Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Holy Fear

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,

And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.

Proverbs 9:10

There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
Romans 3:18

I suppose it is should not shock me that a world so lacking in reverent fear of God would also be suffering from a serious deficiency of wisdom. 

After my last blog post, my sister pointed out that perhaps the problem isn't fear, but misplaced fear. The Bible is clear: those of us who live by grace through faith in the saving work of Christ should be set free from every sort of fear, save one--the righteous and holy fear of the living God. 

This is a fear that reminds us that God is God, and we are not. It is a fear that keeps us humble, grateful, and hungry for justice. It is a fear that refuses to forget that there will be a day of reckoning. And it is a fear spurs us on to love and good deeds as the "out-working" of our salvation.

And while I believe we are invited to experience the lavish riches of God's grace, convinced that we can neither earn nor improve upon its merits, I wonder if we haven't wandered from the work that His grace is meant to accomplish in and through us. We delight so deeply in the love of God--as well we should, but have we neglected his Holiness in the process? The point of our salvation is not to give us a nice, cozy, happy life for all eternity. The point of our salvation is to make us into the image of Christ for the glory of God and the sake of the world. And this is to be done with a level of fear and trembling!

So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling;  for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.
Philippians 2:12-13

Thankfully, the work is not ours alone. Paul reminds us that it is GOD who is at work in me. But it is precisely because God is at work in me that I should have a sense of holy fear. 

This idea is more easily understood if we put it in human terms. Imagine that your boss was always standing right behind you at work, listening to every phone call, reading every email, viewing every website you visit, watching every game you play, seeing every eye-roll, hearing every sigh. Imagine that this boss is actually eager to see you succeed (not fail!), but that she also has a better understanding of the company's vision, strategy, and goals than you do. In fact, she's the CEO, the CFO, and the Board of Directors all rolled into one. So she's offering you input along the way, feeding you helpful hints, and making sure you have every resource that you could possibly need at your fingertips so that you can do the job that you were hired to do. Might the presence and provision of your superior change the way you work? Of course it would! Because with that type of boss, you'd have both a sense of security that you couldn't fail (grace) and an eagerness to please the one who gave you the job (fear). 

So I agree, a big part of our problem is misplaced fear. We are often too worried about all of the stuff that God has under control (safety, provision, resources) and not concerned enough about the call that God has given us (do justly, love mercy, walk humbly). 

He has shown you, O man, what is good;

And what does the Lord require of you

But to do justly,

To love mercy,

And to walk humbly with your God?

Micah 6:8

Jesus exemplified this charge, proclaiming the year of jubilee by working justice on behalf of the oppressed, by extending mercy to the masses (which he saw as helpless and harassed), and by living in constant, humble, submission to the Father. This is where the fear of God and the freedom from all other fears converge. 

If I fear being treated unjustly and don't fear God, I won't be free to seek justice. The Bible teaches that the justice of God is found when I relinquish my rights ("Why not rather be wronged?" I Cor. 6:7), relinquish my possessions ("Go and sell all that you have and give to the poor" Mark 10:21), and relinquish my power ("For God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong" I Cor. 1:27). 

If I fear being treated unkindly and don't fear God, I won't love mercy, I'll tend towards cruelty. The Bible teaches that the mercy of God is given to the undeserving ("He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy" Titus 3:5), the mercy of God is limitless ("His mercies never come to en end" Lam. 3:22), and that mercy is found in giving it away ("Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy" Matt. 5:7).

And if I fear being overlooked and I don't fear God, I won't walk humbly with my God, I'll seek to elevate myself. The Bible teaches that the way up is down, ("Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up" James 4:1) and that I should seek what is best for others ("...each of you should, in humility, be moved to treat one another as more important than yourself" Phil 2:3). 

As I decide NOT to fear anything except GOD, I will become an agent of His justice and a lover of His mercy. Only then will I be humble before him, eager to work to please Him. 

