Faith and relevance in the 21st century

Category: Martin Luther King (Page 3 of 3)

Invading grace – saving us from ourselves

Here is a beautiful piece on grace and its saving impact on our lives:

Forever The world, invaded by death, was in a new state of chaos. Instead of people’s lives being organized by love for God, they were driven by the constant pursuit of here-and-now pleasure. Death had invaded. The world had gone mad. But the story was not over, because God would not sit and watch the demise of his plan.

So God, in his grace, invaded our here-and-now madness in the person of his Son. Jesus did not transgress God’s boundaries. He did not live for his own pleasure. He refused to ignore eternity. He lived a life that was perfect in his Father’s eyes.

But he did more; he willingly took the penalty of our selfishness on himself. On the cross he took our punishment and purchased our forgiveness… Because of [his] forgiveness and righteousness, we are accepted into God’s family forever. The crisis of the human existence is not that we are horizontally unfulfilled, but that we are vertically cut off.

Grace connects us once again to God, and in so doing to the one place where our hearts can find rest and where we can be given back our senses. Grace not only connects us to God, but delivers us from ourselves and from the madness of our propensity to make life about little more than us in the here and now.

Grace gives forever back to us. We see that the promise of the cruel cross and the empty tomb is profoundly bigger than a happy life in the here and now. The promise of the empty tomb is that we will live with God forever. And in this way we are given back our humanity. Grace guarantees to all who place their faith in Jesus that forever is in their future.

And what kind of forever? A forever that is not only free of punishment, but free of the madness of self-centered, pleasure-oriented here-and-now-ism, and the double death that goes with it.

Forever: Why You Can’t Live Without It, by Paul David Tripp

This is the essence of life.  In a world where we are told by the media and our political leaders that life is all about you, grace gives something better – salvation from ourselves. Martin Luther King said once that the end of life is not to be happy but to do the will of God. And N.T. Wright has said that because we have been shown grace, we can show grace to others.

Bin Laden, justice, and the victims of 9/11

As opinions over the death of Osama Bin Laden go viral over the world-wide web, I have been both impressed and saddened by the responses I have seen. Like most people of civilised mind, I am glad that Bin Laden can no longer terrorise the innocent victims of his murderous, monstrous and unjust actions. The man was a monster and deserved to be brought to justice in the most powerful way possible. It’s a pity that he was not.

This is where President Obama is wrong. Justice has not been done in the killing of this terrorist. The words of America’s greatest prophet, Martin Luther King, echo through the ages: “peace is not the absence of conflict; it is the presence of justice.” Because justice has not been done in the killing of Bin Laden, peace will not be the result. As surely as night follows day, the forces of al-Qaeda will be planning revenge attacks, and the cycle will continue. And where will it end? In this day when we have the capacity to destroy the only planet we have, King’s words cry out to us again: “it is no longer a choice between violence and non-violence in this world; it’s non-violence or non-existence.” Rejoicing in the death of Bin Laden reduces us to the level of his brutal actions.

The thing about the word of the prophet is that it is timeless. King spoke those words more than a generation ago but they ring true today more than ever. Violence begets violence and hate begets hate. It is a never-ending cycle.

The fact is that we simply must get over the myth that non-violence is somehow weak and that might is powerful. Myriad examples through the centuries simply disprove this idea. Sojourners has an excellent collection of resources which expose the myth of redemptive violence and illustrate the power of non-violence through actual examples of it over many years. I have also blogged about this myself, particularly about the misunderstandings over what Jesus was really referring to when he said to turn the other cheek.

It is love and non-violence that will triumph in the end, not the weakness and impotence of violence. Miroslav Volf touches on this in his reflection on the Christian Century website, where he has included a quote from a young Christian leader from the Middle East – a view forged in a majority-Muslim country:

A huge opportunity now–after the death of bin Laden–is for Americans to intentionally free themselves fully from the domain of fear and those who manipulate it for their own agendas. Politicians will be looking for the next “enemy” to continue to distract you from being truly the “land of the free.” You are not free until you eliminate all your fear. Love drives out fear.

As Daniel Sturgeon points out, “Osama bin Laden’s mistake was to believe that violence could bring righteousness. He acted in line with this misbelief and the consequences for the whole world have been catastrophic.” And those who believe justice has been done by taking him out fall into the same trap. This is where the response of some of the tabloid media in Australia has been shockingly predictable. Headlines like the Herald-Sun’s ‘Unarmed – just like his victims’ promote the same hatred that Bin Laden did. It was Gandhi who said long ago that this old law of an eye for an eye leaves everybody blind.

