Love, judgement and Israel Folau – maybe we got it wrong!

In the last month or so, the sharp rise in the open hostility of certain Christian groups toward other sections of the Christian community on social media has stunned me. The level of condemnation and vitriol seems to have escalated to the point that I wonder if there is any space for restoration of unity. I find it disturbing and disappointing to say the least.

How do we find a way through this mess of differing opinions when our emotions are running so high?

The latest outcry, of course, has been around groups within the Christian body raising funds for Folau’s legal case to dispute his dismissal. One question being raised is whether this is an acceptable use of people’s private funds or whether these funds should rather be spent helping those who are in need in our communities.

In reading some strongly expressed comments denouncing those who had given to the Folau fund, I found myself wanting to respond equally ferociously with, “How dare you judge others on what they spend where when you spend your money doing xxx!”- until the mirror reflected back my own judgements on the rights and wrongs of our spending!

Whichever side of the fence you sit (or even if you are like me and sitting firmly on the fence over much of the circus surrounding this issue), one thing is plain. The spiral of division and judgement into hatred within the Christian community in Australia seems to have escalated in the last months - or was I just blind to it?

Believing as I do that unity is of particular value and importance in releasing the qualities of the Kingdom of God on earth, my prayer is that we start to take our judgements of others to God instead of each other and see what He might have to say about them.

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If I take my accusation to God about what someone else spends their money on, for example, I think He might well come back and confront me with some of my spending. If I bring my judgement of another’s lack of love toward a particular group, the lovelessness in my own feelings for that “unloving” person may become the topic of conversation.

Lately, I have started to realise just how many judgments I make, moment by moment, day by day. Many of these are so “normal” to me I cannot see that different may be ok or may even have an extenuating explanation. It can be as simple as judging whether everyone else should enjoy something as much as I do (aka: food; music; cold weather; certain smells) to how people behave on the road, treat their children, keep their house/workspace/car, how they dress, what they do with their time and so on and so on. Some of this comes from an inherent belief that “my way is the right way” (which is where our stereotypes and many of our negative opinions of certain people groups comes from), but sometimes I think it is about something else.

One of the valued traits of Christianity is the idea of justice and mercy. The recognition of God’s heart toward those who are most vulnerable and in need in our communities has become front and centre for many Christians. The recognition that our faith isn’t and shouldn’t be all about our own comfort and safety has shifted many from a place of complacency and perhaps self-centredness.

However, as we step into this place of awareness we can become even more conscious of others who are not on the same journey. Because it is of such importance to us, we cannot fathom why they would not understand. We then make the next leap to believe that we are the one to tell them they should get on board with the same agenda!

It is so tempting to be the warrior out there fighting for truth, justice and liberty/tolerance or whatever other noun is flavour of the month. In my own journey, I have to admit to failing to understand why people don’t see what I am involved with as important as I do. Seeing the struggles and horrific lives some people live, the passion to make things better can be overwhelming.

Unfortunately - and I think this is where the rubber hits the road - we are not always happy to stop there. We can have such a strong desire to make someone to pay. Someone is to blame for this, so retribution is a vital part of the process. Or so we think.

And it is here that judgement comes marching in. I set myself up as the judge and jury to decide who must pay, how much and why. I assume I know the hearts, minds and motivations of others before I have even asked or know anything about what is going on for them now or in the past, or what their story really is. Unfortunately, relationship is often the first casualty when we choose “truth” over unity.

This quote from “The Shack” (Wm Paul Young) discussing the “choice to facilitate relationship” by meeting a person at their own level really spoke to me:

“You don’t play a game or color a picture with a child to show your superiority. Rather, you choose to limit yourself so as to facilitate and honor that relationship. You will even lose a competition to accomplish love. It is not about winning and losing, but about love and respect.”

Sitting in judgement, carving off large swathes of people because we assume we know what they think and why is so destructive. In the end, the only winner is the enemy of our souls.

I know I have grappled with the idea that people need to know the truth of their behaviour: something has to be done to protect those in danger and why not me? And there is truth in that.

However, when I think about the times I have been most open to change myself, it has been when someone has approached me with loving kindness. When we come to others from a place of offence, it rarely ends well. In fact, rather than coming to us with a list of our offences, we read in Romans 2:4 (NIV) that it is God showing us His kindness that helps us toward repentance. Awkwardly, He expects the same from us. Paul is pretty blatant here:

“You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?”

I am confronted again and again by my own lack of checking in with God about my way of thinking and responding to others. I guess it is a major part of our journey with Him – learning to stop and listen to His heart, to listen to what He thinks and see things from a better perspective: His. My prayer is that we can all step back from this mess, reassess our own part in it and contribute to the clean up before it is too late.

