The last year has been one of, if not the most turbulent we’ve experienced in recent history. At the wake of each event or happening people are quick to have their opinions heard. For the most part, I have been silent.
First, I’d like to think that some of the reason is humility, at worst it is a low self-esteem. But however you label it, the thought in my mind is - who would care about my little old opinion? Second, the second reason would probably be some mixture of fear and futility. Even in the last couple of months I have seen Toby and Debbie post things on Facebook that I read as being Christ-like and peacemaking, but others jumped down their throats for those same words. I am not saying I am a coward and trying to hide or shrink back, rather that I believe the current climate in which we live and communicate is one in which not much can be truly conveyed with words written on a screen. It is not just the extreme views of the left or right that will get you praise or get you blasted - if you are neutral you’ll be condemned for not taking a side. Finally, I do not watch the news. Last Wednesday when the riot in DC happened I did not know except that someone texted me about it. There have been natural disasters and other major news that have happened on a Friday or Saturday and I learn about it when someone asks to pray for it on Sunday. It’s just how I am.
That being said, over the years, people I love and respect have reminded me that the ministerial position I hold with the church comes with responsibilities and expectations. Most recently, in unrelated conversations, our good friend Kayley twice said to me, “No communication is communication.”
Honestly, I still can’t shake my first point from above. It is hard for me to think of someone reading a letter or post from me and them saying, “Well if Rob condemns violence, it must be wrong!” Perhaps a fourth reason for not speaking up more regarding current events is that I have a high view of all of you. I believe that you are civil and intelligent and are able to process the news in light of God’s truth. My job is not to do that for you. My job is to help you see Jesus more clearly. My job is to open the Scriptures and help you understand what God is communicating to you, not how to process your twitter feed.
I believe that there is a difference between unity and uniformity. Certain things we have in common and other things we are free to be different. Unity without diversity is not much to be proud of. The church of Jesus Christ is beautiful because those who make up the body have different backgrounds and different experiences. We look different from each other, have different accents, we make different incomes and have different levels and types of education. Yet with all of those differences we come under the head, Jesus Christ and are formed into a functional body.
Last week a group of people pushed through police barriers and unlawfully entered then desecrated one of our federal buildings. Four people lost their lives. Some of you have processed this and determined that these people were justified and fighting for freedom. Others see the event through a different lens and consider the mob to be white- supremacists and what they did was an act of terror. Still others have observed that the offenders, who were mostly white men, were treated with much more leniency than they would have if they had any other skin color.
Here’s my take.
The United States of America is not Christian or unChristian. Laws and lawmakers may influence culture but they don’t dictate it. I shared a video this summer that reminded us that no matter who was President, who had House or Senate majority or who was on the Supreme Court, Roe v Wade has never even come close to being overturned. The places where God’s people are effective in changing abortion statistics are ones where churches and organizations like Carenet actually help and support people. That is just one example.
My Christianity might be easier if laws force all my neighbors to be straight and married if they live together. It’ll make things simpler if rich people were forced to be generous. It would be nice if people didn’t choose alcohol, weed and stronger drugs, but would just put their hope in Jesus. But my Christianity is not dependent on my society being a Christian one. I’m not saying that you are wrong for trying to preserve that, but it is not where I am going to put my energy and certainly not where I’m going to place my hope.
If I could follow the example of the Apostle Paul then every other thing in this world would be rubbish to me outside of knowing Jesus. When Jesus taught, He taught that our hearts and our treasures are intimately connected, with the treasure leading the way. “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” These are concepts we’ve always had a hard time absorbing. Do not forget that Jesus was not just musing, He authoritatively said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal (Matthew 6:19).”
Remember when Jesus was going to be arrested? Peter pulled out a sword and cut someone’s ear off! Do you think he was that excellent of a swordsman that he was aiming to get the ear? I suppose we cannot know that for sure, but what we can know is that Jesus stopped the violent defense of an earthly kingdom.
I grew up singing, and we still sing, “this world is not my home, I’m just a passing through. My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue,” and, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” Here’s one more, “kings and kingdoms will all pass away, but there’s something about that name (Jesus).” I still believe all of those things. Do you?
What should we do?
A long time ago, Joshua was the leader of God’s people and when he was at death’s door he called all of the people together to speak important truths to them. These interactions can be found in full in Joshua 23 & 24.
Here are some “highlights”:
23:6 Be very strong; be careful to obey all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, without turning aside to the right or to the left.
23:7-8 Do not associate with these nations that remain among you; do not invoke the names of their gods or swear by them. You must not serve them or bow down to them. But you are to hold fast to the Lord your God, as you have until now.
Than finally and famously:
24:15 if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
First things first. We all need to choose who we are going to serve. Want to serve Trump or Biden? God is not going to stop you. Want to serve American sports or celebrities? Want to serve yourself and your addictions?
If serving God seems undesirable to you, pick a side.
As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.
That, my friends, is far from a cop-out or a call to inaction. It is a reminder and perhaps a redirection. God doesn’t need our service (Acts 17:25) but invites us to abide with Him, to have His Spirit live in us and continue the work of Jesus. Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth calls us ambassadors and calls the work the, “ministry of reconciliation.” It is, “as though God were making his appeal through us,” (2 Corinthians 5:16-21).
If you and your household are also choosing to serve the Lord, the active, everyday response is to live in such a way to may an appeal to the world to be reconciled to God. We do that by following Jesus and living like He lived. John says this is how our faith is proved! “This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did” (1 John 2:5-6). What did Jesus do? What does that look like for you and me?
For some it might be street evangelism, for another helping a neighbor. To one it could be driving a brother to a doctor’s appointment and to someone else, it might be sending a note card of encouragement. For one person it could mean speaking up for those who cannot speak for themselves and for another it could mean leading a quiet life and minding their own business (see 1 Thess 4:11-12).
There are too many problems in this world and too many broken hearts for us to turn a judgmental eye on the church in regard to which cause to champion. The letters to the churches in the New Testament warn only against those who are idle and disruptive. No one ministry is ever said to have higher value than another.
We recognize that God has uniquely shaped us and placed us to serve with Him. We strive not for uniformity but for unity in our diversity. We are one because we serve the same Lord, are washed by the same blood of Jesus and have the same Spirit within us!
As a church we are not perfect except that Jesus makes us perfect. We rely on God’s grace completely. That grace compels us to act. As ministers and elders we try to find balance in making past wrongs right while also moving into the future that God has marked out for us. We strive to “do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers,” (Galatians 6:10).
Over the past several years we have tried to let people know that they have a voice and that we do not see our positions (or our gender) as reason to “lord over” anyone. We are servants to the Lord and His church. We lay down our lives for you. The church should exist in such a way that all feel welcome and when we meet, all leave encouraged. We also have some initiatives stirring for new and exciting ways to interact with our world, to expand our ministry of reconciliation. These have been slower to develop because of the worldwide pandemic, but the Lord is working and putting pieces in place and I look forward to sharing more opportunities with you all in the months to come.
You are a city on a hill. Let your light shine. Indeed, the darkness hates the light but not because the light is mean, judgmental and cranky - that is no light at all - rather because light exposes darkness. Light also attracts. There is too much darkness in the world right now. Let’s not add to it but break through with the One who is the Light of the World.
Grace and Peace to you all,