Dear CRC Family,
What a sad week it has been in light of the tragedy in Orlando. Join me in praying for those directly affected, and for our nation. My dear friends, we live in challenging days. These are not days for the church to sit on the sideline, retreating and hoping for better days. Our nation needs healing. What kind of healing do we need and how will that healing come?
The Healing We Need
The healing that we need is not a change of laws but a change of heart; not a change in Washington, but a change in the way we see ourselves. We need repentance before God. Are we going to be a nation of neighborliness or nastiness? This was the same question during the decline of the Roman Empire. And in that ancient world Christians led the way towards a new society marked by love and service of one’s neighbors. How so? I would like to suggest it was not because they were better people than their pagan neighbors. Rather, it was because of something deeper still. It was because they had a view of humanity that was solid—rooted in the infinitely deep and rich soil of the God having become a human being for us.
The Bible tells us (uniquely, I might add) that we are all made in the image of God. We share a kinship by way of creation with God. This is our fundamental identity—an identity gifted and defined by our Creator. And so, our political and religious affiliation, our race, our sexuality, our gender-identification, or whatever other label we want to slap on ourselves or others does not fundamentally define us. In fact, to make such things our core identity is to make them idolatries. And such idolatries not only destroy our relationship with God, but they also become barriers to loving our neighbor on God’s terms. They lead us to have dangerous inner conversations about how (and even whether!) we are to love our neighbor, when they are of such-and-such political affiliation, race, sexuality, religion, (fill in the blank).
Jesus took such identity-idolatry head on. This is why, for example, in the parable of the Good Samaritan He not only makes the hero of the story a Samaritan (a heretic according to his hearers), but also makes the victim a non-descript person in need. The text tells us the victim was stripped, beaten and half-dead—leaving no way to know which identity-politic he fit into. He was a mere human in need, and it was another human (shock of all shocks, a Samaritan!) who stopped to be a neighbor. This would have blown all the identity-politic categories of Jesus’ hearers.
What’s the point? There is too much to explain in this short space, but let me leave it at this: We are all humans in desperate need (helpless sinners, everyone of us), and it is the surprising outcast Jesus—the One we rejected—who has come for us, to be our “neighbor”. A human in need is a divine image bearer of God…PERIOD! How you treat your fellow human being is how you treat God, regardless of their label.
The question is not who is good enough to be considered my “neighbor”, but whether I am a good enough neighbor to those in need—like Jesus has been to me.
So, What To Do?
Practically speaking, how can we be agents of healing? Many are holding rallies and I don’t want to dismiss such events. However, I would like you to think in terms that are more substantive and less symbolic. Tolerance and acceptance must be more than a slogan. We need radical hospitality. We need to see our selves in light of Jesus’ radical hospitality to us and then extend such hospitality to others.
As Christians, we know a God who has not merely “tolerated” us but died for us, and not for us only but for all people (1 John 2:2). Indeed, He died for us even when we were enemies. He went to the furthest extent to make us friends, even subjecting Himself to our hatred and abuse. This is radical hospitality. To the degree we do this for one another and for our non-Christian neighbors, to that degree we have come to truly understand the grace of God. “For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats…. He Himself bore our sins…” (1 Pt. 2:21-23).
For many of us it may be as simple as initiating a conversation with someone, perhaps on the sideline of your child’s sporting event or at the workplace, in order to get to know him or her and communicate his or her value as a person. For others it may mean welcoming someone to a women’s book study this summer or to the Father-Son campout this weekend. For others it might mean inviting someone over for dinner, just to get to know them, and see where God takes the interaction.
What might it be for you? Please take a moment to consider these passages and ponder with your family and friends how you might be an agent of reconciliation in your circle of influence, or between your circle and another. How can you make others feel welcome and cared for—even if, ostensibly, they reject you and God’s grace?
- “Practice hospitality without complaint” (1 Peter 3:8). Are you being a neighbor indiscriminately to those around you, or are you putting up walls of suspicion (mental or otherwise) that are keeping you from freely engaging and serving your neighbor?
- Paul encourages the believers in Colossae (a stratified, segregated community) “Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders [i.e. those outside the church], making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.” (Col. 4:5-6). How do you think and speak of non-believers?
- “…not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing” (1 Peter 3:9).
- “Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed, to malign no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing every consideration for all men. For we also once were foolish ourselves…” (Titus 3:1-3). Who do you judge to be a likely candidate for God’s grace? If you are dismissive of some as being beyond the possibility of God’s grace, you are ignorant of the power of God’s grace.
- “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse…. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. ‘But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:14, 17-21)
Your coworker, your classmate, your teammate, your enemy are human beings in need of God’s grace. You accept them, reach out to them and serve them, not because they are “worthy” or fit into categories comfortable to you, but simply because they are made in the image of God. They are perfect candidates for the free grace of God, just like you. ☺ If this is not the knee-jerk response of your heart towards them, then you do not understand the gospel…for yourself. It’s as simple as that.
Grace and Peace in Jesus Christ,