Relevance 4

John 8:3-11

The issue of sin and membership has come up at times in our church and in our denomination. There are those who call for people to be banned from membership because they have sinned. But since all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, then everyone should be barred from membership. If we follow through on that logic we will have nothing but empty churches.

Sometimes in our zeal to be faithful we overlook what makes sense and what God wants. Today’s passage is the familiar story of a woman caught in adultery. What has the woman done? What do the religious leaders want? How does Jesus make the woman part of his “church?” What does Jesus give her?

The religious leaders in that area had found a woman who was committing a sin and they were eager to punish her. But Jesus very deftly points out that each one of us is guilty of one sin or another. Who are we to judge anyone?

And in that moment Jesus is offering that sinful woman acceptance into his fold, this flock of sinful sheep seeking shelter and a better spiritual understanding of God. And in that action Jesus is an example for us.

He doesn’t deny the sin. He doesn’t excuse the sin. He accepts the sinner and offers a chance to change. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

Hard as it may be we are to do the same to those in the world around us. We need to first accept them and then help them leave the life of sin. In that way we are relevant to the world. But many of us have difficulty with this.

We expect non-Christians living in a non-Christian world to be able to behave in a Christian way and comprehend our Christian beliefs. We can’t always see that we have our own way of thinking and speaking and believing, and those people out in the world may not understand it.

We don’t need to give up our Christian ways. But we do need to realize not everyone is immediately ready for the life we live. And we do need to have some humility in our approach, realizing that we are sinners too. Perhaps that can help us be more forgiving to others.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How do your rules for membership compare to those of Jesus?

Relevance 3

James 1:27

Coming from a secular business background into the ministry, one of the hardest issues I have had to deal with – and still do – is getting caught up in getting things done. With an eye toward the completed project I can become frustrated when someone interrupts me because they need to talk. But that is the primary purpose of ministry – helping those in need. The neatly decorated altar, the tidy Sanctuary, the completed bulletin can and should be set aside when someone comes to me.

James condenses ministry into a very simple instruction. What is our “religion” supposed to do?

Each of us can get caught up in our “religion” – going through the motions of worship, Bible study, prayers, and so on. We can easily forget that one of the main things we are called to is helping those in need. The perfect examples in the First Century were the widows and orphans. In our community we might replace these with the homeless, working poor, drug addicts, alcoholics, AIDS sufferers.

Last week we looked at the problem of appearing to be a Christian without really feeling or thinking like a Christian. Now we look at doing the work of the Christian. We must be relevant. We must address the issues of strife and struggle in the lives of people.

To be relevant we need to be involved and engaged with our society. We cannot keep our eyes on Jesus by avoiding looking at the people all around us who need our compassion and help.

But part of our “religion,” our faith, requires that we avoid falling into the secular sinfulness of the world. James tells us to keep “from being polluted by the world.” We can not nor should not avoid the world. Real Christians work to ease the distress of others. We must, however, be cautious of the temptations of the world.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How are you “religious?”

Relevance 2

Luke 11:46

In the movie “Erik, the Viking,” there is a priest who travels with the band of warriors and tries throughout the film to convert them to Christianity. Near the end their boat is sinking and the Vikings are certain they will die. They finally turn to the priest in a last ditch effort for hope. They ask what they must do to be saved. He tells them they must be baptized and, as the water is rising up past their knees, he explains how to do that.

In his list of six woes Jesus turns to the experts in the law with a comment. What problem does he name?

The movie is a comedy but the scene described has always been poignant to me. The Vikings, of course, reject conversion as soon as they learn what the process of baptism involves. The last thing a drowning man wants is to be dunked in water. The priest was so caught up in ritual he could not see how to deal with the needs of the men around him.

We, as Christians and as an organized church, can fall into that trap as well. We can sometimes be like the experts in the law. Instead of helping a hurting world, they burdened people who were already struggling with more religious rules and expectations.

We may desire to save souls, but we often overlook that what “the lost” need first is acceptance. Sometimes we expect non-Christians to reject their lifestyles, repent of their sins, and become new people before they even walk into the church. What they need first is help with their problems, support, comfort, and encouragement.

Just as the last thing a drowning man wants is to be dunked in water, the last thing a person feeling hopeless needs is more judgment and unrealistic expectations. If the church today will be relevant, we must be ready to accept non-Christians where they are, show them the love of Christ, and THEN teach them how to change.

DAILY CHALLENGE: Is your attitude toward the non-Christian where it needs to be?

Relevance 1

Luke 11:44-45

At the end of a hallway in our house we have an old-fashioned, black telephone that dates back to the 1930s or 1940s I would guess. It was a gift from our friends. I really like the phone. It looks sleek and classy, but it doesn’t function. It looks good, but it does nothing.

Unfortunately that same comment can be said about so many faithful individuals. As Jesus continues listing the six woes against the Pharisees and leaders of the church we see a comment on irrelevance. What comparison does Jesus make? What is the response?

Jesus compares these religious leaders to unmarked graves. A gravesite or tomb is often ornate and finely decorated. It is usually built of stone and intended to last for many, many years. Such graves can be quite impressive, however, if the grave is an unmarked grave then there is not much point to it.

A grave exists to assist us in remembering the deceased. A grave is there to be a testimonial to the one remembered. An unmarked grave is useless.

So it is with so many religious institutions and faithful believers. We can become irrelevant. We can become pointless.

What is our reason for being here? Is it not to share the good news of Christ? Are we not here to give comfort and guidance to the spiritually and physically poor?

Yet, there are so many who refuse to go beyond the walls of their church to reach others. There are so many who refuse to adapt their mission or worship to become more relevant to our contemporary society. We gather behind closed doors and sing 300-year-old hymns, and we wonder why people outside the church are struggling and not coming to us for comfort.

And if such a challenge is presented to many faithful believers they respond as the experts did. “You insult us.”

Our church buildings can be ornate and made of stone, intended to be attractive and to last forever. They may be built to give honor to God, just as a grave honors the deceased within. But we cannot allow our churches to be the unmarked graves of God. We must become relevant, useful, functioning within the kingdom of God.

DAILY CHALLENGE: What needs to change to make your place of worship more relevant?