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.
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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/
Pastor J-M shares some occasional thoughts and musings on our life together as followers of Christ. The views are his own.