November 2, 2012 § Leave a comment
We may joyfully believe that there was, that there is, one to whom no human suffering and no human sin is strange, and who in the profoundest love has achieved our redemption. It is such joy in Christ, the Redeemer, that alone protects us from the dulling of our senses by the constant experience of human suffering and also from accepting as inevitable the suffering in the spirit of resignation.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letter to the Brethren at Finkenwalde, 1942
This week, sitting in Starbucks was more than about burrowing in my preferred writing spot. It was also due to the fact that our office was closed and without electricity since Monday, when Hurricane Sandy hit Maryland. Only late yesterday power restored. Fortunately our Staff found creative ways to meet, study and work in spite of the circumstances.
We got off easy. The devastating consequences of Sandy’s wrath in states like New Jersey and New York will yield decades of aftereffects and sorrow. Loss of life has been high, and is climbing. Homes were demolished and entire communities obliterated by water, wind and fire. The sorrow that comes through in news stories and interviews is almost too much for Katherine and I to bear.
Having lived through hurricanes, and having experienced two historic floods in Mississippi during college and grad-school years, I can tell you that there is nothing romantic about going through something like this. Jobs will be lost. Lives will be altered. Families will walk away from their homes, never to return. Relationships will be tested to the brink. Opportunists will exploit desperate people. The world many know will never be the same.
When Hurricane Andrew demolished much of the southern hemisphere of Miami in 1991, a friend (and one of my models for leadership), Ray Goode, the one-time City Manager, along with another city leader, decided to launch a campaign called, ‘We Will Rebuild.’ They rightly resolved that the city was worth restoring, and so as he dealt with the devastation on his own block, Ray led Miami in an effort that was nothing short of Herculean.
Relief is more than a physical dynamic. It is a resolve. And it is something that doesn’t happen effectively in a vacuum and without a larger community of people committed to something greater than themselves. The most enduring and effective relief efforts happen when broken people recognize their own condition in the lives and events of others, and then act on them – together.
A long time ago I discovered something about Jesus that I might not have guessed in my ‘neat’ and ‘responsible’ universe. As you follow Him, and observe how He is constantly confronted by the pathos of people who bear the effects of a fallen world, you discover that He only ever offers relief. What I mean is that He doesn’t ask how something happened, never ascribes blame, and makes no demands – He simply relieves burdens. His response to brokenness is never conditional.
Because the crazy thing is that Brokenness is Jesus’ point of connection with humanity – it is the singular reason for His entrance into our world.
And He wasn’t merely exhibiting His saving power, which would be enough. He was also demonstrating what the Church is called to, and how effective she could be by merely entering into and serving the very broken world Jesus came to save.
Here is the thing: We are connected. All of us. When one person is cut, we all bleed. When one suffers, we grieve together. When a city lies in ruins, we are reacquainted with the reality of our shared condition.
And when there is renewal, as one, we all have cause to celebrate. So we find connection in our shared brokenness. And in relief, together we taste of and share in the good mission of the One who is making all things new.
This is our good news.
If you are looking to help, you can do so directly. Here are two sister church communities that will bring relief where they serve:
1. Brooklyn Presbyterian Church (a community of several congregations):
Brooklyn Presbyterian Church – Mercy Team (make your check payable to this line as well)
174 Prospect Park West
#1L Brooklyn, NY 11215
2. Redeemer Presbyterian Church – Hope for New York
September 22, 2012 § 1 Comment
James K.A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom
This week I was struck by an unexpected dynamic that has swelled in our region. There is a thrill in the air in Baltimore. For the first time in 15 years, the Orioles, Baltimore’s Major League Baseball team is in the Pennant race. You need to know that this does something good to a city and region. The Orioles have captured the hearts and imaginations of the region. And let me tell you, there is nothing more fulfilling than hating the Yankees, as a community!
Last week we took our church staff to an Orioles game – a day game. Here we were, at the threshold of the city, a magnificent day, and in the most beautiful baseball stadium in country (Cambden Yards is unmatched in beauty, design and character), and tens of thousands came to share in the passion.
