Saturday, 31 January 2015

Crosswalk II -- Domesticated grace is too safe

South Africa: "Prime Evil," leader of apartheid state death squad, Eugene de Kock gets parole

JOHANNESBURG - The South African government Friday granted parole to Eugene de Kock, the head of an apartheid state covert unit responsible for dozens of deaths, saying his freedom is in the interest of national reconciliation.

I don't think I am wrong when I say Grace is not safe. At least not safe in the sense that it is comfortable and unchallenging to our view of justice and fairness. Grace certainly will create havoc in our current world and perhaps our worldview as well.

Grace has its own reason of which reason knows nothing. The cross of grace is one of those mysteries we have to wrestle with. On the cross we meet Love and the suffering servant at once, we meet grace and judgement, and we meet death as well as life, we meet myriads of paradoxes in the person of Jesus Christ.

Grace is birthed in a strange place, unsuitable for humans and yet millions of people live in these conditions. Grace is given in a strange way, and an even stranger place, yet as a matter of fact not as a matter of work. Although Grace was a refugee, homeless it welcomes everyone!

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Crosswalk -- Where life and God meet

 "The church is not a theological classroom. It is a conversation, confession, repentance, reconciliation, forgiveness and sanctification center, where flawed people place their faith in Christ, gather to know and love him better, and learn to love others as he designed."
Paul David Tripp; Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands

We Christians tend to believe in the Cross; the power of the Cross, what it stands for
 -- unlimited sacrificial love, forgiveness,

Unlimited love;
I don't think that any one would suggest that sin and the effects of sin exist because of a lack of love on God's side. Viewing the atonement for our sins and therefore the death of Christ on the cross as a sign of love rather than purely as a sign of judgement would, however, raise a practical dilemma for us. 

John 17 After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed:
“Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.
“I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. 10 All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. 11 I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.
13 “I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. 14 I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. 15 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. 17 Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. 19 For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.
20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
24 “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.
25 “Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. 26 I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may.

A lengthy passage, but can you see it? Jesus is concerned about our relationship with one another! Jesus prays that we experiencing the same love Christ has with His Father within our relationships in the family of God. He prays that His love in us is real, is experienced, and lived out for the sake of the watching world. And if His love is in every believer, how ought that to look like in a church family? If it were present, would the world believe our message of the gospel of reconciliation? 

I witness strife in kinship families both within the family of God and outside. I witness indifference and ignorance toward the others need, feelings, thoughts. Somehow we have reduced forgiveness to a social convention (as in 'Pardon me!') without practical and public content. I witness inter-relational silence rather than entering a difficult dialog with the aim of reconciliation. I witniss a lack of commitment towards the other person. But silence and therefore avoidance of an issue is not a sign of peace between brothers and sisters but rather shows a lack of love. Our primary alliance is to the ideal of the church and not the reality of the church.

The opposite of silence is not noise, but listening and responding in either words or deeds. Both will lead to challenges, tension but also eventual change in the relationship. But we fear tension and the exposure toward change, because both somewhat have in our thinking to do with judging. But God's creation is all about diversity and change with the paradox that God does not change. Perhaps for that reason God enjoys change so much that he created things to change, to grow, to be transformed just as His son grew in understanding while among us. 

I never heard a sermon about the 30 years of silence, the time Jesus lived among a fallen people, his neigbours, his siblings.

When the silence through fear is broken, it offers the opportunity for new beginnings, and new thinking, it offers the renewal of our minds. and as we reexamine the deeply cherished assumptions of our western mindset we may very well find that they hinder us from hearing Jesus' call freely. When we listen to the "plural you" of God's word to us, we will see that the gospel of Christ is more than getting into heaven or about living a comfortable, individually pious, middle-class life.  It is certainly not about justification of one particular way of life, but it is God's word to us, whatever, whoever, wherever we may be.

