What Do We Know of Holy

 

A young woman preaches grace and truth and receives death threats from other Christians.

College students are hurt by their school and then wounded even more on social media by other Christians.

A preacher spends weeks agonizing over a sermon, praying it will bring glory to God and encourage the Kingdom only to be criticized, isolated, idealized, or treated as an office manager or building keeper by other Christians.

We wonder why we’re losing our children, why no one wants to talk to us about religion, and what we can do to make things better in this world. Maybe we need to take a long look in the mirror.

We are the holy people of God which means he should be influencing our actions, reactions, and words regardless of whether they are spoken or typed.

What does holy look like when you’re faced with someone who doesn’t interpret Scripture the way you do? It looks like laying down your stones and choosing grace instead. That may mean withdrawal but it never means cruelty.

What does holy look like when someone has been offended? Regardless of your opinion on the subject, holy looks like listening and trying to understand someone else’s viewpoint and story.

What does holy look like for a church and her minister? It looks like an adequate salary for the vital role served. It means making sure they can afford quality health insurance for them and their family. It looks like good communication from and with the leadership. It means walking alongside them in their work for the Lord and not expecting them to carry the entire congregation. It means friendship, encouragement, and love.

In every relationship holiness looks like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. It’s thinking Jesus and inviting him into every situation.

Church, it’s time we step up. We are God’s people. We know holy. Let’s start living it. The world is watching.

 

 

What You Have To Do

 

I received this note from a kid at school the other day. I especially like the second line. “I love God and Jesus so you have to love God and Jesus.” I can hear her attitude loud and clear and it cracks me up. This sweet, innocent child of God has some bad theology to sort out. But don’t we all?

I hope a kind soul gently breaks it to her someday that not everyone is going to love God and Jesus. I hope they go on to tell her that regardless of what others choose to believe about God (even choosing to live against God) doesn’t negate the way God expects her to respond to them. She still has to be kind to them. Still has to protect them, go the extra mile for them, feed them, visit them, walk alongside them, and help them. She still has to show them Jesus even if they refuse to see him because loving someone doesn’t mean accepting the choices they make, it means accepting the Christ and his wildly, radical call to love your neighbor.

I hope someone opens a Bible and shows her that Jesus died for us while we were still enemies so we have no excuse to exclude or mistreat ours. Maybe they’ll also show her the Gospels and she’ll realize that our Savior built a church on relationships not rules and regulations. Maybe she’ll strive to be a friend to others regardless of how or what they choose to believe. Maybe she’ll be so moved by the way Jesus loved, healed, and associated with sinners that she’ll eagerly welcome them and do the same. Maybe she’ll be so busy she won’t have time to protest, oppress, or ignore others made in the image of God.

I hope she chooses not to listen to some in the church when they say love is a nice idea but won’t work in the real world. Jesus certainly thought it would. I hope she sits with the outcasts and hears their story. She might find out they loved God and Jesus all along.

More than anything, I hope someone gently teaches this sweet kid that loving God and loving other is what we have to do and we have to do it in a way so genuine, others might even decide to love God and Jesus, too.

 

A Prayer for our Graduates

To our dear graduates,

We pray for you to be as mighty as Samson, the world’s original “Strongman”

as faithful as David, a man after God’s own heart

as dedicated as Nehemiah, who rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem

and as patient as Job, who refused to curse God for his suffering.

We challenge you to be as motivated as Noah, who built an ark from scratch

as brave as Esther, who dared to approach the king on behalf of her people

as passionate as Jeremiah, the weeping prophet

as loving as Ruth, who would not abandon her family

and as bold as Paul, who was undeterred by beatings and imprisonment.

We will pray that you will be as encouraging to others as Barnabas, the Son of Encouragement

as busy with good deeds as Tabitha, who spent her life helping the poor

as humble as Moses, whom God called “the most humble man on earth”

and as trusting in the Lord as Abraham, who followed God into unknown lands.

We encourage you to remain as pure as Joseph, who rejected the advances of Potipher’s wife

and when you sin, because we all sin, we pray that you are as eager to repent as Peter, who went out and “wept bitterly”

We are so proud of your accomplishments thus far

and are excited to see what God has planned for your future.

We make you this promise

We will pray for you, love you, and be here for you

as you embark on a new adventure

set an example for others

and as you become more like Jesus.