Following the game (a victorious fourteen-inning thriller) elated fans exited the park, slapping hands, shouting, ‘Go O’s!’ and feeling part of something greater than themselves.
The thing is that we were not designed to be alone. We are pack animals. Or put more tastefully, we were created to live in relationship. And we most thrive when we do. That was the core damage of the fall in the Garden. Relationships were severed. Two people designed to live in God’s presence chose to hide – from Him, and from one another.
It doesn’t have to be marriage, though that is a good thing. And we don’t have to be members of the same church (but if you’re looking, I know a great one you can consider). That isn’t the point.
The point is that to be alienated is to swim against the current of our intended state of being. To live outside of community is to short-circuit something within that makes us truly human. Remember? ‘It is not good for man to be alone’ – Genesis 2:18.
Yet ibeside us, then it only seems to follow that we have every reason to build impenetrable walls of protection around ourselves. Why risk further injury?
There’s no getting around it – We were created for relationship – with God and with other unfinished ones like ourselves – people who, like us, have been ‘damaged by the fall.’ And I suspect that in our most honest of moments, each would admit that, past the self-protective layers of rhetoric and isolation, we long to be loved and embraced. We long for someone who cares enough to break through. Because we know that our yearnings are deeper than our facades of resistance.
I love how the writer of Hebrews captures this relational need in the first two verses of his twelfth chapter. There is no ‘me’ in it. It is about ‘we’ being surrounded by that ‘great cloud of witnesses.’ It is about ‘us’ running ‘with perseverance.’ It is ‘a race marked out for us.’ And together we ‘fix our eyes on Jesus.’
Sometimes the Church can be so concerned with personal holiness that it breeds an oppressed community of terrified, isolated individuals who are made to feel like spiritual failures for saying, ‘I can’t do it on my own.’ Why wouldn’t people hide from that?
Well you need to know something: I can’t do it on my own.
And neither can you.
Let’s get over it. Together.
Because at the heart of our Faith is Jesus.
We need Him. Together.
That’s really good news.
September 8, 2012 § 2 Comments
Through the years, if you asked my parents which gift they most regretted buying me, they would respond that it was the watches they giftwrapped. Back in the 60’s and 70’s, for a while my timepiece was enveloped in one of those embarrassingly wide leather bands. However, growing up I lost nearly every watch I had been given. My parents finally wised up and realized that I didn’t like being bound by time, because mysteriously (though not purposely) each watch would disappear.
That isn’t the case now. I wear my watch (also a gift) nearly every waking hour.
I think there is something in all of us that resists constraint. We don’t like being told that something we can or want to do, is forbidden.
But there is no such thing as life without limits. We know this instinctively, though we fight it relentlessly.
We teach this to our toddlers when they are convinced that running fearlessly into the street is safe. We bank on this when a teller receives our personal ID numbers at the bank, and when we type in our PIN number at the grocery store in front of the cashier.
Hey, it will always fly politically to say that a person has the ability to call their own shots, and control their own destinies, even their bodies. But as Christ-followers, this isn’t our metric.
The gospel is.
And the gospel liberates us, not by oppressive, unbiblical restraints often imposed by insecure churches and Christians, but by Jesus, who modeled self-sacrifice.
So we may have the right to trash our enemy, but as Christ-followers, we’re not allowed to.
We may have the power to respond to offense with offense, but Jesus modeled love against His aggressors.
We may have the authority to run our offices with tyrannical indifference, but Jesus demonstrated humility.
We can call our money, our bodies, our lifestyles and our ‘stuff’ our own, but the gospel says that we don’t belong to ourselves.
Paul discovered this in his inability to overcome some nagging sin or malady in his life, only to be told by God that it would be His (God’s) grace that would satisfy, and not Paul’s ability to self-perfect (1 Corinthians12:9).
