Christ’s Love, My Rights, and a Free Society

The Human Problem

Our world is a messy place. The Christian worldview sees the human problem through the lenses of a great catastrophe and a great cost-at-the-cross. The catastrophe ripped humanity from their deep satisfaction found only in the communion of God-Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The by-products of this fellowship were innocence, honour, and trust. But on the other side of the great catastrophe human relationships separate from the communion of God deteriorated into schemes to manage guilt, shame, and fear. (I am indebted to Roland Muller for his work on harmartiology in The Messager, The Message, and The Community.)

The great cost is death and it is ultimately seen at the cross of Jesus Christ as God enters into the catastrophe in fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel. Jesus shared the Father’s will to ignite a spiritual rebirth in the hearts, minds, and souls of people who will gracefully receive His redemption, the forgiveness of sins, accomplished through His body on the cross. Now, the Holy Spirit sent to all who receive Jesus, will give them a new heart and a new spirit.

When I read the news and listen to people affected by violence and the competing pulls on freedom—license and legalism, I try to listen through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Our yearning for honour is satisfied through the death of Jesus Christ. Our cries for justice are  satisfied through the death of Jesus Christ. Our seduction to power is satisfied through the death of Jesus Christ. For at the Cross, we believe, Jesus through weakness becomes the source and object of our faith, hope, and love. And in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, the Heavenly Father validates the life and work of Jesus Christ. Through the resurrection He establishes our hope for His full redemptive work in all Creation.

 

Roman Problems

This hope is tested by complexities of the human heart and the diversity of people. For example,  when Jewish Christians returned to Rome after the Emperor Claudius’ death, they returned to  the fellowship of Gentile Christians in the city. Apparently there where conflicts as some may have felt disrespected and shamed by the Gentiles who had created patterns and circles of comfort that did not consider their needs. Its into this conflict of honour and respect that Paul writes the book of Romans contained in our Scripture. Gentile Christians who had no qualms buying, eating, and serving meat from the local butcher were offending the Jewish Christians who took issue with the source. The local butcher on the corner probably received his meat from the priests of local temples dedicated to the Roman gods. This “meat sacrificed to idols” offended the Jewish Christians. (See Romans 14 and 15.)

Paul writes that as believers under the grace of God in Christ Jesus, they are all free to receive with thanksgiving any meat. But if the “weaker” of faith is offended, the “stronger” of faith out love can choose to go without meat or to seek to satisfy their brothers and sisters who need the care at this point in their journey with Jesus. Love is the capacity to suspend what I want or need in order to meet the needs of another. And on the other side of the problem, when I don’t get what I want, love is nurtured in the community by choosing to forgive the offence.

Such restraint in the fullness of their freedom, is a demonstration of the love of Christ in the fellowship of believers. And it must be said, even as followers of Jesus, redeemed by Him, we do not do “this” easily or even automatically. It might not be automatic for some to accept the pluralism and diversity that Christ allows. It comes with struggle. People long for respect and honour. People long for freedom. These two longings clash when there are competing visions of rightness. The dignity and sanctity of life cherished in the Gospel will be cast aside when offence and the longing for power are mixed in the crucible of greed. Under the cloak of justice people imagine that if they have their way or have their vengeance, things may be set right and people will learn their lessons. That’s a deception.

 

Rights Restrained by Love

The struggle then, is to enter into the love of Christ and extend it to those who believe and even to those who do not believe. What love might constrain me to limit my rights? What love would compel me to lift up those who are alienated in my society? What love would govern me and compel me to enter into the tension of religious liberty for all? Jesus never required His followers to defend His honour or His kingdom with violence. In fact, Jesus teaches us that we are blessed in the face of such opposition to Him, His Gospel, and to righteousness. He says,

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. 10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”  Matthew 5:9-12

Jesus goes on to command His followers to the most extraordinary application of the virtue of love. “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Matthew 5:44 This is so hard, as enemies ultimately believe their world would be better without you.

 

Questions for a Free Society

It is my conviction that the pattern of love in the church can be extended to others. You might be tempted to call it the secularization of love. But the desire to extend this love is actually a fulfilment of God’s promise to Abraham to create a people who will be a blessing to all the nations. Now the church shares the vision of being a blessing to the societies in which it resides.

Our “free” society in the West, is not the starting place for Christian thought. Christ is and the church is our starting place for understanding the leaven of the Kingdom of God. When I get to our “free” society in my thinking I get there with a recognition of our common longings. And its because of the restraints of love in the fellowship of Jesus’ Church, that I see challenges for us all in a pluralistic and “free” society. These questions are not new. But they are always current.

How shall we govern our rights with love?

What posture shall we take in society towards each other as we hold competing systems of truth?

How do we turn enemies into friends?

How do we protect each other from the lawlessness of blood-thirst?
How will we grieve with those who grieve and celebrate with those who rejoice?
How will we include outsiders in such a way that they become insiders?
How do find agreed upon values and a narrative of the future to move towards together?

How do we treat tension and conflict as a good symptom of two or more high quality but competing demands without desiring the annihilation of a people because “they are the problem” or abandoning our most ideal values?

