Welcome Strangers, Family Rules, 25 January 2015

Series Overview: The purpose of this series is to cast a vision for a healthy church family, noting particular strengths and weaknesses of Scio in the process.

Big Idea:
A healthy church family shows hospitality by welcoming strangers.


When I was a little boy, one of the commands of my parents was to never talk to strangers. This is certainly good advice for a young child, but it tragically carries over into adulthood.

Since I’ve lived in the midwest my entire life, I don’t know if this is true elsewhere, but I’m always amazed at how people walk past one another on the sidewalk and look down as they approach, as if to either ignore the other human or pretend they are invisible from them. Can we not simply say, “Hi!” as we pass? I do this sometimes when I’m jogging, often startling the person who seems surprised they are recognized. Yes, I talk to strangers…or at least greet them occasionally.

We’re in the middle of a series called “Family Rules,” a double entendre. We began with the admonishment to
know thyself. Last week we talked about how important it is to keep it real…no perfect people allowed (except Jesus!). Today’s rule is welcome strangers.

Think of a time when you were in an unfamiliar place. Maybe you were in another city, state, or even country. It could be a local business or even a home. How did you feel upon entering? What happened when you were noticed?

Being a stranger can be awkward, uncomfortable, and even frightening. Extroverts are perceived to be more calm about interactions with new people, but even they can experience anxiety when they enter a new environment. Dorothy said, “There’s no place like home,” and the further removed we are from those places we know, the more likely we are to be stressed or nervous.

Last fall we did a series entitled
Covenant and Kingdom. The gist of the series was God invites us into a covenant relationship with Him and then challenges us to go and serve in His Kingdom. It began with God inviting Abram—later Abraham—into a covenant relationship that birthed Israel.

At the risk of stating the obvious, our culture is radically different than that of the early church in the New Testament, to say nothing of the Old Testament. Several weeks ago we talked about the birth of Jesus and the search for a place for that event. Hospitality was largely taken for granted.

In the Old Testament, hospitality was more than just a custom. It demonstrated faithfulness to God. In one instance—from a passage we read this week via One Story—Abraham welcomed three special strangers:

The LORD appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground.

He said, “If I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, do not pass your servant by. Let a little water be brought, and then you may all wash your feet and rest under this tree. Let me get you something to eat, so you can be refreshed and then go on your way—now that you have come to your servant.”

“Very well,” they answered, “do as you say.”

So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah. “Quick,” he said, “get three seahs of the finest flour and knead it and bake some bread.”

Then he ran to the herd and selected a choice, tender calf and gave it to a servant, who hurried to prepare it. He then brought some curds and milk and the calf that had been prepared, and set these before them. While they ate, he stood near them under a tree. (Genesis 18:1-8)

Sure, it was a different culture. There were no Motel 6s, much less Ritz Carltons. Travelers would die without the hospitality of hosts on their journey. In fact, it was a serious offense to not provide for strangers.

No Ammonite or Moabite or any of their descendants may enter the assembly of the LORD, not even in the tenth generation. For they did not come to meet you with bread and water on your way when you came out of Egypt…(Deuteronomy 23:3-4a)

We could talk for hours about hospitality in the Old Testament.

Here are some examples of people welcoming strangers in the Old Testament:

Melchizedek (Genesis 14:18)
Abraham (Genesis 18:3-8)
Lot (Genesis 19:2, 3)
Laban (Genesis 24:31)
Jethro (Exodus 2:20)
Manoah (Judges 13:15)
Samuel (1 Samuel 9:22)
David (2 Samuel 6:19)
Barzillai (2 Samuel 19:32)
Shunammite (2 Kings 4:8)
Nehemiah (Nehemiah 5:17)
Job (Job 31:17, 32)

In the New Testament, hospitality remained a priority. Sometimes this involved water for a guest’s feet and oil for their head. It could include a kiss of welcome or food.