Paul’s problem is our problem – He hated his own deficiencies and limitations. In his warped version of faith he would be good enough to live independently of God’s grace. And I have learned that my own resistance to human limitation is less about justice and more an angry protest against God, an exercise that always reduces my world to a population of one (me).
And it is exhausting!
Here is the real question: Do you really want to spend an entire lifetime striving to obtain your own independence from God? Because that is what this is really about.
Or will you simply rest and trust Him with who you are, believing that He loves you more than you hate your own limitations and deficiencies, and any other constraint this fallen world brings?
Friends, I don’t want to fight. I want to live. And this means that I need to admit that an unrestrained life doesn’t fill the vacuum – God does. And the wildly crazy thing is that at the moment we acknowledge this, we actually are free!
So my choice is simple: Either I fight for an unrestrained freedom I will never obtain in this lifetime, and wouldn’t enjoy if I did, or I am liberated to rest in the fact that whatever constraints I may have, are swallowed, not by self-destructive permissiveness, or angry defiance, but by the Father’s unrestrained grace.
And liberated from self, I am free to enjoy a much simpler version of myself and enter into the lives of others. How sweet is that?
This is good news.
August 18, 2012 § Leave a comment
Last evening we saw Sylvester Stallone’s latest movie, The Expendables 2. Along with Stallone the lead actors are in their 50’s and 60’s. It is one of a growing genre of movies intended to appeal to people who aren’t ready for their favorite action movie stars to quite yet ride off into the sunset. I love those guys, but must admit that they are getting a little wrinkled around the edges (and other not-so-good stuff in the middle too).
This week we are in Tallahassee, FL moving one of our daughters in as she begins a new college year. Our older daughter, who goes to school in Pensacola, joined us.
By way of complete transparency and in the spirit of true disclosure, Katherine thought it to be an utterly ridiculous flick (though I caught her laughing a few times). And it is only fair to divulge that a young man we have known since infancy accompanied us, and commented that you could tell that an old man wrote the story.
Can you really tell that?
Undeterred, I on the other hand, loved it. Thoroughly. It is a shoot-em-up, funny, satirical movie that incorporates a host of bygone actors who once dominated the action movie scene.
Our daughters enjoyed the action, the subtle and overt humor (references to Die Hard, The Terminator and other similar movies whose stars had roles in this one), but they only went because the old man wanted to see it, and the old-ness of the heroes and story weren’t lost on them.
In 1976, when I was 17, four of us saw the original Rocky after realizing we would be late to King Kong, the movie we had intended for our double date. I never did see that movie, but I took my best friend and two other dates to see Rocky after on three different occasions, and have since seen every sequel. Sadly, they didn’t measure up until the final installment, Rocky Balboa, which was quite good. The photo in this post is from the iconic penultimate scene in the first movie where a formerly out-of-shape, unrated boxer has been transformed into a fighting machine that is able to bound up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art with ease to the tune of Gonna Fly Now, that unforgettable movie theme.
As we sat in that theater last evening, it struck me that by humoring their father in going to a movie they wouldn’t ordinarily be caught dead at, our children had entered into a story that began when I was younger than they are today.
It is easy to miss this. We are not only unfinished because we aren’t yet home, but also because our own stories find some continuing measure of fulfillment as others enter into them, and we into theirs.
We weren’t created to live in isolation. From the moment of God’s pronouncement in the Garden, it has never been ‘good’ for us ‘to be alone’ (Genesis 2:18). We are all designed with the need to connect.
Painful experiences and damaged relationships have a way of driving us into isolation, but the gospel is a reconciling force that draws us back towards community, into the company of others.
And while it is tempting to quarantine ourselves from the more uncomfortable and untidy elements that others write into the narrative that is our lives, we are the better when we enjoy the messiness of human contact than the sterility of seclusion.
I don’t mind saying that I have grown old with Rocky. But last night it hit me that for a few hours, together, as we watched Sylvester Stallone pretend to be able to do things no 66-year-old can actually do (well, at least this 54-year-old can’t), and as we laughed at the stars’ own self-deprecating humor, we had entered into one another’s lives.
