Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The Kissing Is Optional

By Allen White

Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ send greetings. Romans 16:16

Greeting one another with a holy kiss is the most mentioned “one another” in the New Testament (Romans 16:16; 1 Corinthians 16:20; 2 Corinthians 13:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:26), so pucker up.

We don’t live in a kissing culture, except for a couple of creepy single guys and old aunts. We often see world leaders from European and Middle Eastern cultures kissing on both cheeks as a greeting. Americans prefer to shake hands, knuckle bump or high five, except for Donald Trump. He’s a germaphobe.

So, are we somehow disobeying the holy writ by avoiding the sacred smooch? I don’t think so. When we look at a passage like this, we have to decide what is universally relevant and what is particular to a culture. “Greet one another” is obviously universal. The kissing is cultural, unless you’re a Hollywood-type wearing big sunglasses with a sweater tied around your neck.

Really, what’s the big deal? We say “hi” to people. We ask how they’re doing. They politely tell us that they’re good whether they are or not. We shake hands. This is an easy one.

Let’s go the other way. Have you ever experienced a person who won’t talk to you? They don’t say “hi.” They don’t ask how you’re doing. They never shake your hand. How does that feel? You really end up in one of two places: either they are a big snob or I’m a big loser. Either they are too good to acknowledge you or you’re not worth being acknowledged.

A greeting seems like such a simple thing, yet Paul gives this instruction four times to three different churches. And, it’s been passed down for 2,000 years to us. It’s significant.

In the membership class, Perry tells a story about the early days of the church when a woman asked him if he would touch her husband. At first, it seemed like a strange request. But, then he realized that he had changed how he walked into the auditorium. He used to walk through a particular door and this man would be sitting there. Perry would touch him on the shoulder and greet him. When Perry changed doors and directions, he didn’t have this exchange with this man. Something so simple was very meaningful to this fellow.
People want to be noticed. They want to be acknowledged. They want to know that they matter to you. And, you want that too.

Greet one another! Kissing is optional.

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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Inside Story on 40 Days of Purpose at Saddleback

By Allen White

I myself am convinced, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another. Romans 15:14

I work with Brett Eastman at Lifetogether.com. When Brett was the Small Groups Pastor at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, they launched the first 40 Days of Purpose campaign. Brett is an idea factory. He doesn’t just think outside of the box. He’s in denial that the box even exists.

On the eve of the first 40 Days of Purpose, Brett brought a new idea to Rick Warren about creating small groups. Instead of recruiting leaders, they would ask Saddleback Church to host groups in their homes by inviting their friends and using a DVD curriculum. Rick was game for it and invited people to open their hearts and their homes to host a group. Two thousand people signed up to host.

Then, by his own admission, Brett took the scariest survey of his life. Who were these people? Where they Christians? Did they live in their cars? What was their story?

So, when you think about Saddleback Church and the over 20,000 people that they have baptized in the last 30 years, how long do you think most of these new small group hosts had been Christians?

Do you have a number in mind? How many years do you think? The average for the 2,000 new small group hosts was 14 years. They had been Christians for 14 years and had attended Saddleback for 10 years, and this was their first time out hosting a small group.

Theirs wasn’t a lack of knowledge. If they had attended 40 Sundays per year, at a minimum, they had heard 400 sermons plus other classes and groups over their 10 years at Saddleback.

How long have you been a Christian? How many sermons and lessons do you think you’ve taken in over the years? It’s a staggering amount. I mean, I had about four lessons/sermons a week for my first 18 years alone.

Paul told the Romans that they were “competent to instruct one another.” How long had the Roman Christians been believers? Think about this: the book of Romans was written around AD 56-58. No one is sure when the Roman church was established. We do know that Peter, Paul (and Mary, sorry) didn’t establish the Roman church. Most likely Jewish Christians started the church without the help of an Apostle. By the best estimates, the Roman church was 15-20 years old when they received this letter.