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. (Romans 12:9-13)

Here are some examples of people welcoming strangers in the NewTestament:

Zacchaeus (Luke 19:6)
Samaritans (John 4:40)
Lydia (Acts 16:15)
Jason (Acts 17:7)
Mnason (Acts 21:16)
People of Melita (Acts 28:2)
Publius (Acts 28:7)
Gaius (3 John 1:5, 6)

Jesus’ ministry required the hospitality of others as He and His followers traveled. (Mk. 1:29ff.; 2:15ff.; Lk. 7:36ff.; 10:38–41)

Jesus told them

If people do not welcome you, leave their town and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.” (Luke 9:5)

One of the most sobering passages in the entire Bible makes reference of welcoming the stranger. Jesus said

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. (Matthew 25:31-33)

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ (Matthew 25:34-36)

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ (Matthew 25:37-39)

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ (Matthew 25:40)

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ (Matthew 25:41-43)

“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ (Matthew 25:44)

“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ (Matthew 25:45)

“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” (Matthew 25:46)

Could Jesus be any clearer? When we welcome strangers, we welcome Jesus. When we serve the poor, feed the hungry, visit the prisoner…we are serving Jesus.

And that must be our motivation, our vision. Welcoming strangers is not done because it necessarily brings us pleasure, happiness, or comfort. At its most primal essence hospitality is an expression of love.

The writer of Hebrews said

Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. (Hebrews 13:1-2)

If you met Jesus in the flesh, and you knew it was Jesus, would you treat Him differently than an immigrant with a thick accent in the airport?

If you met an angel, and you knew it was an angel, and you weren’t freaked out by it, would you treat them differently than a pan handler on the street?

A special emphasis is placed upon serving other believers, especially because many were persecuted, driven from their homes, and fighting to survive.

Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. (Galatians 6:10)

We are family. Family takes care of family.

The Shadow Side of Family

It has been said that every strength has a corresponding weakness. A close-knit family is great…until someone wants to break in and join! Virtually every married person knows the thrill of joining a new family, meeting the in-laws, encountering that strange uncle, and trying to learn everyone’s name. That’s just the beginning! For years—decades—you are surrounded by stories that are as foreign to you as Siberia.

The majority of our Scio family has been together for more than ten years. That’s a long time, especially in the Ann Arbor area. Some of our youth have literally grown up together. You have stories, you have inside jokes, you have close friendships…and possibly cliques, too.

This month marks four years for me at Scio. In most churches, that would be considered quite a while, but honestly, I still feel rather new around here. Many of you have been a part of our family two, three, four, or five times as long as Heather and I have…some even longer! If I feel new, imagine how first or second-time guests feel.

The Good News

I believe we are getting better at welcoming the stranger. I don’t have pages of data to support my belief, but last year’s Flip of our Sunday gatherings and our transition from academic Sunday School to interactive Life Groups has clearly enhanced not only our family life but created natural environments for newcomers to get connected. Many of you are diligent about introducing yourselves on Sunday morning to guests. The development of our coffee ministry by Dea, Janet, and now led by Emily not only serves our family members but provides refreshment for our guests. Thank you!

Did you know our monthly second-Sunday potlucks were started to welcome strangers? Food is powerful. Even more than coffee, a meal can create a tremendous setting for conversation. As you meet newcomers—especially on second Sundays—encourage them to join your Life Group…and stick around for lunch.

So What?

Newcomers frequently tell us in surveys we are a friendly church. That’s great! As we have discovered, however, people aren’t looking for a friendly church. They are looking for friends! May I offer a few additional possibilities for welcoming the stranger…beyond Sunday?

  1. Invite someone to meet you for coffee or a meal at a restaurant or coffee shop
  2. Invite someone to your home for a meal
  3. Invite someone to your midweek Life Group
  4. Connect on social media online (this can be especially good for introverts)

Speaking of introverts, if Jesus showed up, how would you respond? Really now! I’m not saying any of this is easy, but whoever said following Jesus was easy? He said to pick up your cross daily and follow Him.

  1. Ask open-ended questions to allow them to talk about themselves
  2. Ask how you can pray for them
  3. Pray for them, in person and/or privately
  4. Find a common interest or hobby and plan something together

Perhaps you’re thinking, “I’m busy!” Yes. What if you could be busy
with someone.

9. Invite someone to go grocery shopping with you
10. Workout together
11. Run errands together

You get the idea.