And this strikes at the heart of what Jesus did in reconciling us to the Father. He simply entered.
What good news.
Yo, Katherine. The movie was worth it…
August 11, 2012 § 1 Comment
C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock
It seems that much of the public discourse on any number of issues is driven by what we determine Jesus to be in our own minds. I think this is because our tendency is to shape Him – and His views – out of our own contexts. And let’s face it, we can make Him to appear amazingly like ourselves!
There was a moment in Jesus’ ministry when He inquired of His disciples as to their understanding of who exactly He was. As they rehearsed a whole host of outside opinions regarding His identity, He asked who they said He was. Peter, ever the first to speak and act, declared Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of the Living God (Matthew 16). For Peter and the other disciples, Jesus was no longer who they desired Him to be, but who He actually was. This was their turning point.
It took me hours to find the depiction at the top of this post. In the process I was blown away by the massive array of images of Christ through many centuries – there are thousands. He appears in cartoons and comic strips. He is set alongside various celebrities such as Elvis. He is cast in a ceramic setting with the Beatles. He is depicted similarly to Che Guavara. He is smiling, laughing, suffering, weeping and praying. He appears with angels, priests and children. He glows, smiles, prays and teaches. He is dressed royally and humbly. He is in the manger, among sheep, on the Cross, in the clouds and at a well. His hair is long, short, scraggly and coiffed. He is sculpted, painted, drawn and depicted photographically and digitally. The images are historic, traditional, contemporary, abstract and post-modern. They are on a shroud, canvas, brick walls, lithographs and paper. Amazingly, and as with us, these images reflect the ethnicities, contexts and biases of the people who depicted Him in their times.
The image in this post was popular during my early high school years in the 70’s (the 1970’s that is – yes, I am that old). It made Jesus cool to me (perhaps groovy would be more appropriate), and it remains my favorite, because it was a departure from the tame, tender and seemingly wimpy Jesus that we had been accustomed to seeing in Christian circles. I got caught up in the Jesus Movement and this picture loomed large in that chapter of my life. Jesus is ‘Wanted’ because He is a revolutionary, and He calls people to live radical lives. That has stuck with me. As a church kid I think I needed Jesus to be revolutionary, strong and even a bit defiant – because He is.
However during a defining period in my life, I discovered that what I really needed was the true Jesus – the Jesus that can’t be produced by one’s imagination, insecurities or dreams – or even by the ability to rehearse every true thing about Him, but the Jesus who actually is. I needed the Jesus I had resisted – the One I can’t tame or manage who challenges my thoughts, beliefs and practices – One far more radical and revolutionary than I had hoped for – The Jesus who does the shaping and transforming, and not the other way around. I needed a Jesus who wouldn’t excuse my sins, but who could and does forgive them, the Jesus who has grander and richer dreams than my wildest imagination, and the Jesus who refuses to give into my weakness, but who freely enters into it. As much as I fight it, the last thing I need is to limit Jesus to my narrow scope.
Believe me, this trust business isn’t for the faint-hearted. But when I really think about it, until that moment of realization, unless it is Jesus, our trust is somewhere, even in self. And in the end we either become slaves to illusive dreams, or we enjoy living in the wild and radical adventure of being His.
That’s good news, friends…
July 6, 2012 § 1 Comment
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
There is nothing more frustrating and misguided than for a Christ-follower to live to be good. As Lewis poignantly articulates, every attempt reaffirms our inability to do so. It isn’t that we should act recklessly sinful – not at all. But when we are so caught up in being good for goodness’ sake, we miss the point and stop living.
What good is that?
