lost

Lost in the Shuffle

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by Linda Rex

Yesterday morning I had the privilege of shaking hands with and meeting several clergy from the Nashville area. We were gathered together to hear about NOAH’s (Nashville Organized for Action and Hope) efforts to bring change to the community. I did not know the history of this organization, and enjoyed hearing how spiritual leaders from this community saw several significant needs and joined together to create a group who could together begin to address these needs and bring them before the local government in such a way change could happen.

Over the past few years, this group has grown to include people from unions, churches, and other non-profit organizations. NOAH was significantly involved during the last mayoral election in challenging candidates to consider, specifically, three important issues: affordable housing and gentrification; criminal justice and mass incarceration; and economic equity and jobs. NOAH was able to mobilize a large amount of people to attend critical meetings where these candidates were asked the difficult questions and required to make commitments to the community about changing and improving conditions for local citizens.

Presently NOAH members have been working to remind the mayor and her staff to fulfill the promises made during her campaign. They provide the local government officials with a type of accountability to the people they serve. This can be a good thing, because once a person is in office, they can tend to forget the needs and wishes of the people who put them there.

I am grateful for the people God has connected me with here in Nashville who are actively involved in trying to bring about better living conditions for those who are marginalized or needy. It is sad that many of these topics even need to be discussed. But that is the reality of our broken humanity.

One of the speakers at this meeting told us we all have a call by God upon us to “do justly.” It seems we as spiritual leaders of many faiths are often focused on grace and love, and offering mercy to people. But I don’t believe we often apply that grace, love and mercy in terms of actively “doing justice” in our neighborhood, community and world.

Doing justice means dealing with uncomfortable issues head on instead of brushing them under the carpet or ignoring them. It means coming face to face with the need for change, and the need to deal with evil in its many forms. This takes courage, faith and the heart to deal with difficult situations and people. And this is not easy to do.

For some people, social justice is the most significant expression of their relationship with Jesus Christ. Personally, social justice is not for me the most meaningful experience of worship or expression of my spiritual relationship with Christ, but I do believe it still needs to be a part of how I express my faith in and love for Christ and others. As the apostle James said, how can I say I have faith and not be willing to offer physical help to the needy? (James 2:14-17)

It’s been instructive for me to go through the process of trying to find a home near the church in Nashville so I can minister not just to my church members, but also to our church community. I did not succeed in finding anything I could afford right in the church neighborhood, although I did find one nearby. The main reason I could not move next to where we meet as a congregation was because of the lack of affordable housing.

One of the ladies at the meeting this morning helped to explain some of the reasons for my not being able to find something affordable in the neighborhood. What is happening is people who are on the lower end of the income spectrum are being displaced, their homes replaced with more expensive dwellings, and then they are not being given any type of replacement home they can afford.

Some of those being lost in the shuffle are those with physical or mental disabilities. They are on a fixed income and often find themselves on the street because they lose their housing. What I heard this morning was that there are about 20,000 people, including families, who need housing immediately—these are people who earn between $0-15,000/year. Developers are happy to build affordable housing, but not for this group of people. They will build them for the workforce, who earn $15,000 and up. So these people remain homeless or without sufficient housing.

And it is also significant that the employment rate is high, and yet there are still large portions of the population who live below the poverty level. One of the reasons is that employers are learning it is cheaper to replace one full-time person with two part-time people who do not qualify for any kind of benefits. I have experienced this reality—living without benefits often becomes a necessity when one loses their full-time position with an organization—it just comes with the territory. But it also puts you at great risk.

It is also very difficult and expensive, not to mention exhausting, to try and maintain two or three jobs just so you can pay the rent and utilities and feed your family. But this is what people are having to do now—not just in the Nashville area, but all over. Whatever people may say, greed and expedience are very often the driving force in many businesses today—whether secular or Christian organizations—not care for our fellowman or woman.

I am grateful I was reminded again of the need for us as human beings to care for the marginalized and those in need and to take time away from our own personal concerns to care for those who have significantly less than we do. We need to consider those who are being taken advantage of, who are considered the lost and the least of these—for this is what Jesus did and what he calls us to do today. May we indeed, “do justly” more and more as time goes by.

Abba, I pray for those who are being lost in the shuffle, who are being ignored, stepped upon and mistreated. May we be more mindful of those without so that we can and will share with them all you have given us. Give us the heart of your Son for the lost and least, and his will to do justice in the midst of the greed and injustice of this broken culture. Through Jesus and by your Spirit we pray. Amen.

“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:8 NASB

Our Response to God and his Grace

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Stream Scene from trip to AR, taken by Linda Rex
Stream Scene from trip to AR, taken by Linda Rex

by Linda Rex

At our last group meeting in Hermitage we talked about the concept of inclusion. We in Grace Communion International have been accused of being universalists due to our belief that God has brought all humanity into union with himself through Jesus Christ and has made his transforming Spirit available to all. The key element to this discussion is humanity’s individual response to the gift of salvation he is offering us in Jesus Christ. (For an excellent discussion of inclusion and our acceptance in Christ, see this article on the Grace Communion International website: https://www.gci.org/jesus/acceptance.)

So, how does a person respond to this gift of grace? As I was asked earlier this week: “How is the response to Jesus different from someone saying the sinner’s prayer? I thought that the sinner’s prayer was you making the decision to accept Christ and you bridging the gap between yourself and God. How is the response to Jesus’s acceptance different?