Family, we’re on a mission from God. It’s not that the church has a mission, but that the mission has a church. We—the people of God—are here, and we’re not simply here to encounter God. Were that the case, we’d be swept away to paradise with God the moment we begin to follow Him. We are still here to re-present Him to those in our world that have not yet encountered their Creator, experienced rich community, surrendered their lives to Jesus making Him not only Savior but LORD, and proclaimed in word and deed His presence and power to others.

Our mission:

We exist to fulfill the Great Commission and follow the Great Commandment by 
• serving our communities
• sharing our story
• sending disciples to bless the nations

so that God is glorified.
Making disciples begins with meeting people. We are blessed to have a website, a sign on a busy road, and a visible building, all of which attract visitors to our gatherings. Those strangers that arrive on our campus knowing no one take a huge risk when they walk through the front doors, something many of you have done almost unconsciously hundreds or even thousands of times. Wouldn’t it be great if their risk paid off, they made connections with us, were equipped to make connections with our community, and all the while making connections with God?

If you are challenged or even frightened at the thought of talking with a first-time guest on Sunday morning, of shaking their hand, of even looking them in the eye and offering them a warm smile, imagine how
they feel? This is our home. It is not theirs…yet!

There has been much discussion amongst church leaders in recent years concerning the difference between attractional and missional church strategies. In other words, the difference between getting people to come to us versus us going into the world where they are and being Jesus with skin on, serving our communities. We need both. God has blessed us with a fantastic building and property. I’d love to see it used more often, by us and even by the community. What if our back yard became a community garden…or a park for dogs? Scio Township is trying to build a walking trail that might end on our property, a perfect destination for residents who bike, jog, or walk. We presently host music lessons, Girl Scouts, and elections. If you have ideas on how we can use our real estate to serve our community, please speak to myself or one of the elders.

But we also need to go into all of the world and make disciples. We need to get out of our comfort zones and enter the worlds of others. We need to become the strangers, taking the risks, and enriching the lives of others with the words and deeds of good news. This summer a team of us will travel to the Dominican Republic, certainly not our home! We are going to serve, to love, to re-present Jesus…yet we will surely be blessed far greater than any blessing we could ever hope to deliver. Please give, pray, and/or go…to the Dominican Republic…and to your neighborhood.

One More Thing

Jesus set the ultimate example for us to follow:

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45)

Jesus welcomed us, messy sinners, into His family. We were strangers and aliens and now we are His brothers and sisters. We didn’t deserve it, which is why it is grace—undeserved favor. To whom much has been given, much is required. Let’s seek out the lost, the strangers, the aliens, the broken, the hurting, the poor among us and truly show them love.

Let’s welcome strangers…until they become friends!

By the way, kids, you still need to be careful around strangers!

You can listen to this message and others at the Scio podcast here. You can also subscribe to our podcast here.

Be Real, Family Rules, 18 January 2015

Series Overview: The purpose of this series is to cast a vision for a healthy church family, noting particular strengths and weaknesses of Scio in the process.

Big Idea: A healthy church family shares joys and sorrows honestly.

Real Versus Fake

We live in a world where things are not always as they appear. In a word, there are many fake things we encounter. We have

fake food (did you ever grab a fake apple hoping to enjoy a juicy bite?)
fake money
fake shoes
fake electronics
fake tans
fake hair and nails and eyelashes

Photoshop and other tools have made it difficult to know if things are real or fake.

When we meet a person, we usually have no way of knowing whether they are for real or merely trying to make a good first impression. This is especially true with people asking for help, be it at an exit ramp or on a downtown sidewalk. How do we know if their story is legit?

It’s one thing to believe in a fake object, but quite another to believe a fake person. Unfortunately, people can be fake long after we meet them. It’s so common for people to hide their true self. We commonly call this facade a mask. Some go as far as maintaining the mask until they get married and then, suddenly, they show their true colors to their new spouse, providing a terrible surprise. They put their best foot forward during the courting, hiding their true self.

This is week two of our series
Family Rules, a double entendre. Followers of Jesus are part of the universal family of God, worldwide. Specifically, this series is about the family known as Scio Community Church. Who are we? How are we to live, not as individuals, but together as family? These are questions we are addressing throughout this series.

