I’m Not the Church Lady, But…

Lindsey Stone

The Moral of the Lindsey Stone Story

If you are active on social networks, there is a decent chance you heard the story of Lindsey Stone from people posting notes of complete outrage at something she did. An article from November 21 on BostInno gives a good summary of what happened before and after Lindsey’s not well thought-out actions:

Lindsey Stone, the Plymouth, Massachusetts woman who posted a photo of herself giving the middle finger in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, creating a firestorm of Internet backlash and outrage, lost her job Wednesday.

Stone’s employer, Living Independently Forever, Inc., a non-profit based in Hyannis, announced that both Stone and the co-worker who took the photo were no longer working at the non-profit after thousands of people rallied for the pair to be removed from their jobs, saying what they did was disrespectful and offensive.1

I’ll admit I personally wish that we could be more forgiving about one foolish act, especially since Lindsey and her fellow miscreant were apologetic. The same article included their expression of regret:

[ These are quick sermon notes…not cleaned-up…and missing the “extras” that come out in the audio (which is available here). All quotes are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted. Also, the audio has some technical issues, but may still be listenable. ]

We sincerely apologize for all the pain we have caused by posting the picture we took in Washington DC on Facebook. While posted on a public forum, the picture was intended only for our own amusement. We never meant any disrespect to any of the people nationwide who have served this country and defended our freedom so valiantly…It was meant merely as a visual pun, intending to depict the exact opposite of what the sign said, and had absolutely nothing to do with the location it was taken or the people represented there. We never meant to cause any harm or disrespect to anyone, particularly our men and women in uniform. We realize it was in incredibly poor taste, and are deeply sorry for the offense we have caused.2

The moral of the Lindsey Stone story?

Perhaps a few.

First, contrary to what Lindsey thought, location matters.

Second, more often then not, it is wrong to be disrespectful.

Third, behavior, not intent, matters.

Uzzah and a Stumbling Ox

Lindsey’s experience brought a biblical incident to mind…let’s turn together to 2 Samuel 6:5-7 and quickly read about it:

5 And David and all the house of Israel were celebrating before the LORD, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals. 6 And when they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled. 7 And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzzah, and God struck him down there because of his error, and he died there beside the ark of God.

Although the natural reading of those words leads me to believe that Uzzah was “less” guilty of bad intent than Lindsey and her coworker, notice some things they had in common.

Location matters. Lindsey was at the Tomb of the Unknown soldier; Uzzah was with the Ark of the Covenant

More often than not, it is wrong to be disrespectful. Although Lindsey was trying to be humorous by an ironic action (she called it a “visual pun”), its implicit disrespect of the men and women who died to give her that right meant she had done something horrendous. Uzzah may have just intended to keep the ark from falling, but he knew…or should have known…that he wasn’t allowed to touch it (see Numbers 4:15). Additionally, the Ark wouldn’t have been in that situation if they had been carrying it with poles like they were supposed to (see Exodus 25:14). Uzzah’s action was disrespectful, intentionally or not…and was wrong…and leads us to the third similarity between Lindsey and Uzzah’s mistakes…

Behavior, not intent, matters. Lindsey meant to be funny. Uzzah meant to be helpful. It didn’t matter. Lindsey lost her job. Uzzah lost his life.

Now, before we move on I’d like to say again I wish Lindsey didn’t get fired…although I can understand how that organization might have felt they had no choice after the uproar. I just think social media has led to a bit of a bloodthirsty mob mentality, and stupidity used to be allowed to quietly fade in memory. Google, Bing, other search engines…along cheap digital storage…will make it so Lindsey’s dopey act is never forgotten. How many here have done something equivalently stupid and, but for the grace of God, don’t have it plastered all over the Internet?

Second, the fact God struck down Uzzah does not mean that Uzzah was damned or that God has a short fuse or is not forgiving. My personal guess is that his death was as much for all of Israel (and us) to get the point as it was punishment for Uzzah…perhaps even more for that rebellious nation and us. Thus, we should seriously consider the message from that story and Lindsey’s:

Location matters.

More often than not, it is wrong to be disrespectful.

Behavior, not intent, matters.

Woe Is Me!

Another scriptural narrative that came to mind was I pondered what to say during this sermon was when Isaiah came into the presence of God. We can find that in Isaiah 6:1-5:

6 In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts;

the whole earth is full of his glory!”

4 And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. 5 And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”

When Isaiah saw the Almighty, how did he react? Was he like, “Wow dude! That’s cool! How’s it goin’?”

No, he cried out, “Woe is me! For I am lost!”

Isaiah knew just who he was near…and his fear was respectful. If you continue reading you’ll find that God rewarded that respect with an angel flying over to take away his fright. Quite a different situation than with Uzzah, eh?

What About Jesus?