This is my biggest beef with most televangelists (other than their hairstyles, fake tans, ridiculous clothing, obnoxious jewelry, flamboyant sets, immoral money-inducing methods, etc.). Inherent in all the ‘name-it-claim-it’ Christianity is a subtle, unspoken and frequently undetected rejection of the Gospel, because ‘blessedness’ hinges on my ability to be good enough, honorable enough, faithful enough, and a whole laundry list of other ‘enoughs’ I will never have enough of!
Listen, if God’s love were determined by your ability to perform, then it wouldn’t be love. Would it? Stated the other way around, if your resolve to be honorable is for the purpose of being blessed, how could you claim honor in that?
We weren’t called to be good. There is nothing fulfilling in self-preserving ‘goodness.’ That is all about ‘me.’ It is born of fear and a refusal to believe that God could actually love us before we had time to clean up.
We weren’t called to be good – We were called to be His. He already knows us intimately and sees us as we are. The scriptures teach that God will bring all the goodness of His own presence out of us that He intends in His own time. In the mean time, we have been freed from condemnation (Romans 8:1). There are no qualifications on love and adoption.
I hope you heard that. In Jesus, God the Father has loved us in eternity, and through Jesus’ work, He has adopted us in time. We are His because He wanted us. Period. No qualifiers. And God wants us to live in this reality – with passion and joy, vigor and mission, imperfection and assurance.
We mess things up when we think we can overcome our own weakness and meet our deep needs apart from God’s grace. Jonah discovered this in the belly of the fish, when he wrote, Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs. (Jonah 2:8)
Rather than to expect perfection out of His children, God provides grace – Grace for the obvious, and grace in the secret places – Grace for the entire journey. Grace for the things we will always wrestle with, and grace for the things we’ll never overcome in this life. Grace for our relational struggles, and grace for our inner conflicts. Grace for our past sins and indiscretions, and grace for our future failures. Living in God’s grace is humbling – It informs my heart that even my best motives are laced with sin, but covered by the blood of Christ. And grace brings pleasure to the Father in spite of my simple yet imperfect attempts to obey.
Grace is offered – not so we can freely rebel, but so that we won’t be impeded by pride, ungodly shame and paralyzing guilt while we live in the reality of our new identity in Christ. And astonishingly, as we live in this reality, we also serve as gracious ‘markers’ for others on the journey.
Best of all, it enables us to delight and flourish in a broken world as though something better is yet to come. And it is…
Friends, take heart. It isn’t us. It is the news that is good.
June 29, 2012 § Leave a comment
As a young married couple living in Jackson, MS, Katherine and I saw the movie ET when it first came out, during my seminary years. There are innumerable famous scenes in the flick that gave us that loveable yet hideous little alien. The image of him flying through the air on a bicycle with his human champion, a pre-adolescent boy named Elliot, silhouetted against the moon, is its most enduring. But the moment that has greatest residence with me is when ET points his glowing index finger to a potted plant that has died for lack of sunlight and water. Immediately the plant is completely revived in all the luscious splendor it was intended to display.
I love that scene because for me it offers a symbolic reminder of the power of the gospel to reverse the effects of sin in any forum, whether a heart, a family, a friendship or a neighborhood. From the moment of the fall all that was designed to flourish has been marked by decay, and eventually, death. The world was created to be beautiful, and a drive through the Blue Ridge Mountains, or along the US West Coast will provide plenty of reminders, among many, to this truth. But even as I write, fires burn in Colorado and storms have left Florida a flooded mess, as well.
I don’t know why, but much of this came to me when we happened upon the drum pictured above, as Katherine and I walked a back alley behind a façade of order and beauty in a neighboring community.
The world is as broken as we are because sin is a violence to all that is lovely. And only something alien to our limited human attempts can transform whatever ‘universe’ we find ourselves in, to something more beautiful. So we look to Jesus, the One who makes ‘all things new,’ with the hope and assurance that He is that force that restores life where there would otherwise be death, and brings beauty from the ashes.
Here is the thing: I want to do that too. In fact we have been called to this. We have been called to be as redemptive and restorative in the world as Jesus has been to us. His Church has been handed the ‘keys to the kingdom’ (Matthew 16), and with this the means by which Jesus authenticates His promise to forgive sins, heal the broken, reconcile the alienated and find the lost.
