Archive | May, 2014

The Great Bikini Debate and Professional Weak People

31 May

swimIt’s pool and beach season, and that means it is once again time for The Great Bikini Debate.  Should Christians wear them or shouldn’t they?  Our culture has come a long way from the days of the picture above, where a badged beach patrol measured women’s suits to make sure they were legal!

When you consider the various cultures around the world where it is the norm for women to be topless and men to be bottomless, who gets to decide what is okay?  In the context of the church, this is quite a debate centering on a number of social issues.

I was at my denomination’s national conference this week, and thanks to one of my pastoral colleagues, I learned a new term: the professional weaker brother.

We were talking about how people can make unnecessary additions to the good news of Jesus.  In our denomination that addition has most clearly come in the form of how people who follow Jesus are to handle the use of beverage alcohol.  Historically we have been a “prohibition” or “abstinence” church, and our denomination’s book of order states that members of our churches should hold to abstinence as “the only responsible position” to the use of alcohol.  In 2008, an initiative to change the “only” to “most” narrowly failed to receive the three-quarters majority vote needed to make that kind of adjustment to our book of order.

The reasons for the prohibition against the use of beverage alcohol in my denomination are varied, but the concern of the group that was discussing this yesterday around the breakfast table was that by requiring people to adhere to a standard that is not sustained by Scripture we have added an unnecessary burden to the Gospel.  Why would we do this?  As I ask this question, let me also be clear that I am deeply grateful for the Evangelical Congregational Church, and it’s history and theology that has been faithful to the mission of God. In commenting about this particular concern, the heart in that breakfast discussion was a grace-filled desire to see our denomination become even more faithful to the mission of God.

Lest I seem to be harping on two issues, swimwear and alcohol, I want to draw attention to the fact that the principles in play here are much larger than a couple specific issues.  In Paul’s day the issue was whether or not people in the church should eat food that had been sacrificed to idols.  It was a rather complex issue with few easy answers. So Paul takes some time to walk his readers through a loving response, and in so doing teaches some wonderful principles that could be helpful to us.

Paul very clearly teaches about two kinds of Christians that he saw in the churches in cities like Rome and Corinth in his day:  The Weak and The Strong.  He was very concerned for the weak, that their new, underdeveloped faith would be crushed by the strong.  In our sermon tomorrow, we’ll look further at what he was talking about.  To address this, Paul said that the strong should not be a stumbling block to the weak.  Before we gather for worship tomorrow morning at Faith Church (9:30am), I want to ask you if it is possible that you have been a stumbling block?  The argument that some use against the wearing of bikinis is that the bikini wearer will be a stumbling block to the men at the pool or beach.  But is that what Paul was talking about?

As I prepare this sermon, I also realize that our church culture in 2014, though we have found many similarities between ourselves and the Christians at Corinth, is also different from the church culture in Corinth in 55-60 AD.  I wonder if it is because some people have become Professional Weaker Brothers or Sisters.  Are you a Professional Weaker Bro or Sis?  If so, you may be one of those who are adding to the Good News, the Gospel.  Again, please join us as we talk further about this tomorrow.

Celebrating singleness – 1 Corinthians 7:25-40

28 May

singlenessparty1

It is GOOD to be single! Let’s celebrate it!!!

Are you single?  Do you feel like it is good to be single?  When I was in my later high school years and college, I did not think it was good to be single.  I badly wanted to be in a relationship.

In our continuing study of 1st Corinthians 7, Paul says that it is really good to be single.  I wonder how that sentiment comes across to you who are single?

If you are single, how do you feel when people say things like “Dating yet?” or “When are you ever going to get married?”  As I was studying for a sermon on how good it is to be single, I realized that I needed help.  I was barely ever single, only for a few months here and there, and then Michelle and I got married young, at 21 years old.  So I did some research and contacted some people who have been single a lot longer.  Am I glad I did, because the insights those people shared with me were wonderful.

So thank you Ken Sears for the deep thoughtful words you shared, most of which I read in the sermon.  Thank you Lisa Bartelt for sharing Peter Greer’s article.  Peter shares some great thoughts about how our culture can be so wrapped up with the milestones of married couples, that singles can feel left out.  Lisa wrote a post this week with more on that, check it out.