Last Sunday began with rule number one: know thyself. We are God’s children, adopted into His family through the death and resurrection of our big Brother, Jesus. We are commanded to not only love God, but one another…and together love and serve our world. Now we turn to rule number two: Be Real.

God’s love is truly amazing! What I love about God’s love is it is unconditional. It doesn’t matter what we’ve done, what we’re doing, or what we’re going to do—we’re still loved and accepted. Sure, poor choices will result in consequences that will break His heart, but they’ll also affect us in profound ways that will hopefully produce growth and wisdom. I say it often, but nothing you can do can make God love you more, and nothing you can do can make God love you less. That’s amazing grace!

So we are loved and accepted unconditionally by our Creator God, yet sometimes we find it hard to be totally honest with God. It’s crazy how we—how I—will often hesitate during silent confession, rationalizing my sins, justifying my actions, and avoiding my true transgressions…as if God doesn’t know! Or God will reject me! When I finally reach the point of calling a spade a spade, I never feel wrath or judgment. It is, after all, God’s kindness that is intended to lead us to repentance, not His anger (Romans 2:4). One of the most beautiful verses in the entire Bible was penned by John:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

But here’s the thing: I can confess my sins to God and know in my head that I’m forgiven because of Jesus and the cross, but I don’t always
feel forgiven. Having God as your Master and LORD has many advantages, but one challenge is experiencing Him through the senses. This is where you come in!

Jesus’ half-brother, James, wrote about prayer.

Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. (James 5:13-15)

Wow! What’s not to like about those words?! At this moment are you in trouble? Are you happy? Are you sick? If so, respond! There’s one more verse that follows these, and it begins with “therefore.” Now that we know what “therefore” is there for, verse sixteen says

Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. (James 5:16)

Do you see it? Confess our sins to God. No! Confess our sins to the professional priest. No! Confess your sins to each other.

Be Real

In the book of Genesis, we read that God created Adam and Eve, they were naked and unashamed. We often think of those words in the physical sense, but I believe there’s another level of “knowing” involved. Without sin there was no shame, and without shame there was no embarrassment, no hiding, and no masks. Adam and Eve had a level of intimacy none have had since, a relationship free from barriers or walls.

The Fall did irreparable harm to not only our relationships with God, but also our relationships with one another.

But here’s the thing:

We’re all broken. We all need God. But by the grace of God…

While I admit our culture—and our courts—don’t view all sins equally, we all sin. We all fall short of God’s perfect standard demonstrated by Jesus. We’re all messed up.
Tragically, the church has often been the LAST place to find broken people…because some perceive it to be a place for shiny, happy people. It’s a place for God’s wonderful children to smile…and judge the “sinners” in the world. I believe many in our community never even think about attending Scio Community Church because they believe they are unworthy, imperfect, and unable to fit it amongst the holy saints here.

May it never be! No perfect people are allowed at Scio (except Jesus!).

While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:15-17)

We’re not to be a museum of perfect people, but rather a hospital of broken people who are getting healed, becoming whole, and ultimately becoming wounded healers who help others.

It all begins with me—and you. We must get real. We must get honest. We must take off the
mask that covers our sins and weaknesses and face the simple truth that we’re messed up…and so is everyone else here!

It has been suggested that attendees at Alcoholics Anonymous meetings are far more honest than church attendees…because you begin by admitting you have a problem. Scio family, we need to just say it—we have a problem: sin. You have it, I have it. It’s not something to be proud of, but nor is it something we should hide. Hiding hurts us and those around us because there is power in community, power in family, power in doing life together. That’s why support groups are so successful. That’s what Scio ought to be: a support group for sinners who are striving to be like the perfect Saint, Jesus Christ.

It can be hard to be honest with ourselves, often more difficult to be honest with God, but often even more difficult to be honest with others. Why?

Fear…of rejection.

Why don’t we share? Fear of rejection and condemnation.

When did we ever get the idea family members would reject and condemn us? Experience! The church universal has a reputation for being filled with arrogant, self-righteous hypocrites who look perfect on the outside yet sin outlandishly in private. Is it true? It’s easy to do. Condemning others makes us feel better about ourselves. The comparison game is always deadly because we feel too good about ourselves or too bad about ourselves. The reality is we all desperately need grace because we’re all sinners who fall short of perfection—which is why we need help. We need God’s help and we need the help of one another.

