Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Crashing Family Reunions

I thought I'd tell you about our family’s hobby for the past 11 months or so…actually, I guess it’s not so much a hobby, because we don’t really enjoy it…it’s more of a weekly activity that we continue to participate in for some reason. Maybe you've engaged in this hobby before as well...
We crash family reunions. Sometimes more than once. I thought maybe some of you might be able to relate.
We have crashed over fifteen family reunions in the past year or so, and we have experienced very little variety in the reactions of the families that we have encountered. The good news is that no one has gotten angry or kicked us out of their event. To their credit, a couple of groups have actually been very welcoming –speaking to us and inviting us to their next reunion. However, the most reaction when we crash a family reunion is that the family members there don’t even seem to notice that we’re there at all. It’s like we’re invisible to everyone.
What’s even worse than being an invisible bystander at one of these family reunions is to listen to someone from the platform gushing over what a friendly and engaging family they are and how good they are at warmly greeting the strangers that in their midst. It almost makes me want to interrupt the person speaking and tell them that while they may be warm and friendly with each other, they are not warm and friendly to strangers. 
I truly wish that this was not our weekly family activity. I really wish we were plugged into a family. I’m sure you’ve figured out by now that I’m talking about being a part of a church family. If you are a part of a church family, I just want to give you a few reminders about the strangers that may be in your midst from week to week.

  1. Please be aware of everyone around you, not just your close friends. I realize it is impossible to know everyone in a large church. However, this does not give you an excuse to ignore people around you that you don't know. You're right, they may not be visitors looking for a church home. They may be members that you just don’t know yet. Greet them either way. You may make a new friend in the process.
  2. First time visitors (those crashing your family reunion) are generally fairly easy to spot. We look around quite a bit because we don’t know where anything is. Offer to help us find what we’re looking for. We are usually sitting alone, not engaged in conversation with anyone. Please just say hello. It doesn’t have to be an in-depth conversation, just let us know that you see us and that you’re glad we are there (unless you aren’t glad we’re there, but that’s a different problem and a different blog post).
  3. Don’t leave the task of welcoming guests to the staff or those on the “greeter ministry.” Being greeted by the paid staff is nice, and receiving a quick “hello” from the person who hands you the bulletin is nice, but neither of these demonstrates genuine friendliness of a church family if no one else bothers to say anything or even look at you.
  4. Be very thankful for your church family. Thank God that you have a community of faith around you to encourage you, and to pray with you and for you. Some do not have that. The visitors that come to your church gatherings on Sunday are likely looking for a community, not just something to do with their spare time on Sunday mornings. Be a blessing to them by inviting them into your church family.

Has anyone else had this type of experience while looking for a church home? What suggestions would you offer? What suggestions would you offer to those who need to be welcoming to strangers who crash their Sunday morning family reunion?
One final reminder on being hospitable and welcoming --not only in your home, but in your church home:
"Dear friend, you are faithful in what you are doing for the brothers and sisters, even though they are strangers to you...We ought therefore to show hospitality to such people so that we may work together for the truth." (3 John vs 5, 8 NIV)

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Illumination or Intimidation?

Light can be so helpful. Who hasn’t tried to walk through a dark room, maybe to go to the bathroom or to check on a kid in the middle of the night, and inadvertently kicked the dresser or stepped on a Lego block? Now you're in pain, something that never would have happened if the light had been on.

What about trying to drive at night, especially out in the country where it is really dark. You’re unsure of where the road curves, or where you’re supposed to turn, and addresses are nearly impossible to see. A little illumination from street lights or house lights would be so helpful.

Light can also be very harsh and blinding. What if you were walking or driving in the dark and someone suddenly flipped on a huge floodlight in your face? That would not help you see your way; instead, it would temporarily blind you.

Think about crime interrogation scenes in movies. The alleged perpetrator sits in a dark room with a bare, harsh light overhead, and accusing voices come from the darkness asking where they were on the night of the crime, for the purpose of intimidating the one being interrogated.

Jesus says that we are “the light of the world” (Matt 5:14), but what kind of light are we? We are to be a reflection of Jesus, “the true light that gives light to everyone” (John 1:9). But do we tend to illuminate or intimidate?

I have been going through the gospel of John in my personal quiet time, one chapter per day. Yesterday, I read through chapter 3, which contains one of the most (or perhaps the most) familiar verses in the Bible. Even many non-Christians are aware of John 3:16. You know it. It’s one of those passages I memorized as a child, and like Psalm 23, it usually comes to mind in the KJV. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

I don’t think many of us are very familiar with the verses that follow this well-known passage. Verses 19-21 really struck me as a description of our culture and our jobs as “the light of the world.”

“Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God” (John 3:19-21 NIV).

People love the darkness because it covers them and allows them to do what they want to do and act however they choose. Jesus is the true light and the truth, and we are called to reflect that light and shine it into this dark world. 

We must be careful not to dim that light so that we blend in with the dark world, not illuminating the darkness at all. But we must also be careful not to shine a blinding floodlight into people’s faces, intimidating them and driving them away. We need to be a gentle light that gradually grows brighter, allowing others to see and benefit from the light and love of Jesus, and allowing the Holy Spirit to be the One who convicts. 

May we spread illumination, not intimidation, in this dark world.