Christianity 201

November 4, 2016

Advocacy: Joining Our Voices With Those Whose Cause Is Important

Today we’re paying a return visit to writer Dr. Gregory Crofford. His blog is titled “Theology in Overalls – Where Theology Meets Everyday Life” and in the article we’re using today, we see that intersection of theology and practical concern, or as some would say, the meeting of orthodoxy with orthopraxy.

Click the title below to read this at its source.

Holiness as compassionate advocacy

When asked the nature of holiness, John Wesley (1703-91) often pointed to Mark 12:28-31. All of the commandments are summed up in just two: Love God and love your neighbor. This love is the essence of holiness and it is the foundation of all compassion.

In recent years, we’ve spoken of compassionate evangelism. Now it is time to lift the banner of compassionate advocacy. Advocacy is concerned for social justice. As such, it is hardly a distraction from Gospel work. Rather, it is part-and-parcel of the church’s holistic Good News. In his article, “Social Justice in the Bible,” Dominik Markl notes:

Prophets such as Isaiah and Amos raise their voices on behalf of the poor and the marginalised, those belonging to the ‘weaker’ social groups. God himself prescribes a brotherly and sisterly social order in his Torah, and, in the same divine wisdom, Jesus develops a Christian ethics of love.

Those who are not followers of Christ will judge those of us who are by how we treat people who have nothing to offer in return. Right now on the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation in North Dakota, a few thousand Native Americans – water protectors, as they call themselves – are peacefully resisting the construction of a pipeline across their land. Their concern is that the pipeline is to pass under the Missouri River, potentially fouling its waters with oil in case of a spill. This is hardly an imaginary threat. On July 1, 2011, such a spill polluted the Yellow Stone River. So muscular has been the response to the current standoff in North Dakota that Amnesty International is sending human rights observers.

Why should followers of Christ care? The simplest answer is that we should care about what Jesus cares about. Isaiah 42:1-4a (CEB) is a prophecy of the coming Messiah:

But here is my servant, the one I uphold; my chosen, who brings me delight. I’ve put my spirit on him, and he will bring justice to the nations. He won’t cry out or shout aloud or make his voice heard in public He won’t break a bruised reed; he won’t extinguish a faint wick, but he will surely bring justice. He won’t be extinguished or broken until he has established justice in the land.

As a nation, we’ve done a lousy job of co-existing with those who were here before our European forebears arrived. We haven’t cared much for these “faint wicks” or about justice in our dealings. But what about the church, particularly the Wesleyan-holiness tradition that I call home? If we are about making Christlike disciples – and that is a crucial task – then we need to cast a broader vision of what being Christlike means. It is more than abstaining from sins that defile us; it is also about coming alongside the weak and the oppressed in their time of need, standing with them in their fiery trial like Jesus stood with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace (Daniel 4:25). How can we read a passage like Isaiah 42 then yawn as if nothing is happening in North Dakota?

Perhaps our inaction stems in part from few of us ever being water deprived, yet water security is a growing issue around the world. Drought can drastically alter how we view this precious gift. When I visited the city of Lubumbashi in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in September 2015, they were suffering an extended drought. The missionaries with whom I stayed sometimes had to decide whether they would wash the dishes or wash themselves. Thankfully, we prayed for rain and God answered our prayer. I went away from that stay taking water a lot less for granted.

Neither do the Sioux take water for granted. They cannot drink oil nor bathe in it. You need water for that.

Some churches are speaking up. Bishop Michael Curry of the Episcopal Church issued a statement last August in support of the water protectors. In his statement, he noted the theological importance of water in Scripture, including it being the baptism symbol of new life in Christ. I commend Bishop Curry for speaking up, but it makes me wonder: As holiness people, where is our voice? If the essence of holiness is love of God and neighbor, then here is a clear-cut chance to show a historically mistreated people that we care. These are our neighbors. Where is our love?

I’m glad that God is raising up around the world a generation of believers for whom justice issues are Gospel issues. May they be patient with us who have been around a bit longer, we who have been slower to see that holiness is both personal and social. And once we’ve seen, may the Lord move us to compassionate advocacy.

March 19, 2012

Seasons of Ministry Life

While reading some of the notes in the new NIV Study Bible, I came across a section — nested in the middle of Matthew 25 — which classifies the ministry years of Jesus into three one year phases or periods.

  1. Year of Inauguration
  2. Year of Popularity
  3. Year of Opposition

In our culture, we might describe it differently

  1. Breakout Year — Jesus is a new star on the horizon, up and coming; he’s trending on all media fronts; Pharisees start tracking him immediately though, with some concern.
  2. Jesus Goes Viral — Everywhere you go, someone is talking about him; popularity is at an all time high; if you have Bible software, just do a keyword search for “crowds.”
  3. Approval Rating Decline — Even close followers leave; the lighthearted teachings become ‘hard sayings’ and his sermon content talks about his death as though it’s something impending, and how we all need to ‘take up our cross.’

The section in the study Bible includes many key events, though it’s not a full harmony of events in Christ’s life; that follows later after John. 

But as I read it, I couldn’t help think that for those of us who are Christ-followers, we follow him even in these phases. Our Christian lives begin full of the experience of grace, of sins forgiven;  full of zeal to tell others; and full of God’s purpose and plan in our lives finally crystalizing. We meet new people, learn new songs, and divest ourselves of a way of life that was heading to destruction.

But then as we settle in, we discover that following Christ is both easy — “My yoke is easy and My burden is light” — and challenging — Jesus talks about leaving possessions and family — at the same time. 

Stuart Briscoe summed this up a little differently once in a little booklet, This is Exciting. It’s since been re-written as The Impossible Christian Life. His stages were:

  1. This is Exciting
  2. This is Difficult
  3. This is Impossible

But then he experiences a rejuvenation and enters a 4th stage,

       4.  This is Exciting

If you’ve never read this, it’s available free online as a .pdf file and takes only 3-4 minutes to complete:

Link to The Impossible Christian Life: A Personal Testimony by Stuart Briscoe (click here)

I would take this one step further and suggest that we experience ministry stages like this even on the micro level. For example, my sons both work in the summer at the Christian camp where my wife and I met. It’s a nine week commitment, that I would suggest divides into three week sections:

  1. Early weeks: Everyone is full of energy and spiritually charged up from staff training week.  Huge learning curve for first time staffers.
  2. Middle weeks: Work assignments become routine and nights of missed sleep start to add up. This is optimal ministry time, but the drive of the early weeks is sometimes missing, and it’s easy to get caught up in the mechanics and miss the Holy Spirit’s direction. (Smart directors will insert a staff training ‘booster shot’ in here at some point.)
  3. Final weeks: A few don’t make it this far; those that do continue to serve but are starting to think about returning to school in the fall; some interpersonal relationships start to break down; people show their true colors during these final three weeks. If the summer at camp is a marathon, these are the final miles.

It’s also easy for God to seem distant in those final weeks, or in the final season of whatever ministry task or vocational position you’re currently serving. This is where what Paul talked about as “running with endurance” kicks in.

It’s also important not to miss that before Jesus experienced years of what we called “breakout success” and “going viral,” he had another season of ministry, the time in the desert. This connects with yesterday’s discussion of Jeremiah 29:11; a verse where we so often miss the 70 years of testing that precede the times of prosperity.

What ministry are you involved in right now, and at what phase or season are you in ministry life?

What about your personal spiritual life? Are you new in faith or a seasoned veteran of following Christ? How does where you are affect the energy you have or the challenges you seem to face?