… and why it’s a great time to be a Christian.
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:5
We live in troubled times. In America we find ourselves in a political season that is unprecedented. Our country is more divided, volatile, conflicted, and confused than it’s been in my lifetime. Recent news of the UK’s departure from the European Union reveals that we are not the only ones. At a recent gathering in Charleston, on the anniversary of the massacre of the Mother Emanuel A.M.E. nine, I was reminded of how much further we have to go to bridge the racial divide in our country. We have a long way to go. Today the stock market is in a spiraling free fall, terrorism threatens us domestically and abroad, and immigration, sexual identification, abortion, financial disparity, and mental health, all top the news. Even as I write this, I discover that at least 36 people were killed and more than 100 were injured in an attack at Ataturk International Airport in Istanbul, by suicide bombers who blew themselves up. Is there any question, we live in fearful times? Understandably, these events result in skepticism and unbelief for many, while a few see the birth pangs of a coming new Creation. As a pastor, I’m reminded every day of this undercurrent of cultural anxiety, that inevitably surfaces in our personal lives- in our relationships, marriages, families, the workplace, and yes, in our churches.
I would like to offer the crazy notion that these are the best of times to be a follower of Jesus. In this cultural moment, we have an opportunity to bring forth a Gospel witness that we have not had in a long time. Indeed, every day is a good day to share the love of Christ and the hope we have in Him. But light shines brightest in the darkness. It is dark, and this is Good News. Hang with me; the Church needs to hear this.
The Jewish Rabbi, Edwin Howard Friedman, was a family therapist who applied family systems theory to congregational leadership. Years ago, I read his book, From Generation to Generation, in which he explains that one of the qualities to effective leadership is a non-anxious presence. He says parents must offer this non-anxious presence in the family in order to bring security, peace, and direction in the home. This, he describes, is the capacity to separate oneself from surrounding emotional processes through self-differentiation. This differentiation involves the willingness to be exposed and vulnerable and includes “a persistence to face inertial resistance”. He describes a self-regulation of emotions in the face of volatile criticism. This self-differentiation is not simply an emotional detachment, though it may lead to some, but is more the ability to attach one’s core identity to something outside of the role of leadership and all that entails. It is this self-differentiation that produces the necessary non-anxious presence.
This is what we need in our day. And no one can display this kind of non-anxious presence like those who have found their truest identity in Christ. One’s ultimate self-differentiation is found in Him. Christ offers Himself as the primal example. He defined Himself only in relation to the Father. He was the Beloved Son of God the Father, pure and simple. In John 12, He says He did not speak on His own authority, “but the Father who sent me has Himself given me a commandment- what to say and what to speak” (v. 49). He only did what the Father told Him to do and He only said what the Father told Him to say. Jesus differentiated Himself from all else- His followers, His circumstances, His personal well-being – and found His identity solely as the Beloved Son of the Father. If anyone ever had a non-anxious presence, it was Jesus. And yet, He lived up close and personal- incarnational- fully engaged.
Hear this: If you are “in Christ”, you too are a beloved son or daughter of God. By receiving His grace, through His death upon the cross, by faith, you are now found in Him. His identity is yours. The truest thing about you is found outside of your circumstances. The stock market, terrorism, political polarizations, relational conflicts, personal failures, nor any other thing can separate you from the love of God in Christ.
In anxious times, Scripture takes on new meaning; but only as is applied. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:35-39
We are not defined by the circumstances around us; or perhaps we are. Our anxiety, anger, and fear, reveal our hearts and point others to our idols. Let us prove where our hope lies. Let us show the world the non-anxious presence of those who have been differentiated by the love of Christ. Now is the time to put our faith into action. Now is the time to differentiate ourselves as God’s beloved. Be the non-anxious presence others are looking for, and point them to the One who has made you so.