Tying this to the last post, then, I suppose I need to ask myself, "What would it look like to put a fear of God at the heart of gun debate?"  "What would it look like to put a fear of God at the heart of the immigration debate?" "What would it look like to put a fear of God at the heart of the Black Lives Matter movement?"  How do I, a follower of Christ, engage my culture on each of these issues in a way that exemplifies a right and holy fear of God without giving any room to fear of another kind? These are good questions, and again, I'm not sure I know the answers. But I want to wrestle with these thoughts and seek the peaceable wisdom of God so that I might discern His good, pleasing, and perfect will. 

Monday, July 11, 2016

Reflecting on Current Events

What a week you've had, my fellow Americans.  And how very far away I feel from it all.  Yet, you are near to my heart. I am one of you.

It's moments like this when wordsmiths like me are out like mad on the web trying to make pithy statements or dazzling observations. Facebook lights up with soundbites and hashtags. All of us, trying to make sense of a world that seems senseless.

Knowing my words won't add anything new to the conversation, I can easily retreat to silence. But there is danger there, too. Because silence can communicate contentedness with the status quo, complicity with all that is wrong. So while I do not expect to add anything new, I must say something.

The first thing that I will say is that I am ignorant, which means that the best thing I can do is shut up and listen to those who are less ignorant than myself. As a white American, I have privileges and opportunities that I don't even realize I have. I cannot understand what it is like to be a minority. It's not that I don't want to understand. It's that I can't. So when I am tempted to spout off solutions or to claim that my experience is representative of another person's experience, I do not reveal my wisdom, I reveal my ignorance. This is not to say that I should not try to understand, but I must realize that I am only going to be able to achieve an intellectual level of understanding and not an experiential level.

At the intellectual level we can study statistics and trends, we can talk about "equality" and "opportunity." We can make laws and sign petitions and have debates. Even better, I can lean into my friendships with minority people in an effort to hear and learn from their experiences. I can stop listening only to the voices of those who sound like me and listen to the voices that challenge my paradigm. These voices may not change my mind, but they will expand my heart and help me to have compassion. And I need to really listen. Listen to understand, and not just to refute. I need to imagine the possibility that there are things I don't yet know, haven't yet encountered, or have wrongly dismissed. Such listening might open me up to a new perspective. It could help me to think more deeply and sincerely about the complexity of the problems. It could lead to better solutions.

Oh but that IS such hard work. And we live in a world that prefers quips and tweets. We're all looking for that one meme that is going to bottom-line it for us. Deep thinking is no longer valued. And, sadly, we evangelical Christians can be more about categorizing issues into black and white, right and wrong, than wrestling with complexities. Why do we do that?

Remember how angry Jesus would get at the Pharisees, who were tithing down to the tiniest cent while failing miserably at loving others? They were working so hard at being right that they failed to seek true righteousness. Mercy can't be measured, so it fell off their radar.

The second thing I will say is that  from a distance, at least, the United States appears to be a nation gripped by fear. Given the challenges and difficulties of life, fear is a natural human response. But fear is not a God-honoring response. Fear begets hate. I'm pretty sure that's why "Fear not" is the most repeated command in the Bible. But the inverse is also true--perfect love casts out fear. So if you really need a black and white barometer, why not use this one: "Am I being motivated by love or by fear?"

Fear, unchecked, will be the death of us. It is becoming the guiding force of political and social issues, and it is not healthy! Fear is at the heart of the gun debate. Fear is at the heart of the immigrant debate. Fear is at the heart of racism. Fear is at the heart of the bathroom debates, for heaven's sake! And fear is at the heart of the all the election rhetoric.

Look at the fear-mongering that goes on, particularly from Evangelical Christian leaders. On his own website, James Dobson defends his support of Trump by saying, "Hillary scares me to death." This is not good leadership, it isn't even Biblical, for he is rooting his decision in fear. Ben Carson, a man many of us respected, has said things like "Hillary is of the devil." And fear of Trump is worn like a badge of honor by, well, just about everyone. Both sides are trying to garner support for their candidate by painting the scariest picture of the other person. Fear. On all sides.