And I want that. I mean, don’t you? Don’t you want to be that person whose heart glows with love and compassion towards a loved one, a friend, a community, even an enemy – in a dire moment, a moment when you might otherwise have every instinct to ignore, defend, attack or lash out, but instead you are that agent of flourishing, peace, healing and grace, for no discernable reason other than the fact that Jesus showed up too?
So much of what is in our broken world and wounded lives is inedible, but Jesus makes the inedible delicious, and the ugly ravishing.
And because of Him, we do too.
What good news.
May 25, 2012 § Leave a comment
The other day I was pleasantly surprised to discover the Google Maps mobile in our new neighborhood. It is literally a brand new neighborhood, and one that doesn’t yet exist on the GPS (a true crisis in our day!!!). We have already had four or five packages wrongly routed to the very same wrong address!
In case you don’t know, Google has basically mapped out (or is in the process of mapping out) every neighborhood in the the world. I know, this conjures up the most terrifying of conspiratorial fears, but apparently, this little vehicle (pictured above, and I’m sure one of many) travels throughout the land and interacts with satellites that download locations into its server. From that moment on one can ‘find themselves’ online.
As I considered the Google mobile in our neighborhood I was reminded of one of my favorite bible accounts, from the lives of Hagar and Ishmael (very bible-like sounding names, wouldn’t you say?). They aren’t household names because they actually represent a painful moment in Redemptive history. Abraham was promised a son, but he was an old man when the promise was given. His wife Sarah an old woman didn’t believe it possible that she would become pregnant. So she arranged for her own maidservant, Hagar, to sleep with Abraham. Together they bore Ishmael. However, to her great shock, Sarah did actually become pregnant by her husband, and eventually gave birth to their son Isaac. But every time Sarah saw Ishmael she was disgusted (sin has this way of biting us, doesn’t it), and she demanded that Abraham make them leave.
The problem was that Hagar had no where to go and no one to go to, so she subsisted in the desert on the provisions Abraham offered when he made her leave her home. However when they ran out, she put the boy down, out of her sight (Genesis 21:16 says that “she thought, ‘I cannot watch the boy die’”) and sat nearby, and began to sob.
She and her son were in relatively untamed, uncharted territory and there was no Google, no Internet, and no GPS in her day. And yet, the scriptures say that God heard the boy crying and called out to Hagar and pointed her to a well of water. Together they would live out their lives in the desert. Ishmael would thrive, marry and become a great archer.
There is no question in my mind that everyone who is hiding wants to be found. Fear, shame, guilt and painful experiences have their ways of holding us in the shadows, but no one who is in hiding really wants to remain there. Something in all of us wants to be discovered for who we are, and then loved without condition.
But the idea of exposure in a ruthless culture, and sometimes hyper-critical church environment, is a terrifying prospect – until we encounter Jesus, who made Himself completely vulnerable to the point of scandal, contempt and death. It was God’s way of playing out in full what we see in part in that little Genesis narrative – that He hears the cries of the weak and champions the cause of the broken. And for all who are unfinished, and recognize their true need, in Jesus we have the promise that He will find us and enter into the places we hide, even when we can’t bear to see how life will play out.
All this without GPS, and without needing us to admit we want to be found…
What good news…
May 11, 2012 § 1 Comment
Last weekend I had the privilege of speaking at Redeemer Presbyterian Church, where a dear friend pastors in New Orleans (NOLA) – his church web site is listed among the other sites on this blog. It was a beautiful experience where people and neighborhoods and a city live in constant convergence and community.
It just so happens that I was there during Jazz Fest, a nine-day citywide celebration that spans two weekends and is literally spread throughout the entire city. Let me tell you, the music is amazing. And what made the weekend all the more special is that our daughters drove over from Pensacola, Florida, where they attend college, in order to hang out with the ‘old man’ (that would be me).