Dave has been a tremendous example of this. As a recovering alcoholic, I’ve watched him struggle for years with addictions, yet both seek help and help others a step or two behind him in the journey. His honesty and transparency have helped shape the culture at Scio as an open, honest, engaging community. We haven’t mastered it yet, but I believe we are becoming more real as a family. If you are in your fifties or above, this idea of being real may seem a bit foreign or uncomfortable. For young people, it’s essential. Young adults can smell fake a mile away. They’ve been bombarded with messages and images of fake promises, products, and people throughout their entire lives. The big question many people are asking today about the church—and about Scio Community Church—is not, “Is it true?” but “Is it real?”

I have a dream…of a day in which our family is known as the most honest, authentic collection of people in our community, a place where the broken find healing and the captives are set free, a people who don’t encourage sin, but accept sinners.

It begins with me and you being honest with our stuff and showing love to others who are dealing with their stuff.

Like every “rule” in this series you may find this message irrelevant. You’re real. You’re accepting. You’re authentic. Great! Pray for others to have the courage to get real, to be vulnerable, and to have a heart of compassion for those at Scio who are dealing with greed, lust, bitterness, addiction, sexual identity, gossip, pride, or a host of other sins that are secret and hidden…and that will never be resolved without acknowledgment, confession, and repentance.

It’s difficult to share our failures with others…and I’m not suggesting any of us grab a mic and list all of our sins each time we gather. It does mean, however, that we share appropriately our struggles, adjusting the level of intimacy as appropriate to the relationship we have with others. Deep friendships take time…and trust…and often someone willing to go first and open up. We reveal our true self to others so we can experience deeper bonds with others and growth in areas of weakness. Those results can never occur, however, when we wear the mask and keep others distant.

My favorite definition of intimacy is to be fully known by another. Is there anyone on the planet that knows you fully? Again, I’m not suggesting we should be an open book with everyone, sharing every secret and sin…but we all need friends, true friends that are like a brother or sister. Without them we can never experience the deepest freedom of forgiveness, the challenge of holiness, or the joy of growing in Christ.

Years ago I had a friend who frequently told me about his girlfriend. I know he cared for her, but many times he shared his frustrations with her. Whenever I asked if he told her his frustrations he would say no. He didn’t want to hurt her feelings. Instead, he was wearing the mask and, ultimately, being dishonest with her. She never truly knew him because he only said things he thought she wanted to hear.

As long as we conceal our true thoughts, feelings, and struggles we will never experience intimacy. People will never know the real us. God knows the real you…and he still loves you! We'd like to know you, too!

You can listen to this message and others at the Scio podcast here. You can also subscribe to our podcast here.

Know Thyself, Family Rules, 11 January 2015

Series Overview: The purpose of this series is to cast a vision for a healthy church family, noting particular strengths and weaknesses of Scio in the process.

Big Idea: A healthy church family knows its identity.

Who are you?
I don’t mean you as an individual, but you as a church? Who are we? We are Scio Community Church, but who are we? What is our identity?

When meeting a new person, it’s common to ask, “What do you do?” Individuals are often identified by their vocation. “I’m a doctor.” “I’m a teacher.” "I’m a student.” That’s what they do, but it’s not the totality of who they are as humans.

An ancient Greek aphorism/saying/maxim says, “Know thyself.” It has been attributed to Socrates and others, was used by Plato, referenced by Benjamin Franklin, found above the Oracle’s door in the movie
The Matrix, and serves as the motto of Hamilton College (NY).

One year ago we looked at what it means to be followers of Jesus and our identity…
in Christ. Our study of Ephesians had a deep impact on my life as I am beginning to understand God the Father says the same things about me as He says about Jesus: “You are my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.” He says the same to you (unless you are female, in which case He calls you His beloved daughter!”).

As Scio Community Church, we are more than merely a group of individuals. We are greater than the sum of our parts (or persons). The Bible describes the church as a body.

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. (1 Corinthians 12:27)

It is described as a temple. It is called God’s field. It is the people of God.

Perhaps the most common word used to describe the church—and certainly Scio Community Church—is family.

