Friday, June 17, 2016

The Horns of a Dilemma

In the early hours of this past Sunday morning, a gunman opened fire at an Orlando nightclub and left a wake of destruction in his trail:  49 dead, 53 wounded, several critically.  It is undoubtedly one of the worst single shootings on American soil ever.

But response to this tragedy is complicated.  For starters it was perpetrated by a gunman claiming allegiance to the Islamic State and praising the efforts of the Boston Marathon bombers.  This touches into fears that many have regarding Islam, terrorism, militants, etc… Compounding the confusion of our natural empathy is the fact that the nightclub was made up of the “other.”  The victims were predominately Latino which is a culture that not all of us identify closely with.  More distancing yet, the nightclub was a gay establishment, a lifestyle that most of us don’t endorse.

So how do we respond in a Gospel-centered, God-honoring way?  How do we avoid political pandering and genuinely grieve for those suffering without feeling pressured to hold the rainbow flag in solidarity with the lost?

Can I suggest that best place to start is Genesis 1:26-27.  Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. … So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Here is the solid, Biblical footing that we need in order to authentically grieve without feeling the need to respond politically out of fear or shame.  What we find woven into the fabric of God’s world is that every single human being is created in the image of God, and as such deserves love, respect, compassion, empathy, etc…  This is true regardless of whether we agree with them ideologically or religiously; whether they speak our language, or if they even speak at all.  What God does by creating humanity in His own image, is create a being of inestimable worth, PERIOD.  This is why the response of those like Stephen Anderson, a pastor from Arizona, who claims that “the world is better off with 50 less pedophiles” and who refuses to see the shooting as a tragedy are so, so wrong.  One does not need to condone a homosexual lifestyle to grieve over the brutal ending of an image bearer of God.

Understanding what it means that we are image bearers of God is one of the most fundamental truths to be grasped for the Christian. So much of how we understand this world, particularly our responses in it, is drawn from the implications of this teaching that we must grapple with it at the deepest level possible.  After all, it is out of love for rebellious, recalcitrant image bearers that Christ gave his life.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Grace that is greater than ALL our sin!

Often when we think of grace setting us free, we think of drugs, debt, depression or other such despots.  Certainly the gospel does set us free from these and more. Included in that “more" are also less noticeable jailers, but jailers nonetheless, like judgmental thinking, irritability and pride. I invite you to read and reflect on the following from Jack Miller. Note the insidiousness of the latter jailers, which he terms Phariseeism. Note as well as the nature of grace to deliver us:

     The essential Pharisee is a person who is more aware of the sins of others than of his own and consequently feels superior to other human beings and judges them without first taking the beam out of his own eye (Luke 6:39ff). He also lacks a living hope. He does not expect grace to do much for himself or others.
     So we recovering Pharisees often find that we have collected in our mind's albums dark snapshots of people, ourselves, and finally of God and his grace. What is real in our minds are negative images of the resistance of non-Christians to the gospel, our own failed attempts at witnessing, and feelings of powerful self-condemnation at work beneath our proclaimed righteousness.
     But here our need makes us teachable. Grace, not sin, is the governing power in our lives, and therefore it stirs us to look at the way prayer and the promises can become the power source for bold ministry.

Praise God! “Grace, not sin, is the governing power in our lives”. It makes no difference whether we are a recovering Pharisee or battling gross immorality.  Grace is what we need. God’s grace is what delivers us. And it is grace that launches us into a "living hope" with prayer and the promises of God as fuel!

Friday, June 3, 2016

Enjoying God with Worship

Over the last few weeks we have been thinking through ways that we articulate/share the vision that God has given us for life in this world. So far we have said, Enlivened by the Gospel, We will Engage God’s World with Winsomeness and Embrace God’s family with Welcome. This week we come to the fourth and final “E”, namely, Enjoy God with Worship. Let’s break this down a bit.

What does the word worship conjure up for you? Sunday mornings? Images of hymnals and organs, guitars, drums, people seated in rows? Is it the music, the preaching, prayer? Is it solemn or joyful? How about all of the above, and more! Worship is the totality of how we live our lives before God as those enlivened by the Gospel. Worship shouts to the Lord in praise and adoration. Worship quietly and soberly reflects on the meaning of our days. Worship engages the marketplace through our occupations. Worship raises kids at home. Worship shares the good news with our neighbors. Worship tosses a ball in the yard or takes a walk in the woods. Worship wakes us up daily to be followers of Jesus in every aspect of life!

And it is important that it is God whom we worship. It is often said that you worship what you love. For some that may be money or cars, academic achievement or music, a spouse, our kids, popularity, power, you name it. Many of these are good things, but when they become ultimate things the worship becomes idolatry. God alone is worthy of our worship. Our fervent desire is that he is at the center of all that we do, both formally and informally as CC.

What is the result of a life filled with the worship of God? Joy! Joy does not mean an unmitigated happiness that never suffers, but rather it is a quality of spirit that is characterized by gratitude, contentment, and hope. Some of you are familiar with the Westminster Shorter Catechism Q. and A. #1 which asks after the chief end of humanity. The answer is that the chief end of humanity is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. Worship of our God with joy, delight, and pleasure, is why we were made and it is through the enlivening work of the Gospel that we experience the true joy that never fades. The Psalmist captures it well in Psalm 73 when he says, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever " (25-26).

Enlivened by the Gospel, We will Engage God’s World with Winsomeness, Embrace God’s family with Welcome, and Enjoy God with Worship. What a story we are in! What a God we serve! He gives us the dignity of service, a family to embrace, and a relationship to enjoy! It is good news worth sharing and a shape for life worth living.