And Israel Folau? Its really not about him at all, is it?

Can the dry bones of the Church live again?

At the beginning of the year, I heard the rattling of dry bones in the spiritual realm. I felt the wind of the Spirit blowing over God’s people, urging us to movement, to move with Him. He was urging us to get out of our comfy spots with their clearly defined boundaries and parameters. There was a call to be prepared to move into spaces that feel ill-defined and even unsafe or scary because we have never been there before, because we don’t know what it looks like and even how to live in those spaces. 

During worship recently, the leader shared how the words to the old song “these bones, these bones, these dry bones, now hear the word of the Lord” [sic] kept rising up in her mind. She sensed that it was the Word of God that brings life to the dry bones and the dry bones were numbers of people in the churches. 

As she spoke, I had a strong image of what God is doing at this time. 

We often refer to the idea of the Body of Christ as being made up of individuals. We can also see those dry bones as individuals. However, this time, the dry bones were about the various ‘parts’ of the Body which have become disconnected from each other. I felt that in our disconnection, just like limbs and appendages separated from a body, we have also lost our life.

In our disconnection, we have lost our life.

If we look back into the days of Acts when the Church first began with the coming of the Holy Spirit, it is painfully obvious that there were no denominations, no branding and no marketing.

We are given a picture of a Body that is fully alive, fully functioning.

That doesn’t mean they didn’t have their problems – Paul addresses this himself in 1 Corinthians 1-3, when it would appear people were trying to start factions based on whether they followed Paul, Apollos, Cephas or Jesus. He brings them back to the point that each of us should be followers of Jesus alone.

However, over the last two millennia, rather than working hard to keep the unity of the Spirit, (Ephesians 4:1-6) we have continued the practice of creating divisions. These have had their basis in offence, differences of opinion, and unfortunately, often due to power plays and a desire to ‘lord’ it over others or simply to have control.

What started as One Body in Christ, started to become many separate parts.

When offence or a difference of opinion occurred, *SNIP*, we hacked off a finger, or *SNIP* we chopped off a leg, and *SNIP*, we removed an arm. Over time, the *SNIP*, *SNIP*, *SNIP* has led to denominations and movements of every imaginable sort, and what started in unity is now a Body in complete disarray. (If you want some comic relief that illustrates this problem very succinctly, head here, but I’ll warn you, it is black humour!)
 
For some time I have been impacted by the prayer Jesus prayed for His disciples and for those to come (John 17). He prayed that we may be one, even as He and the Father are one. I guess He knew the temptations we would have toward offence and distrust of each other and that disconnection was all too easy.

But of course, when we pull it all apart, these disconnections are valid and important, aren’t they?

From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. (1).jpg

We don’t want the Gospel message distorted or corrupted. We don’t want people being led astray by false doctrines, false teachers, those dread wolves in sheep's clothing. However, I am reminded of one of those little sayings that pop up in your Facebook feed: “Would you rather be right or have relationship?”.

Too often, our being right has become a reason to abandon relationship.

Perhaps this needs some re-evaluation in light of the lengths God went to in order to have relationship with us, not even sparing His only Son!

I know there is no simple solution to this problem. There are beliefs and practices that some people have that are unconscionable to others of us. Again, we are no different to the early Church, where practices such as circumcision and eating food offered to idols threatened to destroy the fragile unity of a bunch of people brought together who had a long history of distrust and dislike toward each other. (See 1Corinthians 8 and Galatians 6 for starters).

So what is the answer? 

Maybe it is time for each of us to be the first to take a step toward those we disagree with, not to beat them up with our point of view (which seems to have been the desire of many), but in love - to show the love of Christ toward them.

And when we look at what the love of Christ was like, we might like to remember how He treated people considered unholy, wicked and sinful in His day; people like the Samaritan woman at the well, lepers, tax collectors and others judged unclean, people who had the potential to make Him unclean.

What would it look like if we tried try to find those things we are in agreement about and start there? 

Or at the very least, to start behaving in a loving way with all people, rather than sitting in judgement, (a place that lacks humility and is filled with the belief that we do not deserve any judgement ourselves, that we are perfect and have it all right). 

One of the biggest detractors to the Christian faith for those outside it would have to be the way we fight and bicker among ourselves. Imagine what it would look like from the outside if we behaved in love towards each other, with respect, grace and honour even to those we believe deserve it least. 

Are we ready to be transformed from a pile of disconnected, dead, dry bones through the transforming breath that comes from the Living Word by allowing ligaments and tendons, muscles, skin, veins, arteries, nerves and all the rest of the mess that makes life to grow between us and the other parts of the body?

What would you be prepared to lay down to take that step toward someone local to you to start to rebuild unity?

"I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

John 17:20-23