For many, the word “family” elicits positive thoughts and emotions, feelings of love, warmth, respect, affection, and loyalty. For others, pain and heartache are closely associated with family.

What is a family?

Dictionary.com offers these definitions:

a basic social unit consisting of parents and their children, considered as a group, whether dwelling together or not:
the traditional family.

a social unit consisting of one or more adults together with the children they care for: a single-parent family.

any group of persons closely related by blood, as parents, children, uncles, aunts, and cousins:

to marry into a socially prominent family.

a group of persons who form a household under one head, including parents, children, and servants.

The definition has changed through the years. Just observing popular television families reveals the transitions our culture has experienced. Think about the differences between the following families:

Little House on the Prairie
The Waltons
All In The Family
Happy Days
Home Improvement
Modern Family

A few years ago Coca Cola did
this commercial that expresses a contemporary definition of family about as well as any…

According to Coke, family is anyone you want it to be! Fortunately the Bible is our authority, not Hollywood or Madison Avenue!

Family was God’s design from the beginning…and I don’t mean Adam and Eve. Family existed before them!

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” (Genesis 1:26)

Did you catch it? Let
us make mankind…in our image and likeness. Although the word trinity does not appear in the Bible, the concept of one God in three Persons is clear. We worship a triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. All God. All family. All creating and doing God stuff together! Each has their own unique roles and relationship to the other Persons. It is something of a mystery…but God models for us community—family!

Our winter series, Family Rules, is a double entendre; rules is both a noun and verb. The purpose of this series is to cast a vision for a healthy church family, noting particular strengths and weaknesses of Scio in the process. When people talk about church, they could mean a building. They could mean a Sunday morning gathering. It is common to refer to the universal church of all followers of Jesus Christ worldwide. For much of this series family will refer to us—Scio Community Church.

We are family!

As I said, that word has baggage for many. We strive to be a healthy family, not a dysfunctional, broken family. No family is perfect, but I hope through this series you will gain a greater appreciation for our Scio family and be challenged to make it stronger, healthier…and possibly larger as healthy things tend to grow.

Why Family?

Of all of the images used to describe us, why would God choose family? Simply, God created the first biological family of Adam and Eve and co-created with them Cain, Abel, and their other children. His design included a father, a mother, and children—three people in one unit. It kind of reminds me of the Trinity!

Likewise, God the Father functions as our Father, the Holy Spirit—called the Comforter and several other terms—plays a significant role, and Jesus is our big Brother. We are called sons and daughters of God. We are called into relationship not only with God, but with one another.

If you recall last week when we concluded our series on Mary, we noted Jesus’ own words regarding family:

Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:35)

It’s not uncommon for people in our Scio family to refer to one another as sisters and brothers…and for good reason. We are related…by blood—Jesus’ blood.

Paul wrote most of the New Testament of the Bible and frequently referred to other believers as brothers and sisters (e.g. 1 Cor. 8:13; 2 Cor. 2:13; Phil. 2:25).

Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. (Galatians 6:10)

Peter referred to us as family, too:

Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor. (1 Peter 2:17)

Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings. (1 Peter 5:9)

Have you ever had a close friend that felt like a brother or sister—or even more so?

One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. (Proverbs 18:24)

You can choose your friends, but you don’t choose your family. You are born into or adopted into a family. In one sense, God adopted us into His family.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. (Ephesians 1:3-6)

For in Christ Jesus you are all children of God, through faith… (Galatians 3:26)

In another sense, we choose to become a part of the Scio family. Your attendance and participation communicate your desire to make this your church family, though unlike earlier times, there are options. In fact, there are about three hundred options in Washtenaw County alone! It’s not uncommon for selfish, consumeristic impulses to prompt people to go “church shopping,” but that was never God’s design for His family. The variety of church options is both a blessing and a curse, an opportunity to customize and contextualize and also a way to divide and segregate.

The aforementioned metaphor as the church as a body with different parts usually refers to individual people being individual parts, though I believe it could also refer to individual churches in a community, each unique and special and in need of one another, partnering together knowing the nightmare and pain of a detached body part! We do not try to compete with other area churches, but rather complement and partner with them. We need them and they need us.