Some claim the church today has more consumers than committed participants where we see church merely as an event we attend or an organization we belong to, but no longer a calling that shapes our entire life in every aspect. I believe the fellowship of believers, a.k.a the churches purpose is that through the faithful ministry of every part, the whole body will grow to maturity in Christ. Each of us, including pastors or elders still need the ministry of the body of Christ as much as we did the day we first believed. Not only because we have a collective witness toward the world, but because growth requires fellowship not only with the people I have surrounded me with, but also, perhaps particularly with the people God has given into my life. 

And when we realize the beautify and necessity of diversity and change, we may realize the need for change in our relationship to one another. Apologies between us will have the power to free the mind from deep-seated guilt, shame, fear and blindness, and ultimately restore broken relationships, reconciliation will happen. Telling and hearing the Truth is a major step in this direction, a direction which leads to reconciliation. Reconciliation between
God and us is not optional, a matter of debate or opinions but the natural extension of love and the forgiveness Jesus achieved on the cross. Reconciliation is the restoration of creation. Reconciliation must happen between us. Reconciliation between enemies is the ultimate result of the gospel.  After all, the gospel is more than a set of ideas, called doctrines, to be believed, but is in fact a restored relationship with God and others, that is our mission, cause, and issue.

Living the gospel consistently in real life is difficult, and none of us is perfect.  But it is better to aspire to living the gospel and fail, experiencing and giving witness to God's wonderful grace and forgiveness in the process, than to settle for mediocrity in any relationship.  We must come to understand that forgiveness and by extension reconciliation is an essential, non-negotiable element of life in Christ and therefore in the church.

1 Cor 13 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Again a lengthy and deep passage, but can you see it? Jesus is concerned about our relationship with one another! Because the quality of the inner life of the fellowship, the quality of connection that exist between all members is a witness of His presence. His presence redeems the realities of life, including the life within the fellowship. There is a necessary reason why Jesus prays in John 17 that we experiencing the same love Christ has with His Father within our relationships in the family of God. He prays that His love in us is real, is experienced, and lived out for the sake of the watching world. Jesus did not die for His people to be religious. He died so that we might believe in Him and be transformed. We need to be engaged in a purpose and strategy that Jesus came to Earth for. Our lives ought to be set for that divine purpose in Jesus Christ. I was called to that--proclaiming the message of transformation through Jesus Christ.”And if His transforming love is in every believer, how ought that to look like in a church family? If it were present, would the world believe our message of the gospel of reconciliation because it actually witnesses it? 

Saturday, 24 January 2015

I will build My church

The more we grow in our relationship to God, as Lord, Saviour and friend, the more intimate and loving we grow in our relationships to one another.

According to Scripture a special relationship exist and develops even further between members of the church family. This is not only a natural response, but it also is a designed one, God planned it that way.  Jesus builds His church (cf Matt 16:18). Jesus calls people out of the world to Himself and gathers them together into a living body in which He lives and carries out His purpose.

God has a purpose for creation and a place for every person in His family. His purpose and place, however, is never for the individual; it has a corporate dimension. Unless the corporate dimension of salvation is understood, a person will never benefit fully from the purpose and place God has for his life when He chose to save him. Some even suggest that a lack of understanding the cooperate nature of God's salvation has lead to the fragmentation of how the Church expresses herself and is experienced by the world.

Jesus established his people, the church, as a divine token of the Kingdom of God here and now in a broken world. And the people of God do that by proclaiming and living out the Kingdom values.

My son, if you receive my words,
And treasure my commands within you,
So that you incline your ear to wisdom,
And apply your heart to understanding;
Yes, if you cry out for discernment,
And lift up your voice for understanding,
If you seek her as silver,
And search for her as for hidden treasures;
Then you will understand the fear of the Lord,
And find the knowledge of God. 
Prov 2:1-5

Almost everything I have heard in the past is not about "fear the Lord" but rather about having a good time, enjoy yourself, volunteer where you are gifted, praise, celebrate, but fearing the Lord?

