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A reminder

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On a Saturday after a week like this one, its good to remind myself that some in my family of churches still ascribe and have committed themselves to the delicate but hopeful vision of a secular society in which all people no matter their religious affiliations or even lack thereof are treated equally well by the officers of the State.

Baptist Faith and Message — Religious Liberty

God alone is Lord of the conscience, and He has left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are contrary to His Word or not contained in it. Church and state should be separate. The state owes to every church protection and full freedom in the pursuit of its spiritual ends. In providing for such freedom no ecclesiastical group or denomination should be favored by the state more than others. Civil government being ordained of God, it is the duty of Christians to render loyal obedience thereto in all things not contrary to the revealed will of God. The church should not resort to the civil power to carry on its work. The gospel of Christ contemplates spiritual means alone for the pursuit of its ends. The state has no right to impose penalties for religious opinions of any kind. The state has no right to impose taxes for the support of any form of religion. A free church in a free state is the Christian ideal, and this implies the right of free and unhindered access to God on the part of all men, and the right to form and propagate opinions in the sphere of religion without interference by the civil power.

Genesis 1:27; 2:7; Matthew 6:6-7,24; 16:26; 22:21; John 8:36; Acts 4:19-20; Romans 6:1-2; 13:1-7; Galatians 5:1,13; Philippians 3:20; 1 Timothy 2:1-2; James 4:12; 1 Peter 2:12-17; 3:11-17; 4:12-19.

Its what you do next…

conversation - photo credit - David Marcu

Whether its at work, at home, or in your social circle, when you realize that you are the source of another person’s pain, its what you do next that matters. Truly I hate that moment. Most of us who are conscientious hate it too. These are the moments when our self-defence rituals kick in: blaming, shaming, and fear dancing! We don’t want the conflict. We don’t want a share in the pain. We want it to be the other person’s problem. And so if you are at all familiar with that script it probably means you are going to argue with God when He interrupts your worship.

23“So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, 24leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God.  Mathew 5:23-24

When self-justification takes over as our lens for relationships it makes us confident that the real problem is someone else’s problem. “They” have a problem because “they” are wrong, “they” are too sensitive, “they” are too reactive.

But reconciliation is our problem. Jesus wants us to see conflict and pain through the lens of reconciliation not self-justification. When self-justification is our lens for seeing people and conflict then even our worship will be framed by self-justification. We will turn the worship of God into a moment in which we are self-justifying ourselves before Him. We are using God instead of loving God.

That’s why Jesus shows his disciples how God interrupts worship. “So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you… leave… Go… and be reconciled…” Why would we suddenly remember? I believe the Spirit of God calls us into the ministry of reconciliation. The Gospel shows us the King’s Mission of reconciliation and brings us into it. A true worshipper saved by Jesus is going to have moments in which worship is interrupted by Jesus for reconciliation within the realm personal relationships.

This passage is one of the reasons why I think our worship gatherings are meant to be way more dynamic and active than they are!

The good news: obedience to Jesus leads us into new options for relationships. You are not in charge of what the other person does next after you approach them. You are only in charge of what you are “doing next” because God approached you in worship and reminded you of the pain another is experiencing in relation to you.

So what are you going to do when you go to them? Try this:
1. I was meeting up with God and He reminded me of you.
2. I think you may be pained by me in some way.
3. Would you like to let me in on what you are feeling and thinking?
Then wait, listen and respond appropriately.

Some of your possible responses: Agreeing with them. Acknowledging their pain. Sharing in their sorrow. Asking forgiveness. Confessing your own. Granting forgiveness. Making amends. Making restitution. Praying together. Creating new boundaries. Waiting. Worshiping God together through Christ.

Reconciliation is a miracle work through the grace of Jesus and it cannot be rushed, but it must be started when the Spirit of God interrupts your worship. When God interrupts your worship, its what you do next that matters.

Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death. 17He brought this Good News of peace to you Gentiles who were far away from him, and peace to the Jews who were near. 18Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us. Ephesians 2:16-18

Photo Credit: David Marcu

Mourning loss with a crowded heart

evening walk

My heart feels crowded these days. Grief from a distance does that. My heart is occupied with the day to day concerns of the relationships close to me. My local concerns include celebrations, maintenance, and grief. So it  starts to get crowded in here when the headlines cascade with pain.


When that happens I read Lamentations slowly.

14The elders no longer sit in the city gates; the young men no longer dance and sing.

15Joy has left our hearts; our dancing has turned to mourning.

16The garlands have fallen from our heads. Weep for us because we have sinned.