What about Jesus? I think historically Christianity has considered getting some quality time with God the Father as pretty scary…but how will you react when…by your death or His Second Coming…you first meet up with Jesus? One of my favorite Christians songs, “I Can Only Imagine” by MercyMe, ponders this question. The chorus of the song goes like this:

Surrounded by your glory
What will my heart feel
Will I dance for you Jesus
Or in awe of you be still

Will I stand in your presence
Or to my knees will I fall
Will I sing hallelujah
Will I be able to speak at all

I can only imagine
I can only imagine

What do you think? Will you dance or be still? Stand, or fall to your knees? Sing, or be unable to speak?

Considering the picture the Gospels paint of our Savior, I just can’t imagine feeling any fear toward Jesus, and I could imagine going up to Him, shaking His hand (maybe even hugging him), and thanking Him for all He has done. Jesus is a loving, not a fearful, being to me.

However, in Revelation we have a very interesting story of a believer meeting up with Jesus. Now, this isn’t just any believer…it is held to be John the apostle…who is also felt to be the one referred to as the disciple “Jesus loved” (see John 13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7,20).

Let’s all look together how his reunion with our Lord went:

9 I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet 11 saying, “Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.”

12 Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. 14 The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, 15 his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.

17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, (Revelation 1:9-20)

When John saw Jesus…”one like a son of man”…did he say, “Hey buddy, great to see you! Give me a fist bump!”

No, he “fell to his feet as though dead.”

Perhaps we need to think a bit more about MercyMe’s questions of whether we will dance or be still…whether we stand or fall…whether we will sing or be able to speak at all.

In the Lord’s Presence

I’ll admit it would be fair for someone to argue that with both Isaiah and John, it was the overwhelming nature of each instance that freaked the men of God out…but, does it matter?

Wasn’t Isaiah’s experience reflective of the Father’s glory and John’s of the Son’s glory?

For that matter, isn’t it almost likely that both incidents were with muted glory…for we know nobody can see God’s face and live (see Exodus 33:20). We also know that Jesus masked His glory while here on earth when he “emptied himself” (see Philippians 2:5-8).

The only reason the disciples didn’t hit the deck while Jesus was on earth was because He didn’t show all His power.

And we also know from Matthew 18:20 that “where two or three are gathered in my name, there [Jesus is] among them.”

When we meet here at church for worship…for Bible study…for anything…we are on our Lord’s presence…and we should thoughtfully and carefully consider the stories of Uzzah, Isaiah, and John.

And carefully consider Whose presence we are in as we remember:

Location matters.

More often than not, it is wrong to be disrespectful.

Behavior, not intent, matters.

Your location is with the Lord.

It is wrong to be disrespectful to the Creator of the heavens and the earth…your creator.

Your behavior in church, not your intent, matters.

The Bible Doesn’t…

Although we have learned quite a bit from Scripture in this sermon, at this point in my talk I will have to admit:

  • The Bible does not record a first century church bulletin so we can know exactly how a service should be executed.
  • The Bible does not include a church manual with exact do’s and do not’s for how to behave, what to wear, and so on while worshipping God each Sunday.

It’s clear that any behavior that is wrong outside the doors of church is also wrong inside, but Scripture doesn’t elaborate much on specifically what should and shouldn’t be done during a service. However, it is not silent. For instance this afternoon it would benefit you to take a look at 1 Corinthians chapters 11-14. For now, we’ll just look at 1 Corinthian 14:26-40:

26 What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. 27 If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. 28 But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God. 29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. 30 If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. 31 For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, 32 and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. 33 For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.

As in all the churches of the saints, 34 the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. 35 If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.

36 Or was it from you that the word of God came? Or are you the only ones it has reached? 37 If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. 38 If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized. 39 So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. 40 But all things should be done decently and in order.

The Corinthian church had a bit of a problem with decorum during their worship services, and God inspired Paul to speak up about it for their own good. We could spend significant time dissecting those verses…but I want you to focus on two of them specifically:

For God is not a God of confusion but of peace (verse 33).

But all things should be done decently and in order (verse 40).

It Doesn’t Bother Me

And taking those two statements along with what we learned from Lindsey Stone, Uzzah, Isaiah, and John…I’d like to discuss how we, as a family, behave during our services.

First, however, I should mention that none of what I am about to mention bothers me while I’m preaching up here…or, really, even when I’m sitting in the pew. My brain focuses on stuff…especially when I am preaching…in a way that blocks out commotion happening around me. Like most humans working on a computer or watching TV. 🙂

So I really don’t notice it when kids get up and down during the service.

Or when a child looks back and communicates with their parents, verbally or not.

Or when people show up late. Well, I notice it because I have a birds-eye view of the door into the sanctuary, but it does not bother me…not in the least.

But…

If I am perfectly honest about the effect it has on other people I have to admit…

It can ruin the service for them. We even have had people who don’t attend because the visual and auditory cacophony they have found here in this room.

And, if we are honest with each other, in the presence of the Lord it is sinful because…

Location matters.

More often than not, it is wrong to be disrespectful.

Behavior, not intent, matters.

God is not a God of confusion but of peace.

In church all things should be done decently, and in order.

