November 2008


” I choose to see you as Jesus sees you”.  In conclusion to a story he told about infidelity in a marriage, this was what Mark Driscoll , one of the plenary speakers at a conference last weekend hosted by the Christian Counseling Education Foundation (CCEF), left us with. 

And boy was I convicted by this statement.  How I struggle to view other Christians as God sees them, beautiful and blemish free.  And yet it’s precisely because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, that that is even possible.  We are now covered in Jesus’ beauty and perfection and his sinless record, the ugliness of our sin hidden from sight and remembered by God no more.  And what an important reminder that we can make a choice about how we see one another too.  We can focus on each others’ flaws and pay too much attention to the specs they have in their eyes which drive us crazy and the things they have that we wish we had and the things they do that we wish they wouldn’t do.  Or we can choose to see them as image bearers of our holy God and made in his likeness.  And we can choose to remember, as CS Lewis reminds us in ‘The Weight of Glory’,  that even the “most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature…you would be strongly tempted to worship.” (p.45) 

Wow!

Oh Lord, give us the desire to choose to see one another as you see us.  Give us the eyes to see others as you see us.  And give us the desire to walk beside each other as you transform and change us into the people you intend for us to be.

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As in Noah’s time when a flood seemed virtually impossible, and yet it happened, it’s easy to get complacent about how short life can be, even though we all know that our lives here on earth are finite.  What we usually don’t know is when we will have that final conversation with a friend, or see someone for the last time, before their time (or ours) is up in this world.  And yet when that happens, we are sobered. 

This summer I learned that a friend I was close to for a time in college had died very tragically. I was extremely saddened by the news.  What was once a vibrant life had been abruptly cut short; she did not live to see her 44th birthday.  I hadn’t seen her since we graduated 20+ years ago and had had only a few phone calls and email exchanges in that interim in the latter years, which she had initiated.  But I had remained very fond of her, even though after college, we had gone our separate ways and for many years, neither of us had made any effort to stay in touch.  In college,  in the middle of a budding friendship, she had chosen to pull away from me which was very hurtful at the time, and our friendship never really recovered from that.

Many years later, when listening to talk about forgiveness I became convicted that I’d never really forgiven her, even though I thought I had kept the door of our friendship open.  Obviously, it was not left wide open enough.  By God’s grace, I later did completely forgive her, but I never took the opportunity to tell her this.  In not doing so, I feel I robbed both she and I of the opportunity for true reconciliation.  The fact that that is no longer possible with her is both hard and humbling.

This year at Redeemer, we are examining how the gospel impacts us, as a community.  The parable of the prodigal son has provided an opportunity for us to reflect on the nature of God’s extravagant forgiveness to us.   And along with that, we’ve been challenged to live not just as individuals who forgive but as a reconciling community, one in which we don’t bear grudges, or resist extending forgiveness to those who have wronged us or let us down.  I know that in light of my friend’s unexpectedly shortened life, I’ve also been convicted anew of the importance of not just forgiving those who have hurt me but of moving toward them to restore our fractured relationships.  I’ve also been reminded that whenever I fail to forgive, my hardened heart contributes to the ill health of the family that God has adopted me into because he has created us all to be interdependent members of his community. 

Forgiveness and reconciliation are by no means easy to do and don’t come without a cost.  So it’s tempting to put it off or think we have ample time in which to get around and do it.  But as with those who ridiculed Noah when he built the ark, the flood did come and they were unprepared for it.  When we delay, the opportunities to forgive and reconcile may be far fewer than we think.

So people across the United States of America and indeed across the globe are celebrating the historic events of the past 24 hours: the election of Barack Hussein Obama as the 44th President of this nation.  I admit. I am one of those deeply moved by this turn of events of events in American history.  And yes I was even moved to tears last night at moments.  I am feeling this deeply not just because of what this election represents or because I am a Black woman living in America.  I’m feeling it particularly deeply because I too have an African father, one who studied as a poor scholarship student in Texas in the early 1950’s and because of the racism he encountered there, forbid me or any of my siblings to apply to any schools in the southern US when we were considering college.  He’s no longer alive but if he were, he never would have believed that electing a man with African roots would be possible in this country, let alone in the lifetimes of his children.  But as Obama said in his acceptance speech, in America all things are possible.

