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Cut-off jeans at the golf club

Have you ever walked into a nice golf club wearing cut-off jeans?

(I’m not talking about the designer kind, but the kind you took a pair of scissors to because you didn’t have shorts. I know, I know – it was a long time ago and I don’t do that anymore – but bear with me.)

I did many years ago. It was a painful experience.

Oh, I survived – but the looks of disdain told me clearly:

you don’t belong here;

you’re not one of us;

you don’t measure up.

And unfortunately, my golf game only confirmed their suspicions :-)

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with dress codes at a private club, and in retrospect, I should have inquired about the proper attire beforehand. I wear appropriate clothes now and am comfortable in that environment – even though my golf game could still be described as “cut-off jeans” :-)

But here’s the point: do we make people who come to our church services feel the same way?

Whether it’s because they’re new to the group, or shy and introverted, or just don’t fit in, it’s easy to make people feel like:

you don’t belong here;

you’re not one of us;

you don’t measure up.

I know none of us WANTS to make others feel that way, but we absolutely do when we form cliques that are exclusive instead of inclusive – and that’s not the kind of church that pleases God.

So, as we get ready for our first in-person house churches this Sunday, let’s consider the sober warning God gives us about not showing favoritism – especially in our assemblies – from the letter of James, chapter 2…

“My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. 2 Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. 3 If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” 4 have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

5 Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? 7 Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?

8 If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. 9 But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. 11 For he who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.

12 Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, 13 because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” (James 2:1-13, NIV)

What’s God’s timely word to us from this passage that we providentially read together this week?

• We are not to discriminate or show favoritism (vs. 1, 4)

• Discrimination and favoritism show that we are judging others with evil thoughts (vs. 4)

• God specifically mentions the poor – whom he honors (vs. 5); but when we treat the poor this way, we dishonor them (vs. 6).

• This kind of favoritism and discrimination violate the royal law in scripture of loving our neighbor as ourselves (vs. 8)

• It’s not showing mercy to them (vs. 13)

• And if we don’t show mercy to others, then God will not be merciful to us (vs. 12-13)

Wow, that’s pretty heavy.

God clearly sees favoritism and discrimination – particularly in our assemblies – as a serious sin.

And so must we.

A few reflections and applications…

The royal law in scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself”, is really the heart of the matter.

How do you feel when you are treated like an outsider?

We’ve all been either ignored or looked down on for one reason or another in our lives.

It makes us feel small, inadequate, not good enough, unwanted, unneeded, and unaccepted.

And that’s so painful.

So, why would we treat anyone else that way?

“Love your neighbor as yourself” (vs. 8).

And “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31).

God doesn’t want anyone to feel that way – especially at a church service worshipping him! (James 2:2-3)

How does a parent feel who watches even subtle rejection of their precious child?

It angers the parent to see their child’s heart get broken.

How much more does it anger our loving God to see any of his precious creations treated that way?

So, let’s not be guilty of favoritism and discrimination. They are hurtful sins that have no place in the life of believers (James 2:1).

People should not feel like they can’t break into our circles, or that we don’t want them to; that we’re just fine without them and don’t particularly want to make any new friends.

We must reach out to those we don’t know – to those who are new or different than ourselves, or just quiet, nervous or introverted and easy to overlook – especially those on the margins whom we may not naturally be drawn to or hit it off with – because it’s not about us having comfortable lives, but about us passing along the unconditional love of God to others.

Closing thoughts

I know most of us are really excited about being together and seeing each other again.

And that’s great! Enjoy each other!

But don’t neglect the newcomer, the outsider, or the one who is different than you.

Let’s make sure no one is left out, ignored, overlooked, or looked down on for any reason – especially the children – who are so easy to overlook! And yet, our Lord gave the children special attention – and rebuked the apostles who saw them as a bother (Mark 10:12-14).

Let’s have a church that reflects God’s heart of love for everyone!

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