Another of the better articles (in my opinion) I read during the week was from Gideon Boas and Pascale Chifflet in The Age, in which they pointed out the pertinent fact that saying that killing Bin Laden was a good thing because he is scum that deserves nothing less belies the very notion of ‘us’ being the good guys (“who believe in the value of life, the rule of law and fundamental human rights”) and ‘them’ (“murderous hateful souls “) being the bad guys. What is the difference between us and them when we engage in the very same actions that they do? This is not justice; it is revenge, and the two are as far apart as east is from west.

One of the points that I have not heard from those on the Christian Left (I hate that term but I can’t think of anything better to describe such a group at the moment) is that of sparing our thoughts and prayers for the victims of 9/11 and for our brothers and sisters in the US in general. The events of this week will bring all the nightmares of that terrible day flooding back for them. I can’t imagine the feelings they must be going through. Many would be feeling huge relief, many others would be convinced that justice has in fact been done and nothing anyone says would convince them otherwise, whilst others – and I suspect the majority – will be thankful but ever mindful that even the death of the mastermind of those terrible attacks cannot bring back their dear ones. We must spare our thoughts and prayers for them this week as well. While I cannot agree with those who rejoice at Bin Laden’s death, I have to ask myself how I would respond if I were in their shoes.

So, opinions abound, as they will for a long time to come. But perhaps the best sociological reflection of this event comes from Mark Sayers, who explores the responses of both the Christian Left and the Christian Right, among many other groups (Here I will add that the reason I hate the terms ‘Christian Left’ and ‘Christian Right’ is that they label people. At different times I could find myself in either camp. The only label I want to be stuck with is ‘follower of Jesus’. Having said that, I see where Mark is coming from to make his point). In the end Mark says that he does not celebrate Bin Laden’s death, nor does he mourn his passing. Most of all he waits for the return of him who is both perfect love and justice. Wonderful words. In the end that is our hope. We have the promise of a day when there will be no more need to justify killings in the name of God or anyone else, when death and violence will have passed away forever. Until then we mourn and as we do we are blessed by the Man of Sorrows who mourns with the victims of injustice everywhere.

Do you really believe this stuff?

Do you own your faith? I mean really own it. Or is it something that has ‘always been there’? Many of us have grown up in households where Christian faith was practised, at least nominally, and sometimes it has helped us and sometimes it has hindered us. The fact is that for many of us who grew up in a somewhat Christian home, our faith has never progressed much past what our parents have believed and passed onto us.

For faith to mature, it needs to be tested, it needs to progress out of our comfort zone. Tim Costello has said that you only begin to understand your own faith when you move out of your comfort zones. Someone else said to me years ago that anything worth fighting for is never going to be easy. Faith is definitely worth fighting for, and it is indeed a risk. It is tough to step out and embrace what is unfamiliar. It puts us on shaky ground where our only option is to trust in the goodness of God. But it is in that very place that we grow and experience life as Jesus described it in John 10:10.

If you’re anything like me you will also have struggled with the temptation to take on a particular belief just because someone you admire believes it. Such an action is often borne out of an insecurity in which we are not quite sure what we believe. This insecurity can also make us want to stand out from the crowd, so if someone well known believes something a bit different, people may just admire us if we believe it as well. The problem with that is that we actually don’t really believe it at all. We are instead trying to build or maintain a reputation based on the faith of someone else. When this ‘faith’ is put to the test, we find that we have built our house on sand rather than the solid bedrock of genuine faith.

If we persevere though, and we are able to se through our deception, we find that our beliefs become our own, and they are no longer simply beliefs; over time they instead become convictions, something we ‘know’ deep down. Rob Coyle said years ago that conviction is something that goes far deeper than belief. Convictions are things for which we would be prepared to lay down our life.

What we believe matters, and it matters how much we believe it. Having strongly held convictions makes us much more sure of ourselves and allows us to love more powerfully. But for beliefs to turn into convictions requires us to be committed to growth. If we are maturing in our faith, we will not be so afraid of being challenged; in fact we will welcome it as an opportunity for further growth. But if we are a new believer, or we have long struggled with doubt, we can quickly become disillusioned if our faith is challenged, or if someone we look up to behaves in a way that is not in line with our dearly held beliefs of what it is to be a Christian.

I used to struggle when I heard about Christians I looked up to doing something I didn’t think was Christian. When I was in my late teens I started to admire Martin Luther King for his stance on civil rights, and his courage to live out his convictions. Then one day I saw a photo of him smoking a cigarette. Some people reading this will wonder what the fuss is about, while others will have a similar reaction to that which I did. In my thinking back then you couldn’t be a Christian if you were a smoker. I judged Martin Luther King through the lens of my own theology. I didn’t have the maturity to look past such matters to the weightier matters of justice mercy and faithfulness (Matt 23:23). As I have grown in my faith and have become more acutely aware of my own shortcomings, I am able to have just as much respect for people like Martin Luther King as if he never smoked a cigarette in his life. I don’t condone smoking, but in the life of someone like him I don’t consider it anywhere near a game breaker. The fact that he also had well-documented affairs is another issue, but I have also realised that the deep moral failures of such people make them more human, and in a strange way, more accessible. I can relate more to them because I am more aware of my own failings.

