Living Intentionally

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One of the challenges presented last Sunday at Smoky Row Brethren Church was summed up in the question, “Do you live intentionally?” Intentionality requires a goal, an objective (and for my fellow teachers) a learning target. What’s your outcome and how does that shape who you are today? Everyone in attendance was asked to consider those practices we do that move us closer to the purpose God has in mind.

JeffWhitesideTo even tackle this issued requires a belief in God, that he is approachable and that we can know what his expectations are.

I took several ideas away from Sunday’s message. The chief was the call to live intentionally; despite where the believer finds him or herself. Does God have expectations for his people if one is a believer huddled in a war-torn Iraqi basement as he does for a believer comfortably ensconced in an easy chair in suburban Columbus Ohio? Perhaps, but nobody needs to go to such extremes to find out how intentional a Christian should be about his or her faith.

My students constantly hear me remind them that whatever they practice they get good at. When pushed, I’ll suggest it applies to homework, housework, sports, and healthy habits. It also applies to how one lives life. Christians especially need to consider this challenge. Paul reminded the believers in Philippi “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:9). It’s an exhortation to intentionally put into practice those habits that leave a positive impact on each individual.

Pastor Rich was specific about being transformed; transformed into the image of Christ. This takes time. This also takes commitment and practice. Becoming a Christian away from the structure and programs offered by your church community also takes perseverance. Transformation happens best when the believer is well-rooted in Scripture, the Spirit, and the Church. Whatever the believer practices in the safe womb at home is what they will likely continue when they’re away.

~ Post written by Jeff Whitside

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God at Play?

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“Work that’s unrelated to want.” That’s how our pastor defined “play” in a message on “the Christian at play.” This sparked some thinking about what it was that God was doing in the “work” of creation. If this definition is accurate, God was in fact at play, because there was no want or necessity in God’s creation. God didn’t create because God “had to.” All this was done simply for God’s pleasure. In the old King James Version, Revelation 4:11 says, “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.”

One gets a sense of God at play in making the creation. He says, “let’s do so and so” and it springs into existence, and then at the end of each day, he looks at this and says, “that was goo-ood!” (Bob’s paraphrase!). When he creates fish, he creates a bazillion different kinds. He doesn’t just make green, but an infinite variety of greens. And he gives human beings eyes that can distinguish those shades.

Was God at work or play in creation? Genesis 2:2 says, “By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work.” It sounds like God is in fact working, But then I notice the rest part. Was God wiped out from doing all this stuff? I don’t think so. Genesis says he “had finished”. One senses that God is admiring and delighting in what God had done–savoring the delight of making and the things made. Was God at work or play in creation? I think the answer is “yes”.

Rich’s definition explores the paradox that often play involves this intense investment of energy that we might be tempted to call work. Likewise, aren’t there times when the work we do that is related to want ceases to be labor and seems to be play? I often describe the joy I have in setting foot on the campus where I work as “feeling like a kid in a candy shop who just received his allowance”!

Sometimes, people think that work was “the curse” or part of the curse of the fall of Adam and Eve. I’ve often taught that work existed prior to the fall (see Genesis 2:15) and that work simply became toilsome and a necessity in consequence of the fall (see Genesis 3:17-19). What the message makes me think about is that there was a connection between work and play that was damaged along with the connections between God, people, and the creation. Work becomes this survival necessity that is often laborious but sometimes still has glimmers of play. Play gets relegated to a “carve out” in our days, or something we live for on the weekends. Sometimes it becomes an obsession and we literally work at our play.

Perhaps then, “playing together”, which is something Rich suggests should be part of the life of our community, is a way of celebrating “the new creation”, the ways Jesus is restoring all the connections severed in the garden. Playing together isn’t just a bonding, fellowship activity (nice churchy words!). It looks forward to the fulfillment of new creation–the new heaven and earth that exceeds our wildest dreams of all that is good and true and beautiful. Maybe Euchre Tournaments really are a taste of heaven!

Yep, that’s me.

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In our continuing topical series on the Christian life, Pastor Rich spoke about neighbors, specifically the ways in which we can be a good neighbor in ways that might seem a little unusual to society, or to our own preferences.

