If you follow US news, you’ll be familiar with the happenings in Ferguson, Missouri, a normally sleepy suburb of St. Louis. It is there where a police officer shot a man following an apparent scuffle. Seems innocuous enough until you fill in some details. The shooting officer was white while the young man who was killed was black and apparently had his hands in the air while being shot.
Protests have been going on for the better part of two weeks which have been focused on the injustice done presumably because of the young man’s race. The protesting group, which is largely black, is outraged that the white police officer could get away with killing this young man. Racial tension has been the common theme when discussing the events that occurred in Ferguson, in large part because that is still a real issue in America (something Canadians can’t fully understand or appreciate). The focus on race is really a focus on the visible things that separate us. Each of us consciously or unconsciously focus on the things that unite and divide us. You more readily gather with like-minded people, you start a conversation with someone when you notice they have the same shirt as you, or you acknowledge that guy driving down the road in the same car that you have.
We find comfort in being surrounded by people who are like us, there is a built in sense of trust when you encounter someone who looks, thinks, talks or acts similar to you. Experience tells us this happens all the time, science supports this gathering of like things, and Scripture points to this as well. When we open the book of Genesis we see that once there was openness and commonality within human relationships which didn’t last long. Soon sin, which is a fancy word for separation, entered the scene and people became divided. Wars were fought between people groups and dividing lines were drawn around food, traditions, appearances, and the like. With sin came a division of people.
One place in Genesis where people were working together was the building of the Tower of Babel. In this instance, unity of the people was not to be celebrated because they were not working together to further their relationship with the One who mattered, God their Creator, but to make their own name great. As a result, God divided the people into different language groups so that they could no longer understand each other.
When we think about the issues of life that seem to be as simple (in actuality as complex) as the colour of our skin, or the different language we speak, we need to remember the deeper reason for the divide. It is a direct result of our disobedience, our deciding we want to live our own lives as we see fit apart from God. There is much more at play than (simply) race in the events unfolding in Ferguson. Ferguson is just a reminder of the bigger problem in our world, separation from God which leads to brokenness of relationship and separation from other humans. It would be nice if there was an easy way to fix the systemic brokenness in the world, to heal the hurts of our differences. Apart from Jesus and His coming again to re-create the world, everything else will just be a Band-Aid solution.
Photo: Used under Creative Commons License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/ No changes made. Image link: https://www.flickr.com/photos/notionscapital/14918918396/in/photostream/
We in the church are pretty good at the ‘soft sell,’ the advertising approach that presents an easy and friendly message in the hope you’ll respond and buy something.
“Grace is free! Come and get it!”
“You’re welcome here and we’ll make no demands on your life.”
“Come as you are to meet new people and get great coffee.”
The church has mastered the soft sell. All the lines are memorized and put out there, just waiting for someone to come along and find us irresistibly cozy and non-demanding. “We want you, no strings attached.” But look around, how is this approach working? We thought that all we had to do was say the things everyone wanted to hear and they would come streaming in our doors.
The fact of the matter is we like to emphasise the privilege of the Gospel without mentioning the responsibility of the Gospel. We emphasise God’s free gift of Jesus Christ for all who believe (which is good and important) but hardly make mention of the fact that we are to be sent out to make more disciples. What results is the misconception that all I have to do is make an intellectual consent to Jesus once in my life and I am automatically heaven bound.
But Christianity is harder than we make it out to be. Absolutely we need to be about the free gift of Jesus for anyone who trusts in him. But that is not where the message is meant to stop. Jesus didn’t just gather a group of people around himself, waited for them to say “I trust you” and then leave them. No! He discipled them, mentored them, shared life with them, and yes, even challenged how they were living and thinking.
We are caught up in making a mental decision for Christ that we aren’t fulfilling the Gospel commission to make disciples, to follow Jesus with our whole lives.
This is the part that the church has been weak on for a long time. We are caught up in making a mental decision for Christ that we aren’t fulfilling the Gospel commission to make disciples, to follow Jesus with our whole lives. We aren't walking with each other, mentoring each other, or challenging each other onward to a Christ-centred life. We’re content to leave people as they are as long as they’ve said ‘yes’ to Jesus. But thanks be to God that Jesus isn’t content to leave us as we are as long as we’ve said ‘yes’ to Jesus. He desires so much more for our lives that we would have an abundant and joyful life with Him even if it doesn’t look like we think it should.
The truth is following Jesus is harder than we make it seem. Everyone in the church (and outside of the church) struggles, has doubts or questions. Can’t we just be truthful and say that Jesus wants more from us than merely a part of our minds, that He wants (and demands) our whole lives? It’s not a popular message, it won’t always make people feel good about themselves, but it is the message that you, I, and the whole world needs to hear. Jesus wants all of you, even all the way to giving up your life for His sake.