One of the most helpful things I read many years ago that helped me to deal with the differences in people I looked up to was a quote that said “you only become disillusioned if you have illusions to begin with”. Realising this has benefited me enormously in my own journey of faith. I realised that I could still look up to someone despite them engaging in behaviour that didn’t fit my theology (within reason of course. If it turned out that someone I admired had spent all their lives being a fraud, my respect for them would quickly diminish). I realised that if I struggled with someone’s behaviour or something they said, it was my job to look at myself and see if there were any illusions that I was suffering from that prevented me from still accepting that person. I didn’t have to agree with every single thing that person said and did to still admire them.

Tim Costello discusses this struggle in his own life in his early days as Pastor of St Kilda Baptist Church. Coming from a middle-class background which taught him such ideals as the one which says cleanliness is next to godliness, he struggled with people who came to his church in St Kilda who didn’t smell right – who maybe hadn’t showered for a while, and who spent all their money on food. He thought that such people could not be real Christians. His illusions contributed to his disillusionment. But then he realised that Jesus and his disciples, especially some of them being Middle Eastern fishermen, would have smelled somewhat too. He also quickly realised that when you live on a low income you don’t think about saving your money because you need all of it to live on. And so it suddenly occurred to him that his background had contributed to his disillusionment. On top of that, when he saw the love of the people who didn’t fit into his theology, he could no longer deny that they were in fact being more Christlike than he was. He had to go through a process of reconversion. As Rikk Watts says, what we see in real life must form our theology, and not vice versa.

Disillusionment can be good for your growth. Depending on how strong you are in your convictions, realising that the people you look up to are only human can actually strengthen your convictions. Recently I had a conversation with an older Christian who I have looked up to for years. Our topic of conversation was something I had been thinking about for a long time, and I realised that I disagreed with him. I also realised that I didn’t have to change my opinion to his just because this was someone I looked up to. I knew what I believed and I could stick with it. And, while our conversation has made me think more about the issue we talked about, I am able to hold to my conviction about it. And on top of that, my respect for this Christian has not diminished. Why should it? He is not God; he is just another human being, albeit a very wise one.

You only become disillusioned if you have illusions to begin with. The fact of our lives is that we all have illusions of some sort. It is part of being human. I have found that getting rid of my illusions is done by a continual surrender of my life to the undeserved love and grace of Christ. As I learn to trust God more, as well as keep in touch with other believers around me, I learn to grow and cherish the relationships I have, and appreciate what I have learned from the many wise people I have been fortunate enough to come across in my life, whether I agree with them or not.

The thing I love about this journey of faith is that the person of Jesus constantly challenges me. There is never a dull moment when you are a serious follower of Christ. It is an adventure of the highest order. As I have learned from reading Larry Crabb, and as I have also found to be true for myself, it is uncomfortable, it is scary, it is thrilling, and it is life. I really do believe this stuff, and in the process I am finding what I have always really wanted.

A Life Uncommon

‘Fill your lives with love and bravery and you will lead a life uncommon’‘Life Uncommon’ – Jewel

The life Jesus lived was a life uncommon. In fact it was so uncommon that no one has been able to lead a life like it before or since. It is a life which gives us the ultimate guide on how to live in a godly manner. And now we have the Spirit to give us power – the power to do what is right. That is why Jesus said that when the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth (John 16:13).

When we live this life, a life lived in total devotion and commitment to Jesus, we too live a life uncommon. Romans 12:2 says to not be conformed to the pattern of the world but to be transformed by the renewing of your minds. It is a life lived against the grain, a life of swimming against the tide of popular opinion and cultural norms.

Martin Luther King talked about this when he spoke of living the life of a transformed nonconformist in his magnificent Strength to Love. Most of us don’t live this life, preferring instead to live a life of maximum comfort. As we think of people like King, Gandhi and JFK – the latter having told his countrymen fifty years ago this week to ask not what their country could do for them but what they could do for their country – we remember that such people inspire us, but how many of us would actually go as far as to take that life seriously and actually live it?

When Jesus talked about coming to give us abundant life (John 10:10), he was not referring to simply enjoying the life we live here and now (although life certainly is to be enjoyed). He was talking about living a life of following Him, which starts by denying ourselves and taking up our cross. The life uncommon that we then lead, the counter-cultural life, the life of swimming against the tide, is the only life worth living.

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