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.

Wait like a Pharisee (sort of)

I’m a bad waiter. Not like at Cracker Barrel, though I probably wouldn’t get very many stars on my apron because I’d spill too many things on too many customers. I mean: I’m bad at waiting. I just don’t like to do it. No matter how much I try to remind myself about patience, and taking a breath, and receiving the moment as it is — I just don’t like to wait.

Which is probably why I need this season of Advent. For Advent is about waiting.

On Sunday, the worship leader began by reminding us of this fact. He talked about waiting; how it’s something all of us have to do. Immediately, his words clicked for me, and gave voice to what I’ve been feeling. That feeling of waiting. Waiting for a phone call or an email. Waiting to hear back on a job I’ve applied for, or an opportunity I’m exploring. Waiting to see what my kids will become as they grow up. Waiting for loved ones’ health to take a turn. Or just waiting for peace. Or understanding. Or joy.

In my time of waiting, I’ve set a goal of reading N.T. Wright’s four-volume series, “Christian Origins and the Question of God.” I’ve started book one, The New Testament & the People of God. It’s full of fascinating insights, including Wright’s discussion of 3 of the sects who were active in the 2 centuries surrounding the birth of Jesus. Two of them we know from the New Testament (The Pharisees & the Sadduccees) and one we don’t (the Essenes). All 3 had 1 thing in common: their desire for the kingdom of God to come, for the Messiah to usher in God’s victory. But how they lived out that desire — or, we might say, how they waited — was what separated them from each other.

First, the one we don’t read about: the Essenes. They looked for the coming of the Kingdom, for a messianic rescue, but to prepare for it they withdrew from society. Seeing corruption throughout the religious and political systems, they separated and waited. They sought to live holy & pure lives, while waiting for God’s kingdom.

On the opposite end were the Sadduccees. Unlike the Essenes, they got right in the middle of religion and politics. Their desire for God’s reign came through trying to insert themselves wherever they could to make God’s kingdom come more quickly. Their version of waiting, in other words, was to make something happen.

Then there were the Pharisees. While we think of them in almost a completely negative light, they too sought the coming reign of God. Unlike the Essenes, they did not withdraw. Unlike the Sadduccees, they did not seek first power and influence. Instead, they sought to wait by living pure lives, while also working to influence religion and politics where they could. Now clearly, according to Jesus, the Pharisees took the wrong approach to purity; even so, their inclinations were grounded in good teaching. Purity matters. And so, in their “waiting” for the Messiah, they sought to live upright lives.

But they also were willing to insert themselves in the religious & political discussion (as they did with Jesus so often). Even though, as Wright points out, the Pharisees were not the official teachers of Israel (the priests were), they sought to use their influence where they could. Again, we see this in the New Testament, where the Pharisees colluded with the priests and teachers to do what they believed to be best.

Now, I’m not advocating anyone become a Pharisee, and they certainly misapplied a bunch of scripture. They did seem to get one thing right, though: their approach to waiting. For true, faithful, biblical waiting isn’t a matter of withdrawing until God does something (like the Essenes). But neither is it going out and making things happen, no matter what alliances we have to make or compromises we have to swallow (like the Sadduccees). Instead, I believe biblical waiting is both trusting God and seeking to place ourselves in a position to be a part of what He is doing.

For me, this is illustrated very well by John Ortberg, when he compares our spiritual growth to 3 different vessels on the water. When it comes to our waiting for God, there are 3 watercraft we can choose to use. The first is a raft. When you’re on a raft, you are completely dependent on the wind and the waves. There is nothing you are doing; you are completely at the mercy of the elements. Though it’s a bit of an exaggeration, we might say: the Essenes liked rafts.

On the other extreme, we can hit the water in a speedboat. In this case, we are in charge. We determine where we’re going, and how fast. The bigger the outboard motor, the happier the Sadduccees would have been.

But the watercraft Ortberg recommends is a sailboat, because in a sailboat, you’re not going anywhere if there isn’t some wind. But you’re also not going anywhere (or at least anywere useful) if you don’t set the sails. Even though they never got the hang of it, the Pharisees would have been good on a sailboat — if only they got what Jesus was telling them.

So, biblical waiting is not passively sitting around, but neither is it forcing something to happen. Instead, it recognizes that without the wind of the Spirit, I am going nowhere. But it also recognizes that I’ve got to set my sails to the wind; I’ve got to attune my life, and orient it to catch the breath of the Spirit. He moves; He leads; but I’ve got to be ready, to be listening, to faithfully wait for the Wind to blow.

So, how are you waiting?

Stuff Happens

Do you ever feel as if life is coming at you from all different directions? Have you noticed that, so often, family stuff, and work stuff, and stuff-stuff seem to all happen at once?

The truth is — if you’re alive, stuff will happen to you. And if you live long enough, lots of stuff will happen to you. And sometimes, it even piles up. When that happens, what do you do? Well, if you’re like me, you fret over it. You lose sleep. You try to fix it. Or ignore it. Or wonder why. And you start asking questions you can’t answer.

But the truth is, most of the stuff I tend to do when life gets hard is not very helpful. It doesn’t help me navigate the stuff very well, nor does it really change the stuff. So, if worrying doesn’t work; if losing sleep isn’t helpful; if asking unanswerable questions leads nowhere, what should I do? Just sit back and do nothing?

No. And yes.

When the Bible calls us to is patience. The kind of patience that is a sign of the Spirit; the kind of patience that believes the Lord will come; the kind of patience that helps us endure; the kind of patience that inherits the promises. The kind of patience that says: I can’t fix what troubles me. In a way, biblical patience is recognizing what I can’t do. But at the same time, patience isn’t passive. It is a tenacious holding-on to the God who holds on to us; the God who walks with us through the things we face.

You see, biblical patience is a No — and a Yes. It is a No to all my striving — but it is a Yes to the promise that I am not alone. So, when I am tempted to try to tackle my stuff by myself, or run away from it, biblical patience invites me to face it, without fear, but with faith — knowing I am not alone. Therefore, patience is a Yes — to God, his grace, and his guiding presence. And patience is the faith that says: no matter what I face, God is here. God is here.

And where do we most clearly see the “God who is here”? We see that now, in this season — the season of Lent, leading up to Easter. We see the God who is here in the God who was here — Immanuel, God with us. The cross and the empty tomb are God’s greatest gift to patience — because they point us to the reality that God has not left us to face our stuff, our struggles, or our sin, alone. He is here. With us. With me. With you. No matter what we face.

I know I need that kind of patience. How about you?