To lose a healthy fear of God is to loose a healthy fear of sin, and we settle for something other than "perfect." I am not saying that we ever can be perfect on this side of creation, but I rather suggest that repentance is common among us. Because public repentance leads to knowing each other. Whereas sin leads to independence and self-contentedness, but being part of Christ, salvation leads to radical interdependence and Christ-contentedness. We are content with what Christ is content with, and he aims in His prayer in John 17 for a special oneness among his people. And that means that we need to encourage one another to make a transition from knowing and doing the will of God as individuals, which by itself is difficult enough, to knowing and doing the will of God within the cooperate body of believers.
This obvious lack of transition in many churches is the result of a poor understanding of discipleship and lack of mentoring. It is the result of an anemic presentation of the Gospel where we do not talk about the cost.

Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth 
through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, 
love one another fervently with a pure heart, ...

1 Pet 1:22

If we do not understand the full purpose of God's creation and subsequently the restoration process through the salvation of the individual, a work done on the cross, we will never experience the beauty of abundance, nor will we experience God's full purpose of our lives. Purpose just as salvation is given on God's terms, and it reflects the very nature of God Himself, unity in diversity. In order to somewhat wrap our minds around that we have coined a term, Trinity, three in one. The most identifiable characteristic of belonging to God, being part of His people, is the quality of our love. First toward God and than toward His people, people who will differ from us in language, culture, preferences, education, social status, you name it. But God's intent for creation and therefore his strategy for salvation is linked with these two basic relationships; love God and love others.

How does he implement His purpose in our lives? To answer this question is to unfold a part of God's message through Jesus we somewhat forgot. Don't think that forgetting part of the Gospel, or perhaps even worse just never hearing about it cannot happen. Scripture itself is a witness to our forgetfulness
and so are the stories recorded (cf 2 Chronicles 34:8-1; 2 Kings 22:8-11). A similar story is told about Apollo who though being baptized and being involved in evangelism had not heard of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. We can debate what that exactly means, but my point it that we need to take the whole of Scripture, all its truth, even the inconvenient parts and apply them to our lives.
 Picking up on the example Jesus uses with children, I want to point to babies. God designed the birth of a baby to happen in a family to receive love, care, protection but also instruction.  And you got what you got, a baby girl or a boy, parents had no say in it. Similar the church, God provides the new believer, gender does not matter, social status does not matter, all that matters to the church is the need of the new believer to be loved, cared for, to be protected and to be instructed by them without condition.

To experience God in his diversity, his creation with its diversity, we must look at creation, both renewed and broken from God's perspective.

Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away.
Heb 10:1

Rom 12:5; "We who are many are one body in Christ and individually members of one another" (emphasis mine).  That is a powerful statement of our interdependence and our corporate submission to the authority and leadership of Christ as the head of His body. Sin magnifies self and separates us from the relationships for which we were created in the first place and now restored for.

Salvation brings believers into relationship with God and His people who are not by accident or by a decision from the hearts of individual believers are part of one another, but by the nature of God.

I think it to be tragic for people to receive the gospel and then live lives of spiritual paupers, to accept the unconditional love of Christ and then not know or resent what would to be an expected response.   

Every time we are indifferent to God's intention or snicker at the latest double entendre about an ethnic group plagued by poverty, violence, substance abuse and a society disinclined to address these problems, we are stripping them of their God given humanity and subconsciously justifying a church visibly stratified along many lines. How diverse is the group of people you worship with, culturally speaking? How diverse is the group you are attending socioeconomically speaking? How many friends do we have who are obvious sinners, or differ greatly from us just as we differ from Jesus? 

One of the key question a disciple of Jesus can ask himself is; "Surely you don't mean me?" I know, this question came up in the context of betrayal, but I still think it is a good question to ask with respect of "forgetting" or simply not knowing.