       -Paula Harrington and Shane Coffman

Disponible

“It’s not our ability that will make a difference in the lives of others. It’s our availability.” -Phil Sanders

 

I was blessed to spend a week in Mexico recently.  My group of seven from Western Kentucky joined with a group from the Sunset International Bible Institute’s Adventure in Missions program (my all-time favorite ministry within the church). We worked with local Christians in Central Mexico by serving orphans, cleaning homes and properties, and loving on people we may never get the privilege of seeing again. We, along with the young missionaries in the AIM program, passed out over 5000 fliers inviting folks to learn English at the Metropolitan Church of Christ located in downtown Mexico City.  We experienced beautiful hospitality from local missionaries as we converged on their home every morning and evening for breakfast and devotionals.

And as we traveled in and around Mexico City, I continually saw signs with the word disponible. For two days, I tried to sound it out. It was quickly becoming the word that I would remember the most about this trip and I didn’t even know what it meant.  I saw it on billboards, pay phones, benches, and bridges. It was on overpasses and freeways. It was everywhere and I was terribly curious but by the time we would arrive at our destination I would become too busy to ask.  Finally, after a couple days I started snapping pictures whenever I saw it, probably missing ancient Aztec ruins behind me while I focused on a word that had me captivated.

I was at the Tuloca Church of Christ building (a couple of hours from Mexico City) a few days into my trip when I remembered to ask a friend what it meant and he replied casually, “Disponible? It means available.” And that’s when I teared up a bit and remembered the quote from one of my favorite preachers. “It’s not your ability… It’s your availability.”

Many people would say it’s just a coincidence that the word that has influenced me the most in my walk with Christ is plastered around a country I didn’t want to visit in the first place and they might be right. It probably means nothing that I had to make myself leave America again. After losing my friend, Roberta Edwards, while she served in Haiti, I wasn’t sure if I would ever be willing to travel outside of America. In fact, the thought of going was too painful. But I made myself pack anyway even while refusing to research the country and where we would be staying before I left.

I love how God pursues his children. He reminds us that he made the world available for those who follow him to step into and make a difference. Not by what we can do, but by what he’s already done. If we are willing to make ourselves available and hospitable to the poor, oppressed, marginalized, the lost and searching, he will do great things. He always has.

The world is available to us to love and serve. Are we available to go and witness the hospitality of those who speak another language? Are we making ourselves, our homes, our country, and our God available to those in need here? That’s not only our mission, that’s the plan for our lives.

Guest Writer- Kaitlin Hardy Shetler

I was asked to write about love. It makes sense. If there were any month to discuss the concept of love, it would be February. And if there were any year to discuss the concept of love, it would be 2017. But this request hit me like a ton of bricks, and in a typical God-fashion, at a time I’ve had the most trouble with the concept. And in a predictable Jonah-fashion, I avoided this message as long as I could.

 

I don’t make this confession lightly. For those who know me, I have a knack of saying what I think quickly, passionately, and without much thought for those who may disagree. I get outraged a lot, and it often overwhelms my senses, floods my ears, and overtakes my mouth. When I get fired up, the whole concept of love eludes me. Like a resounding gong and clanging cymbal, I ring empty. I am anything but patient in these moments. I am proud, angry, unhopeful, and self-seeking. This past year, I have lived in a fired-up state, which makes writing this all the more difficult.

 

But it’s in the difficult we hear God speak and right now, the church desperately needs to hear his voice.

 

Our small community of believers may disagree a lot, but hopefully we can all embrace the unifying belief that God prioritizes love. The Greatest Command (to love God and love others) guides the narrative of both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament. The Bible consistently describes God as loving. Verse after verse, book after book, this love is communicated through stories, covenants, relationships, miracles, songs, and prophecies.

 

This love is the heart of the Gospel. God so loved the world and sent his son. His son made this love the focus of his ministry, going so far as to eat with tax collectors and sinners and prostitutes, telling stories about Samaritans and prodigal children and sheep. God’s son then chose death and resurrection as the denouement of his earthly demonstration of God’s unfathomable love. All this to say, if anyone knows love, it’s God.