What Leaders Are Looking For

IMG_0267

1You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, 2and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.   2 Timothy 2:1-2

I recently heard that Tilley, the Canadian company that makes a hat that can survive being eaten by a elephant, is looking for a new owner. Its ready to sell. Sadly it seems there is no one there in the company ready to take the helm as the owner. Surely there are people within the organization ready to lead it forward!

Leaders of churches or the teams and small groups within them also have to think about the future and the people who will lead. Multiplying disciple makers is Paul’s mandate to Timothy. These kinds of leaders reproduce themselves no matter the context or type of group they are leading. Paul wants Timothy to focus on finding “faithful” people who will be able to teach others the Gospel life and ministry.

When leaders look around for potential what are they looking for? How do they know when they see potential? I have learned variations of the acrostic FAITH, as a way to identify the reliable, faithful person, with whom I can share my life and leadership. Here’s what I am using:
1. F — Faithful. They fulfill their previous commitments.

2. A — Available. They are available to meet up and to accept responsibilities in this season of their lives.

3. I — Initiative. They take initiative to meet the needs of the organization and people; they take initiative to ask questions.

4. T — Teachable. They are ready and willing to learn from me.

5. H — Heart. They Have IT— a growing, courageous, love for Jesus Christ and people.
So if you are a leader ask yourself:
Am I also demonstrating FAITH?
Who are the FAITH-full men and women around me?
What am I going to ask them to do next?

So if you are a member of an organization ask yourself:
Am I FAITH-full?
What are my growth areas?
How can I move from consuming to contributing?
Have I made myself available and accepted responsibility?

Young and Strong, Part 2

DSC_0336

11Command and teach these things. 12Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. 13Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. 14Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. 15Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. 16Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.  1 Timothy 4:11-16

Sometimes we treat “youth” as an excuse for excess and for sin. So you are young and strong!? These are the days in which your process of digging a deep foundation for your life in the Gospel will open the way for you to lead and serve others. “Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress.”

Paul wants Timothy to continue in his pastoral assignment in Ephesus without succumbing to a “I’m young” or “You are so young” point of view. Leadership under the grace of God is possible even as a young person. So Paul commends Timothy to keep a high view of himself because of the Gospel. Not just a high view of self-respect and self-leadership but also a large view of the character Jesus will reveal through his speech, conduct, love, faith and purity.

Timothy’s authority for leadership would not be his just because he had been given a position. The authority for the Gospel ministry came from the Scripture, so Paul tells him to “devote himself to the public reading of Scripture.” The power of the ministry wasn’t just his own power; it came from the gift of the Holy Spirit recognized and called out in the leadership of the Church. But, it is Timothy’s character being built by Christ that will  ultimately yield the lasting fruit. So, Paul tells this young and strong leader: watch your life and doctrine, for by so doing you save both yourself and your hearers.”

Keep a close watch on your life.  Keep a close watch on the content of your teaching.

God is up to something and I’m speechless.

IMG_8642

18And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” 19And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. 20And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.” 21And the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they were wondering at his delay in the temple. 22And when he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple. And he kept making signs to them and remained mute.  Luke 1:18-22

Zechariah was taking his turn serving in the temple when God sent a message. His wife would have a child who would be the forerunner to the Messiah. It seemed unbelievable to Zechariah. Not the part about the Messiah, but the part about his wife having a baby.

When Zechariah left the seclusion of the temple he was speechless. He knew what God had said; his friends and family knew something had happened to him and perhaps it was from God. But they did not understand him. All he could do was try to communicate with his hands. They did not understand.

Sometimes our attempts to tell others about God’s call on our lives may be like Zechariah’s attempt. God confronts us. We have a new experience. We get a glimpse of what He is doing in the world. And we know we get to be a part of it. And now we want to tell others about it. But nobody understands us. What has been conceived in our lives by God is not yet apparent to others. And perhaps we are not yet really believing God. We lack the simplicity and conviction of speech required to express what God is showing us.

We may need a season of quiet patience, simplicity, and trust. That was the issue for Zechariah. He didn’t yet trust or believe God in the matter of the child. His ten months of silence or speechlessness was a graceful gift. When you are struggling to communicate what God is forming in you and for your organization try something: spend some more time quiet with God ‘till He forms the words in you that resonate.

Live like an exile: Bless the city.

IMG_3107 - Version 2

7But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.
Jeremiah 29:7

The captives from Jerusalem abiding in Babylon might not be blamed for maintaining a self-protective edge. Why should they give themselves wholeheartedly to the success of Nebuchadnezzar and Babylon? Surely they want to get back to Jerusalem as quick as possible. They are longing for home. Wouldn’t it be a kind of betrayal if they pursued good for all of Babylon’s residents?

God has a surprising word for these exiles: Seek the welfare of the city and pray for the city. If the city thrives then they will thrive. God does not want them to isolate themselves nor does He want them to engage only for self-preservation. Rather, God wants them to actively seek the peace, the shalom, the well-being of Babylon.

Like these exiles, the Church of Jesus lives with a promise of what is to come. If we seek the welfare of our city we must nurture a vision of peace and blessing shaped by the presence of Jesus Christ our King. We proclaim Gospel Truth revealing who God is and we radiate His glory through persistent intercession and generous godly labour.