Pastor’s Perspective – March 2020
My article this month has reached eight pages without anything remotely satisfying to me. The current word count is 3300; so much written with nothing completed. Those who know me understand that this is not a novel problem. My unique maladies of perfectionism and ADD have set the table for many such days. My mind races from one topic to the other and each new crisis resets the agenda for what might be necessary for this forum.
We live in a time in which each day brings not only a new crisis, but a new universe of possible crises. Political problems have been intensified by social media hysteria and a 24 / 7 news cycle. Wars and rumors of wars have taken on a new emphasis with satellite communications allowing us instant access to the most remote of locations and the most minor of conflicts. If a Church is attacked in a tribal village in Sudan, you hear about it that evening. There are so many things that have the interest and the eyes of the Church on them; from Coronavirus to Lenten season. What do you share? What is of the most critical importance for the Church?
One of the critical concerns of today’s Church is our inability to project the image of God to the world. We want to show the world Jesus, but even when we think we know how to do it, our human frailties and sinfulness warps our vision and injures our ability to deliver on the things that we believe we should be accomplishing. Those who seek to minister to the world typically choose from one of two possible pathways.
Those who favor the muscular Church of the social gospel movement believe that the task of the Church is connected to ministering to the social needs of the community. This segment of the Church believes that if we give enough and work hard enough then we could eradicate the problems that afflict the world around us. This wing of the Church wants to eradicate poverty and heal the afflictions of the sick. Their work will never be resolved until we have saved the world from the consequences of our own sinful actions and created economic justice and healing.
The other wing of the Church believes that the gospel of Jesus Christ can only impact the world by communicating the Truth of Jesus Christ to our communities. These Evangelically minded believers seek to communicate the truth of the gospel to the world. They desire to share information and biblical truth to friends and neighbors. For these creatures of the Enlightenment the wisest and best Christians were the ones who were repositories of knowledge and information. The more information (from Bible verses to scientific knowledge) we know the better we can answer the questions of those who seek the truth of the Gospel. They believe that their work will not be completed until every person acknowledges Jesus Christ as their personal Savior.
Our current context has shown to us the folly of our aspirations. We can never do enough or know enough to impress the world into discipleship with Jesus Christ. The world has grown too big and too needy to resolve the conflict, meet the needs, or answer the interrogations of the crowd. The truth is that the world was always too big for us, but for a time we believed that we were capable through technology and increased wisdom to solve the unsolvable problems of human sinfulness.
Instead of solving our problems and improving our reach and effectiveness, our technological advancements have caused us to feel more vulnerable than we did in the old days in which our movement could address the needs of a singular, homogenized community. No matter what we accomplish we never get the satisfied feeling that we have accomplished something in our daily work. In a globally interconnected world, we can no longer pretend that we have the intellectual, spiritual, or physical ability to solve anything. And the realization is driving us crazy.
Our minds have gone out of control as we attempt to manage and resolve new information, new threats, new concepts, and new needs. Every day a new grievance refutes the Church’s response to last week’s complaint. Every thoughtful response is trampled by the opinions of new skeptics, and every compassionate action is scorned by those who are concerned that the newest underserved community was ignored, maligned or rejected.
We simply are incapable of saving the world.
My frustration with this simple truth causes me to doubt what I write and criticize my own effectiveness. My grief in failing to live up to this expectation is what drives me toward attempting to fulfill all the varied and conflicting needs of the people around me. My inability to understand the strength of the very gospel that I am seeking to communicate causes me to spiral out of control into depression and ineffectiveness.
Here is the truth. This article will not save the world. My ideas will not change anyone else’s mind. My ability to distill the history of philosophy and Biblical truth will not transform myself or others into a more Christ like version of who we are. My work will never be able to change the plight of the poor or the maligned in this world.
My efforts and gifts will never accomplish these things because they cannot. My endeavors are not the expectations of the gospel of Jesus Christ. While this doesn’t mean that my efforts are superfluous or unnecessary, it does mean that my efforts cannot and will not provide the solution. The reason for this is quite simple. This is NOT my work. Whenever I make it mine, I am usurping God’s work and authority.
The work that we are seeking has already been accomplished. God in Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit has accomplished the work that we are all looking to provide for the world. It is not my job to innovate the work of Jesus Christ. It is not my job to make it look good. It is not my job to change the minds or hearts or behaviors of any other person. It is not my job and it is not in my power or authority to do these things, and the frustration that I feel when I make these attempts are not punishments from God, but reminders that God has this under control.
God sent His only Son into the world to be the Way, the Truth, and the Life for us. Jesus was not only our example, He was / is also our Savior and King. It is not our task to pretend to be Jesus. This is inverting the truth. It is our task to allow Jesus to take our lives. It is our task to give our skills, gifts, energy, and lives to Jesus through the working of the Holy Spirit. Out task is not to mold the world into our image, our task is to be formed by God.
We are not the image of God because we know all the answers and are perfect (or even good) in our behaviors and opinions. We are the image of God when we love God and our neighbors with the same love of ourselves. We are the image of God when we show enough faith in God to trust that God loves us enough to care for us, protect us and save us.
This is story of Easter and the meaning of Lent. We are in perpetual need. We have failed to save ourselves or others, because we are not able to accomplish this task. We need a Savior… and God sent to us His only Son.
God has accomplished in Jesus Christ the things that we cannot. God has given us salvation, covered us in God’s righteousness, and has raised the weak and lowly to a place of value and love. Use both wings of the Church to share the gospel of Jesus and show God’s love. Live a holy Lent and echo the Easter message by telling and showing the world that Jesus, the Son of God and the Creator of the Universe, has come to save us.