It is difficult to imagine that four years ago I left Richmond, Virginia. I had one last Thanksgiving meal with some of the saints there, packed the car up that Saturday and prepared to venture towards the Midwest again. While I grew up in the Midwest, Iowa was somewhere I had never been before. Even living as close as I did to the state most of my life, I had many preconceived ideas about the state of Iowa. Like most Americans, I believed the state was exceptionally flat. I knew that there was a lot of corn and a lot of pigs in Iowa. I knew the churches here in Iowa were typically small in size and few in number. As far as the church in Grinnell was concerned, I only had my first impressions to go upon. Something I learned several years ago is that first impressions can be deceiving. I have worked with churches that appeared to be trouble churches that turned out to be a great group to work with, and I have worked with churches that seemed to be the perfect fit only to find out there were massive issues hiding under the surface. So, as I trekked across this great country towards many relative unknowns I was quite a bit nervous.
In my adult life I have not really laid down any roots. Dawn and I lived in Rantoul for 6 months before moving to Mattoon, IL to work with the saints there. After almost three years, we moved to Kennett, MO. We worked with the saints there for 2.5 years and then moved to Richmond, VA were we lived in two different homes in 23 months. (You know you move to much when after a year here your children look at you and ask if it is time to move again.) To be brutally honest, I came here skeptical. I thought I might stay for a couple of years and begin looking somewhere else; after all that is what I have been doing.
Little did I know that a brief stop in Iowa would turn out to be nothing that I was expecting. Sure, I moved shortly after arriving. But, my move was for the purpose of setting more permanent roots. I have seen a church that has been quite active in getting their friends, family, neighbors, etc in the building not just for gospel meetings but for “normal” worship times. I have seen a church that one more than one occasion nearly had 30 visitors for a single meeting. I have seen a congregation that has impressed not just this preacher, but other preachers that have come here for meetings. So much so that they have pushed their own churches to help support the work here in Grinnell. (and for that I am thankful for them, and for you). What you reminded me was that I should never judge a book by its cover.
Christ warns us of such behavior in Matt. 5-7. The Sermon on the Mount is filled with many wonderful lessons. The chief of which is that we are supposed to surpass the righteousness of the Pharisees. This is no easy task, or at least it seemed to be no easy task, for the 1st century Jew. How can their righteousness surpass that which was symbolic of righteous living? To put things into perspective, that would be like a business guru teaching a class and telling the students that if they hope to be a success in the business world that would have to be more success than the likes of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. If we were sitting in on that class we likely would get up and leave exasperated because we were just given an impossible task. Likewise, I could see many Jews upon the mountain that day exasperated at Jesus’ charge for them to be more righteous than the Pharisees. Jesus then goes on to expose the Pharisees for what they really were. They were a people who wanted the approval of men. They looked righteous because that was their goal. That was their intent. And they were good at it. People noticed them praying at every hour of prayer. People noticed every time they were giving unto others. People noticed because they planned it that way. Conversely, Jesus ran into numerous people that appeared to be unrighteous but were quite the opposite. The Pharisees took great offense to the fact that Jesus spent time with tax collectors and sinners. While I am not saying that the sinners were righteous, the Pharisees perceived them as not worth the time to help. And for that they often drew criticism from Christ.
I guess I write this because I know how easy it is to judge a book by its cover. With the new year right around the corner I would like to encourage you to out aside all prejudices. No longer look at what a person might say to the gospel message, no longer predetermine whether or not a person is worth your effort to share the gospel. Do not think because the person does not look like you when you look in a mirror that you shouldn’t associate with them. With 2014, and our 5th year together, I would like to encourage you to invite those you wouldn’t normally have invited to services. Reach out into those that are nothing like you. Teach those that are desperately lost in sin.
Grinnell church of Christ
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Don't Judge a Book by It's Cover
Volume 4 Issue 50