This raises the question, “Why are there so many churches in Washtenaw County?” What separates us from St. Luke Lutheran Church, St. Francis of Assisi, the Ypsilanti Free Methodist Church, or even our neighbors down the road, Covenant Community Church?

Geography is a legitimate reason for multiple churches in our county. It is ideal to be involved in a church family close to your home, for a variety of reasons (even though few in the Scio family live near our Scio facility!). Practically, the 350,000 or so residents of our county would not fit in our sanctuary for worship—or any facility in the area, for that matter!

Theology is another factor that makes us distinct from other churches. There are significant differences between Catholic and Protestant churches (and Orthodox). We all refer to ourselves as Christians and are genuinely brothers and sisters, but significant historical events have revealed distinctions such as the role of the Bible, the Lord’s Supper, Mary, and church traditions. There are some wonderful, godly Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox and plenty of Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox who look nothing like Jesus and merely consume religious goods and services.

Under the umbrella of Protestants lies a host of denominations, roughly 43,000 worldwide with some predicting 55,000 by 2025! Ugh! Theological differences account for such a large number.

We are a part of the
Christian & Missionary Alliance, a global movement of churches. We may have differences of opinion on the Bible with some Lutherans, Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians and other Protestants, though I would argue most are minor in comparison to differences with other world religions. All followers of Jesus are on the same team! We’re all one, big, sometimes-happy family!

Another distinction between Scio and other local churches is our
methodology or style. Some churches worship with pipe organs, others with lasers and rock bands. We’re somewhere in the middle! Some facilities have stained glass and steeples while some churches meet in school auditoriums or night clubs. We’re somewhere in the middle! Some are formal, use the King James Version of the Bible and have ministers in robes while others are informal, use modern translations, and have ministers in shorts and flip flops. We’re somewhere in the middle!

Perhaps the one thing that makes Scio Community Church—our family—unique from other church families is…you! Us!
People! We even have a sister church, Saline Community Church, in the Alliance with similar beliefs and practices (albeit somewhat different geography) but they don’t have you! God has assembled a unique collection of men, women and children to call Scio their church family. You are the church! We are the church!

We are a people—God’s people.

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:9-10)

We are a chosen people who both exist as a family and who are on mission together. There is an aspect in which we
are, but also in which we do. We have been invited into relationship with the Father and challenged to live out our calling. We participate with God on His mission. Specifically,

We exist to fulfill the Great Commission and follow the Great Commandment by 
• serving our communities
• sharing our story
• sending disciples to bless the nations

so that God is glorified.
There is so much more to say about our Scio family…and we will in the coming weeks. The first rule for us as a family is to know who we are…and Who’s we are!
You can listen to this message and others at the Scio podcast here. You can also subscribe to our podcast here.

Witness: Woman of Sorrow, 04 January 2015

Big Idea: Mary experienced great joy as a mom…and great sorrow.

Key Scripture: John 2:1-11; Mark 3:20-35; John 19:25


Happy 2015! I hope you had a wonderful holiday season. The highlight for me was undoubtedly spending nearly a week with our entire family that now resides again in three different states.

Many churches today are talking about the new year, resolutions, goal setting, and ways to have your best life now. I’m deliberately avoiding the temptation for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is my desire to finish what we started with regard to Mary. As I said last Sunday, we can’t just throw her in the attic with the nativity set until next year. While her most significant moment may have been Jesus’ birthday, labor and delivery is the beginning, not the end of motherhood. We looked at Mary the mom last week as she brought Jesus to the temple for dedication where they were blessed by Simeon.

The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2:33-35)

In full disclosure, I’m not a mom! I’ve never been a mom…and I never plan on becoming a mom! I am, however, a parent. Nothing in life has been more challenging for me—or more rewarding—than being a parent. I’ve experienced the highest highs and the lowest lows. I’ve felt every conceivable emotion and been impacted physically, spiritually, emotionally, mentally, financially, and relationally by parenting three incredible humans.

I believe love is the reason parenting is so significant. Love involved risk, and the more you risk, the greater the joy and the greater the sorrow. During lunch on New Year’s Day, Heather and I were reflecting on our parenting journey and how it has taken us through tragedy and triumph, horror and happiness. She asked if I’d do it again if I could turn back time and I said absolutely though nothing could prepare me for all of the challenges. Perhaps nothing has shaped me into the man I am today more than being a parent.