Ben TrubeRich characterized the typical neighbor relationship as one where one principally avoids the other. Our neighbors are friendly background noise to our lives. Their homes should be kept up to a certain standard so as not to offend our sensibilities. They should demand little or nothing of us, but if there is something we want of them they should respond immediately.

There are a lot of reasons we might react in this way toward our neighbor. We may be introverted and less inclined to social interaction generally. We may feel that we don’t have enough time. Or we may have cultivated a personality that makes certain friends and keeps them to the exclusion of all others.

Guilty.

I feel like a guy with a lot of demands on his time. In addition to spending 45 hours a week at work (5 of which are lunch but I’m still stuck in Delaware), plus another hour plus each day commuting, I already feel pretty drained. Couple that with engaging passions like the writing, and trying to spend time with my wife and I don’t often feel like I have time for anyone else. I enjoy the occasional social interaction, life group and church, monthly poker, and indeed even find these times restorative, but I’m not looking to add a whole bunch more to my life. When it gets to the weekend there’s either honey-do, my own projects, or frankly most weekends just rest and restoration.

And I’m a bit of a curmudgeon at heart. I tend to care only what a specific few people care about me, and the rest’s opinion matters very little. I’ve never been the sort of person who cares what my neighbor thinks of my lawn (breaking social contract perhaps) and in fact think the fact that they’d have an opinion on anything I do to be demonstrably ridiculous (except loud noise at night because that’s just rude, this isn’t a college neighborhood).

If I see making friends with the neighbors as simply fulfilling a need for social interaction, then I’m already quite satisfied with my friends, my church, my co-workers, that I don’t really need anything else.

But what about seeing my neighbors as a kind of mission, another opportunity to spread the word of God to the people around me. I think a lot about the fact that I don’t really have much of a place to spread God’s love, work is predominantly Christian (at least the people I interact with), and aside from a couple of specific friends I will probably be having lifelong conversations with, I don’t have a lot of opportunities to simply be helpful to people.

Except I totally do.

I don’t know about choosing where you live specifically as a mission, something Rich touched on Sunday, but there’s plenty of mission to be had wherever you are. Clintonville’s a pretty nice place to live but everywhere has problems, people in need, or even just relationships that can be better.

For me, at least at first, it would probably be easier to build on something I already do, invite a neighbor to the monthly poker game, maybe time our daily klaw (that’s walk backwards so the dog doesn’t know what it is) so we can walk with our next door neighbors (assuming our dogs can learn to get along).

This is an area in which I feel personally challenged, which has the advantage of having a lot to write about, even if I don’t particularly know how to fix it at the moment. A lot of my life the last couple of years has been softening around people, not being so quick to judge, and to be more willing to give of myself, and to receive help (which Rich correctly assesses is actually harder to do).

How about you? Do you find interacting with neighbors comes naturally, or is it something you really have to work at?

Family Matters

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Pastor Rudy spoke Sunday of the various assaults on the family unit, and how to live the Christian life within the context of family.

Family can be a tricky thing to talk about and I’l admit I haven’t been exactly sure what to write about for this post (and not just because my Dad will be following up tomorrow 🙂 ).

Ben TrubeAs a young married person (well I guess more than five years now), life is about trying to figure out how to establish a new family able to function independently on its own while still respecting the needs and thoughts of both source families.

Let me put this more simply, kids tend to do one of two things: do exactly what their parents did, or do exactly the opposite. This is of course an over-simplification, but it rings true in many cases. And when we encounter another family, especially the family of our spouses, we evaluate the way we’ve been living against theirs.

For instance cooking on vacation was something my family almost never did whereas it was a fact of life for my wife. We’ve been able to compromise and enjoy eating in some meals giving us the chance to enjoy wherever we are going, while still taking time to go out and experience any fun local cuisine. Just recently we implemented this plan on a vacation with my parents and it went very well.

The biggest attack on family is sin, both dysfunctions that can carry down the generations, and the devil’s influence in our lives. The first murder was between brothers, one jealous of the other for seeming more worthy in God’s eyes. There’s pride, resentments, in some cases actual abuse. But even little things can cause us to sin against each other if we don’t communicate with patience and love.