 

It’s interesting to see how God chooses to define this for us. We grew up hearing about the Samaritan neighbor. It was practically the go-to flannelgraph in Sunday school. For me, the story of the  “neighbor”—of loving him or her—was a fairly innocuous teaching. (Probably because I never met many Samaritans in my particular Church of Christ.) It never made that much of an impact. Though Jesus’s ministry revolved around this idea of loving your neighbor, the definition he provided me seemed…open to interpretation. (And while I realize this is lazy theology on my part, it appeared that the word “neighbor” meant no more to me than the word “Methuselah” or “Gilead.” It was an ambiguous command.) It wasn’t until I understood the actual conflict between the Jewish people and the Samaritans that the teaching of loving one’s neighbor started to resonate with me.

 

These were two groups of people divided by racial and ethnic barriers, who had entirely different cultures, whose acts against one another were often hostile and violent. Jews would burn Samaritans’ villages. Samaritans would desecrate Jewish sanctuaries and harass them on their travels. The Samaritans were often oppressed and marginalized, outcasts in their larger community. They were wholly untrusted and reviled among the Jewish people. They were seen as unclean, as sinners. To describe a Samaritan as “good” would be just as nonsensical as describing water as dry. Yet, Jesus endeavors to do just that. In his explanation of what makes a neighbor, he centers the story on a Samaritan who showed mercy to a Jewish man. In doing so, he takes a relationship formerly built on hostility and violence, and transforms it into a call to love.

 

If it were up to me to define my neighbor, I guarantee that I would choose the easiest of them to love. They’d fall in and out of neighbor status based upon their proximity to my life and the least challenge they presented to me. They’d look a lot like me, with maybe one or two differences that I could tolerate. I’d pat myself on the back for being so loving. I’d then go about my day, relatively unmolested and comfortable. I’d tell my family about my good deed, and believe that I acted as God expected. I loved my neighbor.

 

That should sound utterly ridiculous to us, because if we’re honest with ourselves, we know exactly how God defines “neighbor.” It is neither comfortable nor free from harassment. God’s definition of neighbor is radical. “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus would say it’s the ones who we are most hostile to, the ones we can’t imagine crossing a road with, the ones who are entirely different than us. I know immediately who this group is for me and I would bet you know who they are for you. The problem is that when I start to understand the definition the way God intends, the innocuous becomes the threatening. It requires some major adjustment and major sacrifice. It requires me to walk with those I previously found hostile, violent, unclean, and sinners. It requires me to step outside myself, and, instead, love my neighbors as I would myself. This means I am no longer concerned for my comfort, my safety, my happiness, unless I’m concerned for my neighbor’s as well.

 

Look at this teaching. It’s revolutionary.

 

And it is greatly lacking in our church.

 

We tend towards a love that does not require this kind of sacrifice. This idea of crossing racial and ethnic lines and of tearing down barriers of culture and politics and religion seems foreign to us because we’ve been in a rut. We’ve traded our calling for comfort. We’ve played it safe. We’ve barricaded our sanctuaries instead of opening them. Our love comes with strings and “only ifs” and sanctions. It has become something we give out sparsely, to people who look like us, think like us, pray like us, read the Bible like us, vote like us, and live like us. We have a hard time identifying our Samaritan because it scares us.

 

“Who is my neighbor?”

 

Is it the Syrian refugee looking for a host family?

 

Is it the undocumented immigrant working down the street?

 

Is it the liberal, pro-choice protestor at city hall?

 

Is it the murderer on death row?

 

Is it the black man protesting police brutality?

 

Is it the transgender woman teaching your daughter’s second grade class?

 

Is it the gay family adopting a baby?

 

Is it the feminist marching in Washington?

 

Is it the gun advocate at the shooting range?

 

Is it the conservative woman homeschooling her children?

 

Is it the Muslim going to the mosque next door?

 

Is it the military member going to war?

 

God is love. He compels us to find our neighbor and figure out how to walk with them down the road, instead of waving them along on the other side. He requires us to love him with all our heart, to give ourselves up for others. God shows us the most excellent way, and it is up to us to take it.

 

That’s my prayer for our church. It’s my prayer for myself.

 

May we bask in the goodness of God’s love.

 

May we find our Samaritan and get to loving them.

 

 

 

 

Kaitlin Shetler currently services as the Director of the ACCESS Ability Program at Lipscomb University. She is a Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) and has over seven years experience working with at-risk populations, including survivors of domestic abuse, older adults, and the disabled. She lives in Hermitage, TN with her brilliant husband and sweet baby girl and attends Hermitage Church of Christ, a community that has welcomed her with open arms and little-to-no eye rolling. Her passion is working alongside people to better the Church and the world through advocacy, service, and dismantling oppressive systems.