Close your eyes. Picture your bedroom as it was when you were growing up. Can you see it? I can see mine pretty clearly. It helps that I never changed the furniture around even once all those years. The bed was always against the wall. The stereo on the opposite wall. The bookshelf never moved. I liked it that way.
My mother-in-law handled her home quite differently. She switched up the living room at least once a week. It would be different every time I came over. She liked the change.
Have you moved the furniture around in your living room lately? If not, why not? If you don't, that's fine. I'm not actually here to talk about your living room. I've got something else on my mind. But before I get into that, I want to explore this furniture arranging concept a little further. What if a friend came over and remarked that your couch would work much better on the opposite wall? They noted that not only would it fit better in that space, but it would actually open up the room a bit. A much better place for the couch. Would you be open to changing it?
So let's leave your living room furniture alone for a minute and get down to business. Have you ever changed your mind about an aspect of the Christian faith? Have you ever, if you will, moved one of your theological beliefs from one side of the room to the other? Have you ever switched from one "ism" to another or dropped an "ism" only to find yourself now "ism-less"?
I'll give you an example from my own life. As a new Christian, I attended an adult Sunday School class. The teacher of that class taught us the doctrines of Calvinism. Basically, it was the idea that God chooses who He wants to save and also chooses those He wants to send to Hell. It's up to Him and His mind is already made up (before the foundations of the world). There's more to it than that, but that's enough to make my point. This is what I was taught and I didn't question it. Why not? Because it made sense. There were Scriptures that said so. The guy teaching knew more than me about the Bible and he presented it well. Without knowing it, I was a Calvinist (which is just a fine thing to be, for the record).
A few years later, my wife and I were talking about whether or not people choose God or God chooses people. Do we have free will? It was a great conversation. There's was just one problem. Her perspective was making sense to me and my beliefs were now in question for the first time. There were questions she raised that I simply hadn't thought about before. Seems funny now that I hadn't. The discussion brought up some questions for me.
For the first five years or so of my Christian walk, I was taught all kinds of stuff. We call this stuff "doctrine". I was taught to believe certain things about why Jesus died. I was taught to believe certain things about the antichrist and the rapture. I was taught certain things about Heaven and Hell. I was taught all kinds of stuff. Stuff that formed my belief system. This is what I believe. My theological furniture was set and I was pretty happy with it. (After all, it looked an awful lot like the living room arrangements of many of my closest and dearest friends)
Well, as I've journeyed with Jesus, some of those beliefs have been challenged. I've changed my mind about some of the things I was first taught.
Have you changed your mind about things you were first taught as a Christian? I'm convinced some of us are open to that and others refuse to change our minds. Sometimes, people just refuse to listen. When it comes to Christian doctrine, why is that?
A few years ago, I shared with someone how one of my long-held beliefs was being challenged. I noted that there were at least four differing views within orthodox Christianity about this belief. He had never heard of any of them and was appalled that I was even entertaining them. That's the kind of close-mindedness I'm challenging here. I mean, he wouldn't even consider any other view than the belief he'd always held to. And, I repeat, these were all orthodox views within Christianity! Why is that?
1) There's safety in the familiar. Don't rearrange the living room. I like it the way it is. I can navigate it in the dark and it works for me. Some people don't want things moved around in their theological living room.
2) If I change my view on this, won't that open me up to changing my mind about other things? Quite possibly. So, this is really connected to the last idea. There's safety in the familiar and what if we not only move the couch, but find that requires moving the coffee table also? But I only wanted to move the couch!
3) Fear. Yes, the last two barriers to an open mind are about fear also, but this aspect of fear is particular to religion and especially Christianity. We have a long history of separating the goats from the sheep. The Presbyterians are "wrong" about Calvinism. The Charismatics are "wrong" about spiritual gifts. The Baptists are "wrong" about homosexuality. The Episcopalians are "wrong" about everything. These are the kinds of judgments Christians make about each other based on doctrine. This is common practice among us and none of us want to be judged the same way. We don't want to be judged as "wrong", so we play it safe. Even if we are willing to flirt with a different view, we must keep it to ourselves, mustn't we?
4) I'm already right about everything. This room could never be improved.
I see a refusal to have our minds open to change is a barrier to spiritual growth. Don't read this the wrong way. I'm not advocating people change their minds about anything just because. But if you're confronted with a different perspective, why hide behind a mental blockade? If you've got the truth, it should be able to withstand some questioning. If you don't have the truth, then can you imagine holding on tightly to something that isn't true? The couch should have been moved and you refused to move it.
What if it's Jesus who's telling you to change your mind? What if we're like Saul of Tarsus who thought he had his theology all sorted and found himself "kicking against the goads"? What if we're holding onto beliefs because of tradition and it's Jesus who wants us to let go? Are we willing?
We all want the truth, but it simply doesn't come in a package with our baptism. The truth isn't necessarily what you were first taught in church or childhood or seminary. And if you have changed your mind about a doctrine, that doesn't mean you have the truth now either. You may change your mind again! I've decided to be open to having the furniture moved around, if need be.
Still, I'd better say this, some furniture needs to stay put. The "Jesus is Lord chair" doesn't get moved in my spiritual living room. It stays in the center of the room while couches, chairs, and tables shift around it from time to time. Does that make sense? What Christian beliefs have you changed your mind about while on this journey of faith? If nothing, why do you think that is?
