:9) Did you read it? “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. He had every right to condemn this woman, she was caught in adultery. He never approved of the behavior. He was never tempted to become part of the behavior. He accepted her as the broken vessel she was and gave her grace.
Can we do the same?
While God doesn’t change, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever, (Heb. 13:8)” the Church does change. Although God remains steadfast, the Church must be changing to remain relevant, effective and evangelistic. One of the most difficult struggles as a pastor is to make the necessary changes in worship. Older generations like quiet prayerful times, soft organ music, formal style and things to rarely change. Younger generations (used to videos, the internet, etc.) want everything fast moving, no organ, not quiet moments, informal and everything constantly changing. And yet all generations want everything inner generational.
We have worked hard to have a “blended” service. The service incorporates some of each groups needs. It is the same God. It is the same Bible. But we all like our styles and methods of worshiping God.
Understand, the question “How do I like worship on Sunday?” is important. But what is also important is how do others like worshiping God? While it is important that I receive something from the worship service, it is also important that others receive something and especially those who are seeking to find Christ.
My personal prayer is, “Lord, keep me steady in the winds of change but not rigid and unbending.”
The other day I read through some Buddhist text. (To read such stuff always reminds me why I am a Christian.) Tibetan teaching, is that when we are happy, we should not get lost in our own happiness, but share the karma of happiness with others. Likewise, when we suffer, others share the suffering with us.
In my favorite wedding service that I often use there is a paragraph that says: “Marriage is a companionship which involves mutual commitment and responsibility. You will share alike in the responsibilities and the joys of life. When companions share a sorrow the sorrow is halved, and when they share a joy the joy is doubled.”
Christianity at its best is filled with compassion. It is sharing joy when our heart is filled with joy. It is sharing a consoling arm around the shoulders of someone who is hurting inside. Compassion is the outward response of an inward grace that has already been given. Compassion is what we have because of what we have received in Jesus.
Compassion is great when we go on mission trips, give generously to worthy causes, or help a neighbor with their yardwork. However, compassion doesn’t start there, it starts at home with our spouse, our children, our parents, and those we love.
George H. Bush in his inaugural address called for us to be “a kinder and gentler nation.” It has been a quarter of a century since that call was issued. Are we today a kinder and gentler nation? We have fought three wars. We have survived many terrorism attacks. We have gone through a mini depression. Government has been grid-locked and battling over shrinking budgets.
All of us have suffered from the above. However, there is a spirit of resilience that seems to be present. The Community Food Pantry at Hillside a few years ago gave food to about ten families a week. Today, the Church feeds more than 50 families a week. None of that is supported by government money, it comes from Hillsiders. That doesn’t include those we help with medicine, utilities, and special circumstances. Every summer we send about 25 young people to camp, almost all with half of their cost paid, many with all the cost paid – Hillsiders. We will send a group this summer to Moore, Oklahoma to clean up from last years tornado. Guess where the money comes from? Every time government cuts back, the Church has to do more.
Thank you Hillside, you are a people living out their faith.