Now…I have kept my list of church-related “infractions” short…and I think if we, as a body, have an honest, open discussion about how we behave before, during, and after services and Bible study…we’d be surprised by the number of things that we don’t notice (or ignore) that genuinely (and, more importantly, legitimately) bother others in the body of Christ. Things that, if we are 100% truthful, we’ll admit are disrespectful to the presence of our Lord.

So…

So, in the near future let’s take a little time and prayerfully decide as brothers and sisters in Christ what kinds of guidelines we want to establish and then work…as a unified whole…to encourage each other and our kids to follow them. No, I don’t to take a Pharisaical approach with a list of items that goes overboard so as to ensure we don’t mistakenly sin by…say…taking a sip of a coffee during Bible study…but how about rules like this:

  • Go to the bathroom between activities and only get up for it during the service if you really need to.
  • Don’t leave your pew otherwise unless any reasonable person would agree it made sense. Kids, a question for your parents other than “I am dying, may I go to the emergency room please?” is probably not reason enough. 🙂
  • If you need to talk to someone whisper. I mean a real whisper. 🙂 And discreetly.
  • If you want to play with a game, your cell phone, a coloring book, or anything else…well, other than guns :-)…I don’t have a problem with that…but be sure to do it in a way that even the person sitting right next to you wouldn’t be disturbed by it. I know that in today’s modern world of short attention spans and perpetual entertainment portions of services can be painful…I’m just glad you are here. Just don’t do something that will make someone else not want to be here.
  • And speaking of sitting next to someone…children, if you might want to interact with your parents, sit next to them. Otherwise…for everyone during the service…consider a military command:
  • Eyes forward. I’m not saying you have to stare at me the whole time…I wouldn’t wish that on anyone :-)…but generally there is no reason to be looking behind you or all around…so don’t. It has an added benefit of not making someone who does show up late feel bad.

Oh…and when it comes to showing up late. Although I do recommend people do their best to show up at least 5 minutes before service, I would rather have you show up 5 minutes before the sermon is over than not show up at all. Please, please, please don’t ever stay home from church because you are going to be late. It’s always better to answer God’s call late than not at all.

Dog-Pelter

Although I know this talk has gone long…I did want to humorously offer a solution from Antrim’s history that we could modify if folks, especially the youngins, do not learn proper decorum at the Antrim Church of Christ. This little tidbit tickled me when I first read it from Warren Robert Cochrane’s “History of the Town of Antrim, New Hampshire”:

In 1793 the distinguished office of “Dog-Pelter” was instituted in this town, Hon. John Duncan, Samuel Dinsmore, James McAllister, and Dea. Joseph Boyd being elected to that responsible position. The duty of this officer was to sit near the door with a cudgel, and lay it on to every dog which attempted to enter the church. Sometimes these officers were armed with a long staff having an iron point, or hook, at the end, to be used in sever cases. It is related that one dog-pelter struck the hook into the back of a rebellious cur, and swung him, howling, over his shoulder. This would be very interesting to the audience and helpful to religion, of course. An occasional wake-up in the process of a two-hour sermon would certainly have its uses. (Page 80)3

Quick side note. You think my sermons are long? Two hours! Nobody is allowed to complain every again! 🙂

Either way, a little later it continued:

Dogs were plenty, every farmer having one or more. They made considerable disturbance in church, with a dog-fight in the aisles at any time possible, and various uncleanly demonstrations at the corners of the pews. (Page 80-81)4

Now, luckily we don’t have dogs making “various uncleanly demonstration at the corners of the pews”…but I suspect there are times some attendees might wish we had some “human-pelters” when they are disturbed by non-worship behavior within these four walls. 🙂

And we don’t need to take a Dana Carvey Saturday Night Live Church Lady approach and come off like a bunch of prudes when it comes to freedom to worship the way we want; to welcome anyone who walks through these doors even if they are not as aware of proper church decorum as we are; and accepting…and thanking God for…the fact that we are blessed by a bunch of children who, no matter how respectful, are going to make some noise here-and-there.

Not to mention, the rest of us are a pretty motley crew too, aren’t we? 🙂

However, in closing, let’s not for a moment forget that we Christians sitting (and standing here) “…are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that [we] may proclaim the excellencies of him who called [us] out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).

Let’s act like it, because…

Location matters.

More often than not, it is wrong to be disrespectful.

Behavior, not intent, matters.

God is not a God of confusion but of peace.

In church all things should be done decently, and in order.

Footnotes

1Annear, S. (2012, November 21). Lindsey Stone: Woman Fired From Job After Posting “Offensive” Photo to Facebook Page. BostInno. Retrieved December 1, 2012, from http://bostinno.com/2012/11/21/lindsey-stone-fired-for-facebook-photo/ (The image in this sermon is also from the BostInno article, although I blurred her hand.)

2Ibid.

3Cochrane, W. (n.d.). History of the Town of Antrim, New Hampshire: From Its Earliest Settlement … Google Books. Retrieved December 1, 2012, from here

4Ibid.


Follow Traditores

Your thoughts?