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On Unity

Summary: For all the progress we’re making in the world, we’re entering surprisingly intolerant times - and it's affecting the unity of the body of Christ. How can we stay united when there are such strong forces pulling us apart?

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We're living in tumultuous, polarizing times. At Grace we’ve always done our best to embrace the idea that while certain things in Scripture are clearly defined (humankind’s fallen nature, Jesus rising from the dead to conquer sin and death), there is room for reasonable minds to differ on some matters. When will Jesus return? Does my baptism count if I didn’t get submerged? NIV or ESV? Hymns or Chris Tomlin?

If it’s reasonable to expect differing opinions on scriptural matters, it’s practically a given that a Christian community will be filled with differing opinions on political matters. On any given Sunday, across all of our worship venues, there are plenty of very liberal Democrats sitting right next to some very conservative Republicans. And odds are that both get a little anxious when they realize their church just introduced politics into a blog post.

The reason for making this observation is that, for all the progress we’re making in the world, we’re entering surprisingly intolerant times. Between traditional and social media, we’re tuning in to an overwhelming number of voices, all expressing different interpretations of “the facts” – both true and alternative.

It’s as if our pre-existing opinions are being fed a high-powered diet that has them jacked up like an athlete on steroids. And it can feel – just like it does for the athlete on the juice – empowering, and exhilarating. But it’s not real, and it’s not healthy.

Now more than ever, we need to get better at listening to each other. Not just waiting for our chance to talk – really listening. Because unity starts with listening.

The unity of God’s people isn’t guaranteed; it never has been. And when that unity crumbles, when the followers of Christ can’t be the example the world needs, the world sees it - and they’re either entertained, or put off. Nobody is drawn closer to Christ.

So let’s all hold each other accountable to a greater level of empathy, to a deeper understanding of each other. It’s good for us as individuals, it’s good for the body of Christ, and it’s good for the world. Let’s get off the (metaphorical) media juice, and come together around one goal: reaching more people for Christ.

This kind of unity doesn’t happen automatically; it takes work. So to help foster that unity, here are a few principles we can all adapt in some way or another:

Get your information from a variety of sources. If you watch Fox News all the time, read the New York Times. If you love National Review, try reading Vox. Don’t underestimate the value of publications like The Wall Street Journal or The Altantic. If you only read Huffington Post or Breitbart News, please recognize that those aren’t news outlets, they are blogs. The main point is this: recognize that you rarely ever hear the whole story, even from the best news sources. We all have to allow for the possibility that we might be misinformed.

Make your first source of information the Bible. If you read the Bible like you read the news - picking and choosing the parts you want to dwell on - you’re reading it wrong. Scripture doesn’t just give us the good news of salvation, of God’s intervention in human history, as beautiful and amazing as that news is. The Bible offers wisdom for living a better life, and that helps our perspective on world events stay closer to the way God sees the world.

“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12).

Pray before you speak, act, comment, or share. Is something bothering you to the point where you just have to say something about it – to everyone? For those of us who use social media as an outlet for our thoughts and feelings, keep this in mind: just because you said exactly what you wanted to say, that doesn’t mean people heard exactly what you wanted them to hear. Be aware of the power of your words, and remember that on social media you’re speaking to people who may live in an entirely different context from yours.

If you’ve got a particularly strong opinion on a social or political matter, pray about it. Pray for the people who are in the midst of the matter, whichever side they are on. Be open to God shaping your opinion through prayer.

And if you are taking to social media to share that opinion, it’s a good idea to share it with someone in person first. Before you put words out onto social media, where they can have a life of their own, see how they impact people you know in person. Too many of us say things on social media with a bluntness or an edge that we would never use face to face.

"Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell." (James 3:3-6)

Posting on social media is, by definition, an act of leadership; so treat it like one. I can almost hear the comments coming: “Wait… what? Leadership? Are you telling me that when I share my vacation photos, or that funny video with the panda grabbing the zookeeper’s legs, I’m leading people? Isn’t that kind of a stretch?”

Maybe not as much as you think it is. When you hear us talk about Willow Creek’s Global Leadership Summit (an event for everyone, well worth attending), you’ve heard us say that “we all influence people in some way.” When you are on social media, you’re trying to influence people. You’re trying to change their perspective, get them to take action, or motivate them. You want to engage people in an idea, whatever that is. That’s what leaders do.

Leaders spend a lot of time trying to create a clear picture of an intended outcome within their sphere of influence, regardless of where it is. So be aware that, when you are posting on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Snap, you’re influencing people, and that influence can show up right away or a long time down the road.

Every once in a while, have an “Input Fast.” Periodically fasting from food and water is good for our bodies, our minds, and our souls. But in today’s information-obsessed world, another kind of fast is to stop consuming information, of any kind: news, entertainment, even Scripture. Imagine taking a day or two, and turning off all of the technology, all of the input, and allowing space for your mind to do the other thing our brains were designed to do: create.

As amazing as they are at holding, retaining, and processing massive amounts of information, God didn’t design our brains to function solely as storage containers. They’re also instruments of creation. We’re all designed with an incredible capacity to craft and express ideas. But we rarely ever allow ourselves the mental bandwidth to do it.