The key of touching the world, our world is for the people of God to walk in a right relationship with Him and one another. But as with any relationships, sometimes we fail one another, misunderstood, overlooked, forgot and the need for repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation becomes apparent. The point here is not a strategy for evangelism but the condition of God's people. And when the right condition is there, unconditional love, than the world will know and take notice. That is the purpose of the church, to be noticed for its unconditional love to one another that spills over into the streets. After all it is Christ's church!

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Our little village of Anatevka or the Kingdom of God

Every day of our lives the Word is an imperative to rediscover the truth that, "the whole secret and centre of human life remains the person of Jesus Christ."

There is a song in the musical Fiddler on the Roof called "Tradition." As this Jewish father sang this song, this message was immediately conveyed: Life is full of traditions. As you listen to the song "Tradition" in the film, you can hear the frustration and weariness in the voice of the father. He too had worn himself out trying to keep all the traditions.
Traditions can be very meaningful, at times, however, they get in the way of the effectiveness of God's Word in our lives, and they can become very burdensome. Keeping traditions non-reflectively can  prevent us from seeing the newness and freshness of God's acting in our cooperative life in the otherwise forgotten past. When we forget the purpose of doing things they simply become a habit.

Religions are full of traditions, and habits and Christianity is not free of them either. And we need to make a distinction between a religion and Christianity as the latter is more of a term for a relationship between God and his people. And a relationship is always fresh, changing, alive, purposeful, full of meaning even hidden meanings to an outsider. In short, not everything we do need to be understood by someone who is not in that relationship between God and man. Communion or baptism for example; given the diversity of forms and even content in both, I have to wonder, however, if I actually understand its purpose. Sadly, our cooperative history as body of Christ somewhat shows, we didn't. We persecuted each other over differences in forms and content, we took each other lives over differences of understanding the mystery and wonders of God becoming man and leaving behind His Spirit to teach us all truth.

For that and perhaps other reasons as well, the Salvation Army has none of it, neither the celebration of communion nor of baptism. Some of us may frown upon this, but consider the tens of thousands of murdered brothers and sisters, murdered by brothers and sisters! I understand, I share their sorrow but not their tradition or habits of refraining from both. For me, personally, communion is an ongoing expression of a relationship with hidden meanings, just as baptism was a one time expression of the same relationship. But for that very reason I can't tether myself to my preference of form or time, rather as in relationship forms are flux and full of meaning, one of which is to remind us of the past and to express a hope of a future.

There are experiences God did call us to repeat over and over again so we don't forget. One of these is the partaking of the Lord's supper on a regular basis. Some share in this experience weekly, others monthly and still others annually. But when a tradition overshadows the life-giving Word of God, the Word of God is not effective. How many times have you sung the doxology or repeated the Lord's Prayer? If we are not careful, even the words we speak and sing can be repeated so often that we miss their freshness, their invitation into a relationship take them for granted and are no loner made new through them.

 But this is more than an casual acknowledgement that Jesus lived and died and rose again in the past. It is this kind of knowledge that leaves us changed, To believe that all Jesus calls us to do is to be nice to each other is to substitute the Christ of Christian humanism for the Christ of Scripture. It is an encounter with someone who alters the very foundation and course of our lives. Scripture, is not the transmission of inert ideas. It is a call to love, and love that does not lead to action, even sacrificial actions is not love.

Lord, each day You have something new for me. Help me to have ears to hear, eyes to see and a tongue to speak of the new things You want to speak to through me and show through me. I enter this day with excitement because it is a new day, and You not only make all things new, You give new meaning to all things new.

Friday, 9 January 2015

"Every man is a good man in a bad world -- as he himselfs knows."

The called out ones, were formed in order to preserve and pass on the teachings of Christ--with the singular purpose of helping to bring people into the exact same relationship with God that Christ himself had, leading humanity into a space that is truly both "fully human and fully divine."

In other words, the church is the physical and practical representation of Christ's life and message.  It is not a group around a theoretical debate of reality but rather the very realization of the kingdom of God here and now and yet to come.  Hence the church is not made by people for their purpose but made up of people by God for his purpose.

