Tuesday, May 29, 2012

I Didn't See that Coming

Posted by Jack

I'm leaving my job, I tell them. I am leaving this job to go work in my neighborhood. I am taking a pay cut, giving up good hours. My own little Macedonian call. I am coming on over.

I fall madly in love with children and families. I feel, with as much clarity as feeling allows, that this is the place for me. I envision staying in this place for years, growing older and growing deeper into the neighborhood. 

And then, one day, I find it is time to leave.

No, not here. Somewhere else. Even though it sometimes feels like failure, even though it causes hurt, it is right. Now is not the time, and this is not the place.

Really? Can it be true? After being so sure this is where I am meant to be, I find I must go somewhere else?

I didn't see that coming. 

So, by "community garden," you mean that garden we planted while others watched? By "neighbors," you mean those folks who watch from a distant porch, the curious onlookers who we know by sight, but rarely by name?

And then, one day, we open up the door and find that a family has moved into the house behind us. We step out and find a curious little boy riding his bike in circles around us while we work in the garden.

We meet his mom, get to know them little by little. We begin to lose track of how many times the boy connects us in conversation, how many times he bridges a gap between us and neighbors we don't know, how often he becomes active with us and invites others in. He does it so naturally, and we fall in behind him, at ease in our play.

Looking at snakes, playing in the dirt, digging post holes for a garden fence, watering the garden (I mean squirting each other with the hose), eating popsicles and sharing fried chicken. And we can't forget playing baseball in the (formerly) abandoned lot next door. And the way he says "we" when he talks about the work taking place in the garden.

Then, one day, he comes knocking at the door, asking if we can come out to play. 

Really? Can it be true? After 3 and a half years of timid ventures and near-fruitless efforts, will it be a 7 year old boy who draws us deeper into the Kingdom? Will it be a child who leads us?

I didn't see that coming.

Don't you have any neighbors? You moved into the neighborhood to build community, but really there is no one around. To the east, an empty shell of a house. To the west, an empty lot. To the north, a desolate, weedy parking lot and a crumbling warehouse.

We spend several years getting off the ground, casting elaborate visions and plotting goodness. We tell countless people of our plans... what's that? Oh yes, it is a bit odd we have no immediate neighbors. Yes, our surroundings are somewhat less than ideal. Well, of course we want to build community, and of course it would be good to have more people nearby.  I suppose someone will see the community garden we've planted. I suppose someone would make use of a picnic shelter... or park... if we put it there.

[We are secretly somewhat dejected at our lack of neighborly contact. We are thankful for many good relationships and interactions, but in private, in the the vaults of our subconscious, we are wondering, "Did we really land in the right place?"] 

And then, one day, we open up the newspaper and see unprecedented movement, uncharted momentum. The abandoned warehouse across the street? Purchased by a ministry to the homeless. The future site of 26 apartments, homes for those who have nowhere to lay their head.

And on the other side, to the east? Beyond the empty house, two shaggy parcels of unused space. The future site of two doubles, homes for four more families.

Really? Can it be true? After moving into a barren wasteland, will a neighborhood spring up around us? Could it be true that we are building a park next door not for today, but tomorrow?

I didn't see that coming.

I think that is a phrase we should get used to. How many times in church history has such a phrase been uttered? How many times has the Creator surprised His people? How often has the Savior wowed us with inventive redemption, wooed us with the precision of His grace? And how many days more do we have in store, marveling at His unfolding goodness?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

On Gay Marriage and Missing the Mark

Posted by Jack

I'm sure you've heard it by now... if not, let me fill you in. A North Carolina pastor recently preached a sermon to his church, and he talked about building large fenced-in areas to imprison gay and lesbian men and women. Then he talked about dropping food on them from helicopters once in a while and leaving them in isolation until they die off. This story comes hot on the heels of the passage of Amendment One, the law which bans gay marriage and all civil unions (except between one man and one woman).

If you want to read the actual quote, or see the video of the fellow saying such things, follow this link.

I know that this is just one man and that his views are not representative of the entire population of North Carolina (I should hope not). And I am also aware that many major news outlets have picked up the story and, by the time you read this, you may be tired of hearing about it.

But I am going to briefly address the issue for 2 reasons.

1) This is one of the most important issues facing the contemporary church.

2) I made a personal commitment to reply each time I hear about something like this.

Let me tell you what the issue is NOT.

The issue is NOT whether homosexuality is a sin. God has decided that, not us. And we are called to love others and serve as representatives of Jesus to them. The sins of others are none of your business.

Throw the first stone. I dare you.

The issue is NOT the authority of Scripture. God's Word is not threatened by elections, popular opinion, or social trends. If the truth is immutable and absolute, what is there to fear?

The truth will make you free.  

The issue is NOT the safety of our families. Someone said to me today, if you think homosexuality is the biggest threat to the traditional family, then you are a coward.

What God has joined together, let no man tear apart.  

What, then, is the issue? I find it to be a simple one. In my humble estimation, the issue is this: You, Church of Jesus, Bride of Christ, have met the LGBT community. How did you treat them?

Did you condemn them having once stood condemned? Did you sit in judgement having once stood guilty on all charges? Did you allow their sexuality to keep you from knowing them? Loving them? Welcoming them into the fold? How much energy did you expend erecting roadblocks for them for this present age when you should have been casting your eyes on things eternal? Which came first, loving them or trying to change them into something you would love?

This issue in particular tends to draw dividing lines. "Polarizing" is the word I often hear in the press. The present discourse demands allegiance, on one side or the other.

Well, I don't like that type of language. Not to suggest that riding the fence is noble, or that people shouldn't be made to take a stance. But I certainly don't like it when a sensitive issue which influences many families is used as a wedge to separate "us" from "them".

I don't even like saying "us" and "them" because it can be such deceptive language. But if it comes to that, if I am backed into a corner and I am forced to "pick a side," how will I respond?

Well, in that case, I will have to side with "them."

I don't want to build fences around anyone, or starve them, or cast them out. I don't want to deny rights to others, or punish them through legislation, or make it difficult for them to be happy. I don't want to alienate or isolate or ignore. I don't want to sit in judgment, or condemn, or tell half-truths or complete lies.

What was I before Jesus found me? What am I now but a beggar who found life-giving bread?

For people who claim to interpret the Bible fully and literally, there seem to be a lot of Christians excising the shockingly hopeful and dangerously inclusive Gospel of Jesus Christ.

I must preach the Gospel. I must tell of His unfathomable love for every man, woman, and child. I must tell the story of His life, His death, His Resurrection. I must tell the world of deathly sin, sin that is now dead, sin that can be made to have no sway. I must invite everyone I meet to enter into the Kingdom of God, to worship the Risen Lord, and to sit at the banqueting table.

This Gospel demands allegiance. It issues a challenge. Like Joshua said, back in the day, "Choose this day whom you will serve." Choose today.

As for me, I will serve the Lord. I will serve the Servant King Who came to give His life as a ransom for many. I will serve the One Who gives new life, Who births new creations from strife and brokenness. I will serve the One Who loved His enemies so much, He died for them. I will serve the Savior Who ran to the margins, Who embraced the hurting, the excluded, the hated, and the forgotten.

I will participate in the Kingdom that welcomes the outcast into fellowship. With the washing of feet, we will send stigmas swirling down the sudsy drain. And others will scoff and shake their heads, and say, "You will have fellowship with them, the sinners?"

And running fingers along our own scars, we will reply, "Such is our Kingdom."