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” Matt. 16:24-25
Picture: Public Domain, CC0. Text added. Website: http://pixabay.com/en/couch-sofa-settee-furniture-blue-147558/
On Sunday, the Mission Minute featured the Voice of the Martyrs, an organization which is dedicated to helping the persecuted church around the world and to bringing the stories of the persecuted church to an insulated North American church. It is easy to feel disconnected from events that are happening around the world and yet it is important that we are aware of what’s going on and not think of it as something irrelevant for our daily lives.
The beauty of the Christian church is that we are all in mission together (even though with the disunity and in-fighting within the church it may not always seem that way). We all have a common conviction and are devoting our lives to the one Lord Jesus Christ; that is why we speak the words of the Apostles’ or Nicene Creed every Sunday. Those ancient words keep us accountable for our words and actions and they connect us to the church through time and space. Christians all over the world speak these same words as a reminder of why they gather. We are united with our brothers and sisters across the world in our common belief.
It is also important to pay attention to the persecuted church around the world because it may not be too long until we experience persecution. We like to think that we are already experiencing persecution (and to a certain extent we are seeing mild persecution on the rise) but it is nothing in comparison to what others around the world are experiencing and likely what we might experience in the years to come.
So what can you do? Here are three practical ways to be engaged:
1. Read and follow organizations dedicated to the persecuted church around the world. A great resource is the Voice of the Martyrs (www.persecution.net). Also, I shared a link (http://frrme.org/) earlier in the week about the work of the Bishop of Baghdad Canon Andrew White. You can check out his blog and one of the organizations that are supporting the Christian church in Iraq.
2. Pray for fellow brothers & sisters around the world who are giving up their lives, their families, their security, and all they own for the sake of Jesus Christ. Ask for God’s protection, strength, and encouragement as they stand for their belief.
3. Watch that we don’t get complacent with the Gospel and the rights/freedoms we have to meet and share the Goodnews of Jesus. Take advantage of the opportunities we have to share Jesus with those around us. Commit yourself to be a student of the Word that you will not be deceived or convinced to compromise on the whole truth of the Gospel.
Above picture from: http://frrme.org/what-we-do/st-georges-church-baghdad/life-at-st-georges/
In just a few short weeks my family will be taking a couple weeks of holidays going to beautiful British Columbia. I am really looking forward to this time of seeing family and friends and just being about to have some time away. It is not that I don't like to work in fact, I love what I do and the people I get to spend time with. It is just that as much as we have been programmed to work, we've also been programmed to rest (see Genesis 1-2). Some times, the resting part comes easy like looking ahead to vacation time or counting down the days until retirement.
But more often than not, working is what comes more readily to us. We like the idea of rest but we feel compelled to work. I don't think it is uncommon for many of us to work 50-60 hours a week without even knowing it (I am guilty of this on occasion). The mentality of society says that we have to keep going, keep keeping up with everyone else around us and the only way to do that is by spending more time working. I would argue that we are being conditioned to work 24/7 especially now that we can carry our work in our pockets wherever we go (who's not guilty of checking a work email just before you crawl into bed?).
Unfortunately, this working mentality has made its way into the church. The most obvious way it presents itself is in the amount of time we have to give to Jesus. Where we once were able to give a couple nights a week to church activities, we are now find it hard to give an hour (and only an hour!) to the Lord on Sunday mornings. The bigger issue might be the mentality of working that has crept into our churches. We have bought into the notion that we always have to be doing something--there's always more work to be done (and in some ways, this is true). But this expresses itself in the push for new programs, new ways of doing the service, always doing something to try to attract more people.
This push to keep doing is leading us all to fatigue. The few that are very active in the church are stretched to capacity while those who are not very active think they can't possible measure up. We have fallen into the trap of a works based religion. We tell ourselves (usually subconsciously) that if we aren't actively sharing/talking about Jesus every minute of every day then we are failing; if we aren't doing all that we can to build/save the church then we are not worthy followers of Jesus
We have fallen into the trap of a works based religion.
But the good news is that is not what the church is supposed to be about! Sure, in Matthew 28 Jesus tells his disciples to Go and make disciples... we always focus on the verbs in that verse which make it sound like the mission is up to us. When we make that our focus we forget that Jesus declared that he has all authority in heaven and on earth and that he will be with us always (in the person of the Holy Spirit pointing us to Christ). It is not up to us to convert the world or to fill the church. It is the Holy Spirit's job to call the world to Christ using His hands and feet- the body of Christ, the church. The assurance is in the power authority of Jesus as expressed in the Spirit who sustains the church and keeps it focused on Jesus Christ.
Instead of striving and working to try to 'save the church' simply listen (which requires we put the work aside for a time). Listen for the voice of God through the Holy Spirit and be ready to move where He leads.
Image: Public Domain: CC0 http://pixabay.com/en/man-person-business-businessman-319286/
Pastor J-M shares some occasional thoughts and musings on our life together as followers of Christ. The views are his own.