People’s visions of church naturally differ. Topics like what leadership structure or what other particularity of Christian teaching should be the hallmark for fellowship is nonetheless divisive.  We see a natural tendency to "form" church according to once own concept already in the earliest records of the church in Acts. In those day is were the issues of circumcision, the food laws to name a few.  Today it is the form of baptism, the nature of communion, the abstaining from giving an oath, or women in leadership, or other rather murky issues.  I think we need to allow the Holy Spirit to overcome our natural tendency to inflate ourselves and our vision of truth.  But there is also another issue, let me suggest that behind most bragging, most conflicts is unconscious self-doubt, and under most display of indifference, ignorance and superiority is a nagging sense of inadequacy and fear.  We know ourselves too good but are afraid to open up. 

I believe that honesty with oneself and by extension with the one we love, which by the way is everyone including those we may not like, is a central component to spiritual growth. God honours our honest questions, doubts and repentance. He is not surprised by either one of them, nor is he ashamed to be our God when we pose them. God is our God, not because of the questions and doubts, but because he has united us to the risen Christ. And being part of God's family is ultimately a gift to us, not something to be obtained by us but unpacked by our repentance. God, beside from dead in sin, has freed us from fear in Christ and made us his children. And, as all children do, we grow all the while asking a lot of questions.

In my experience we are either intentional in our struggle for growth and therefore unity by building each other up or we are unconsciously like the three monkeys; "don't see, don't hear and don't speak" of questions, doubts or our ongoing need for forgive- ness. Mutual indifference or ignorance of the other persons struggle or thoughts which by design avoids addressing my own struggle but also differences of opinions may avoid vulnerability and open conflict but is actually the absence of trust and therefor of love. It denies the power of the Gospel.  Mutual indifference or ignorance of the struggle within us individually and as body of Christ is not a proof of spiritual maturity but of the loss of the first love, we have lost sight of the promise; "I [Jesus] will build my church." 

In my reading of Scripture, our vision of church must include being holy together being “Set apart” to God together, as opposed to being set apart to our own vision of church or set apart to our personal freedoms. That would mean that we need to work toward a growing honesty to ourselves and others. God has a collective holiness at the center of his vision of his church. When we dwell on minors as I suggest we see in the sea of Christian publications, instead of majoring on Christ we act like “Individuals Apart” not "Saints Together." We build a vision of church around ourselves, our traditions and personal preferences and not around Jesus. We miss out on Jesus’ grand, temple-vision of church and diminish its witness to the world by pretending utopia.

Monday, 5 January 2015

A new standard of love

We the called out ones, were formed in order to preserve and pass on the teachings of Christ--with the singular purpose of helping to bring people into the exact same relationship with God that Christ himself had, leading humanity into a space that is truly both "fully human and fully divine."

None of us can do what all of us are called to do together. I think words are important and the operative word for the church is together; love one another. Remember Jesus commission to the disciples? "You (all of you collectively) will be my witnesses" Acts 1:8. In our individualistic society we may overlook the fact that Jesus calls us collectively, he did not issue individual assignments. The sum of us will be his witnesses, since God is in his nature community He works in and through community. For that reason we will find no personal pronoun in the earliest description of the called out ones.  Not I or my or you (singular), but together we are his body, his witnesses. 

And yet we have difficulties to step back from the line in the sand we have grown up with, individualism. We can't let go of the small piece we have got hold of and we can't see the big picture, and perhaps even more annoying, we are not listening. The annoyance is not so much that another person has a different perspective on certain things, and therefore disagrees with us, but rather, that we are not listing to one another in the first place.  Somehow we have bought into the idea that listening to another viewpoint is giving automatically full legitimacy and therefore giving up our own. Perspective-taking and therefore listening and learning, getting to know the other is one of the most important relationship skills we can ever develop.  When we are completely absorbed by our own vision, agenda, issue, cause, interests and preference, we obviously will not benefit from the gift the other person is to me. Perspective-taking moves us away from an anemic understanding, seeing through a glass dimly, to a clearer picture of reality. 