So married people, there is much that we need to learn about singleness!!!  Whether you are married or single, perhaps there is much to be learned about what single life is or could be all about.  Let’s continue the very cool discussion we had after the worship service.  Feel free to comment here.

The Monday Messy Office Report – May 26, 2014

26 May

This week I’m taking a break from The Monday Messy Office Report because it is Memorial Day, an office holiday, and tomorrow evening I head to Messiah College for my denomination’s National Conference.  All that means is that my office will likely be extra messy next week! 

One for all the single people

23 May

singleAre you single and loving it?

I’ve heard that some of the young people at Faith Church have been wondering when Relationship Month will be over!  It’s been a lot of talk about marriage, separation, divorce, remarriage, which are topics they are apparently not too concerned about.  I was hoping that at least some of what we talked about would be helpful to them!  Maybe it will as the years go by.

BUT, this coming Sunday will be different.  This will be a sermon specifically for the single people.  Does that mean the married people need not attend?  NO!  Here’s why: if you are married, have you ever given thought to how you treat singles?  Do you disrespect them?  Do you marginalize them and treat them as some kind of special interest group with a problem that needs to be fixed?

Surely not, you say?

But maybe you do that more than you realize.  If you’re married, this is not a sermon for you to check your brains at the door.  Being a married person myself I recognize my inadequacy of speaking to singles.  So I did some digging on singles, and I found out about John Stott, a well-known pastor and theologian who never married and lived into his 90s.  Stott is a man who has clearly thought deeply on the subject. I also found that a number of books about singleness from a Christian perspective have been written.  I contacted one our EC pastors/missionaries, Ken Sears, who is single.  His response was so thoughtful and helpful, filled with angles of thought that I never considered, that I suggested he publish it.  I’ll be sharing some thoughts from these two men.

And most of all we’ll take a look at what Paul says in our ongoing study of 1st Corinthians 7.  A few weeks ago I said that marriage is GOOD.  But what about singleness?  Is it okay if a single person wants to get married?  Is it okay if a single person is not happy being single?  Is it possible that a person can be single and happy?  That they can be single and have a very content relationship with God and others?

Are you single?  Maybe you’ve been wondering about some of these things.  Maybe you’ve been yearning to be married?  Maybe you’ve wondered if you’ll never get married, and if something is wrong with you.  Maybe you’re wondering what God wants for you.

I think you’ll find Paul and the other single people I’ve talked with have a lot to say that could be helpful.  How about joining us Sunday at 9:30am?

When I’m not feeling happy or content in my relationship – 1 Corinthians 7:17-24

22 May

happy vs joyAre you feeling discontent in your relationships? Maybe you’re not feeling happy about a relationship?  But are you feeling joy?  Is there a difference?  And what does it matter?

When we are unhappy or discontent, we are very tempted to RUN!  In our passage from this past Sunday, Paul says “Remain in the situation in which you were called.” Over and over he says this. Remain? What if we don’t like the situation?  As I have said before, if it is an abusive situation, this would not apply.  Get safe!

But what about when a relationship is frustrating?  What about when there is a lot of anger and arguing?  In Relationship Month, we have heard clearly from Paul that we should avoid separation and divorce at all cost.  In this section again he says, “Remain.”  Then he adds in verse 19, “keeping God’s commands in what counts.”

My NIV Study Bible notes summarize it well: “There is nothing wrong with seeking to improve your condition in life, but be content at every stage.” There is a tension between being content and keeping his commands. Sometimes keeping his commands means we need to make a change.

My dad, Harold Kime, has taught Corinthians for many years at Lancaster Bible College, and in his notes he says: “Keeping God’s commandments does have spiritual value and worth. The verb, “keep”, that Paul uses here is not a simple obedience. When he says “Keep his commands” it also includes the idea of guarding or preserving. This is not a mere outward obedience but an obedience that guards and preserves the very thing obeyed. We can infer from this that certain types of social condition require a radical change. Certainly Paul would not say, “Were you called being a prostitute, think nothing of it.”

