The most needed values in our time…

If you’re snowed in somewhere, I offer these thoughts along with a video of sermon about unity, available in the link at the bottom.  Stay warm and safe friends!  

All values matter.  Of course.  But I wonder if the importance of certain values rise and fall in given times and places? I can’t help but believe that certain periods of history would have turned out sustainably better if certain values had risen to prominence at just the right time.  This seems to be some of the sentiment behind the notion that “the sons of Issachar” understood the times, and understood just what Israel should do, as articulated in I Chronicles 12:32.

As I seek to understand the times in which we live, I believe that there are three values we must, MUST, embody as Christ followers, if our testimony is to have any credibility at all.  Here they are:

1. DISCERNMENT –   And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ (Philippians 1:9-10).  

We live in a time when the 24/7 news cycle offers us trinkets and shiny things, when humans are objectified, commodified, sexualized, in pursuit of sales numbers for shareholders.  It’s a time when individualism trumps the common good, when fear trumps courage, and when the pressures of cultural conformity to one’s tribe are so immense that independent thought, and thoughtful dialogue among parties that disagree, have all but vanished.  Those with the kind of discernment for which Paul prayed are able to rise above all this.  They’re neither swayed by social justice merely because its fashionable, nor by hardline pietism simply because some preacher or politician they voted for peddles it.   They are hungry, not for images, but reality.  They don’t make snap judgements and jump on bandwagons, as people did during the trial of Christ (allowing themselves, in a herd mentality, to be persuaded to release a known murderer in order to assure that Christ would be killed).  Instead they wait, allowing truth to germinate and ripen. They live what Tolkien declared:  

All that is gold does not glitter – not all who wander are lost.  

I attended the church I now lead (Bethany Community Church in Seattle) when I was a college student.  In 1978, after Jim Jones seduced more than 900 people to participate in a mass-suicide, one of the pastors led a Sunday School class and the topic was discernment.  We discussed how such an insane thing could happen, how people could be seduced by a smooth-talking charismatic leader, and how a mark of spiritual maturity was a discernment that transcended denomination, party, nation, or any other so called “loyalty.”   We need this value today, more than ever,  because people are increasingly isolating themselves in echo chambers of people who think like them, vote like them, believe like them, and practice faith like them.

It’s those closed off echo chambers that will suck all the spiritual and emotional oxygen out of the air, causing people to choke on their own self-referential, yet stylish, beliefs.  Discernment opens the windows and lets us breathe.

2. GRACE –  I’d grown up basically believing that God was deeply angry at all of humanity but that He’d taken all that anger and poured it out on Christ so that we could get a ticket to heaven.  Now, having our ticket, it was up to us to perform well so that we didn’t make God mad again.  This view of faith led to a great deal of fear (have I prayed enough, done enough, been good enough?), hiding (I surely don’t want anyone to know that about my anger, lust, or fear), and hypocrisy (“I’m just fine thanks”, I’d say in spite of my inner turmoil, self-loathing, and intellectual doubts about the faith).  Thankfully, I was introduced to the concept of grace when I began attending Bethany during college and they were reading a book called “Free for the Taking”.  (I think it’s now a rare book based on this Amazon price!)

Embracing the notion that God is FOR all people, that God LOVES all people, and that salvation is less about quenching God’s anger than it is helping us discover God’s infinite love – these were truths that liberated me to love God, walk with God, and rest in the confidence that God would never leave me, no matter how hard I fell.  Some people are afraid that this kind of high octane grace leads to lawlessness, but, at least in my life, it lead to the opposite.  I fell in love with Jesus, and He became my best friend, the one to whom I would always run when down.

I’m watching people be publicly “executed” these days for their behavior forty years ago, in spite of a track record of deeds that shout, “I’ve changed!  I’m no longer that person!”  We need grace, and second chances, for repentant people, because God’s justice is always intended to be restorative, as revealed in the garden of Eden, where God chases humanity down, and offers the promise of restoration.  What if repentance led to grace?  Our world would be filled with confession and movement towards right living!  This is a value we desperately need today

3. UNITY – The last thing Jesus prayed for prior to His arrest and execution was the visible unity of all believers.  What did we do with that prayer?

We created a very long list of denominations

We created that list by arguing and dividing over various doctrines, and racial/cultural differences

We cannibalized our own brothers and sisters, vilifying people who follow Jesus by calling them heretics and unbelievers because they don’t agree with us on every little detail.  This was the very thing Paul warned against in Romans 14 and 15.

Again, as a college student, I was overwhelmed with gratitude when I walked into Bethany Community Church and saw this sign:

In Essentials Unity

In Non Essentials Liberty 

In All things Charity 

I’d grown up in an environment where churches were splitting over the issue of divorce, and issues related to women in ministry and who ought to be the head of the house, not to mention divisions over speaking in tongues and whether or not someone could lose their salvation.  I knew people on both sides of each of these issues, good people who loved Christ.  And yet, these people where shooting each other with doctrine cannons and Bible grenades.  I was sick of it.

What a joy to find a church who, at least aspirationally, desired to maintain unity in spite of some differences, because, after all, “if we all love Jesus, can’t we unite around that?” To this day I believe that the answer is a resounding YES, and that’s why I’m preaching this weekend on Romans 14 and you can watch it here

And, can watch an intro here.

 

 

 

8 thoughts on “The most needed values in our time…

  1. Thank you, Richard. Your thoughts are so uplifting to me. Been listening to/attending BCC for almost 3 years now, and I’ve got to say your vision of unity speaks to me the most. Everything you put out there is catalytic, but I definitely dig the unity jams. Thanks again, brother. Enjoy the snow.

  2. I have appreciated all of your writings and speaking, Richard, but I particularly resonate with this one and I have already shared it with a few others who no doubt will as well. It sounds as those your spiritual upbringing was rather similar to my own, and though I feel there was so much that was beautiful and wonderful about it, and I was raised in a very loving family and church community, I’ve also had major misgivings for as long as I can remember about some of the early spiritual teachings to which I was exposed that I could never seem to reconcile in my own mind, much less my heart and soul. The writings of Richard Rohr, Brian McLaren, Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen and more have helped me immensely in more recent years in making sense of many of those concerns, and my ideas about God and my relationship with Him are continuously evolving in ways I could never have imagined even possible in my earlier years (“first half of life”). Thankfully, I now live in deep gratitude, humility and joy every day in loving relationship with our Lord as I learn to know Him better, and what a profound gift it is! Not that I profess to have “the corner on truth” by any means. The good news is that the opportunity for more learning and more growth in relationship with God and others is endlessly challenging and fascinating! Walking with Jesus is an adventure like no other! I want to thank you for all you have contributed to my spiritual growth with your writings and speaking as well, Richard, including with this blog. I will be “thinking on these things” (discernment, grace, unity) in my contemplative time for a good long while. May God continue to bless you, Donna and your family as you continue to bless and enrich the lives of so many, including Alan and me. May you ENJOY all that wonderful fluffy white stuff that has us all snowbound too!

  3. Great post Richard. Unfortunately, the link to your sermon doesn’t want to work for me. When I click on the link above it simply says “gone”.. Can you correct that? Thanks,
    Dan

      1. RATS! I got it to work earlier in the day, but then turned it off until wife could join me. Now when I click in the link I simply get a tiny message in upper L hand corner “gone”. I hate to be a pest but could we try this one more time. Or get it included with BCCs sermons — last on listed is Abbie’s.

        Thanks,
        Dan

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