So, let me fill in the gaps: without an Apostle, without a Bible college or seminary, without a building or formal organization, and facing significant persecution, Paul says that the Romans are competent to instruct one another. And, the church thrived.

So, what about you? How much have you been given over the years? My guess is that you have a much better grasp of things than you give yourself credit for. I know your objection, “But, I feel inadequate.” Well, join the club. Here’s the secret: our adequacy is in Christ, not in ourselves. As we make ourselves available for God to use us, He uses us. I’m never surprised, but I’m always amazed at how God uses me.


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Monday, June 29, 2015

Diners, Drive-ins and Dives

By Allen White

Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. Romans 15:7

A while back my folks were in town, so we decided to go out for lunch. Someone had told use that kids could eat for 99 cents at the S&S Cafeteria on North Pleasantburg, so we decided to give it a try. I don’t know if you’ve ever been there. A realtor would say that it has “historic charm” (read: old). Guy Fieri might feature it on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives or not.

When we walked into the building, we didn’t see a dining room. There was just a long hallway. We walked down the hallway, turned the corner, then walked down another hallway. This was the line. We finally reached the trays. Then, seven of us tried to figure out what to eat. I chose what I wanted to eat, but then was told that it would be extra and it wasn’t part of the deal. Apparently, some items were the “loss leader” and others were the “premium” items (using the broadest sense of the word).

After much conversation, we were met by the angry stares of the regular patrons, who probably hoped that we were at McDonalds rather than blocking their path. They were on the inside track of this place. We were outsiders, and it was obvious.

The experience was awkward. It was frustrating. It was a little intimidating (and I don’t get intimidated by much). And, we’ve never been back. After all, there are easier places to order fried chicken, and the kids eat free.

Walking out of that restaurant, I wondered if this is how people feel the first time they go to church. They don’t know the system. They feel like they have to figure it out on their own. And, they are met with the angry stares of the regular patrons. Will they come back?

Acceptance is a basic human need. Often we relegate the need for acceptance to the awkward junior higher trying to fit in with their peers. We give them lectures on biblical self-esteem and finding their identity in Christ. That’s all great, but how does that help with the bullies on the school bus?

Acceptance is everyone’s need. It’s not like we decided in our teen years to identify with the jocks, the nerds, the debs, the freaks, or the geeks, and then it stuck for the rest of our lives. (The nerds, by the way, ended up making the most money.) As soon as we figure out where we belong in junior high, there’s high school. Then, we graduate and face finding our place in college or in the workforce, then it’s finding our place as a young adult, a spouse, a parent, an empty nester, and then an active senior. Life is a constant game changer.

Acceptance in and of itself is a good thing, a desired thing. Acceptance’s partner in crime, however, is the fear of rejection. Every person longs for community, yet the fear of rejection often overcomes the desire to connect. We can find ourselves surrounded by people, yet feel lonely and disconnected.

Now, before I launch into a rant on overcoming fear, because perfect love casts it out (1 John 4:18), let’s look at the other side of the coin. How well do you accept others? Do you connect with people who were different than you? Do you make an effort to befriend that person in the concourse with that deer in the headlights look on Sunday morning? Do you make an effort to welcome the newcomer in your group or do you just hang out with your friends?

We can be very cliquish. It’s not because we’re bad people. It’s because we’re comfortable. Our reluctance to welcome the newcomer stems from our fear of rejection by them.

Here’s the deal: while it’s great to have friends, the goal of your life and mine is not to be comfortable. It’s not about me. (A famous pastor said that). Our goal is to become like Christ, and Jesus accepted everyone, including you and me.

Think about the last awkward social situation you faced. When was the last time you were the new guy? How did it feel? Who helped you? Who opened their arms to you the first time at church?

In your workplace, your neighborhood, your small group, your sports club and your church, who is that new person that needs to be accepted? You don’t have to make them your new best friend. But, how can you make them feel welcome? Your effort could make the difference between life and death for someone.