We could summarize like this: Remain in the life state that you are in, but do not sin.  At the root of all this is a heart that is committed to say that “Lord, your way is the best way.”  Keep his commands requires a heart desire that believes that following God’s way is the best! “Find your satisfaction in the Lord”  Paul is not saying that the believers in the church should stay as they are for eternity. He encourages slaves, if they can, to be free. But the focus is to be content in the Lord where they are at. Things may change, but the focus for now is to grow that passionate, heartfelt relationship with the Lord.
We can be so discontent about life. We can start to grow a bitterness about our station in life. Paul says that the Christians should find their contentment in the Lord. And we can grow that deep inner joy without having our circumstances change one bit.

Contentment is being able to be joyful no matter the circumstance. There is a big difference between inner and outer joy. One way to describe the difference is to look at the difference between happiness and joy. I am bit hesitant to use these two terms because they are basically synonymous. But think about them this way: happiness is that outer expression of emotion based in how we are feeling. We like happiness a lot because it means we feel good. Joy is different from happiness because it is a deeper inner state of heart and mind that is trusting in God no matter how we are feeling, no matter our circumstance, no matter our station in life. This deep inner joy, this contentment is what Paul is saying the Corinthians believers need.

There is much about life that we can be discontent about. Paul would say to the Philippian church in Philippians 4:12 “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation. Whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

What are you discontent about? Your marriage? Your singleness? Your job? Your finances? The state of the world? Paul is saying that we should be a people who avoid rushing to change, but instead remain as you are, be content, find that deep inner joy in obeying Christ, and commit yourself to grow in your relationship with him. Here’s what’s interesting about contentment. It is okay to allow the deep inner joy of contentment to bubble up to the surface of your life and overflow with emotional outward happiness. We should never confuse that outward emotion for the inner real thing. But it is okay to be outwardly happy. I would go so far as to say that when we are content in Christ no matter our situation, we will see that outward happiness, that outward rejoicing on a more regular basis! And it starts with a contentment in our relationship with Christ.

It is not just in the pain that we can experience deep inner joy. We can also celebrate the joy of the Lord in the good times. We can and should be content in the Lord, no matter if life is difficult or abundant. A friend of mine from my youth group is now a professor at LBC. He and his wife were married a few years ago, it took them some time to start a family. They are now just weeks away from the birth of their son. I asked him this week how they are doing, and he said “Excited, things are going great, but they’re also thinking about those many sleep-deprived nights ahead of them.”

I wrote back and said, “You will get through it. I won’t deny that I had a hard time in the middle of the night. But it is a phase that passes. I think what I have been learning with my kids, though, is that I can yearn too much for each phase to pass. I can be way too focused on “getting them out of diapers” and “getting them out of car-seats” and so one. In so doing, I have found that I can miss out on the wonderful aspects of the present phase. I think this is the message of Ecclesiastes: eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow you die. Enjoy the moment that God has given you. While the moment definitely can have its hardships, it also has great joy. Be content no matter the circumstances. I would encourage you to revel in each and every one of those nights of seemingly endless crying and feedings.”  (Not that I was the model dad in that regard…)

What will it mean for you to grow contentment in the Lord?

Listen to the whole sermon here.

Kid’s Art, Petrified Cheerio, Penny, and More – The Monday Messy Office Report SANCTUARY Edition – May 19, 2014

19 May

My tidy Friday office is mysteriously messy on Monday…except this week.  Since starting this series on the blog a few months ago, I have not lacked for material.  Almost every week people drop stuff off in my office, or my kids leave half-eaten snacks there, or things just show up for reasons I cannot explain.  But this week that didn’t really happen.  There have been a few weeks where I’ve stretched a bit and told you about stuff in my office that recently got there, or had been sitting a long time, but didn’t actually appear over the weekend.  So I could have told you about the trumpet that has been in here for months that is waiting for a buyer.  A family from the church donated it, saying that the proceeds can go straight to supporting our missionaries, which is very cool.  So if you want a trumpet, let me know.  It has a stand too.  But because my office was relatively tidy, I decided to do something I’ve been thinking about for a while: a sanctuary edition of The Monday Messy Office Report.

