Hearing the Music

Know Justice

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As we come to Labor Day and the unofficial close of the summer season we are also coming toward the close of our journey with the prophets Elijah and Elisha. This penultimate week we will be looking at II Kings, chapters 9 &10, a brutal portion in the history of Israel but an important reminder that we serve a God who cares about justice. Justice is much talked about in our current cultural moment, though often little defined. We tend to think about justice in terms of equality or getting what you deserve. Whereas the Biblical idea of mishpat goes a step further and claims not only equality and rights, but generosity and pro-active advocacy. One person helpfully distinguishes between retributive justice (which we tend to think of in the west) and distributive justice (justice that seeks ways to sow righteousness); mishpat is both of these. This is most clearly seen through the cross of Christ where satisfaction for sin was made (retributive justice) and a hope-filled, new way was forged through the action of a pursuing, merciful benefactor (distributive justice). Tim Keller has written a very helpful piece that examines current articulations of justice and compares them to a Biblical view of justice. I commend it to you.

In addition, the appearance of Labor Day marks the return of fall programming such as Bible studies for men, women, and college-aged, and other discipleship initiatives. Some of these details you may have already heard, but keep your ears peeled as more information will be forthcoming. 

2020 has been a strange year to be sure. But life continues, a personal God of justice is on His throne, and there is much to be thankful for. 

 

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Full Circle

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I want offer a couple of observations this week for you to chew on. I am not suggesting that these are completely filled out, but I believe that there is something here for those with ears to hear. Let’s start theoretically with legalism and antinomianism. It is generally the case that people put legalism (i.e. - a robotic, external conformity to the rules) and antinomianism (i.e - a laissez faire, “no god, no master” approach to life) on opposite ends of a spectrum. But, as has been pointed out by others, especially when it comes to our life before God, legalism and antinomianism actually have the same starting point; ourselves. Both legalism and antinomianism are attempts to live life on our own terms, manipulating God to get what we want. A perfect example of this is the parable of the two sons in Luke 15. Both sons want to “get” from their father. One follows the path of legalism, the other more famously, the path of antinomianism. In the end, rather than being on opposite ends of a spectrum, they come full circle and though they look different on the outside, they are remarkably the same.

My observation is that we see this same principle in other places in life, if we pay attention. Let me share two examples, one positive and one negative. It has been interesting to me to see those on the politically progressive side of the country argue for the rights and protection of the most vulnerable in society when it comes to our response to COVID. The language that is used, the position that is argued for, ends up sounding an awful lot like the position that the politically conservatives have been touting with reference to the abortion debate. Conservatives for years have been saying that we have the responsibility to protect the weakest and most vulnerable in our society. (Incidentally both of these ideas are based on the Christian notion that still exists in our post-Christian society that humans are created in the image of God). In the same way in which the two sons were pursuing the wealth of their father through different means but from the same heart, we see conservatives and progressives arguing for different policies using the same (Biblical) principles. I hope that we are seeing this for the great opportunity it is. We have an amazing Christian story that loves the weakest and most vulnerable! Praise God! May we do all we can to winsomely help people see these good connections, not because they are conservative or progressive, but because they are born from a Biblical root. 

On a slightly less positive note we also see this full circle thinking come out in what I would characterize as selfish ways. Over the years the idea of individual rights and freedoms has been calling card of the politically progressive. The argument has been that my body, my freedoms, are mine and you can’t tell me what to do with them, even if it means harm to those weak and vulnerable around me (i.e.abortion). Unfortunately this line of thinking has come full circle to the politically conservative. Individual rights are supreme (to worship the way we want, to wear masks or not, etc..) no matter what threat it might cause to the weak and the vulnerable around me. Now, before you fill my inbox with ways that these are not equivalent, realize that I am looking at motivations here, not saying they are completely the same. Similar to the parable of the two sons, we find ourselves in situations where protecting what we think belongs to us becomes paramount. 

So what can we learn by observing the full circle ways of life? First, we need to recognize that the heart is deceitful above all things and can easily lead us astray. Because any way of thinking that is not expressly rooted in God’s word ultimately will find itself on one side of an argument, and against the story of the scripture. On judgement day liberals and conservatives, along with rich and poor, educated and uneducated will find themselves in a remarkably similar place because they did not surrender their lives to Christ. Second, we need to come back full circle to the tenets of the Gospel. Specifically that we are all more needy, broken and sinful than we would like to think. But on the flip sided we are more freed, accepted and loved than we ever could have hoped because of the finished work of Christ. On this basis let us with humility continue to examine our hearts to keep short accounts with God and treat our fellow humans with charity.

Ultimately life does come down to a circle and not a linear spectrum. And the question we should be asking is not, what end of the spectrum are you on, but rather is that circle enfolding you, do you belong to the Lord?

 

Photo by Nicola Ricca on Unsplash

The Membership

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One of the marks of a Christian is that they belong - to Christ and to one another. The beloved Heidelberg Catechism says that we are not our own, but we belong body and soul, in life and in death to our faithful Savior, Jesus Christ. The upshot of belonging to Christ is that we belong to one another as members of His body (Romans 12:5; Colossians 1:24; I Corinthians 12:27; Ephesians 4:12; etc…). While this is absolutely universal in that we belong to all Christians throughout the world, this is also given expression in the local church. We see such belonging biblically in Philippi, Colossae, and Ephesus. Today, this belonging is given expression in local congregations such as Christ Church. I have been reflecting on this membership as we prepare to receive several new members this Sunday by means of profession of faith and through baptism.

So what are affirming when we join a local church? We are affirming that we recognize that we are God’s glorious creations in need of renewal because His image in us has been shattered. We are affirming that it is only through the finished work of Christ that we have any hope of finding the renewal needed. We further affirm that our healing and renewal is a daily journey of grounding ourselves in gospel promises which tell us we are forgiven, adopted as daughters and sons, and that we are being healed, renewed, and equipped for life in Him. And particularly in mind this week, we also affirm that our healing and renewal depends upon life in community as a member of Jesus’ bride, the Church. 

It is within this membership that the Spirit molds and shapes us. It is because we are created in the image of an intensely relational God that we must refuse to live out our Christianity alone. When we are in pain or struggling, it is incumbent on us to reach out and receive the care that the Body would offer us. Conversely, we must continually seek out those whose situations preclude reaching out. It is within our membership that our deep need for the gospel is exposed. We find in the membership that we both wound and are wounded; we offend and are offended. But it is as we engage these hurts with the truths of the gospel that we remember that it is Christ’s sufficiency which is the shining reality that marks us, as opposed to our perfections or our shortfalls. It is for the glory of this gospel that we must commit not to withdraw when offended, but rather to engage with grace and be a gospel maker-of-peace.

All this sounds great in print. But, it is in the realities of life in a current pandemic, life fraught with political and cultural tensions, life touched by cancer, job loss, and wayward children where we need to lean into our Savior and trust that "greater is He who is in us, than he who is in the world” (I John 4:4). I am so glad to belong to such a membership. And incidentally this is not an exclusive club, at least not in the way many think. This membership boasts homecoming queens and former drag queens. This membership includes people for whom life seems easy and charmed, and delights in welcoming the broken and bruised, weak and wounded, sick and sore. Regardless of the path that brings you to the membership, with a surrendered heart to Jesus and public proclamation of resting in His love, you will find a seat at His table. So if you haven't taken your place yet, we are holding your spot, eager for you to join!

photo by Mick Haupt on Unsplash

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