We Need Different.

((from Jessica))

“Well that would be a cryin’ shame if they padded those nice wood pews!”

I can still hear those hushed and huffed words tumble from her mouth. And to this day, I’m still not sure if they shocked my soul and marked my memory because I’d never heard a tense tone spoken by the one who bear-hugged every member of the church as they made their way to their assigned family pew, or if I was altogether shocked that it seemed to matter if the pews were firm or soft. I really don’t know.

What in the world was a “cryin’ shame” anyway? And are pews worthy of tears and are padded seats worthy of shame? I’ll probably never know. But here’s what I do know, those words weren’t said in jest, and they most certainly caused some division and disunity within the body.

Maybe you haven’t heard tension over pew decor, but I imagine if you’ve been in church for any length of time, you’ve heard some kind of congregation tension over a gaggle of topics.
Division over church remodels and annual budgets. Tension over music styles and Christmas programming. Frustrations over women speaking from the pulpit and passing a tithe plate. Division over those who vote Republican, those who vote for the Democrats, and those who would vote for the 5-Point Calvinists if they were a party. Tension over message length and expository vs. topical preaching. Frustrations over creationist views, predestination, and whether or not the NIV version of the Bible is “Sunday approved.” Division over how to choose deacons and the handling of divorcees, homosexuals, and minorities. Tension over alcohol consumption, tattoos, and whether or not it’s right or wrong to send your kids to the local school. Frustrations over which missionaries to support, which outreach programs to hold, and whether or not fog machines, stage lights, and fitted pants are God honoring or downright distracting.
Unfortunately, the list could go on and on.
Because our preferences are endless and our opinions vast.
Paul, the converted persecutor, knew this all too well. In fact, he even wrote an entire book dedicated to confronting the disunity that was occurring among the disgruntled congregation in Rome.

I won’t insert the entire text here (please check it out for yourself!), but let me give a quick summary.

Paul is writing to the church in Rome – made up of believers, both Gentile and Jew – and he’s urging them to be unified. And what is he worried might disrupt their unity and community? He’s concerned that the believers might get caught up on the differences and opinions they held regarding eating vegetables, consuming meat, celebrating certain holidays, and sipping certain beverages.

In short, he’s worried that carrots, pork, the Sabbath, and wine were going to cause division. Doesn’t sound that different from 2017, huh?

“Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions. One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only. The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats…One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike…”
Romans 14:1-5

Again, Paul is concerned that judgment and contempt will stand in the way of of Kingdom work.

So what does he say?

1. Stop the judgment and don’t be a stumbling block! 

…let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this—not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way. v. 13

2. Don’t let the preferences and opinions tear down the unity Christ died for! 

For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died. v. 15

Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. v. 20

3. Pursue peace! 

So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another. v. 19

4. Remember what matters! 

For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. v. 17

5. Whatever you do, do it for God! 

He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God. For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. v. 6-8

6. Let God be the judge. 

Each one of us will give an account of himself to God. v. 12

Friends, the bride is diverse!

And ya know what?

Though it can be scary, yucky, and downright out of our comfort zones at times, if it was growing and good for the Church in Rome, it can be growing and good for the Church in the 21st century.

We need ‘different’ in our pews, and we need variation in our buildings. We need the stretching and growing that comes with different opinions and particular preferences. We need the beauty of each other and the difference of YOU because different can bring perspective; different can bring needed-challenge and change; and different can bring beautiful and necessary growth in your heart and in mine.

And yet (in all of our differing opinions), may we remember Paul’s call to live in peace and walk in love. May we not elevate our preferences over our brothers, and may we not idolize our opinions over our sisters!

So whether you’re a member who prefers the hymns, likes the KJV, and feels most comfortable with shirts and ties on stage, or whether you’re a member who loves the fog machine, enjoys sipping fermented grapes, and prefers to receive texts from your Pastor…LIVE UNTO THE LORD; DON’T LET IT DIVIDE; and LIVE IN FREEDOM!

Because in all honesty, it would be a “cryin’ shame” if we chose our opinions over His love and the good of the Bride. 

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