1 Timothy also talks about caring for the people in our family who are unable to care for themselves:

1 Timothy 5:8 – Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

The implication here is that even unbelievers take care of their own, and caring for family is a societal value. There’s an implied responsibility to provide for your own.

I’ve seen this modeled in the way my parents took my Grandmother in when she was declining, and in the many ways they’ve cared and supported for their parents. Indeed an important thing to recognize is that the way we care for others shapes the way people may care for us.

I’m not sure I have any conclusions to draw here other than that as Rudy said about the Christian life, living and growing as a family is not a sprint but a marathon. It’s something we continuously try to improve and with love and God’s help, we can.

 

Being who we were created to be

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So this week Pastor Rich and Pastor Rudy co-preached a sermon for Easter Sunday as we had a bi-lingual service.  It was a great thing to experience and be a part of.  And although I really don’t understand a lick of Spanish, I am proud to be a part of a congregation that uses the gifts and talents of its people and is trying to reach out more than one people group.

In a way that is what the sermon was about too.  It was stated in the sermon that our lives are filled with meaning and what we do in this life is important to God.  I believe this to be 100% true.

mattGod has given us each talents, gifts, hobbies, things we enjoy and more…and he wants us to use all of that to the best of our ability.  We are created as unique individuals.  God wants us to enjoy this life and bless others while doing so.  Even the things that seem minor to us, sometimes God can use them when least expected.

I experienced that this week.  I was able to go to the Columbus Blue Jackets vs Pittsburgh Penguins hockey game yesterday.  As a CRAZY-WACKO SPORTS FANATIC it was awesome to say the least.  Sports is a hobby for me.  It is something I enjoy to the fullest.  Although I am not sure what role God played in making me like this, if any at all, I do believe that He can use it for His glory.

As we were driving to the arena one of the people in the car, all of whom knew I was a Christian, looked over at me and asked if I could pray for a family member of theirs.  I won’t mention the details due to the fact that it was asked to be kept private.  I was a bit shocked at first, then realized how cool of an opportunity that was.  I listened, I affirmed their thoughts, and I agreed to pray for them and the family.  The point being is that having the chance to bless someone else and glorify God in the process can come in the least likely of places and through the oddest of avenues.  My love of sports and being who God created me to be provided that opportunity to be used by God.

Are lives are filled with meaning and even the little things we do are important to God.  Enjoying our life now is a good thing.  God cares about it and so should we.  Because of the Resurrection we have a purpose.  Without it our lives as believers would be a meaningless existence.  Because Christ came back from the dead, we now have a reason to carry on.  That reason is to share the gospel.

We are to share that good news with everyone we know.  It may appear in small forms.  It may take time.  It may be just planting seeds.  But even a prayer for a family member of someone may brighten up their day and they may come to realize that their life has value too.  And maybe even if we enjoy the little things like our hobbies, it will allow the Holy Spirit to use us in ways we never thought possible.

When saying you love Jesus isn’t enough

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This week, one of our fellow bloggers, Bob Trube, spoke to our congregation this past Sunday on John 8:31-49.  He brought out a phrase that I have heard numerous times.  “I love Jesus, but it’s the church that I hate.”  Powerful words are they not?  Have you heard that before?  Maybe you have even stated it yourself a time or two.

mattI know it is a phrase that I have said more than once.  Sometimes our view of Jesus and the church can be so radically different.  Jesus is to be loving.  Some in the church can hate.  Jesus is to welcome all.  Sometimes the church denies people access into their “click” because they have different opinions, thoughts, political views or even look different.  Jesus is to be accepting of us just the way we are.  The church tells us we have to be like them or go to hell.

Here is the issue I have with what I have just stated, although some of these statements may be true, they are not true of every church.  I also think that although Jesus is loving, welcoming and accepting of us coming to Him just as we are, it does not mean He will not want us to change.

Mark 1:15 says,  “The time has come,” he said.  “The kingdom of God has come near.  Repent and believe the good news!”  (NIV).  These are the words of Jesus.  Notice that He says repent first.  Repent is to turn around.  To do a 180.  To change.  To be different than you once were…then believe.  We often flip these in their order.  When we do so we often never get to the repent part because we think that the belief is enough.  Yet Jesus calls those who believe in Him to a lifestyle change.