So turn off the computer or TV and delete your social media apps – just for a day or two. It will all be there when you go back to it. Take the time you’d spend consuming and start creating: write in your journal, write down your goals, write a letter to a loved one. We were all made in the image of God, our Creator. So go create something, for the good of the world.

(And pray.)

Posted by Jared Willey with 0 Comments

Welcoming the Stranger: Ways to Learn About and Serve Some of the Least Among Us

Summary: There are men and women, boys and girls, fleeing from violence, war and persecution. And now as they are displaced from what was once “home,” refugees turn to the nations for a place to make their new home. How can we as followers of Jesus respond? How should we?

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What a weekend this has been! In addition to it being Chinese New Year, the news of President Donald Trump’s executive order “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States” was announced on Friday, January 27, 2017.  Social media went nuts and concerned people in and out of our church community asked me, “What can I do?” “How can I respond?”

Personally, this executive order feels close to home. My parents are immigrants. My grandfather was one of the first Chinese immigrants to Boston, arriving in 1901. I’m as complexly American as apple pie, egg foo yung and Braintree High School’s varsity sports teams (lettering in 3 sports, pre-Title IX). Although the current restricted groups are from 7 predominantly Muslim nations, a longer view of history reminds me that the Japanese Americans were incarcerated by FDR during WWII and the Chinese were excluded from entering the US in 1882. Tragically, human brokenness is not restricted to geography, people group or nation state.

Now, we’re confronted with the largest number of people on the move since WW II. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), at the end of 2015, 63.5 million people or one out of every 113 people on earth or a little under 1% of the earth’s population is either "an asylum-seeker, internally displaced or a refugee." It’s a 5.8 million increase on the year before. (http://www.cnn.com/2016/06/20/world/unhcr-displaced-peoples-report/)

These are men and women, boys and girls, fleeing from violence, war and persecution. They are desperate, wounded emotionally and many are without hope. They want the normal human yearnings of life – a safe place to raise their kids, the dignity of work so they can provide for their families, and the freedom of religion. And now as they are displaced from what was once “home,” refugees turn to the nations for a place to make their new home. How can we as followers of Jesus respond? How should we?

I sincerely believe that President Trump is trying to balance our national security interests with the humanitarian concerns of the millions who are displaced. What a tough position for him and how he needs our prayers! Whether one agrees with his executive order, how it was implemented or how it is being responded to, here are some ways for you to keep informed and to exercise your rights as citizens.

#1: Get educated. The refugee crisis didn’t start last Friday and global terrorism didn’t start with 9/11.

Two helpful books on immigration and refugees were written by World Relief staff:

Welcoming the Stranger, Sorens and Yang, 2009 

 

Seeking Refuge, Bauman, 2016

#2: Support a Grace Chapel Ministry Partner.

Did you know that we have been supporting ministries caring for some of the “least of these” for years through our mission partnerships, your prayers and your giving? Two of Grace Chapel’s partners have been actively serving refugees before the current executive order was signed – World Relief and the Greater Boston Refugee Ministry.

  • World Relief (www.worldrelief.org), has been one of the US government approved agencies to resettle refugees in our country for 35 years. They are experienced and a thoughtful, biblically based ministry working with local churches to be the “hands and feet” of Jesus in many global hot spots as well as in the work of refugee resettlement in our nation.
  • Another Grace Chapel partner, the Emmanuel Gospel Center has a ministry called the “Greater Boston Refugee Ministry” which helps train and equip local churches to welcome refugees who resettle in Greater Boston. Sarah Blumenshine has found her go! She serves as the GBRM co-director and is a Grace Chapel member, worshipping at our Wilmington campus.  https://www.egc.org/im-gbrm/

#3: Join a Virtual Community.

There’s a virtual community and a coalition of several evangelical ministries who care about this topic called “We Welcome Refugees.” (https://wewelcomerefugees.com/) This group believes, "we, the church, have an unprecedented opportunity to leverage together on a global scale and change the tide on this urgent and dire issue.”

In short, keep pursuing knowledge and information about a very complex, global issue. Read your newsfeeds and your Bible, side-by-side. Let the Scriptures inform your thoughts and actions. Check out some of our partners who are already working with refugees. Join others in our community to help you discover your “go!” And let’s be prayerful, thoughtful and respectful as we reach out to our friends, neighbors and church community on this important, potentially polarizing topic. The Scriptures teach us to pray for those in authority and to love others as we love ourselves. As our political leaders present policies to govern our nation, may we ponder and pray about what God’s invitation to each of us is. We may end up on different sides of the aisle but let’s engage one another and our diverse opinions respectfully, prayerfully, kindly and graciously as we care for “the least among us.”

Here's a blessing for us written by Benedictine nun, Sr. Ruth Fox, OSB:

May God bless us with discomfort at easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships, so that we may live deep within our hearts.

May God bless us with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that we may work for justice, freedom, and peace.

May God bless us with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, hunger, and war, so that we may reach out our hands to comfort them and turn their pain into joy.

And may God bless us with enough foolishness to believe that we can make a difference in this world, so that we can do what others claim cannot be done, to bring justice and kindness to all our children and the poor.

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

Posted by Jeanette Yep with 0 Comments

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