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Sunday, June 28, 2015

Are You the Judge?

By Allen White

Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother's way. Romans 14:13

“Judgment” comes from more than one word in Scripture. We are instructed to “judge not, lest ye be judged” (Matthew 7:1), but also that the “spiritual man judges all things” (1 Corinthians 2:15). So, which is it? We can’t judge everything and judge nothing.

One Greek word for judgment is the idea of sizing things up. This is the thought behind judging all things. The spiritual person sizes things up. The purpose is not to condemn the other person, but to help them. If we see something that is out of line in the life of another believer, it is our responsibility to point that out to them (Matthew 18). The result could be that we win our brother over (Matthew 18:15).

The other side of the coin is that we also have spiritual folks who are sizing us up. In turn, we should also be open to their insights. What is obvious to others is not necessarily obvious to us. It’s wise to listen to the insights of others.

The judgment that is prohibited is pronouncing final judgment on someone. “See that’s just the way he is. He will never change.” We don’t know that. Only God knows whether or not a person will ever change. It’s only God’s place to judge people in any sort of final sense. He’s the only one with all of the information. God knows our thoughts and our motives (1 Corinthians 4:5).

In the family of God, we are not allowed to write other people off based on their past performance. That doesn’t mean that we continue to allow their bad behavior. But, we do extend grace and patience to them much like we would want to be treated.

Judgment creates a stumbling block. Who are we to reject the same people that God accepts? Some of us have been deeply wounded by religious people who were so busy policing the boundaries that they forgot to show us the love of Christ.

If we are truly concerned about our brother’s behavior, then we need to sit down with our brother and try to figure out why he does what he does? We need to help our sister figure out why she gets involved with the people that she does? Not because we are better than they are, but because we are the same.

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Thursday, June 25, 2015

Does God Encourage Debt?

By Allen White

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. Romans 13:8

Paul starts this chapter actually talking about financial obligations. “Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor” (Romans 13:7). Financial obligations should be paid off. If you struggle in that area, then let me recommend Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University.

Paul goes on to say that the only debt that we should continue to make payments on is the “continuing debt to love one another.” That’s the one debt that should never be paid off.

Debt and love are a funny pairing. If we feel indebted to someone, then the motive for love stems from obligation. It doesn’t seem freely given. It seems more like those little green Martian toys in the Toy Story movies who are eternally grateful to Mr. Potato Head for saving their lives. Their gratitude comes in handy in Toy Story 3 (I won’t spoil it for you), but their debt of gratitude doesn’t seem like love.

So, we’ll take “debt” as a metaphor here. We know that Jesus paid our debt (Luke 7:36-50). If we take the idea of debt too far, then our love would stem from legalism and our relationships would resemble a chart of accounts. That doesn’t seem warm or fuzzy.

The gist of this is that we never reach a place where we have sufficiently loved another believer. We can’t say, “You know I spent all of that time talking to them five years ago. They should be good.” They’re not, and neither are you.

Do you see any deficits in your love relationship with other believers? Do you have insufficient funds or could you be hording? Fortunately, your Father has an unlimited account. You can draw from Him.

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Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Porsche Allen versus Mazda Allen

By Allen White

Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Romans 12:16

Harmony seems like such a Hippie word. In fact, a student at my college was raised by Hippie parents in the Northwest. Her name was Melody. Her sister’s was Harmony. Harmony is reminiscent of that old Coca-Cola commercials, “I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony…” (Let’s all sway together.)

I don’t know that our focus is so much harmony as avoiding disharmony. You do your thing. I’ll do my thing. As long as our things don’t interfere, we sort of have harmony. Avoidance or tolerance would be better terms.

In music, harmony is any simultaneous combination of tones. Every instrument doesn’t play the melody in unison, but all of the different tones fit together. Harmonies can be beautiful. Disharmony can be painful.

