I am part of an online group through LinkedIn that consists of pastors who post (sometimes) deep (sometimes) theological questions open for anyone in the group to respond with their answers. The questions are (often) extremely maddening. Recently I have found myself avoiding even looking at the posts because I know I’ll just get mad. This morning, I made the mistake of opening the thread to see the latest posts. I got through two of them before I closed the link and vowed to never return to read it again.
The questions this morning were, in this order: 1. “At the wedding Jesus attended, did he make real wine or non-alcoholic grape juice from water?” and 2. “When is it appropriate for a preacher to wear jeans on stage?” Now as sad as I find both of those DEEP THEOLOGICAL questions, I found the responses to be far sadder. The juice vs wine question actually caused a huge fight between several pastors.
My sadness from this morning’s reading is a symptom of a far bigger problem. The biggest problem for us as Christians is too often we don’t follow the examples of Jesus. We get caught up in arguing about the most unimportant stuff! We waste SO MUCH energy on stuff that does not matter one iota! I mean the two questions I read this morning both had responses that were longer than this blog post! One of the responses to the juice vs wine question was a study of the greek word used for wine in this wedding story… the author of the response said the word used was actually more associated with vinegar than wine so in his opinion it wasn’t wine and Jesus would never supply an alcoholic drink because drinking alcohol is a sin. Well Mr. Smarty Pants – I think it’s far less likely that Jesus provided wedding guests with vinegar to drink… But of course that person’s ridiculous theory of vinegar is not the point of me writing this. Here’s the real point. The American church is on the decline and we have leaders arguing over whether jeans are appropriate for the stage? Families will go to bed tonight hungry and we want to fight about whether Jesus made grape juice (or vinegar?!?) or wine? Seriously? That makes me want to cuss. What is wrong with us?
That’s a rhetorical question. I know what’s wrong. What’s wrong is it’s so much easier to focus on garbage like those examples above. That garbage takes way less energy… way less commitment… way less effort. We can focus our self righteousness on stuff like that from our EZ Chairs. Type a few characters with the tips of our fingers and zing… our righteous anger is poured out. Too many church insiders have lost total and complete touch with what really matters (LOVING ONE ANOTHER!) and they focus not just on “first world problems” but “first world CHURCH problems.” It’s no wonder some people think we are all crazy.
We have got to refocus our energy on stuff that matters. Not just preachers – but all of us… as followers of Christ. We can no longer sit inside the walls of our church buildings and make up stuff to feign anger and indignation about.
Let’s try some “Don’t Be This. Be That.” mental exercises:
Don’t Be This: I don’t like the Coke machine in the lobby… that’s like money changers in the temple. (yep – that was a real complaint.) Be That: Volunteer some time to cook dinner at a local homeless shelter – see if you still care about vending machine placements.
Don’t Be This: I don’t like in our church when we (INSERT any of about 4,873 preference complaints given per week here). Be That: Take a mission trip to a place like Cuba where church is a 9×10 dirt floor shed with no electricity – see if you have any more complaints about your church.
Don’t Be This: I’m concerned about (INSERT SPECIFIC PERSON’S NAME HERE) and their problem with (INSERT SPECIFIC TROUBLE AREA HERE). (you know what I mean… the gossip item listed as a prayer request) Be That: Stop talking about people and go HELP THEM! Be in their life. Love them!
If we, as Followers of The CHRIST… the Son of the Living God… The Savior of All Mankind… If we focused all of our energy on the stuff that mattered – like the hurting, the broken hearted, the lonely, the poor, the hungry, the lost – you know, the ones He spent all of His time with – we could accomplish what Jesus told us to accomplish… We could change the world.
If we don’t? Let’s be honest, I think these words spoken by Jesus will one day have some real meaning for far too many: Matthew 7: 21-23 (MSG) Knowing the correct password—saying ‘Master, Master,’ for instance—isn’t going to get you anywhere with me. What is required is serious obedience—doing what my Father wills. I can see it now—at the Final Judgment thousands strutting up to me and saying, ‘Master, we preached the Message, we bashed the demons, our God-sponsored projects had everyone talking.’ And do you know what I am going to say? ‘You missed the boat. All you did was use me to make yourselves important. You don’t impress me one bit. You’re out of here.’ (Bold emphasis is mine.)
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Jason Rehmel is the Lead Pastor at Eastside Christian Church on the east side of Cincinnati. If you are someone who has had a terrible experience(s) at a church or churches – stop by some weekend and give it one more shot with Eastside. Whether you have felt judged, or dismissed, or unwanted – Eastside is different.