This is a very important question and it speaks to the whole understanding of separation vs union with Christ. Saying the sinner’s prayer is indeed seen as bridging the gap between you and God, with the idea of repentance and faith bringing about a change in our position–from separation into union. It requires the process of repentance, faith, baptism, new behavior in order to be valid. Dr. Wauchope in his series on “God, the Who and Why” (there is a link for it on my blog site), explains how this method of bridging the gap between the spiritual world and our human world actually has its roots in Aristotle and the philosophers. It is as though we change the heavenly realities by our human efforts–which we know is a falsehood. Only God can change God.

So what does it mean that we respond to Jesus? Do we need to say the sinner’s prayer? I don’t believe that a particular prayer is necessary–the Ethiopian merely asked whether and where he could be baptized, and Philip baptized him. I think that is significant.

Baptism isn’t done in order to change our status with God. It is done as a sharing in Christ’s baptism, a sharing in his life and death. Peter called people to repent and be baptized for the remission of sins–what Jesus did when he was baptized for us in our place. He was calling them to receive the gift already given to them in the life, death, resurrection of Jesus–to participate in what Christ had already done for them.

In other words, at some point God is going to bring each of us to the point where we see that apart from Jesus, we have no hope–that without Jesus we are lost. Jesus said in his preaching–repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand (ie. I’m the Messiah and I’m here bringing in God’s kingdom), and he told his disciples to preach the Word, teach the Word and to baptize and disciple. That means there is a point of turning away from ourselves and our world and our way of living and being and a turning to Christ (ie. repent and believe, and receive the gift of life in him), at which point, symbolically through baptism, we identify with Christ, acknowledging that our life is in him.

This is why when someone comes to me and says, I believe in Jesus Christ and I want to be a Christian, I ask them, “Have you talked with God about this?” And then I will pray with them and encourage them to pray about their commitment to Christ and his will. And I will then talk with them about baptism as a sign of their commitment, as an acknowledgement of their participation in Christ’s finished work.

But Barth and the Torrance’s are real clear that there is a definite turning away from oneself and a turning to Christ at some point. It’s a point in time and a process where a person acknowledges their need for and reliance upon Christ and a turning away from themselves and their ways, and a turning to Christ, and a submission to him as Lord of their life. This can take some time with people and may occur well after their initial understanding at baptism.

This is why discipleship of new believers is so important. They need to come to know and rely on Jesus and to begin to live their life in him. It is his life they are participating in–the new life they live is defined by Christ’s life, not by them. A person’s response to Jesus is, therefore, not just an event in time, but a whole turning of their life and being away from themselves and to Christ throughout the rest of their life–as Jesus said, a dying to self and a living in him.

As you can see, the latter approach does not at any point bring up some form of separation, but rather says that Jesus is our life. In God, through Christ and in the Spirit, we live and move and have our being. Christ did for us in our place all that is needed–so believe it and receive it, and then live it out. It’s all in terms of participating in the life Christ made for us in our humanity as a sharing in his divinity. I think this is a much more hopeful and joyful word of life.

The following is a response to a related question, “Does the Holy Spirit work on each person individually at some level continually or is God not working with everyone yet?”:

Sometimes our inclusive language can be a little too free. Yes, we need to keep the concept of inclusion in our language. All are included in God’s life and love. That is a given. All are united with God in Christ.

But our calling and full participation in that is something the Spirit does in a unique time and way for each of us. The communion of the Spirit is a different story from our union with God in Christ. The communion of the Spirit is experienced by the body of Christ through whom God is bearing witness to the world about Jesus in the Spirit today.

It does not mean that all do not have the Spirit but rather that there is an awakening of some to the calling to bear witness to Jesus Christ as a community of faith. We want to let all people know they are included in God’s love and life. But the thing is–if a person is living and being in a way that does not coincide with how God is and how Christ is for them, then how can they fully participate in God’s love and life? There is a call to repentance–to a change of mind and heart in how we look at God and who we think he is and a turning away from ourselves to Jesus, trusting in him for life and godliness rather than in anything else. The Holy Spirit does a work in a person’s heart, mind and life that is transformational–it is real.

My friend Bob likes to say, “all are included, they just don’t know it yet.” That’s not really a bad thing to say–but there is still the call to repent and believe. Barth and Torrance say the best way to present the gospel is to say, “God loves you so much he sent his Son to live, die, rise again in your place. He’s done all that is needed for you to be reconciled to God and redeemed. Jesus Christ stands in your place, interceding for you with the Father, and he gives you his Spirit so you can share in God’s life and love. You are loved and forgiven. [ie you are included] Therefore, repent and believe.”

The gospel continues to require a call to repent and believe, even when all are included. The thing is, this repentance and this faith is taken up in Jesus Christ just like everything else–it comes as a gift from God through Christ in the Spirit. It’s not on us as humans to find something within ourselves to be able to repent and believe. Christ gives us his own repentance and faith as a gift of God through the Spirit. So it’s not all up to us–it’s all of grace. Really the only response left for us gratitude or grateful obedience, and even that we participate in with Christ. It’s all of grace.

When we think of the work of the Holy Spirit in terms of inclusion, we see that because the Spirit is poured out on all, he is available to all. He is working even now in and with each person. But as far as the transformational work the Spirit does in bringing someone to faith in Christ and into the body of Christ and into the obedience that comes with faith, that is something that is unique–it is a setting apart of certain persons for the purpose of bearing witness to Jesus Christ and to share the gospel. All are included in the kingdom of God, but not all are willing and obedient participants.

Father, I thank you for including all in your life and love through your Son Jesus and by your Spirit. Grant us the grace to receive and fully participate in your precious gift. Through Jesus our Lord, amen.

“After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” Mk 1:14–15 NIV