Another Thanksgiving has passed. I hope yours was as nice as mine. Our group was small, our food was good, our fellowship was great. Much of the reason we had such a nice party is that we had no poopers. There was no #MAGA hat wearing Uncle Bob mocking Antifa cousin Zoe because ze had to lift zer bandana every time ze took a bite of mashed potatoes. There was no Aunt Peggy to walk around offended because the kids didn’t want to wear the Pilgrim ponchos she had macramed for them. There was no know-it-all brother-in-law Todd who cornered everyone at least once with a twelve-point treatise on his Castro-moon-landing-Bay-of-Pigs-Gambino-Khrushchev-Johnson-Oswald-Ruby-Sinatra-Selassie-Ford-Motors-Bilderberg-John-Birch-Colonel-Sanders theory of the Kennedy assassination. And, best of all, there was no Mr. Yeah-But.
There are few people who can poop a party like Mr. Yeah-But. He’s the guy who, when everyone else is celebrating some exciting news, jumps in with his downer – or, as he calls it, his dose of reality.
“Hey, the Broncos won on Sunday, and Drew Lock actually looked pretty good!”
“Yeah, but their front office is still a mess and they really should just lose-out to get a better draft pick.”
“Hey, did you see the way Melania had the White House decorated? It’s beautiful!”
“Yeah, but it was so formal. Where’s the joy? Where’s the whimsy?”
“Hey, did you see the prison service that Kanye had a couple weeks ago? Wasn’t it awesome?”
“Yeah, but he performed at Joel Osteen’s church. Besides, we need to give it some time to see if his conversion is real.”
I was reading in Acts this morning. Paul and Barnabas had just returned from their first missionary journey, and they were pumped. “And when they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. And they remained no little time with the disciples.” (Acts 14:27-28) First of all, notice the wording. They had just traveled hundreds and hundreds of miles, spending months out on the road preaching the Word. They were mocked and attacked, and Paul was stoned nearly to death. But, because of their effort, people had gotten saved. And who did they give credit to? Luke wrote “…they declared all that God had done with them.” In other words, they took no credit. God did all the work. It was all His plan. They were just His servants, willing and ready to be used by Him. What an awesome perspective!
So, they got back to Antioch. They told the folks what happened, and they all partied like it was 1999. Then, in the very next verse, the poopers arrived. How do we know? The verse starts with the word “But”. That word inserted here means, “Okay, stop the party. It’s time for a dose of reality.”
“But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.’” (Acts 15:1) Open door to party – insert wet blanket. Paul and Barnabas immediately came up against them, and it turned into such a big kerfuffle that a council was convened in Jerusalem. Not surprisingly, after Peter and Paul and James, the brother of Jesus, all gave their opinions, the decision was made to hang the wet blankets out to dry and to write a letter to all the Gentiles in the Church. In that letter, they told them, “Hey guys, welcome to the family. You know the party poopers? They weren’t ours. Just ignore what they said. Keep doing what you’re doing, only make sure you’re not sleeping around or eating idol-blessed foods. TTFN.” (Acts 15:23-29 – very loosely translated)
The Church has developed this same reputation as the Yeah-But folk. We often go around condemning the world and other Christians according to a standard that Peter at the Jerusalem Council said “neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear”. (Acts 15:10) In other words, we hold everyone else to a higher standard than we even hold ourselves, and we are quick to judge their failures and to rationalize away our own. With that kind of attitude, it is inevitable that we become separated from the world.
Some may say, “Uh, Steve, aren’t we supposed to be separated from the world?” Yes…and no. When we use the word “world” in a biblical context, it typically carries one or more of these three definitions – the actions of the world, the mindset of the world, and the people of the world. It’s the first two that we are to avoid – the sinful actions and the self-oriented mindset. However, because of the self-righteous, yeah-but way that we often do this, the Church ends up separating from the third definition – the people. This must not happen.
This world is the water that we have to swim in and our water has gotten pretty polluted. We have the option of hiding out in the relatively clean water of our churches, safe from running into the trash and the sewage and the apparently glacier-sized masses of floating plastic straws. But if we do, then what good are we?
Even though Jesus never actually said to be “In the world but not of the world”, that’s still a key part of the message of John 17:15-19. Our role as ambassadors of Christ means that we’ve got to swim in the dirty waters, because that’s where the rest of the fish are. When we do that, it’s likely we’re going to hear swearing and people taking the Lord’s name in vain; we’ll see sights we don’t want to see; we’ll be tempted by sins that will test our spiritual strength. If we start overturning tables and making whips out of cords every time someone drops an f-bomb or tells a dirty joke in our vicinity, we will quickly be shoved aside as another church hypocrite who doesn’t live up to their own standards.
That doesn’t mean that we join in the sin. We don’t start swearing and upping our alcohol quota in order to fit in. Instead, we live as bright, clean, beautiful fish in a dirty ocean. We let the sin-caked fish around us see that there is a better way to live – one with hope and joy and peace and meaning. We swim with them and love them and accept them as they are, trusting that God can transform them into who He created them to be. And when we start getting a little of the sewage gelling around our gills, that’s what the clean waters of the Church are for. We swim back in, get cleaned up, and get refreshed so that we can swim back out to our mission field.
All that to say, don’t be the Yeah-But person. You may think you’re being a realist – you’re really just being a bummer. That may be okay with your family – they have to love you. But when you take that attitude out into the world, you’re just going to be that grumpy Christian who is always ready to tell everyone else why life is not as good as it seems. Let the ocean you swim in be half-full rather than half-empty. You’ll be amazed at the fish you may catch.