We are a collection of differences and only differences make for unity. What if we would be a collection of hands, how would we function, what would we actually been doing? We cannot say to each others differences, "I have no need of you." The visionaries (eyes?) need the prayers (knees?) We cannot base our cooperation on being alike or that we like one another for what we get out of the relationship. We are called to love one another for the sake of the world. 

“Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about any- thing they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them” Matt 18:19-20 (cf. Jh 14:13). This is an astounding promise as well as incredible challenge because we have to die to our individual ideas, hopes, dreams, and opinions. And yet we are divided by an array of differences, personal history, traditions (we seldom have actually investigated), and rather than love we have made unanimity a hallmark for unity. 

Our common ground is solely in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. Our common ground can not be as flimsy as common likes like cloth, music, or even likes of one another. It may help but it is a flimsy ground to built on. In fact how can you like someone like Adolph Hitler, and yet Christ gave His life for him us well. It is not for a lack of sacrificial love on God's side for his creation, a lack of solid foundation, but because the way people have continued to built on it.  

The early followers of Jesus did chose Jesus as the foundation and continued to build on Him. In Christ they found a new belonging, a new culture, a new standard of what it means to love.  And because of that they overcame an array of differences, and because they did, my life, our lives were changed. 

And as you and I do, and come together in prayer, the same will happen.  

Saturday, 3 January 2015

God’s plan and purpose through the church is more than issues, causes and a mission

Unfolding the story of jesus
For most of my life, I stuck with my kind of people. I hung out with people with similar cultural, socioeconomic and educational backgrounds; similar religious and political views; people with whom I thought I had the most in common. I did this before I became a Christian and afterwards as well.  I think it had to do with being affirmed, supported and feeling loved. When I was around folks who saw the world too differently from me, I would tend to feel tension a peculiar need to proselytize, to convince others of the errors of their thinking. I’m not just talking religion, it could be anything on the list of life events. I felt most safe, approved and loved in alikeness, and so I made a decision to stick with what I know without really understanding it's consequence.

What changed? Nothing really and yet a lot as I begin to realize the "otherness" of God and his free flowing love towards others, others who are not like me in many ways.

God's word intends to draw humans to a restored relationship with God, with each other, and to the fulfillment of our original purposes as humans created in God's image, including the care of creation.

In the past year, perhaps because I turned 50, I began to reflect more on the bigger picture. While my conviction on certain issues, causes and the mission of the church are clear and settled , I learned that discipleship is truly about what happens on the way to our destination. Sometimes the interruption, the intrusion of doubt, and questions of a stranger  is the day's purpose and is, in fact, our unscheduled destination. This meant I need to be available when the opportunities for conversations arises, which means I need to be in the position to modify my schedule to be available for such a moment.

I had become some 25 years earlier a Christian, I had married, have growing children, moved around, met many people, attended different congregations, listen to different pastors and their thinking, and read books. I read a lot and I read all four Gospels, including James and Paul who deal with different tensions in the still young church. The same tensions, by the way, we face today.  And with being married, and with every relocation, with every new book,  with every new congregation or conversation I’ve been introduced of understanding a well turned phrase in a brighter light. Each change has brought people into my life with whom I’ve had seemingly little in common but oh, what they’ve taught me by helping me see God's world broken as it is through their eyes. Some allowed me a deep insight into God working in them, healing, restoring and daily struggle. But most importantly they've taught me by helping me to read God's word through their eyes, and they provided new questions and suggested responses rather than simple answers about the big questions of life. Listening to other voices, be it in books or movies or one on one, allows me an opportunity to see myself as many others do, to see how my beliefs appear when they are seen through a different lens and to frame a response based on my love and respect for the fellow human, rather than in light of doctrine. As follower of Jesus our ability to help and influence people around the church will be in direct proportion to our understanding of the issues of the day and the gospel's response to them.

