It’s been about a year since I posted. Did you miss me? Ah, it’s ok if you didn’t. We’re moving on …
I took time off, not because I didn’t want to connect with you in this way, but because I didn’t want to be another voice in the echo-chamber this last year has become. At last posting we at Woodland had just regathered after ten weeks of sheltering. We’d celebrated, hoping we’d all heal throughout the summer to enjoy a healthy fall and new year, 2021.
That didn’t happen, I think. Our culture continues to pull apart—positions on the vaccine, including government (and now corporate) mandates for vaccinations; the place of virtual education with the beginning of school at hand; masks, if you can believe it, again!
Our church has suffered too. While not many Woodlanders actually left, our losses pain us still. I believe I am fair in making the observation that all those who departed the church did so seeking another group of like-minded people, somewhere else. Those seeking more caution and distancing left to find those more cautious and distanced; those not pleased with the caution and distancing we did practice left to find others more like them. Neither group (polar-opposites, in some ways) wanted to find a bigger idea than those things that divide us in our cultural moment.
All this brings me to the book of Acts where we’ve spent the year in our Sunday morning teaching times, and where we’ve made it all the way to Acts 14. Have you noticed how the early church started out? They were pretty much like one another: Palestinian Jews from the homeland of Israel, many of them from the same families even—James and John, Peter and Andrew; James, the earthly brother of Jesus Himself.
By the time we get to chapter 6 we’ve added Hellenistic Jews—those like Barnabas, Phillip and Stephen who speak Greek and the local Aramaic with Greek accents. Pushing further into the book, we get Samaritans, in chapter 7, and the Ethiopian, who first converted to Judaism and then to Christ, in chapter 8. By the time we come to chapter 10, we’re dealing with rank, uncircumcised Gentiles. When Paul and Barnabas get sent off from Antioch, chapter 13, the leadership includes Manaen, from Herod’s own household (social standing), but also Simeon and Lucius of North Africa, probably black men (race). Later in that chapter the followers of Christ include Sergius Paulus, from the pagan culture of Cyprus.
Hey, question! Do you think this eclectic group, included in the church of Jesus through faith by the Spirit of God, had much of anything in common? I bet not. In fact, when we get to the chapter 15 the head honchos are going to have to have a big-time pow-wow to answer this question: WHAT’S THE BIG IDEA THAT HOLDS US TOGETHER? If not the time-honored practice of circumcision, then what? You know what they came up with? …
That’s Him. That’s all. Add anything to the perfect and complete work of Jesus received by faith in Him and you’ve got something other than the Gospel (See Galatians 2).
My point is this: The local church, Woodland in our case, is a place where we can talk about and even disagree about all kinds of things. We can disagree because Jesus is the “bigger idea,” the person we all have in common.
So, at Woodland, there’s space for differing convictions about what “neighbor love” looks like for the whole rainbow of convictions we all have about our societal responses to the virus. There’s a place for discussion about the relationship between our societal responsibility to everybody outside the church and our concerns to keep God-ordained government in its proper sphere. My goodness, you can even be a Democrat or Republican (or independent), and at Woodland! But, the minute any of these categories become more important than Jesus the fabric starts to tear away, and we start to “go wild inside,” as C.S. Lewis wrote of those Narnian animals who turned from Aslan. Start adding to Jesus, and the first sign that we have is that we’ve turned on His people. After that, it’s probably sayonara, and I’m sure that’s what’s happened in lots of churches this year.
The year ahead of us can be a fantastic year. So much better than the year behind us! That will happen at Woodland, if God’s people rightly celebrate who we are in Jesus. All that joins us together. All we’ve inherited. All the bought-from-heaven by the deep plans and purposes of God through Christ DNA that binds us together.
And you know what else I think will happen? I think we’ll be patient with each other. We’ll give each other time to think. We won’t expect instant maturity from those who are just beginning to walk with Jesus.
I like that picture. It makes me want to be here at Woodland more than anywhere else in the world, and with the particular people God has put me and our Regier family together with. And, if you’re reading this outside our Woodland family, you can like that picture for your local church too!
I’m so looking forward to connecting with you regularly over this blog. Why don’t you hit “subscribe” at the side bar, so we can travel this year together?
See you soon!