***This is "Reformation Month". Did you know that? Yeah. It's a time to celebrate when Martin Luther posted his 95Theses on the door of the Catholic Church. He had thought of 95 ways they needed to move the furniture around.
What do we think now of those who refused to change their minds? Also, do you think there was and will be only one reformation in Christianity? Something else to ponder, my friends.
Look around. No, not at your house or workplace. Look around at what's going on all around us on this planet. Some of you might say, "But I don't want to!". I hear ya. This place is loco. When someone says "hurricane", we say "which one?". When someone says "mass shooting", we say "which one?". When someone says "looks like we're going to war", we say "where now?".
Easy. This isn't going to be a political rant. I want to talk about our kids. Some of us are raising kids. Kids that will inherit this crazy place. Kids that will have their own hurricanes and violence to deal with. How are we preparing them for those things? Whether we're aware of it or not, they are being prepared right now. Prepared for responding to trouble and tragedy. With open eyes and ears, they're building character that will determine how they will respond to the struggles around them. Their own and their neighbor's.
While in Palestine, I remember sitting and listening to a middle-age man tell the horror stories he'd experienced under Israeli Occupation. After sharing his tales, he made the point that he was raising his boys to be tough. Tough enough to handle tough times.
I can't pretend to have shared his experience and I don't know what his boys will face in the future. But I interpreted his perspective to be one that encouraged hard-heartedness. Callousness. The reason M&Ms won't melt in your hand. It's that thick candy shell.
I don't think the answer for our kids is to raise them to harden their hearts to endure tough times. I would encourage just the opposite. I want to teach my kids to have greater compassion. Deeper empathy. Selfless love. That's what people who have lost everything in a hurricane need. They need people who are willing to put themselves in their position for a moment, then respond with more than a shake of their head and the shedding of a tear. That moment of empathy needs to grow to fruition. It needs to become something tangible.
Reflect on those who were heroes in the recent aftermath of the hurricanes. You might even have some pictures come to mind from the media. People neck-deep in water with their arms around people who are scared to death. That's the kid I want to raise. I want to see my kid on the news as the guy that did all he could to get people to safety while bullets sprayed down from the hotel window above. I want my kid to be those who spend time with the families who have lost people to tragedy.
Here's the deal. I'm going to have to raise them to be that way. It's on me to raise my kids to have hearts that consider the plight of others and act accordingly. Quick example. Half of my kids currently spend a lot of time in Lego Land. Oh, not the theme park in California. I mean my garage. How many times am I dealing with a kid who is unwilling to share Legos? I'm not talking about going without any Legos so their brother can build something. I'm talking about going with one less piece (leaving them 700 other pieces to work with). Working through those kinds of moments are a small step in the direction of considering others. The idea is to teach them compassion, not enforce communism. They shouldn't share because someone makes them. I want them to want to share. That's not easy to teach!
What are some daily activities where you could be encouraging empathy in your kids? How much do they know about the greatest mass shooting in U.S. History that occurred just last weekend? What are their thoughts about the families left behind in the wake? If you have more mature kids, have they considered what might have been going on in the mind of the killer? It's possible the shooter had a mental illness. What will your child's attitude be toward those who struggle with a mental illness? Are they to be helped or shunned? Brought close or pushed away? That depends on the character we, as parents, help develop right now in our kids.
For my part, I've been involving my kids the last few years in my study of the Israel/Palestine Conflict. They sit and watch videos with me. Some of those are "boring talkie-talkie" videos. Those are for my older kids who can now engage in conversation about the issues. But they've also seen some pretty raw footage of Palestinian civilians being bombed in Gaza. That, admittedly, was a bit of a shocker, but it did wonders for the kids being able to empathize better with the struggle. Words like "bomb" and "civilian casualties" have a deeper meaning for them now. The people of Palestine are more like, well, people to my kids. Not a statistic, problem, or issue. They are real people my kids are learning to care about.
What touches your heart? People in poverty? People with disabilities? People affected by a disaster? People with cancer or Alzheimer's? People suffering injustice? Whatever it may be, can you begin to share your heart with your kids? Start early. Perhaps not with raw footage from bombings in Gaza (Lol), but with an age-appropriate exposure to caring for people. People besides ourselves. Caring about ourselves doesn't really need to be taught, does it? I think it just kind of happens. Raising a child who cares for people besides themselves requires intentionality on our part.
As far as I'm aware, there's no curriculum for this kind of thing. It's not taught in schools, but expected in adulthood. I confess, I feel a bit behind the curve myself and am trying to catch up. I've been intentional about looking for opportunities where I can act. Acting on that glimmer of empathy that occurs when I see the picture of a dead toddler washed up on the beach after fleeing war-torn Syria. Acting to feed the hungry in my own community that I've driven past so many times. My kids are watching. Hopefully, they will develop a character that acts compassionately toward others. Hopefully, they'll develop that much faster than I have.
Dave became the Senior Pastor in April 2015 at TCC after serving as the Director of Children's and Praise Ministries for 9 years. He graduated in 2011 from A.W. Tozer Seminary with a Masters in Christian Leadership. He and his wife, Katie, live in Sequim with their 6 children, 2 dogs, 15 chickens, and 50,000 honeybees.
Current Sermon Series