Yes, I know. That’s a movie.
It’s also a day when traditionally a small rodent sticks its head up after hunkering down for the winter. When it looks around, what it sees determines how it behaves.
Christians across the US are beginning to “poke our heads out”. As we do, some things are beginning to dawn on us—leaders and average Christian alike.
First, life out there is real. Many of us have been living in isolation—even worshiping that way. We no longer even speak of “going to church” (a terrible phrase no one should ever use—we go to worship, we ARE the Church), we now “watch church”. We communicate through the internet, and we all know that many of us fail to observe basic rules of respect when we do that.
Now we poke our heads out and find out we have hurt each other, and other people.
Second, in our isolation, we have begun to identify with the world. For over a year our attention has been focused on major world issues: the pandemic, political polarization, racial injustice…all issues which affect our lives dramatically. But all issues that are explicitly of this world and which are NOT our priority!
Third, people in the world often have more commitment to their mission than we do. Movements such as BLM, GBLQT, et al, Republicans, Democrats, right-wing, progressives, maskers, anti-maskers, white supremacists have all gained momentum during our isolation. It’s as though isolation has caused people to gel into purpose groups, and many who called themselves Christian have chosen the mission of one of these groups over the gospel.
We can’t serve two masters. We have one King—Jesus. We have one country—His Kingdom. We have one purpose—to fulfill the mission He gave us to make disciples by showing the world how to be reconciled to Him and teaching them all He commanded.
In the last few weeks, I have heard many question what life will be like as we “return to normal”. I submit that no none knows, except that the “normal” that existed over a year ago is gone forever. Government officials have no idea what the new “normal” will look like. Neither do educators, healthcare professionals or business leaders.
And neither do Church leaders.
So when we read all the books and articles and blog posts coming out purporting to give us the key to ministry and Christian living in the new normal, we find most of them have no idea what they are talking about.
So it seems a bit reckless of me to try to suggest how we should live and conduct ministry in this new normal. Except that what I am suggesting is that we stop trying to be specialists and start simply obeying our King. His normal hasn’t changed. He still knows exactly what is happening and what life will be like in a year. And He has already told us how to live and how to do ministry.
Our faith and allegiance are to the King. Nothing has happened to Him, and the mission He gave us hasn’t changed (though many who claim to serve Him haven’t been carrying out that mission). Several key behaviors (and attitudes) are necessary for all of us.
First, we need to be ready to accept anyone He accepts, regardless of the amazingly stupid and even hurtful things they have said under the illusion of freedom brought about by online communication.
Second, we need to practice Jesus’ priorities: love, forgiveness, service. We have to ask ourselves very concretely what the people we rejoin need and then do our best to provide it. We need to be honest with ourselves about what has hurt us and forgive it. We need to be willing to serve anyone.
With all that said, we also need to remember that we can’t be responsible for the actions, words or thoughts of others. (Paul said we are to live in peace with others as much as it depends on us.) I believe the Church will emerge from the isolation and polarization the country has experienced at a fork in the road. Will we focus on all the problems of this world and be distracted from who we are and the mission that hasn’t changed, or will we throw off those things that are all tied to this world and be the Church? If we are faithful to that mission, the American Church will soon be seen negatively by both the right and the left. I believe we will even see legal challenges to us practicing our faith (which will make us choose between Jesus and America).
Here’s the simple truth. Following Jesus is about becoming more like Him—opening ourselves to the work of the Holy Spirit as He grows the fruit of the Spirit in us. Loving Jesus is about obeying Him (that’s what HE said). We will stumble as we try to understand what that looks like. But that’s why the Lord gave us His Word. He even told us through Paul that scripture is useful to us for teaching (sharing truth that people need to know), correcting (challenging falsehood and bringing us back to truth), rebuking (challenging misbehavior) and training in righteousness (mentoring and bringing new Christians to maturity), all for the purpose of making us equipped for the good things God has in store for us to do for others.
Life in whatever new “normal” we find need not be complicated. But it will certainly be difficult, because we are called to be different, and we don’t like being different. It is time for those who say they follow Jesus to decide whether He is truly master or is just a good teacher we can obey when we feel like it.
Know Jesus and Be Faithful!