Walking with Jesus, in Our Communities

Andy Crouch says that the only way we impact culture quickly is by destroying; building it takes a lot longer. He asks: What can you do to Rome in a day? Burn it. To build it, you’re going to need a lot of days.

We see that in our world. It’s a lot easier to destroy than to develop. It’s much simpler to demolish what you believe is wrong, than it is to establish what is truly right.

All of this, Crouch says, should challenge us to cultivate patience. Anything good we are going to accomplish as a Church is going to come through long-term commitment and faithful service.

During this time of unrest and conflict in our country, I’ve heard someone share a simple idea for policing our communities: having officers walk their beats. Now, it’s certainly more complicated than this, and one idea doesn’t solve decades of problems – but it’s an idea that I think could make a difference. Through the repeated efforts of daily walking through the communities they serve, police will gain a better understanding of those communities, and the people who live and work there. It’s a simple idea rooted in the very idea of community: if you’re going to oversee a neighborhood, you need to know the people of that neighborhood. Policing, just like pastoring, is best done in person.

Of course, this won’t prevent conflict, and it certainly doesn’t bring an end to an uprising. But how would relationships between police and people change, if the ordinary folks were known to the officers who had jurisdiction in their area?

When Jesus walked among us, he … well … walked among us. As John Ortberg has noted: Jesus did ministry at the speed of foot. Walking wasn’t just Jesus’ main mode of transport; it was also his main method of ministry. Jesus certainly taught his friends many things, but many of the things Jesus taught them happened as they went about life –  walking, sharing with people, touching them, seeing them, hearing their stories. So much of what we know about Jesus comes through his interactions with the people he encountered. We who follow Jesus have much to learn from this.

If Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life – what happens when we not only root our lives in his Truth – but also in the Way he shared that Truth? What does the Church look like when we take Jesus’ ways as our model for ministry? How much change occurs – deep, life-transforming change – when we get out of our comfort zones, and into our communities?

And what could happen if this approach took hold in our broader culture? What would our communities look like? Our police? Our politicians? What divisions would be defused, or at least diminished?

We have a lot of work to do – work that the Church should be leading. Perhaps, forced by coronavirus and prompted by civil unrest, we in the Church have been given an opportunity – to be less concerned about our Sunday programming, and more focused on being in our community, walking with people, right where they are.

Creation Groaning

This morning, I was reading in Romans 8 – words so fitting for the moment we find ourselves in. Romans 8 begins by telling us that in Christ we are set free from the law of sin and death. Sin and death are still very real; sadly, this is all too obvious. But for the follower of Jesus, sin and death are not our ultimate destiny.

But there’s more, for what is true for us as creatures, is also true for all of creation. In verses 19 & following, Paul talks about creation eagerly and expectantly awaiting our redemption. But it’s not just ours; creation is desperate for its freedom, too. In verse 21, Paul makes clear that our freedom is creation’s freedom; that God’s redemptive purposes are not individualistic; they cover all that He has made.

I find these words immensely hopeful, in a time that feels hopeless to so many. Even as many groan for more – for things to be what they are meant to be – Paul says that creation cries out, too. It was groaning in his day, and the groaning continues, 2000 years later – for healing, for wholeness, for hope.

The promise of scripture – the promise of God – is that our groanings have an answer. That answer is found in the redemptive work of Jesus – a work that restores lives, families, communities, and reaches into every corner of creation. It’s a work we’re called to be a part of now. As believers, we must work for the new day we believe is coming – even as we, along with all of creation, lament all the ways it is not yet a reality.

For this is what Hope looks like: holding fast to what will come, while working to live that reality now. Knowing what God will do, Hope does the hard work of shining the light of God’s redemption now – even as we long for it to come, completely and forever.

And the promise we have, is that one day, it will. Even so, Lord Jesus, come!

An Unlikely Friendship

In my previous post, I looked at the importance of listening to those we disagree with. For many, that’s not high on the list of priorities. That’s understandable; it’s hard to listen to someone who has a completely different take on an issue of great importance to us. But I think it’s important to remember: listening to opposing viewpoints doesn’t signal uncertainty. On the contrary, I believe those who listen best are those who are most in tune with their core convictions. Those who reach out best are those who best know what they believe. On the other hand, those who hide behind facebook posts or only listen to their own echo chamber may be the ones who feel most fragile in their beliefs. Yelling at others isn’t usually a sign of confidence, but fear. The refusal to engage another person is often rooted in the inability to do so.

So, it seems to me, those of us who are Christian should be the ones who are most able to lead by loving others, and listening to them. Because our confidence is in Christ, we can hold faithfully to our belief in him AND love all people. If we’re serious about following Jesus, how could we do otherwise?

Years ago, Donna Red Wing invited Bob Vander Plaats to share coffee. Donna was a prominent LGBT activist; Bob is president of an organization that advocates for traditional Christian values. It’s not hard to see how awkward it would have been for Donna to invite Bob to sit down together – and equally difficult for Bob to join her. But she offered the invite, and he accepted.

In the simple act of getting to know each other over coffee, they had the opportunity to see each other as people – not as policies. Their first sit-down led to others, and through repeated conversations, Bob & Donna saw the humanity in each other – and over time, they actually became friends.

In the video, Donna says, “When people have the courage to show you who they are, something happens…. We can disagree without being disagreeable.”

For his part, Bob shares, “The only regret in all of that is that I wasn’t the one to ask her out for coffee. …I kind of feel like I should have.”

Watch the video. See if it doesn’t speak to you – not about what you believe, but about how you approach those who don’t believe what you believe.

Donna died two years ago. By that point, Donna’s friendship with Bob had grown to the place where she had arranged for Bob to deliver the eulogy at her funeral. It’s 11 minutes of humility, grace, and humor – and the fruit that results when we learn to listen to each other. I mean, it’s almost unimaginable that someone like Bob would be asked to speak at a service for someone like Donna. In our deeply polarized society, it’s the kind of thing that just doesn’t happen. Except it did.

So, how did Bob & Donna go from enemies to eulogies? How do we go from turning away to turning toward – from distance & anger to conversation & relationship? It happened – it still happens – when we are willing to listen and learn. It happens when we choose to lead with love.

Bob Vander Plaats gives eulogy for Donna Red Wing