In today’s passage as Jesus confronts the believers that He is talking to, they are angry when he tells them that they are not acting upon what they know is right.  He tells them they are still slaves to their sin (v. 34-38).  He tells them that they need to change their ways.  This is the part of Christianity that EVERYONE has a problem with.  If we could all just live the exact same lifestyle as before we came to Christ, then all would be good right?  Yet, Jesus (and the church) demands more of us.  Saying you love Jesus is just one of the first steps in the process.

So are we changing?  Are we being transformed by Christ?  Are we as the church living to the example that Christ called us to?  We are all sinners in need of His grace.  We all need His forgiveness.  We are all no better than another.  Jesus does love us all, desires to welcome us all into His kingdom and is accepting of us just as we are when we come to Him.  I hope you will consider these things if you are a part of the church or not.  But make sure there is more to it.  Jesus does desire us to change and grow.  If we don’t then what is the point?

Outwit, Outlast, Outplay

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Outwit, Outlast, Outplay- Survivor, the ultimate social interaction game. People, strangers to each other, are put in unusual surroundings, asked to cooperate and compete, network and maneuver with the goal of being the ultimate final participant. It’s the most realistic artificial premise Wednesday night offers.

JeffWhitesideOutwit, Outlast, Outplay- the NCAA tournament, the ultimate basketball team interaction tournament. Teams, strangers to each other are put in unusual surroundings, asked to cooperate and compete, network and maneuver with the goal of being the ultimate final participant. It’s the most realistic athletic promise this weekend offers.

Outwit, Outlast, Outplay- the book of First Corinthians. the ultimate social and team interaction challenge. People, strangers to each other, are put in usual surroundings, asked to cooperate and collaborate, network and maneuver with the goal of helping each other reach the final destination. It’s the most realistic authentic premise life offers.

Smoky Row Brethren Church has just wrapped up our series examining the book of First Corinthians. It took a while. Some themes were repeated multiple times. Like most students, there is a time when everybody needs repeated reminders in order for a lesson to sink in. There were a few themes worth repeating: members of the body of Christ are intentionally equal, Spiritual gifts are intentionally distributed, Christians are to intentionally follow Jesus in life’s routines, Christians are to be intentional about our interactions, Christians are intentionally called to be holy. It goes on, but did you see the repeated word? Christian faith is to be intentional. Christian faith has a purpose. And in case you wonder, there is not to be any competition among believers.

We are teammates; teammates pulling together. The Corinthians provide a negative example. Paul’s instructions to those believers are worth listening to in our age: there is no competitive Outwit, Outlast, and Outplay theme in the context of faith. Why? There is no game afoot. The competitors among us need to redirect their energy into constructive team building. Interactions among believers are to be mutually encouraging, positive, and intentional. There should be intentional effort to pull together, establish and accomplish God’s goals. That’s worth thinking about.

~Post written by Jeff Whiteside

Thank God It’s Over!

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This Sunday marked the very last sermon in Rich’s 1 Corinthians series. You who have been following the blog have endured it for the last three months, we the last six or more. We have a brief respite for a week or so as guest speakers take over, but then it’s back to another series that doesn’t end until September.

Ugh. Why can’t Rich be like other pastors and only spend a week or two lightly skimming a passage? What is all this going deeper nonsense anyway?

Ben TrubeI should hope that the date if nothing else should be an indication that my tongue is very much in my cheek as I write this. In truth I’ve enjoyed journeying through 1 Corinthians together with you and with our congregation, even on the weeks when we had to cover some of the most well known passages of scripture. Hopefully this blog has been helpful to you, hypothetical readers, in wherever God has been meeting you.

For some of us, as Rich observed, this will be the last time we look at Corinthians for quite some time. Maybe one particular thought will stay with us, or possibly nothing at all. It’s easy to have a very light engagement with the Bible, maybe think about something for an hour or even a few days after we hear it, but not to engage with it afterward.

Truth is, many of us, myself included, haven’t even read large swaths of the Bible once. We’ve covered all of the “important” books, the gospels, some of the Psalms, Romans. We’ve tried to read from cover to cover and fell down somewhere in Lamentations (an aptly named book if ever there was one).

