What an incredibly busy last couple of days and an even busier week ahead! We spent most of the weekend with my side of the family out in East Texas where my parents live in Liberty City, using about half the day Saturday to shop in Canton on the way back here to North Richland Hills. Keith had to teach his classes at Harding yesterday, but Rhonda’s family came back with us to see the house and worship with us Sunday at Legacy. Rhonda’s middle child, Caleb, is the sports nut in their family. And she’s constantly telling him to get rid of some of his sports junk and stop accumulating more sports junk. I brought them in to see my office here at the church building Sunday afternoon and all that did was provide Caleb with more ammunition. When he saw my Dallas Cowboys lamp that I got on my 12th birthday and the Super Bowl pennant from ’72 and the collector’s glasses I purchased in 1979, he became even more convinced that it was OK to hang onto all that stuff.
Good for you, Caleb. Don’t throw any of it away! Live the dream!
Carrie-Anne is teaching one of the three-year-old classes at the Legacy church day school this year and I was honored to be the first speaker at their weekly chapel services this morning. I’m having lunch with my good friend Paul Brownlow today, breakfast with David Byrnes Thursday morning, and dinner with the Roseberrys Thursday night. Friday morning I’m speaking at chapel at Fort Worth Christian (weird) and then we’re having dinner and attending the Dallas Christian – Fort Worth Christian football game that night with Andrew and Stephanie Brownlow and their kids. Give Away Day kicked off here at Legacy Sunday. And Carley’s birthday is Monday. She wants to go to Chuck E. Cheese. I’m trying to talk her out of it.
I’m right smack dab in the middle of book #3 in the ACU Heart of the Restoration Series, Unveiling Glory: Visions of Christ’s Transforming Presence. In a chapter on Jesus’ earthly ministry and teachings, the authors make an interesting observation. They claim that we sometimes distort or downplay Jesus’ role as an example for us to follow.
“He is the founder of the church and the doorway into eternal life, not so much a model for our current behavior. Instead, the institutional features of the church take the lead, so that discipleship is defined in terms of meeting the conditions for membership and faithfully upholding the traditions of the institution. In direct defiance of Jesus’ teaching and example, matters such as adherence to specific worship forms become more important measures of faithfulness than whether or not one is showing mercy to those in need. The church’s vast resources are pledged to support and defend its traditions in such matters. Straining out the gnat of procedural details, we fall into danger of swallowing the camel of apathy towards the sick and wounded.”
There are probably none among us who don’t feel that this is a real threat to genuine discipleship to Jesus. And most, if not all, of us want to get as far away from the sectarian mindset as we can. We want to flee the old judgmental dynamic of the church. We want to avoid at all costs the arrogance of that attitude and legalistic atmosphere. And, rightfully so, we run away from those things.
But I’m afraid a lot of us are running backwards.
We’re so bent on distancing ourselves from those harmful aspects of the church that, while we’re running, we don’t take the time or the effort to turn around and watch where we’re going. Are we thinking as seriously and reflecting as deeply about where we’re running as we do about from what we’re running? Some of us are running away from legalism and church tradition — backwards — so fast that we could be heading right for the edge of a fatal cliff and not even realize it. We’re not looking for it. And we don’t see it.
The authors of Unveiling Glory, Jeff Childers and Frederick Aquino, address this very thing that I’ve been concerned about for some time.
“Ironically, strong currents of reaction against traditional preoccupation with the institution can produce a similar distortion of Jesus’ ministry. Some among us have felt the need to reject what they see as a religion of maintaining rules and regulations about procedural matters. They refuse to carry a Pharisaical yoke of legalism that burdens people unnecessarily and distracts them from pursuing a personal relationship with the Lord and cultivating matters of the heart. They yearn to experience the liberty of the Gospel. However, at times this impulse becomes so all-engrossing that it leads us to suppose that the freedom Jesus brings is an escape from our own traditions, from obedience, and from duty. Rather than understanding the Good News to be about deliverance from sin and the opportunity to serve others as slaves of God, we see it as delivering us from the bondage of our religious ancestors and from the oppressive burden of religious obligation.
People start to judge the spiritual vitality of churches based on how non-traditional they are in certain areas and how well they avoid creating uncomfortable feelings of guilt or obligation, rather than using the rigorous standards of servant spirituality that Jesus shows us. Taking up the anthem that ‘it is for freedom that Christ has set us free,’ we run the risk of using our freedom ‘to indulge the flesh’ rather than serving one another in love.”
Let’s do everything we can to separate ourselves from an arrogant, self-assured, legalistic mindset. Let’s do everything to flee that sort of thinking and acting within our brotherhood and in our communities. But let’s turn around and watch carefully where we’re going.