Losing my religion and finding my faith, Part 2. Connected and Compassionate
So how do we respond to this decay in our Christian heritage (see Part 1)? I suggest there are five things we must do. In a world where good and bad have lost their absolute reference points and become synonymous with helpful and unhelpful, we must give people a living portrait of what absolute goodness means.
1. Strive to do good – in a land of exile it is not enough to only tell people about the truth, it is not enough to only argue at the theoretical or logical level. We must demonstrate our love in real ways to a lost world. We must find ways of touching needy people, of restoring broken lives, of healing bruised bodies. Only by living amongst people and loving them in practical ways will we ever create a hunger for ultimate truth. Society is too sceptical, cynical and secular to be convinced by rhetoric alone.
- Are our words and actions balanced?
- Do we spend as much time in practical service as we do in gaining knowledge?
- What are we doing, what is your church doing, to tangibly serve its community?
- Are we making a difference to the community we live in?
- Would they noticed if you moved your church to another location?
2. Strive to be good – if our ghettoisation is the main cause for our ineffectiveness amongst society, then our lack of godliness is our Achilles’ heal once we make contact. Unfortunately our in-fighting and apathy, our self-seeking and pride fuel anti-Christian sentiment in anyone unfortunate enough to get close. We cannot continue to make excuses and expect people to be drawn to Christ. If we proclaim that Jesus has changed our lives, and show such weak evidence of change, are we surprised people are not hungry? Our compassion should be our hallmark, as much as our orthodoxy.
- Are we top heavy with our passion for truth vs our mercy for sinners who oppose that truth?
- Where do we make excuses for our lack of godliness?
- What do we need to repent of and put to death?
- Where do we need forgiveness and healing?
3. Affirm what is good – if you listen to what we communicate about society, all too often it is overwhelmingly negative. We disagree with this, we are horrified by that, we lobby about the other. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t do all this preservative activity. Our saltiness should seek to prevent decay in society. My question is, is there anything positive we can say about society? Is there anything we can affirm as good? What can we celebrate in modern culture? Can we complement our pronouncements with some encouraging, affirming messages?
- What can we say about our culture’s approach to creativity, innovation, equality, the poor, the workplace? Is there anything beautiful in all of this that we can endorse?
- What can you think of that you really appreciate about culture & society? What can you privately and publicly celebrate about our culture?
- What can you do to encourage your politician, social media network or friends about the good things in our society?
4. Love unconditionally – we have become so familiar with God’s unconditional love for us that it sometimes loses it’s shock value. To love someone unconditionally leaves you wide open to abuse, being taken advantage of, being used as a door mat. We love conditionally because it protects us from damage. Unconditional love requires no reciprocation, it does not say “I will love you if…”. It just loves. We have been shown this greater way. A love of no holds barred, no safety net, no damage limitation love. My prayer is that we Christians would realise that this is what God is calling us to do, not just for each other, but for our neighbours, colleagues, friends and family who don’t know Christ. In the past I have been guilty of seeing them as projects to be saved and won for God. I still long for everyone to come to know him, but now my end goal is love. To love them without any conditions, not so that they could become something, but because they already are something. Loved by God and precious to him. This is how God viewed us before we were saved. He came to save us while we were his enemies.
- Are we prepared to love with no thought for hitting targets?
- Who in society needs unconditional love the most?
- Who else in this world could love the unlovable?
5. Sacrifice pre-emptively. Nevertheless, even if we strive to do good, and be good, and love unconditionally, there will be those who will reject our love. We should love despite our motives being questioned, we should love whether that love is returned or not, we should continue to offer the hand of fellowship, even if that hand is struck down. The response of the beloved will not determine the actions of the lover. At some point the cost of continuing down this path will escalate. We do not get to choose the cost of our devotion, only how much we are prepared to sacrifice to be obedient. Let us not wait until we are in the crucible to set our priorities.
- Are we prepared to be unpopular, to be social rejects?
- Are we prepared for our compassion to cost us our legal status as charities? What about losing our jobs?
- Are we prepared to lose everything we have been blessed with, if doing so is the only way to remain faithful?
- Have we rejected the god of popularity or are we still seeking to serve two masters?
As John Wesley said many years ago…
We must regain this wholistic view of life if we are to translate our compassion for people into a deep connectedness. Many individuals and churches are taking up the challenge, may God grant that we would all see our part.