Well, the real truth is that it is with God alone that all things are possible, and He is the one that deserves our honor and glory, regardless of who is in political office at any one time.  But I have to say as I saw the seemingly endless sea of people who gathered in Grant Park in Chicago to welcome this new President-elect; and witnessed on TV the spontaneous parties spilling out into the streets in Harlem, Times Square, Washington DC, and Martin Luther King’s Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta; and as I saw people so overcome with emotion that they were shedding tears publicly and shamelessly, I couldn’t help but think that this was just the faintest glimmer of what is to come:

When those from every tribe, tongue, nation and people gather and every knee in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.  WOW!  EVERY knee and EVERY tongue, the billions and billions of us ever created across time and history, the great multitude of us that no one can count, that goes on far beyond what the naked eye can see…  It’s something we can scarcely really even imagine, but I’m willing to speculate that we will be absolutely beside ourselves with awe and wonder and joy and perhaps even a hint of: is this really happening?  

O Lord, how we yearn for that day.  Come Lord Jesus.

One of the  big challenges of living in a huge city like New York is that it can be hard to experience a genuine sense of connection and belonging which comes out of authentic experiences of gospel-centered community.  Here at Redeemer, we aim to foster that through the more than 250 fellowship groups we support, but if you are already in a small group, how do you connect with folks beyond your small group?  One way, that we’ve been piloting since the summer, is by creating a cluster of small groups who meet in the same general neighborhood and are overseen by the same fellowship group director.  Last week we had our monthly neighbhorhood cluster gathering in a lovely home on the Upper West Side.  It was a great time of fun, yummy food, and fellowship.

We were also really encouraged by hearing about Kari Jo’s story of how she and her husband Cory actively sought out community when they moved to New York from Kansas City 12 years ago.  Despite some lonely and hard times, God gave them a deep love for the city, so much so, that they decided to make staying in New York a priority so they could provide a means of stable community for those who transition in and out of here.  In keeping with that, when Cory finished his PhD at Columbia, they decided to put down roots in New York and so only seriously pursued those job opportunities that would permit them to remain here.  Essential to fulfulling this calling was finding a home that was affordable for them and their 4 delightful children.  Their beautiful home, which we were assembled in that evening, is tangible evidence of God’s faithfulness to them.  Along with friends, they purchased a fixer-upper in a prime location and then enlisted their fellowship group to help in the process of transforming what was a dump into a wonderful space that is used to provide not just for their family but serves others through events such as hosting  of this event and their 15 person group. 

Buoyed by Kari Jo’s encouraging story and as a follow up to our cluster’s emphasis last month which was on caring as a community for the city by serving together, we decided to focus on caring for one another as a community this time around.  Groups came with specific tangible reqeusts from members needing help and we put each request out there, and matched up needs with folks within the cluster who could meet those needs.  Specific service connections that were made that night included: teaching someone how to speak Spanish so she can communicate more effectively with the parents of the kids she teaches, helping someone move apartments, finding an apartment for someone else,  connecting folks who were both looking for roommates, and providing babysitting to a couple in our cluster who has twins. 

It was a hugely encouraging exchange and another concrete reminder of how we participate in God’s coming kingdom by meeting each other’s needs, caring for one another, and experiencing a foretaste of heaven.  However, the reality is though that it’s only when we make our needs known, that we are able to draw others in to help us meet those needs.  And that is a huge challenge for most sophisticated, career-minded, highly accomplished New Yorkers. 

Oh Lord, help us to be humble enough to allow others to incarnate you in our midst by loving and caring for us.