Saturday, 14 February 2015

Crosswalk IV- It is not always easy to say you are sorry;

To stay silent is to be complicit, but to speak the truth in love offers freedom. It is not easy to stand against the tide of the culture and to say things that will leave us marginalized and possibly even persecuted, but we who follow Jesus, follow him in deeds and in words. The Saviour who came to seek and to save the lost warned that unless we repent we too will perish, unless our righteousness precedes that of the Pharisees we will be lost!

Misunderstanding happens easily, conflicts will never cease, not in this world, but how people, Christian in particular, handle them will make a difference. However these thoughts are not about giving a degree in self-recrimination but about having a degree of self-recrimination.

How do we handle conflict or the absence of unconditional, unreserved love among all people of a congregation? With people we sadly know little if anything about except they differ from us. Sadly, habits of the world tend to sneak into the life of a congregations, we favor certain activities over other and the same holds true with people. I don't think there is anything we can do about it, just as I can't do anything about being tempted. But do I act on the temptation? We all have our biases, favorites, or preferences, after all we are to a certain point conditioned by our upbringing, our culture, our gender but do we act exclusively on them, sidelining and overlooking people we feel less drawn to? The family of God is being fractured into camps, like different ministries with little or no overlap or common goals.
There are two common ways I have come across in my years as pastor how that fracturedness is being dealt with. The first way to deal with it is that leadership affirms the presence of a so called camp-mentality and the resulting fracturedness but calls that normal. To be fair, fracturedness in the world is indeed normal, just like irreconcilable differences, but should that also be among us, the members of God's family?  Have we become victims of low expectations, augmented reality or simply the loss of the first love? Self-interest and self-preservation can easily entangle us just like  any sin for that matter, but are we willing to admit that we perhaps have settled for the mediocrity of the world rather than following Jesus' example?
I think part of the problem is that we do not understand the concept of love apart from us benefiting in some way. The same is true to some degree with the concept of relationship where often both benefit from the friendship between them. I believe we have an anemic incomplete understanding of love. We have spiritualized and ritualized church and its message of unconditional love and reconciliation and taken away the practical application of it for daily life. 

Relationship is not a technical part of our lives, like a broken TV we simply replace but the very purpose of our existence as the image of God in the first place. Our humanness depends on relationships. But just like a car needs maintenance and regular check-ups and oil changes and tire rotation all of which cost time and money so do relationships. They too require time and maintenance and at times repairs. How is it that in my experiences we take better care for our material possessions than for our relationships. We even insure them against loss. The purpose of the church is to bring back together people or groups who have been estranged or separated. The purpose of the church is to restore and heal broken relationships between people and God in a tangible way here and now.  The church purpose is to be a showcase for restored and healed relationships between people and each other, people and creation, and even the fracturedness we experience within our own self. 

Living life with truth
However, we often do not admit even to ourselves our brokenness, deep seated hurts and resentments. And how can we? After all we have been taught that "everything has been made new" when we for the first time met Jesus. Justification is indeed the new creation of the person, but sanctification is the development of that person util the day of Jesus Christ. Both, justification and sanctification are united in the lifelong journey of following and obeying Jesus called discipleship.

That is our message, a gospel that calls every person to believe what Jesus believed, live as he lived, love as he loved, serve as he served, forgive as he forgave, and lead as he led. This is the power moving us to reconciliation, restoring the meaning of love to the church for growth, morality, and ability to once again influence a skeptical and needy world. 

I think that taking a step back in order to avoid an escalation of a conflict situation is necessary at time, but how do we take the step back back?

“To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.” 
C.S. Lewis 

I ask this question, of going back, because I realize that there are different experiences and hence expectation regarding the relationship between Jesus and his followers. It felt often to me as living in a glass house; just beside the transparent wall I saw my brother or sister but I could not really get to them. The glass represents not only church infrastructure, local customs and tradition but also personal preferences. Often we experience in our "Christian life" a guarded and institutional community based on philosophies of ministry, on roles and hierarchy and less a community based on unconditional love and trust. And so many may totally be fine with a guarded relationship, after all it is still better than what they had experienced before they became a Christian.

But I believe the Great Commission is about relationships than about the transfer of information and facts about Jesus, Church and the development of doctrines. I don't think that the problem of many churches is a intellectual departure from the orthodox church but an increasing departure from the depth of the application of Jesus' call to follow. We need to remind ourselves that following Jesus, discipleship, is about believing what he believed, living the way he lived, serving the way he served, leading the way he led, and finally loving the way he loved.

Too many have settled for loving those who love us, we are naturally drawn to, we have much in common with not realizing that we have been influenced in our expectation and experiences perhaps more by the world than the story of Jesus' life.

Forgiveness, reconciliation; again we have settled down those who ask for forgiveness, from a position of righteousness. Or we forgive them in our heart in order to be free from anger without them ever benefiting from it. But the forgiveness Jesus gave was based on love, even acknowledging their guilt while maintaining their ignorance as well, he did not set limits on forgiveness either. Irreconcilability is not in his vocabulary and neither should it be in ours.

Many churches are marginalized, exist on the waysides of society because of estranged relationships, estrangement that goes back many generations of pastors. I have experienced that, and the help I received was that the people should simply move on. But Esau and his brother did not move on as brothers, guilt and fear where constant with Jacob until the moment they reconciled. The same is true with Joseph and his brothers, even though he had forgiven them they continued in a level of fear, heightened by the dead of their father.It took a lot more work from Joseph side than just moving on with his life. To love as Christ loved is the way to break down the walls of hurt, pride, shame, and ignorance that separate us and bring healing to broken lives. It takes acknowledgement that something is not right, followed by confession of sin, repentance, extending of forgiveness and the working on reconciliation. Jesus did not hold anything back and loved until other experienced that love; "love each other as I have loved you."

The need for depth must begin with the church's leader and to that end I pray, that we entrench our lives in the depths of humanity’s brokenness, while hold ourselves accountable to live to a standard worthy of desire.

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