You would not believe what we find each week in our pews, and especially in our pew racks.  Well, then again, maybe you would believe it, because, if you are a part of the family of Faith Church, you sit in the those pews, you know what goes on there.  Each week I go through the pews to get rid of stuff that is easily seen, mostly bulletins that people slide behind a hymnal in the pew rack.  But every couple months, I give those pews a thorough picking through, and I always find treasure amidst the trash…lots of trash.  Those pew racks are designed to hold hymnals and Bibles, people, not trash!  Like I said, there are some treasures.  So here goes:

1. A Penny – Who knows how long that has been in there, but one of the church’s kids was probably supposed to put it in the offering basket…and didn’t. Reminds me of the time I was supposed to my two quarters in the offering on a Sunday morning when I was about 6 or 7 years old.  And I didn’t put it in the offering.  Instead, after church I “luckily found” two quarters in the alley behind our house.  The perfect amount to buy a pack of baseball cards.  Well, I found a penny in a pew rack today, and the church is one cent richer.

2. A Petrified Cheerio – It is hard and discolored.  That has probably been in there quite a while, like the penny.  Actually, the presence of that single Cheerio cheers me.  I like Cheerios a lot, and in fact had some for breakfast this morning.  But more than that it is a simple reminder of the change that has gradually been in the works at Faith Church. It is okay now to bring food and drinks into the sanctuary.  I’m really thankful for that.  People are growing in their understanding that the church is not a building, but the people.  Sure, I believe that we should have a proper understanding of sacred space, but it is wonderful to see a small reminder that the church is the people!

3. The Notes!  I remember passing notes OFTEN when I was a kid in church.  Check these out!

20140519_15224520140519_15223720140519_152253

4. Kid’s Art! – This is the real treasure among the trash.  I love seeing what the kids, presumably, are drawing on their “Scribble Cards”.  Take a look for yourself!20140519_152302  Faith Church kids are geniuses!

Maybe in a couple months I’ll have to see what has accumulated in the sanctuary again!

20140519_15222820140519_15221920140519_15221120140519_15220020140519_15212820140519_15211320140519_152102

Feeling discontent in your relationships?

17 May

discontent

What would you say has been bothering you?  Anyone been feeling discontented lately?  A change that you are hoping for too long in coming?  A change that you weren’t hoping for came unexpectedly?  Change or die, they say.  Or maybe they say it like this, if something does not change it is dead.  Or, all living things change.  But as much as we claim to embrace change, thrive on change, it can be unsettling, leaving us with that feeling of discontent.  Change too fast, and we feel unprepared, off kilter. Change too slow, and we get impatient, grumpy, disillusioned.

It can be hard to be content.  There is a sense in which discontent can be a very good thing.  There is such a thing as holy discontent, an inner feeling that something is wrong that needs to be righted.  I’m not talking about that kind of discontent. Instead I’m talking about a dissatisfaction with life.

In the church at Corinth, which we have been studying since the beginning of the year at Faith Church, we see a group of people struggling with the realities of change. It is relationship month at Faith Church, as during the month of May we are walking through 1st Corinthians chapter 7, which we have divided up into four sermons about relationships.  We’re covering all sorts of relational ground, and much of it is about changing relationships and the feelings of discontent that we so often have about our relationships.  Perhaps that is the most important question to ask: How do you feel about the most the important relationships in your life?  Could it be said of you that you have feelings of discontent about them?

My guess is that you would be the exceedingly rare exception if you could say that you were perfectly content about the relationships that matter the most to you.  The Christians in Corinth had written Paul a number of relationship questions, as it seems that they were experiencing some discontent.  And so tomorrow at Faith Church we’re going to take a look at what Paul has to say to them about this fundamental issue that affects so many of us.  When we are discontent, what should we do?

There are plenty of ideas out there.  Some say if you are discontent in your marriage, for example, get out.  These people feel that there is nothing worse than being in a sub-par marriage.  Or how about your job?  Are you longing for something more?  Make a change people say.  You deserve better.  Feeling dissatisfied with your church?  Move on, there a plenty of other options.

What do you think Paul would say about that? If you want, check out 1 Corinthians 7:17-24 to get ready for tomorrow’s sermon.