It’s important for what we’ve read to work on us, and us to work on it. The Bible is the easiest thing in the world to carry around with us. There’s apps, multiple free translations, and even cheap paid ebooks. And if you’re like me you’ve probably got enough physical copies to keep one at your office, one at home, and one in your car and still have a few leftover.

It’s good that the Bible is ubiquitous and available, as long as we read it, as long as we learn from what we’ve read, and as long as we come back to it from time to time as life changes. Rich will be soon be moving into a more topical study on the Christian life, and this can be just as engaging. But these deep cuts, these semester or more long studies of a single book have value as well. Read the Bible in spurts, savor it in long quiet times. However you read it, read it!

Everyday Faithfulness

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“On the first day of every week, each of you is to put aside and save whatever extra you earn, so that collections need not be taken when I come. . . . If Timothy comes, see that he has nothing to fear among you, for he is doing the work of the Lord just as I am.”  (1 Cor 16:2, 10 NRSV)

Brenda Account PictureThe thing that strikes me about this section of the book of 1 Corinthians is how ordinary it is.  Following a rather exalted discussion of the resurrection, Paul deals with some items of everyday faithfulness.  The church in Corinth isn’t the only one that has needed reminding to fulfill their financial obligations and not to be too hard on a young pastor.  This is the “stuff of life,” as Rich said in his sermon this week.  It reminds me that this stuff was all real—real people dealing with real challenges and opportunities in a gifted but rambunctious congregation.

We sometimes have exalted ideas about the sacredness of Scripture that removes it from everyday life.  But evidently God cares about everyday things.  Much of the everyday life of a congregation happens behind the scenes by the people who pay the bills, make the phone calls, clean the church, and show up for property care days.  Without all these acts of everyday faithfulness, the more noticeable work of Smoky Row Brethren Church—the worship service, the food pantry, the community garden—wouldn’t be possible.

The Corinthians were addicted to showy stuff—exceptional knowledge, eloquent rhetoric, flashy gifts.  Some of them were disappointed in Paul because he wasn’t showy enough.  We’re not a particularly showy congregation.  Although gifted, we tend to be understated rather than flashy.  But even we can forget to value the everyday things and honor the people who do them.

Brother Lawrence, a 17th century monk, is known for his little book, The Practice of the Presence of God.  He hated washing dishes at his monastery but found that he kept being assigned to that task.  His boring and frustrating experience was transformed when he decided to wash dishes with the Lord, recognizing the Lord’s presence and blessing even in such a menial task.

Let’s remind ourselves of the Lord’s presence as we go about our everyday tasks this week.  Leave some comments about what you experience!

Cutting Room Floor “Much More Church”

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There’s so much more that I could say this morning: I could talk about the way this body of ours, because of our greatest purpose in growing up into our head, maturing into Christ, makes us different than just a club.

IMG_0715 - Version 2A club does really good programming for the consumers who are attracted to the benefits of members; sometimes way, way better programming than the Church. But being a part of this body costs a lot more than being a part of a club, and our activities are unique activities: we offer worship and praise to the God who gives us life. Our power is in the Holy Spirit who is the breath in our lungs and the blood in our veins. We offer prayer by the permission and invitation and command of Jesus. Clubs don’t rely on the Holy Spirit, offer worship and praise to God or hope that they get closed someday because their CEO comes to visit.

We could talk about the special practices, the special behaviors beyond just the ethical–the ceremonies, really–that we do as the Body of Christ, which remind us just who we are and what we’re here for: things like Communion, like Baptism, like Anointing with Oil and Ordination. Different denominations, groups of like-minded Christians, call these different things, ordinances–this is the word Brethren use–or sacraments–which many other groups use, and it implies a very different way to think about these ceremonies of ours. But we’ll actually be talking about this stuff particularly sooner than later, so. We’ll wait for that. These are more things, though, that differentiate us from your average volleyball team.

We could talk about how the church is the proof of God’s
faithfulness and His ability to see his promises and purposes to completion. The capital-C Church, that it exists at all, even in a dysfunctional way, is one of the great signs for the world that God is faithful to the promises God made in the Old Testament to do away with sin and evil and remake the world. We are, when we are at our most faithful, the sign to others that New Heaven and New Earth are on their way and the God who made everything hasn’t just given up on what he’s made.