According to this passage, the issue of harmony revolves around pride, conceit and snobbery. The problem comes down to how our possessions make us feel important.

I love cars (and I didn’t say like). Over the years, I have owned the following vehicles: Porsche, Cadillac, Oldsmobile, Honda, Toyota, Ford, and Mazda. In high school mine was the only Porsche in the parking lot. I loved that little Porsche. I could break the speed limit with elegance. There weren’t a lot of Porches in Topeka, Kansas in the early ‘80s. But, when another Porsche saw me, I got a little wave. I was in an elite club of Porsche owners. It felt good.

Then, the Porsche fell apart. After a two year hiatus from any car, my parents gave me a 1974 Cadillac Coupe deville. It was huge. It could sleep six. It was rust colored which fortunately matched the rust. It got nine miles per gallon, which fortunately my folks bought the gas. I wasn’t proud of that car. It got me from point A to point B without having to beg my college friends for a ride, but that was the best of it. It had a very smooth ride probably because it weighed 8000 pounds.

Shortly after college, I traded up to an Oldsmobile Cutlass Calais. Now, I was back in business. A few years later, I upgraded to a Honda Accord. When the Accord turned 12-years-old, I got a free car from my father-in-law, so it was a Ford and a Toyota. Both were respectable cars.

Today, I am driving a 12-year-old Mazda that was a godsend in a time of vehicular need. It gets me from point A to point B. And, at this point in my life, that is all that I need. The reality is that Porsche Allen would not have associated with Mazda Allen. Fortunately, Mazda Allen is mature enough to realize that our significance comes from God, not from what we drive.

Jesus didn’t drive anything. In fact, Jesus was basically homeless (Matthew 8:20). He was on the fringe of society. Jesus didn’t put up with the conventional wisdom of the day. As the Firstborn of All Creation (Colossians 1:15), Jesus knew that a person’s place in this life had no bearing on their place in the next. In fact, the opposite was true (Mark 10:31).

How has disharmony crept into your life? Who are you uncomfortable being around? Who do you feel “better than”? I would encourage you to repent of those thoughts and see the true worth of God’s children.

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Tuesday, June 23, 2015

My Sixth Grade Sunday School Embarrassment

By Allen White

Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. John 13:14

In my sixth grade Sunday school class, our teacher, Dallas Satterfield, decided to demonstrate feet washing as part of the lesson. He didn’t ask for volunteers. He just asked me to come to the front of the room and sit in a chair. Dallas proceeded to explain foot washing while he brought over a pail of water and removed my shoe.

As he took the cloth and began to wash my feet, I began to wonder if this was a carefully crafted plot to improve my pre-teen hygiene. But, I thought better of that. The reality was that I would have much rather been the washer than the washee.

Having a grown man kneel in front of me was more than a little uncomfortable. Maybe if he wore a lab coat that would be okay, but here in church with my naked feet exposed. I thought, “I’m never going to live this down.” I have no recollection as to the condition of my socks or toe nails that day. I am assume that I was in good shape.

In Jesus’ day, foot washing was a welcomed and necessary thing. Sandaled feet and Palestinian dust didn’t create a comfortable situation. The wealthy had people to take care of these feet. As Jesus met with his disciples, there were no “people” to take care of this, and there were no volunteers. So, Jesus volunteered.

Just like He volunteered to take on the humble form of a servant (Philippians 2), He took the towel and the bowl. The one that should have been the most honored among them took the position as their servant.

Then, Jesus told them to wash each other’s feet. This might have involved actual feet washing, but the meaning was clear: “serve each other.”

Today, there are churches that still practice feet washing. It might not be a bad idea to review that actual practice and remind ourselves that we’re not such a big deal after all.

But, with shoes on or off, how can we humbly serve each other? When a fellow believer casually mentions a need, do we engage that or do we turn a deaf ear? Whose feet can you wash today?

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