Needless to say, the experience of spending time with the Redeemer church community, its pastors, taking in the music, not to mention eating the out-of-this world NOLA cuisine, and then to be with our precious daughters, all made for an unforgettable experience.
On Friday evening, as we made our way through the French Quarter in order to see a particular jazz group, we came upon the St. Louis Cathedral, the ‘oldest continuously operating cathedral’ in the US. Amazingly, the first structure on the site was built in 1718, the year New Orleans was established by the French. It is a magnificent structure on the NOLA skyline, set before the great Mississippi River and standing as a presence at the entry of the famous Quarter.
The picture before you is taken from the back of the Cathedral, a small gated courtyard and a non-descript structure on what could easily be considered a sometimes-dangerous city backstreet that connects relatively unlit alleys.
What stands out is the obvious – the statue of Jesus. But it isn’t only Jesus – It is the shadow His image casts in the face of a spotlight that is fixed on the building behind the sculpture.
It is striking to say the least, and when we first came upon it, I was struck, not only by its splendor, but also by its symbolism – because here in a city known for its beauty and culture, along with its recent history of destruction and violence, is a lovely piece of art that stands as a stark illustration of the Psalmist’s words, ‘He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty’ (Psalm 91:1).
As I’ve reflected on this image, as a Christ follower, as a husband, a dad, a friend and pastor, and certainly as one that is deeply unfinished, I was reminded that we, like historic cities, with all their beauty, pain, mess and dark places, are never alone. We live in the shadow – of Jesus.
And as we navigate the seasons of our lives –the good – the bad – joyous and the sorrowful – He is always there. Only we don’t have to travel a darkened, sometimes-dangerous and often isolated backstreet to see Him.
But He is there when we do.
And this, friends, is good news.
March 15, 2012 § Leave a comment
There was a Church Growth study that came out over 20 years ago. It listed the three most important rooms in a church facility when it came to visitors. They were (in order), the Nursery, the Ladies’ Restroom and the Sanctuary. Essentially, what this study revealed was that by the time a visiting family entered into that church’s worship space, they had already determined whether or not they would return a second week. Before the sermon. Before hearing the music. It really is that practical at times.
Similarly, Jesus has offered a practical litmus test for the Church – a ‘mark’ (Francis Schaeffer coined this term in his booklet, The Mark of the Christian) that will determine whether or not the outside world will receive the Christian message as credible. We celebrate this defining characteristic each Maundy Thursday when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper. That word ‘Maundy’ comes from the Latin, ‘mundatum,’ and it means what it sounds like: Mandate, or Command. It is used in John 13:34-35 where Jesus says, A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.
Here is the thing: Apart from an observable love our message will be lost in translation every time. Because the Culture can’t hear what we refuse to embody – it just doesn’t translate into a discernable, or maybe a better word is, desirable, message. Jesus understood this and set the bar high by declaring that it would be by our love for one another that the world would know that we are His. And it only follows that anything we would hope to speak into a broken world would have to first pass through the filter of a community that embraces the love it declares. In her book Living into Community, Christine Pohl writes, The best testimony to the truth of the gospel is the quality of our life together.
In a sense Jesus chose the most unlikely of dynamics to prove His own credibility to the world. Frankly, I am more comfortable thinking that I am evidence of all that is wrong with the world and the Church. But in some way that is the point. God demonstrates His grace through broken vessels and messy lives He redeems and weaves together in the fabric of love.
And so, amazingly, in spite of ourselves, it is in our life together, as God’s people, that we enter and speak into a world that reflects our own shattered stories, with evidence that Jesus has come with ‘healing in His wings’ (Malachi 4:2), born in how uncharacteristically we are enabled to love. And what more powerful message than one that demonstrates that God can take such a collection of messy, self-interested, often obsessed-on-the-meaningless, diverse and broken people, and knit them together into something beautiful? How could there be anything other than hope for those who long for such healing?
What Good News.