Thursday, April 10, 2014

Where Have All The Front Porches Gone?

Cana N.C., circa 1968—My grandmother and I would sit on her front porch and play the guessing game. We would hear a car coming up the road quite a ways off. When we heard it we had about twenty seconds to guess the color of the car before it came barreling by within thirty feet of the front porch on her old farmhouse. All the houses in Cana had large front porches. I have sat with a dozen or more while listening to bluegrass jam sessions on those front porches. Visited with Ruby, Mossa, Ray, Pee Wee, Boyce and Lucy for hours while perched in a swing on that front porch. I ate my mayonnaise sandwiches or toast with Karo syrup and honey for lunch on that front porch. I sat and watched Ab Hutchins mow the yard, plow the garden under, stack the firewood and bushhog the fields from that front porch. Grandma and I used to set up a community lemonade stand for the neighbors on hot days on the front porch. 

Where are the front porches? I live in a house with a large back porch and absolutely no front porch. Sociologists have noted the shift in our relational means and manners. The front porch was toward the street, interacting with the community-an invitation to stop by, catch-up and have a glass of lemonade. The architectural shift to a large, secluded back porch and a tiny front stoop says something about our collective and individual communal state of mind. The front porch not only welcomed people into our lives, it invited people into our lives.  The apostle Paul had a “front porch” quality to his discipleship. He welcomed people and invited people. This means that his sense of mission compelled him to welcome the curious and needy (Timothy) and invite (Silas, Barnabas) some others.

Our effort to make disciples begins with guessing the color of the next car alongside a friend, fresh-made lemonade, mayonnaise sandwiches and watching Ab Hutchings mow. No bible studies necessarily, no discipleship programming and no revival services just a welcoming swing on a visible and inviting front porch where good conversation takes place, relationships are forged and the Gospel is observed.   

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Gospel Distortion Stirred Paul's Ire and Angst

“But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. 13 And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.”                                                         Gal. 2:11-13 ESV

            Paul’s gospel-ness moved him to challenge, push and confront his peers for disciplemaking purposes.  In Galatia, Peter’s behavior had brought reproach upon the gospel message and, perhaps worse, buttressed the legalism of the Judaizers. Paul could not and would not sit in silence as a brother engaged in hypocrisy that crippled the advancement of the gospel and damaged disciples. In Peter’s case, he had shunned the Gentiles that he once fellowshipped with, in order to preserve his standing among Jewish peers. We naturally gravitate to ethnic, racial and socio-economic peer groups. A gospel-informed identity transcends such temporal matters.Peter may or may not have been purposeful in his hypocrisy but that did not dismiss him from a guilty standing by his behavior. Paul knew Peter well. He had every reason to expect more from Peter as a leader. Peter’s miscue had led other Jews astray, misrepresented the gospel and had caused Paul’s protégé Barnabas to stumble. Paul was jealous for disciples that had been entrusted to his care.  Any hint of a gospel distortion stirred Paul’s ire and angst, to the point of correction and confronting others that could be held accountable. But all of it is to be carried for the purpose of reconciliation not rejection. Thus Paul would write in Gal. 6:1, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.” None are exempt from temptation and failure, therefore none are exempt from being opposed by a brother, but let it be done in humility worthy of the gospel and motivated by a passion for gospel clarity and advancement. 
         From the moment I was born-again, I was taken under wing by a a few 'Paul's." They made themselves available and vulnerable which set for me an example of how the gospel should work in our lives as spouses, parents, children, co-workers and the larger community. In a seemingly trivial incident one of these men resolutely opposed me to my face. In an attempt to be humorous I had referenced an ethnic stereotype in his presence. He waited until the next time we would see each other then he lovingly but firmly corrected me. He asserted that the gospel message sets us free from the need to feel superior and engaging in humor at the expense of another's dignity. It distorts the gospel, don't do it-- and don't let me do it without correction. What about Barnabas? Why didn't Paul confront him?  What do you think?