Monday, November 30, 2015

Hope: Welcome to Our World

"Tears are falling.
Hearts are breaking.
How we need to hear from God.
You've been promised,
we've been waiting.
Welcome holy child."

The first Sunday of Advent focuses on hope. I don't know about you, but the darkness of this world has been dimming my light for some time the last several months. Reports of so much evil and death take their toll. In my own life I have faced dark moments this year and I am still facing some. I need something to pierce the darkness: Hope.

"Hope that you don't mind our manger.
How I wish we would have known.
But long-awaited holy stranger,
Make yourself at home.
Please make yourself at home."

Where does hope come from? Is it something we can conjure up within us? Perhaps it is more of a yearning, a refusal to see darkness as all there is. Perhaps it has been crafted within us by our maker so we would seek that which breaks the darkness.

"Bring your peace into our violence.
Bid our hungry souls be filled.
Word now breaking heaven's silence,
Welcome to our world."

We can patch wounds, we can weep as one, we can pledge ourselves to service, but we cannot demolish sin. Sin is ever existent in our world. Darkness has been and is and will continue to be until it is swallowed in victory at the end of time. Where is our hope while we wait? What does heaven have for us who suffer below?

"Fragile finger sent to heal us.
Tender brow prepared for thorn.
Tiny heart whose blood will save us.
Unto us is born."

A baby enters our world. He is unassuming, seemingly simply human, yet his destiny invades the darkness. He alone will enter darkness to destroy what we cannot. Sin will meet its match through whip and thorn and nails.

"So wrap our injured flesh around you.
Breathe our air and walk our sod.
Rob our sin and make us holy,
Perfect son of God."

He who is God-man takes on our own weakness and evil, walks among us and confronts the results of our submission to sin. He, perfect, lays down himself to bring us light. Sin is brought low, we are lifted up and his righteousness pours over us. This is hope. And I welcome it to our world.

(The quotes above come from the song "Welcome to our World" by Chris Rice. You can listen to it here.)

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Everyone Should Do What I Do...Or Not

Recently I read a familiar passage in Romans where Paul describes the body of Christ, saying that just as a person's body has many parts and they have different functions, so the body of Christ has many members, but not all have the same function. He goes on to give examples of different gifts: "if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness" (Romans 12:6-8). It's evident that not everyone has the same gift and that's okay.

But it's not okay in the eyes of some. I have noticed that some Christians get so excited about their particular gift they think it should apply to everyone. Or so excited about their particular ministry they think everyone should be involved in it. It's great to be excited about the gifts or ministry God has given you and share about them. The trouble is when we start thinking that others should be doing what we're doing and if they aren't, well, they certainly aren't doing what God really wants.

I guess it's just human nature to consider the things we do more important than what others do. After all, we see everything from our perspective. Some of us, however, get way too pushy about our particular ministries, so much so that some blogs I have read or books I have seen imply that others aren't really Christians if they aren't doing what the author is doing. You aren't a real Christian if you aren't going overseas on mission trips. You aren't a real Christian if you choose to live in the comfortable suburbs. You aren't a real Christian if you aren't helping the homeless. You aren't a real Christian if you aren't fostering children. And so on.

Now the blogs and books are the most vocal, but this attitude can often be found in a heart and not vocalized. We secretly wonder why all Christians don't see the vital need for our particular ministry. We rail about it in our minds, that if all Christians would just do what we do the world would be so much better. We imagine other Christians refusing to obey God and get involved in what matters (to us). We forget that we are a body.

Paul talks about the body in another passage, 1 Corinthians 12:17-20, 29-30: "If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body...Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?"

The answer to the last few rhetorical questions is "no." Everyone doesn't do everything. Everyone hasn't been gifted the same way. Everyone doesn't have the same ministries. Each person in the body of Christ can reach different people with the truth of Christ. If everyone went on mission trips overseas all the time, there wouldn't be ministry (or money for it) to local people. If everyone lived in the inner city, the suburbs wouldn't be reached. If everyone poured their efforts into the homeless, those who have a home would be neglected (yes, people with homes also have needs). If everyone put their resources into fostering children, they wouldn't have them for other outreaches like sponsoring children in other parts of the world.

I think the problem is that sometimes we think that there is just one real cause that matters to God. We tend to see the ministry we are involved in as the ministry that matters most to God. It might sound something like this in our minds: "Obviously, God wants missionaries to reach everyone in the world. People are dying and going to hell! We need to all be going out into the world." "The inner city is neglected. Its people are ignored and marginalized. God loves marginalized people all over the Bible. Obviously, God wants us to live in the inner city to reach them." "The Bible constantly shows God cares about those who are poor. The homeless have nothing. God obviously wants us to spend our time and efforts reaching them." "God considers true religion to be helping orphans. If the church would just get its act together there wouldn't be any orphans. Obviously, God wants everyone to foster and adopt children."

Before Paul launches into his discussion on the body in Romans 12, he says this: "For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned" (v.3). It's a warning that our temptation in our gifts/ministry is to think more highly of what we have been given to do than what others have been given to do. What we need is humility. We need to take joy in what we have been given to do, share about it, get excited about it, yet at the same time appreciate what God has given others to do, too, without judgment that really, what we do is more important.

We are a body. We aren't all an ear or a hand or a foot. We're a mix. We reach the world with our varying gifts and ministries. So let's remember not to judge when others don't seem as on fire as we are for our ministry. Let's not guilt trip others for not having the same gifts we have. And let's all thank God for the part he has asked us to play in his body.