Today I want to look at a few final moments in Mary’s motherhood adventure.

The First Miracle

Jesus began His public ministry by making wine. We often miss Mary in this story.

On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.” (John 2:1-3)

Remember, children were to honor their parents according to the fifth commandment (which I believe is still relevant today!).

“Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”
(John 2:4)

“Woman” could also be understood as “mother.” “My hour” was a reference to the crucifixion. Note Jesus does nothing until Mary directs the servants to obey Him.

His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.

Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.

Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”

They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.” (John 2:5-10)

What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. (John 2:11)

This wedding began a public shift in Mary’s life. Imagine her joy! Talk about a proud mama! She would learn to be obedient to her Son. He was the One before whom she was to have no other gods. Honoring God meant following her own Son while surrendering her own honor.

Scot McKnight says, “If Jesus alone knew God’s will, then the only ones who knew God’s will were the ones to whom Jesus revealed that will. For Mary to know and do God’s will, she would have to follow Jesus. Her honor would have to surrender to his honor. Jesus’ words were subtle, and they pierced Mary’s heart. She would have to allow her son to become her Lord. This interchange between Mary and Jesus is nothing short of stunning…Because Mary directed the servants to do as Jesus said and because the servants obeyed, Jesus converted six thirty-gallon jars of water into the best wine yet served at that wedding.”

This was only the beginning.


Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.” (Mark 3:20-21)

Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.”

“Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked.

Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:31-35)

“Thanks a lot, Son! Your mission is more important than your mom?!” Was this the sword Simeon said would pierce Mary’s heart?

Sometimes honoring God and honoring your father and mother come into conflict with one another. Of course, in our western culture, honor is a word rarely spoken. We focus on our own rights rather than selflessly honoring others. The Jewish priorities were God, parents, family, society…and lastly one’s self.

Mary and her other children were ambivalent about Jesus, perhaps much of the time. They expected the Messiah to be a prophet like Moses, like ancient prophets, a descendant of David, and a reigning King combining the glory of David with the wisdom of Solomon. He would be powerful, ruling over all governments and peoples. He would restore Israel, establish peace, righteousness, and holiness.

Jesus didn’t fit their expectations…and the most unimaginable was yet to come.

The Cross

I have heard the worst experience on earth is losing a child. I was reminded of this a few days ago as I heard the wails of a grieving mom whose child died. My mind raced to Mary’s agony watching her Son die. She not only witnessed the loss of her Son, but also her Savior, her Messiah, her hope.

Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. (John 19:25)

About fifty percent of the first century Jewish women were named Mary!

She was near the cross (all of the males fled except for John!). She saw it all. She remained faithful to Him. A sword pierced the side of Jesus…as Mary’s heart was pierced.

Anglican poet G.A. Studdert Kennedy said:

She claims no crown from Christ apart,
Who gave God life and limb,
She only claims a broken heart,
Because of Him.

Are you near the cross? Has your heart been pierced?

The Rest of the Story

Mary does not vanish at Calvary. In the Upper Room following Jesus’ ascension into heaven we are told of the early followers of Jesus.

They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers. (Acts 1:14)

She no doubt had a tremendous role in the early church, including the telling of stories that we now read in the Gospel biographies of Jesus in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. She was an eyewitness to His birth, life and death.

One More Appearance?

Mary may appear one final time in the Bible…in Revelation 12. Look it up! It may refer to Mary and/or the People of God and/or Israel and/or the Church.

So What?

May surrendered to her Son. Family is important, but obeying and glorifying God the Father is most important. We are to love our children and honor our parents, but even family can become an idol, a god.

Jesus revealed a new family in which His brothers and sisters and mother are those who do God’s will.

Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:34-35)

Mary is not a perfect example, but a real example of someone who trusted God and surrendered to His will, a real human with a real faith in the real world.

“Do whatever He tells you” is the motto and mantra of Jesus’ family.

For Further Study

The Real Mary by Scot McKnight

You can listen to this message and others at the Scio podcast here. You can also subscribe to our podcast here.