When a Book Club Is Not a Book Club

wine and cheese spread
Photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/jdickert/390774242/">I love butter</a>

2 John 7-11

The world is full of liars. They say Jesus was a hoax. People who say that are liars. They’re the Antichrist. Watch out! Don’t lose everything you’ve worked so hard for! Claim what’s yours!

If you don’t stick with Jesus, but go out on your own, God help you. If you stick with what you’ve been taught, God and Jesus will stick with you.

If someone tries to tell you something else, keep away from them. It’s like inviting trouble to invite them.

There was once a book club. It was a nice book club. Everyone loved to get together to discuss what they were reading at their weekly meetings.

At one of their meetings, the hostess served wine and cheese. It was lovely. Everyone agreed. What a lovely touch, having such elegant refreshments. Over the next few months, more and more of the members, when it was their turn to host the club’s meetings, began to serve wine and cheese.

It was so lovely that club members soon began inviting some of their friends. “Come to our book club,” they said. “We have wine and cheese.”

It wasn’t long before many of the club members started showing up for meetings without having read the material. In the moments of awkward silence when nobody had anything to say about the book of the week, discussions began to center around the wine and cheese. A year later, the group still called itself a book club, but they no longer bothered to read or discuss any books at their wine and cheese meetings.

True story. Is your church about doing the Jesus thing, or is it about the wine and cheese?

Or, as the Elder would say, “Watch out! Don’t lose everything you’ve worked so hard for! Claim what’s yours!”

Change Everything

focusPhilippians 4:1-9

With this in mind, my dearest friends (I wish so much I could be with you – you make me so happy, you’re my crowning achievement) – so friends, stay true to your commitment to Jesus. Euodia and Syntache, you two need to come to an agreement. And Syzygus, see what you can do to help them resolve their differences. They were both my co-workers, along with Clement and the others. They’re all awesome in my book.

Let Jesus make you into joyful people. Rejoice, I say! Be gentle with people. Jesus is right there, so don’t stress out! Bring what’s on your mind, along with your gratitude, to prayer. When you do – it’s beyond explaining how it happens – your mind and heart will be at peace, in touch with Jesus and with the eternal.

Finally, friends, focus on what’s true, on justice, on whole-hearted passion, on what’s worthwhile, on what’s excellent, and on what’s remarkable. Keep on doing these things the way you learned from my example, and you will have God’s peace.

Whenever people get together, no matter their good intentions, there are going to be differences, awesome as they all may be. The trick is not to let the differences become the focus. Rather the focus of a great movement is always on the goal and doing it with joy and passion. Here, Paul suggests six ways to get re-focused:

  1. truth
  2. justice
  3. passion
  4. value
  5. excellence
  6. remark-ability

Voltaire said that “the great is the enemy of the good.” But I’m convinced he’s got it backwards, and as Jim Collins wrote more recently, “Good is the enemy of the great.” Good enough is very seldom remembered. Great changes everything. Constant arguments between members is a telling sign that a congregation is good enough – and it’s not going any farther. Focus on any or all of the above, and you will change everything.

Keep Your Focus

Photo Credit: Tanakawho

Romans 14:1-12

Welcome those whose faith is different, and get off their case about their foibles. Some people will eat anything, others are vegetarian. So what! Vegetarian or not, don’t look down on each other. They’re God’s children. They’re not your employees to boss around. They’re God’s and God will deal with them; it’s between them and God, and God will set them right. They’ll be ok.

So someone thinks of certain days as special while another sees every day alike. People have their own convictions. And if they have sacred observances, or they eat certain foods or if they fast, as long as it’s for Jesus it’s all good so far as Jesus is concerned.

We don’t live or die for ourselves. Either way, our purpose is Jesus’ purpose, and we are in God’s hands. This is how it was with Jesus who died and lives: now we’re his, dead or alive.

What makes you think you can judge or look down on a brother or sister when before God we’re all equal. Like the scripture says, “As I live, says God, everyone will bow to me, and everyone will praise me.” In the end, everyone is accountable to God.

Here’s Paul’s advice about micromanaging and criticizing other people’s lives: Don’t.

And it’s good advice. Because giving other people unsolicited advice about what they should do, or how they should behave, or what they should think or believe is, to put it bluntly, none of your business. And, worse yet, as long as you’re preoccupied with the shoulds and oughts of others, you’re not paying attention to what you’re supposed to be doing.

Each of us has only so much time to do what is important for us to do. When it’s up, that’s it. Paul calls it belonging to God, dead or alive. Along with our time comes responsibility to make the most of it. And whether we live well or poorly with what we’re dealt is entirely up to us. Everyone’s impressed by the 12-year old with cancer that does incredible things. No child should die of cancer. But we’d be better off if we lived like we were that child. And don’t say you can’t. If that 12-year old can, you can.

All these other things are distractions, excuses, ways to blame someone else for our own failure to live. In Paul’s church , it was what people were or weren’t eating, when people worship, and where, and how. It could just as easily be arguments over hair length, earrings, or tattoos. It could be whether to stand or sit for gospel readings. It could be red carpet verses blue carpet, chairs verses pews. It could be about divorce, abortion, or same sex partners. The argument extends to all the things that people get so uptight over in church life that end up paralyzing any meaningful work or ministry or mission.

Worth noting: Church people aren’t the only folks who get stuck by paying more attention to other people than to themselves. The temptation to be a busy-body is universal, and busy-bodies are universally unwelcome. Better to keep your focus on the only person you really can do anything about: yourself.