Thursday, September 21, 2017

The church: The Christian remedy for isolation

Americans increasingly can live their lives without leaving their homes and without coming in contact with other human beings. And in this reality exists both a temptation and an opportunity for the church of Jesus.

Many of us in the workforce are able to do our jobs from our homes all or part of the time -- even in our pajamas. By and large, we don't have to go to the store for groceries, clothing, housing supplies, books, toys or most other items. Blue Apron and Hello Fresh will deliver meals to our door, and Amazon will send us food and nearly everything else. As consumers, we can get along just fine, thank you, with little, if any, human contact.

We don't have to go to someone's home, meet them at a coffee shop or talk to them on the phone to carry on what might be a meaningful conversation. Instead, we can communicate via desktop, laptop, tablet or smartphone.

And our neighborhoods -- especially in suburbia -- often remain miniature ghost towns of empty streets, yards and porches as a result of the decades-long prevalence of air-conditioning and television.

As Christians, this culture of isolation can easily mold us into its image. It is a temptation especially enticing for the introverts among us or those who have been deeply wounded by others.

We must resist this pull toward separation from others. We are intended to have in-person relationships with other image bearers of God. After all, our Creator sent us not just a message but a Savior. God the Son came to us. His was an incarnational ministry. He grieved with the grieving. He embraced and blessed children. He touched and healed the afflicted. He spoke to individuals and massive crowds. He listened to His followers and those who were not His followers. We are to be incarnational in our ministry as well, spending time with friends, strangers and all other neighbors -- incarnating the gospel of our Servant King to others and being affected for good by them.

As followers of Jesus, we also must recognize the indispensable role of the church in responding to this challenge. It is as a church we learn what it means to be the family of God. It is as a church we grow together toward likeness to Jesus. It is as a church we agree to be held accountable and to hold others accountable -- even if it means being disfellowshipped because of a lack of repentance. It is as a church we remember Christ's death in the Lord's Supper and proclaim the gospel in believer's baptism. It is as a church we bear one another's burdens and share our burdens with others. This requires being present with others of the same fellowship.

Jesus has promised to build the church. It is unique. A community on Facebook or other social media can be good, but it is not the church. An inter-church mom's group can be good, but it is not the church. An interdenominational men's breakfast can be good, but it is not the church. A community-wide Bible study can be good, but it is not the church. A nondenominational Christian youth ministry can be good, but it is not the church.

In light of this truth about the church, what should a Christian do? Here are two steps every follower of Jesus should take:

1. Join a church. To become a member of a church is to signify I am making at least these statements: I demonstrate I love Jesus by loving His church enough to be identified with a local body of His followers. I see the other members of this church and myself as united not by our mutual interests but by our mutual Savior and Lord. I submit myself to this specific church for the benefit of my growth and ministry as a follower of Jesus. I agree with what this church says in its confession of Christian faith. I pledge to live as a member of a committed, sacrificial community according to this church's membership covenant. I agree I am willing to have others confront me graciously in my sin. I commit to help make disciples as a part of this church's fulfillment of its commission from Christ. I promise to consider others in the church as more important than myself and to look out for the interests of others and not just my own.

2. Be actively engaged in the church you join. The gathering of the church for corporate worship each Sunday is essential for a Christian. It is the weekly time we confess with one voice the truth about God and His gospel. It is the weekly time we sit under the preaching of the Word that gives life and corrects us. It is the weekly time we encourage one another in person. It is the weekly time we are together as the forever family -- hopefully from before the opening song until the closing of the last class and prayer time. Being actively engaged in the church you join also means participating in the fellowship's Bible studies, small groups and service efforts when possible, as well as spending time together as individuals and households. This may often be uncomfortable or inconvenient, but it is called for and crucial in the life of each Christian.

In these ways and more, the church can be the remedy for seclusion and loneliness in a Christian's life.

The church of Jesus has the opportunity in this increasingly isolated and fragmented society to show a watching world what it means to have deep, meaningful relationships based not upon our tribal preferences but upon an unchanging relationship with one another as children of an unchanging Father by the power of an unchanging gospel. The church of Jesus has the opportunity to show a hurting world of disenfranchised people how true grace and love are lived out. May we do so joyfully and sacrificially because God the Son became a member of the community of humanity to make us members of the community of heaven.

-- Photo by on Unsplash

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Why say, 'Black lives matter'

Post-Charlottesville, the time seems right to respond to one aspect of this country's disturbing divide in black-white relations.

Some white people, including some conservative Christians, have reacted negatively in recent years to the use of the term "Black lives matter." (What I refer to in this post is simply the phrase, not the activist movement by that name.) Critics of the term have reacted by championing such slogans as "White lives matter" and "All lives matter."

A recent email from the head of a conservative, Christian organization said, "[I]f a group of white Senate and House members established a 'White Caucus' for white elected officials in Washington, D.C., the 'race-baiters' would go bananas. If the Left is to be consistent, they should speak out against the Congressional Black Caucus. If a group of 'Big Business' representatives established the National Association for the Advancement of White People, the Reverends Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton would have a field day."

This type of reaction -- asserting "White lives matter" and decrying the existence of organizations affirming African-American causes -- might be understandable if our history were different. We cannot change our history, however.

If all of those who came to this country did so freely and lived freely, there might be no need to assert the lives of a specific group of people matter. If the laws and law-enforcement officials of this land had always treated all Americans equally, there may be no need to profess the importance of a particular group. There also might be no need to create organizations that defend the rights and express the experience of a distinct group.

Context is critical on this issue. The context for Americans is this: The forced enslavement of black people by white people in this land began nearly 400 years ago. Slavery was finally abolished in law about 250 years later, but the legal subjugation of African Americans continued in at least part of the country. The Jim Crow laws of the South made black people second-class citizens for decades. Dixie's white-controlled society made possible a reign of terror against blacks that trampled upon human dignity, resulting in thousands of lynchings and multitudes of other grievous offenses. Racism and bigotry were not limited to the South. Angry white protesters in Boston -- yes, the one in the liberal state of Massachusetts -- used bricks and bottles to bombard buses carrying black students to desegregate the city's schools in the mid-1970s.

The racism and unequal treatment continue today against image bearers of God. All those of us who are white need do is ask a black friend or fellow Christian about the racial profiling he has experienced from law enforcement or the racial profiling she has undergone in retail stores.

When the shooting deaths of unarmed black teens or men by police or civilians are reported by news outlets or displayed in online videos, it should be no wonder the cry of "Black lives matter" goes forth. To say, "Black lives matter," is not to assert other lives don't matter. It is to declare in this country at this time without equivocation "Black lives matter" just as much as the lives of whites or any others. It is to refute this shameful part of our country's history and too much of the practice within this country even to this day.

Barely 50 years ago, there seemed no need for Americans to assert the right to life of unborn children. No states had legal abortion. That all changed by 1973. The Supreme Court's decision that year to strike down all state laws prohibiting abortion resulted in the legalization of the lethal procedure effectively for any reason at every stage of pregnancy. Most conservative Christians would have no problem now proclaiming: "Unborn lives matter." To make that judgment is not to judge other lives as unequal or less worthy.

So should it be in our country when African Americans are repeatedly given evidence their lives are not treated as equally worthy. We all should proclaim this together: "Black lives matter."

-- Photo by Ryan Holloway on Unsplash