And it begins with humility. Humility requires that we acknowledge that many of our beliefs and practices represent our personal understanding of Scripture and preferences in forms, and are not necessarily binding on others. It also requires that we confess that there is often an immense gp between what I belief and aspire to and how I actually live each and every day. Our ultimate humility should derive not from our failures but from our awareness that we are following ultimately God in man, Jesus, and not a set of doctrines to be believed. This does not mean that we abandon truth or the use of our renewed mind to reach logical conclusion. It does mean, however, that we submit our truth-telling to the test of love. We need to nuance our discussion we have so we could hear and try to understand the person for whom the issue of death, gruesome pain, infidelity, betrayal, divorce, remarriage, abortion, homosexuality, gender identity was reality and not a theoretical discussion on issues, causes and a mission. Feelings ought not to change the ethical and moral conclusions on these issues, because feeling do not change truth. People feelings, however, will affect the way we talk, teach, and respond to the person in contrast to the subject. Behind every subject in the search for applied truth, contested or not, are human beings. We can treat subjects such as euthanasia, abortion, gay rights, or the questions around infertility as issues for which we have the right answer, or perhaps worse pretend they do not exist. Indifference is the opposite of love. Or, and that is what I would suggest, as issues affecting people made in the image of God whom we love, and not because they are our children or parents.  

Somewhere I read; Read one thinker and you become a clone, read two and you may be confused, read hundreds and you may become wise.  It is like the difference of taking a bath in a tub or taking a shower, the former allows for no new thoughts and the latter for no time for self-reflection. Both lead to pettiness, abuse of power, the urge to hide imperfection, spiritual pride covering fear, and exclusivism covering inferiority. We need to overcome both, disillusionment and the urge to pretend.
I also learned that we generally tend to avoid questions, because questions in general tend to challenge the status quo. Questions opens us up to challenges. But over the many years one question has still penetrated my defenses; How can we as the people of God uphold the ideals of holiness, the pushing forward, the proper striving for a perfect life, while avoiding mediocrity due to disillusionment? The people of God [church], should they not be both; a people who strife toward holiness, who press on who do not settle for mediocrity and yet relax in grace; a people who condemn themselves but not others, a people who depend on God and not themselves?

It is a question that calls for self-reflection in light of God's love, his character, his call to follow him. 
 Winnipeg, MB R3C Canada

One of the things I’ve discovered through all this is that people are not the same everywhere and yet they are in their own way. There are lots of common traits in people: there is goodness, kindness, compassion, but there is also pettiness, arrogance, selfishness. Both, evil and goodness are found in us, we simply have a hard time admitting it. Partly because, by and large, we’re regional thinkers and feelers. It goes way beyond food and fashion and accents. Different places plant different kinds of thoughts in us. Thoughts that inform our values and likes and dislikes. Thoughts that at times react violently against other thoughts.
Perhaps for that reason, God gave as four accounts of Jesus' live ad death and resurrection. Different accounts that are vary in many details and yet point to the person that matters, Christ.  For that reason we are called collectively to go into all the world. Evangelism is not an individual enterprise, but forces us to confront our individual differences in the lights of God's otherness, his love towards us while we were still dead in our sin.  It is in this tension of different thoughts, and upbringings that the world truly can see true love. This is the reason why Jesus prayed for us, his body today in this world where we are being confronted with many different thoughts. Thoughts not just from the world, but even differences from within the body of Christ.

I’ve learned so much from people who aren’t my kind of thinking and feeling. The friends I’ve made, and the diverse groups I’ve broken bread with, have taught me to value our differences, our diversity instead of feeling the need to conform myself or to reform/inform others [funny as I am writing this]. In fact, I have learned to rejoice in our diversity as one. I’ve certainly learned that it takes all kinds of kinds to form the body of Christ, and it is not about like but about love, it is less about me as it is about us and it is even more about Him who builds His church.

