Perspectives from 2020 to Apply in the New Year
The Year 2020, will not be one that is easily forgotten! Even if 2021 were to bring in even more chaos, we will not so quickly forget the “beginning of the end” with world-wide lockdowns, protests in cities across our land, churches going “virtual”, and the whole variety of personal experiences with Covid-19. I think of a few of the great men who had passed before some of this, like Billy Graham, R. C. Sproul, and others, and this remarkable passage comes to mind from Isaiah 57:1-2, “The righteous perish, and no one ponders it in his heart; devout men are taken away, and no one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil. 2 Those who walk uprightly enter into peace; they find rest as they lie in death.” While much of the world frantically moves in “quiet desperation”, God’s people should be especially contemplative as they consider the many images from 2020, and look ahead to how we may continue to serve Him in 2021.
We spent 9 weeks in the fall considering what it would mean for us to have a “Dangerous Faith”; to live with faith in a society that increasingly grows in hostility against Christianity, like much of the world today, and like the experiences of the early Church. Perspective is (nearly) everything, and wisdom is found by examining the lives of those who have gone before us, in light of the Eternal One.
Moses, who encountered oppressive slavery, the hardheartedness of Pharoah, the awesome presence of God, and the sinful languishing of his people in the desert, sang Psalm 90:12, “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” I want our church to gain wisdom and perspective from this year, so that we may learn to apply it in ever-increasing God-honoring ways in the next year. With that, I have just a few thoughts on “perspective”.
What is important to us may seem laughable to many, and what is important to them may seem absurd, foolhardy, or tragic to us. Perspective does not just happen in a vacuum; it is the result of many things, and I hope a careful consideration of it can help. Even if we all profess to follow Jesus Christ and cherish His Word in our lives, we may find ourselves thinking differently on many issues. My country of origin, or cultural upbringing can have much influence on how I read scripture. Traumatic or uplifting events of the past can affect how I view my Heavenly Father. Significant relationships and family traditions guide our views on our “church family”. Missions experiences and my mission-minded parents have impacted how I view "risk-taking" in ministry. How dress for church, and how seriously I treat church attendance or Sabbath-keeping could be a reflection of legalism, OR a sincere desire to give God my best! (Romans 14:5 "One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.")
I think of Paul’s discourse with the Corinthians, about the believer’s freedom to eat food sacrificed to idols: 1 Cor 8:4 So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one. 7 But not everyone knows this. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat such food they think of it as having been sacrificed to an idol, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. His word of warning includes: 9 Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak. The reasoning behind it is: 12 When you sin against your brothers in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall.
The driving force behind this; the value that overshadows and upends even the knowledge of being right, is LOVE! As Paul began the chapter, “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up”! And what does love look like to Paul? It’s as if he anticipated this question, and wrote a whole chapter on it, in 1 Corinthians 13. 4 “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs."
I remember speaking in a teacher’s meeting to a group of Christian teachers consisting of both Americans and Japanese. A few American teachers were protesting a proposed rule that would require them to wear clothing over any exposed tattoos. They felt it was harsh. I tried to explain how the appearance of tattoos were “stumbling blocks” to many Japanese, particularly the parents of our students, who may make association between that and the more “criminal aspects” of society, like the yakuza (gangsters). Even IF there was considerable Christian freedom in this, the missionary teachers should surely seek to pursue love over their own personal preferences! One Japanese teacher came to me afterwards, thanking me for representing the other side.
Even after a politically-charged year, with many potential divisions, it will be important for us lay our assumptions aside to carefully listen to others. It is possible that they may not care, or that they may have simply not understood where you’re coming from, based upon your experiences or conditions.
We learn from our gains and losses in order to be more effective ministers, and God has uniquely given you your set of circumstances as assets to serve His Kingdom and Church. May we have the courage and humility to lay aside our preferences, seek perspective, and thus minister more effectively in our relationships. Invite the deeper discussion!