Let's not take our fear to the voting booth or the pulpit. Let's take our fear to Christ, confess it as sin, and ask for His wisdom and discernment to be our guides. Let's step back from the hysteria. Listen to the words of James chapter 3:
For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. But the wisdom from above is first pure then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
Here we have a filter to determine if what we are doing or thinking is aligned with God's wisdom or not. Don't ask "Is it scary?" Ask "Is it pure (or is it impure)? Is it peaceable (or is it hostile)? Is is gentle (or is it harsh)? Is it reasonable (or is it rediculous)? Is it full of mercy (or is it cruel)? Is it unwavering (or is it faltering)? Is it without hypocrisy (or is it hypocritical)?" And then consider how you share your views. Are you sowing in peace (or are you sowing  in dissention)? And just an aside--there is not a single news station in the US that is NOT sowing dissention. So maybe turn off the TV and the radio and read more newspapers. Most are available online these days, and this access to the written word allows you to search out all sides of an issue while refusing to support the inflammatory, baiting, fear-mongering rubbish that permeates the airwaves. Try to find facts, and take time to think constructively about the facts that you find.

Let me end where I began. I am ignorant. But I also have the advantage of viewing things from outside the American arena--which offers a unique perspective. I have so much to learn, and the more I learn the more I realize how much I don't know. So I'm simply sharing what I think to be my best contribution to the important conversations that are swirling all around us. Two things I am committing to do: Listen more and fear less.

The following are links to articles or books that I have found helpful. None of them are perfect, and I do not agree with everything that is found in them. But I do find that reading these things is helping me to understand the complexity of these issues, to think more deeply about solutions, and to consider what my best contribution might be. Believe it or not, there are a lot of very smart people of integrity on all sides of these issues.

Here is a link to a short article that explains why #AllLivesMatter may be an uninformed and unhelpful respose to #BlackLivesMatter.

Colleen Mitchell, a Catholic missionary in Costa Rica, speaks truth in her article, "10 Reasons Why I Don't Want to be You White Ally."

This is the best article I've read on why Trump is so popular with evangelicals.

I really appreciate this insightful article from a woman with a black son and a husband who is a white police officer.

If you haven't yet read The Same Kind of Different as MeI highly recommend it. It's an easy but poignant book.

I was challenged by bell hooks' book Where We Stand: Class Matters. Some of her writing is inflammatory and she does not provide sufficient research to support her harsh judgements; however, I must admit that some of her claims ring with truth and have made me think twice about the ramifications of our consumerist culture and how consumerism is linked to racism and sexism. This book is hard for a white middle/upper class audience to read because it is highly critical. But if you read it, seek to leave room for conviction and try not to dismiss all of it just because some of it is over the top.

Another good book on consumerism is William T. Cavanaugh's book Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire. 

Friday, July 1, 2016

Renovations Have Begun

The Evangelical Church of Old Lyon has begun renovations on the building that we are renting!!! For our first event in the building, we hosted an evening of Prayer and Worship. Sitting on bags of concrete mix, we invited the Spirit to take his place among us. 

We won't be having services in the building until September because we have a lot of work to do to prepare the space to serve it's multi-purpose function. Do you see the word "co-working" on the door? 
Our plan is to offer shared workspace to entrepeneurs (M-F), where networking and community-building will  happen organically. There will be a living room-like meeting space available for use for those who co-work in the building, but this same space will be used for our community prayer times and devotionals Monday- Friday from 7:00-7:45 am and from 6:00-6:15 pm. 

On Sundays, the desks will fold up (like Murphy beds) and the space will be used for weekly church services. All prayer meetings and church services will be evangelistic in nature and open to the public, and our hope is that the space will become a place where the Kingdom of God is visible and active in all aspects of life. 

Because the average size of an established evangelical church in France is about 80 people, it is difficult for congregations to be able to sustain the costs of a building. The co-working space will not only allow us to reach and bless our community M-F, it will enable the young church plant to be viable financially for the long run.