If it were practical and possible, I’d recommend everyone uproot even if only for a year or two and plant themselves in an entirely different region to live and work with people they don’t think are their kind. And since this is not practical and possible, perhaps it is more practical to move within the city, to make new friends, to change work and to read. We will realize we have remarkable things to learn from "strangers"! Fair, learning can be unsettling, leads to growth and abandoning perhaps the "good old ways" the roads well traveled but . . .

"Teach me your way, Oh Lord that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name. Ps 86.11 

Yet still, I find myself occasionally irritated with differences, yearning for predictability, weary of being challenged and forced to grow by deviations from what I know. After every new place, new person I encountered new issues, new causes, new mission I previously was ignorant of. And each new encounter is unsettling, takes away the 'control' of my thinking I previously believed I had.  

Unfortunately Christianity in North America and Europe tends to buy into the Enlightenment ethos of "enlightened self-interest," "rational individualism" and "self-sufficiency" and therefore of regional autonomy. The individual, and by extension the individual congregation is a free agent, the starting point for thinking about society. I believe this reduces community to little more than a collection of individuals who come together either out of self-interest, out of obligation or around an issue or cause.

There’s indeed a common kind of “love” where we don’t really see the other person at all: a love that’s based on projection and on wishful thinking, a love where we idolize the other and so us.

  Love is not conditional in any way. It’s based on an     empathetic resonance with the other person.   

In a similar vein, there’s also a form of love that’s highly conditional. We love the other person as long as they’re enjoyable to be with, or as long as their desires, their thinking, their focus are in accord with ours, as long as we get what we want, perhaps as long as the other person doesn’t change. When conditions change — when we stop getting what we want our “love” collapses.

Often we don't engage ourselves deeply enough into each others differences. There remains a simple desire for sense-fulfillment while God's love is much more complex and does not allow for meritocracy or self. In Christ alone we can hold love in our hearts for others whether or not we like them or even know them. It’s a completely unconditional love. There is a danger of finding unity over an issue or a cause. Whenever we want something from another person, there’s a danger that we’ll lose sight of our basic commonality. We all are being made in the image of God and being loved unconditionally by God. We loose the sense that we’re all in it together, sharing a mode of being in which suffering of not being known and its end are our deepest drives and our deepest connection. Love that seeks to “know completely” just as we are completely known is what I think of as real love. We can lose touch with this understanding very easily.

A congregation saturated with a conditional thinking and feeling about the relation between persons as individual and persons as the body of Christ tends to focus on individual salvation and individual sin and less on the Kingdom of God as communitarian ideal, collective salvation. And that leads often to an disengagement with the big picture of love. We compensate with an engagement with a socially comfortable issues, causes or a particular personal mission which promises control and a level of autonomy and achievement but also alikeness. Perhaps it is a dissatisfaction with the indifference of the church as David Plett suggest. After all, "we aren't content with a church that turns a blind eye and a deaf ear to the realities of social injustice in the world. We want our lives -- and the church -- to count for social justice." After all an issue can be addressed, a cause can be simply popular, and a mission can be exclusive and can unite, whereas love calls for self-reflection.

Love seeks truth, truth which challenges myths, half-truths, denials, and lies.

After all, somehow we all know that the Gospel is about being free from the ancient, pervasive, and delightful oppression of sin, fear, even self in order to be a very different community. We know we ought to be an alternative kingdom here and now on earth by means of living and celebrating the way of Jesus -- the reign of joyful weakness, renunciation, enemy-love, self-denial, sharing, foolishness, community, deliverance and love overcoming evil here and now. We can do that by identifying, facing, and resolving our own ideological fears that keeps us from moving toward the otherness of others. After all when it comes to "move" we face the problem of our human desire for the status quo "staying is easier than moving."

We know we ought to be different and yet we find it difficult to embrace our differences. We want our lives to matter. We know we ought to live in such a way that our neighbours will be glad we did. God invites us by calling us into fellowship to outlive our earthly lives not just in heaven but here on earth.