Sunday, December 21, 2014

Ready for the New Year

Sadly, it looks like 2014 might be remembered mostly for its combination of painful events: Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson MO and Eric Garner’s death in NY, plus the ensuing riots/peaceful protests that followed their Grand Jury decisions.  We won’t easily forget the multiple beheadings of innocent people by ISIS, or the continued unrest in the Middle East.  The full repercussions from the recently released “Torture report” remain yet to be seen.  And, who will ever forget the frightful Ebola epidemic?  As we wrap up 2014, the New Year couldn’t come any sooner; we are all ready for a fresh start.  

As we contemplate the bleakness of this past year, we shouldn’t be too surprised.  Scripture teaches the world is presently in the clutches of satan, “We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.” (1 John 5:19 ESV).  But, we also know the end of the story as well.  God will one day, in His timing, bring all evil to an end and, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”  (Revelation 21:4 ESV).  We have good reason to be hopeful -- even in the midst of despair.  But, in the meanwhile, we need to do more than just hope for better days.

This year we’ve experienced a lot of darkness, yet we also saw many people collaborating to fight against the darkness.  This was a year of ice water bucket ALS challenges and we made great strides in fundraising for medical research.  Yes we lost the brilliant and talented Robin Williams to suicide, but think of how many lives have been saved since, by lowering the stigma and raising the of awareness of depression and mental illness.  And, this year ushered in the new “Tennessee Promise.” This amazing program gives high school graduates two years of free tuition to a community college or technical school.

If you want to make the world a better place in 2015, it starts at home.  Taking good care of yourself by finding time for plenty of rest, eating right, getting plenty of exercise, and caring for your family too is a good place to begin.  Being active in your church and your neighborhood is vital too.  Give blood if you are eligible, and regularly volunteer your time by serving in a Food bank or with some other worthwhile community need.   This month we volunteered for a second year for the Salvation Army, ringing bells.  Sadly, they had to hire about 80 bell ringers -- I think we as a community can do better than that, please consider calling them and pitch in too.  

Also, learning to see the good in people who are different than you makes a big difference; much of the turmoil we witness or experience in the world is based in prejudice and racism.  We need to really embrace the Biblical truth we are all created equally in God’s image.  The events that cast a shadow over 2014 were basically ones involving people.  People count.  People matter.  It’s time for us globally and as a culture to honestly assess how well we are doing when it comes to the way we are treating each other.  We do not always treat all people as well as we could and then we all suffer the consequences when people are mistreated.  There are ripple effects in this life that go far beyond just the people in the center of any conflict.  

Certainly, with the many tragedies of this year, we all have a better appreciation of life.  
Thankfully, ebola seems containable and it will not be front page news for a while.  While I disagree theologically with the religion of Islam, I know not all Muslims are bloodthirsty killers.  Similarly, not all protesters stoop to looting, there were many more respectful people who peacefully expressed their views over the deaths of Brown & Garner, don’t let that fact escape your notice.  And remember, not all police officers make poor judgments either.  I happen to know a few outstanding officers here in Kingsport who regularly take risks to ensure the safety and peace in our town; they deserve our respect and appreciation.  

We have a lot to be thankful for, and with the blessings of a New Year to look forward to we have plenty of reasons to be optimistic.  Finish this year as strongly as possible and pray for God’s blessings on 2015 like you’ve never prayed before!   

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Waiting for the next big controversial topic...

When I was a student at Harding in the late 90's, our Bible professors were certain "women's roles" would usher in the next big split in the churches of Christ -- before the turn of the century they predicted.  It would be like 1906, and the census report by David Lipscomb.  Only now, they said, there's going to be another branch, one that allowed women to be active in the worship service.

It seems like there's always something doctrinal people are upset about.  Hand clapping.  Instrumental music.  Women's roles.  Too much ecumenical participation.  Really, there are probably more issues Christians have belabored and grieved over, but those cyclical hot button issues seem to be pretty popular.

I think Facebook and other social media sites help spread the fury faster than ever now.  This isn't a critique of social media, just an observation that these squabbles travel faster thanks to Youtube and other ways we share our vastly different opinions.

We are blessed to be part of a church that has studied through the "hot topics," and has moved forward.  The things that people are celebrating or lamenting are non-issues for us these days, and it surprises me often how people still fight some of the old battles.  I guess as long as legalism and hard core traditionalism hold sway, people will want to be champions of the truth regardless of the cost.  The reality is, you might win the battle, and then lose the war.

We don't have "Church of Christ" anywhere on our website or in any of our bylaws.  The major reason?  We didn't want the people we were reaching to say, "Church of Christ?  You are the ones who think you are the only ones going to heaven."  Or, the other reaction, "Church of Christ? Which one, you guys fight all the time, don't ya?" So, we at New Song dropped the name, but celebrate the rich Biblical heritage of the churches of Christ.

The infighting that happens over the grey areas kills the church.  Young people, rightly so, become disenchanted with the church when they see their adults fighting over non-essential doctrines.  If they stay in the church through their teen years, they won't in college.  And, how about the message that non-believers hear?  As everyone spreads these in house fights all over Facebook, their unchurched friends only comprehend one thing, not who is right in church, but that all of us in church are wrong.

For Christians, one of the most liberating things people can do is to get past the fighting and draw your own conclusions, and then move on.  And, to not worry about what other churches or groups are doing.  That is true freedom, to not worry about others are up to and to celebrate what Jesus is doing in your congregation.  I hope that whatever the next big topic is to fight over, it's really worth arguing over, because the collateral damage we have suffered tells me our priorities have been in the wrong place.