Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Nonretaliation as Faithfulness

Over the past week, I’ve been confronted with my lack of trust in God for all my life. One way this stood out to me was in my kneejerk reaction to defend myself in a discussion with another person. When my position was denigrated, I immediately and instinctively retaliated.

Later, as I was reading Psalm 23, the very first verse spoke to me. In the New Living Translation it says: The Lord is my Shepherd; I have all that I need. It dawned on me that if I would allow God to be my Shepherd, I would not need to defend myself or justify my position or explain my behavior, for God is all that I need. God will guide me if I will stop trying to take matters into my own hands and instead trust God for everything.

In a nation where attacking others verbally, if not physically, seems to be part and parcel of our culture, nonretaliation is certainly an anomaly. When much of our entertainment is found in shows where people insult others, yell at others or discredit others, how would it look if those efforts were met with a gentle response or silence? How long could one person verbally berate another if the recipient of the abuse simply did not respond? We see examples of it in our country, though they are few and far between. The Amish community whose children were gunned down while at school, the nonviolent protests during the Civil Rights Movement, Jesus’ silence before his accusers.

If God is my Shepherd, then I am God’s sheep. And that makes me think of another passage that speaks of nonretaliation and sheep.  Isaiah 53:6-7 says:

All of us, like sheep, have strayed away.
      We have left God’s paths to follow our own.
   Yet the Lord laid on him
      the sins of us all.
He was oppressed and treated harshly,
      yet he never said a word.
   He was led like a lamb to the slaughter.
      And as a sheep is silent before the shearers,
      he did not open his mouth.

It is not easy to remain silent when attacked. But what would it do to our communities, not just our Christian communities, but our cities and states and countries if we could embrace the example of Jesus and trust God for our lives instead of retaliating against others?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Christian Workaholics

It’s interesting what you observe if you pay attention to what you read, what you see and what you hear. That should be fairly obvious, but the pace at which many of us live makes observation of anything challenging.

I’m facilitating a small group study of Freedom of Simplicity by Richard Foster.Using a quote from Thomas Kelly, Foster observes that God never guides us into an intolerable scramble of panting feverishness. And Jesus, in Matthew 11:28-30, says, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly." (The Message).

“Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.” How often do we simply let ourselves rest in the arms of Jesus? Is there anything in our lives of faith that we just let happen unforced?

I read the above passage in The Message before heading out to be with a group of church friends. As the group shared life experiences, much of which revolved around church activity, I was struck by the contrast between what I was hearing and what I had been reading, both in the gospel of Matthew and in Foster’s book. I was almost tired simply from listening to all the stuff I was hearing.  All the activities were good and worthwhile, and some were even recounted with joy. But I was having a hard time finding any unforced rhythms of grace.

In a society where our value is measured by what we do, and in a church that often seems more obsessed with metrics rather than transformation, to have Jesus calling us to rest and recovery is hard to accept. Yet Jesus warns us of the danger of not resting in him and taking the time to build a relationship with him in Matthew 7:22-23: “On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ But I will reply, ‘I never knew you.”

I’ve been a Christian workaholic but I am learning to live in the “unforced rhythms of grace.” I am trying to let what I do for God be at God’s initiative and at God’s pace, not what the world, or even the church, expects. Jesus didn’t build a megachurch or plan and organize elaborate ministry projects. He seldom preached to large crowds. He taught a small group of followers and ministered as he went, one on one, relationship by relationship. He embodied the unforced rhythms of grace in his life. Rest and recovery and the unforced rhythms of grace are healing and transformational. May we discover the promises of God’s care by living unforced lives in the arms of Christ.