17Our hearts are sick and weary, and our eyes grow dim with tears.

18For Jerusalem is empty and desolate, a place haunted by jackals.

19But LORD, you remain the same forever! Your throne continues from generation to generation.  Lamentations 5:14-19 NLT

 

I know we all get a turn when loss totally occupies the heart. I have had my own days occupied by grief – when death and grief have swallowed up all the space. I have seen in the lives of those close to me how oppressive grief can be. Joy becomes a faint memory. But now for a moment in these days of my local occupation, I need to practice the discipline of “grieving with those who grieve.”

 

My distance from the many cities and tragedies filling the headlines of the news does not leave me immune from the rage. Instead my heart gets crowded with undigested griefs and fears. Its not immediately obvious to me that these are “my people” whether its Cairo, Orlando, or Allepo. However, reflection with the Lord Jesus Christ reminds me that we are all His Creation. The King’s mission of which I am a part always seeks to include His Creatives within the future of His redeemed people.

 

And so I lament.

I lament our distance from the way of holiness.
I lament the violence.
I lament the loss.
I lament the difficulty love requires.
How long O Lord?
I lament the burden of finding answers.
I lament the oppressive fame-seeking germ of Babel making its death march across the planet.
I lament our desperate search for peace.
How long O Lord?
I lament our fear, our shame, our guilt.
I lament the
How long O Lord?

I lament

I lament because I want to pray and to live according to our Father’s heart. People matter to God and His cross interrupts the stupidity of violence. I don’t want a hard, self-righteous, apathetic heart that resists the Spirit of Jesus Christ. I’m convinced that a hard-not-my-people-attitude will take me where I don’t really want us to go.

Restore us, O LORD, and bring us back to you again!

Give us back the joys we once had! Lamentations 5:21

Three aspects of healthy community

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15The Lord God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and watch over it. 16But the Lord God warned him, “You may freely eat the fruit of every tree in the garden—17except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat its fruit, you are sure to die.” Genesis 2:15-17

Before the man in the Garden had fully experienced the joy and delight of human community, God set out for him the necessary framework for healthy community: vocation, permission, and prohibition. I appreciate Walter Brueggeman’s identification of these from God’s instructions to Adam.

Vocation: The Lord God placed the man in the Garden to tend and watch over it.

Permission: You may eat freely of every tree in the garden…

Prohibition: Except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

 

Healthy, life-giving community responds to God by keeping all three of these in tension.

Vocation is meaningful work and purpose. From our rest and relationship with God we discover and live into the callings of work, stewardship, service and contributing.

Permission is freedom, choice, and preference. We give freedom and permission for people and ourselves to discover and partake in the community and this world without condemnation.

Prohibition is the divine establishment of God’s “no” for our good. We maintain a moral boundary to our lives and relationships in which we restrain ourselves and our power in acknowledgement and love of God.

 

Consider these perversions of community

Vocation without permission becomes slavery and legalism.

Permission without prohibition becomes slavery and license.

Prohibition without vocation and permission becomes bondage and despair.

These contraptions of community are toxic and abusive, lacking God’s grace and truth. Each hollows out the soul of a person. Today we live with varying degrees of these depending on the common response to God’s grace and the human conscience. However, in the first human community pictured in the Genesis Two narrative, all three aspects where present for the man and the woman — and in their relationships they were without shame. For a time they lived fully in the gift of God’s “Yes” and “No.”

 

Life outside The Garden with Christ Jesus

Now, we live outside the garden and it seems to take tremendous effort to reestablish vocation, permission and prohibition in our communities. Although I believe the human condition is longing for the fulness of communion with God and each other we are often reluctant and even  resistant to the pathway of love and holiness set before us by Jesus. He is calling us to Himself so we may receive these good gifts through His Spirit today and participate in the redemption of all things. The Gospel changes everything including our response to the needs we posses by design for vocation, permission, and prohibition.

Ephesians 4:17-31 NLT

17With the Lord’s authority I say this: Live no longer as the Gentiles do, for they are hopelessly confused. 18Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against him. 19They have no sense of shame. They live for lustful pleasure and eagerly practice every kind of impurity.

20But that isn’t what you learned about Christ. 21Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, 22throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. 23Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. 24Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.

25So stop telling lies. Let us tell our neighbors the truth, for we are all parts of the same body. 26And “don’t sin by letting anger control you.” Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27for anger gives a foothold to the devil.

28If you are a thief, quit stealing. Instead, use your hands for good hard work, and then give generously to others in need. 29Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.

30And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption.

31Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. 32Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.