Stepping into the Transitions of Others

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Difficulties, illnesses, graduations, moving, a new position, leaving a career…Life is full of transitions. They can often be stressful but also awakening.  Unfortunately, transitions caused by massacres like the Orlando one are increasing in number. Obama’s administration alone  has had to address 15 such massacres. Transitions are happening on every level, from personal to national to political.

What a time for people to get involved, and what a time for God’s church to get involved. But here in our Western world, i’m concerned we’re not “stepping up.” Here in San Francisco, I’ve seen a lot of “missteps” churches have taken, for example, succumbing to making traditional theology more important than the call to step in and love. Compounded together, these missteps fuel a distrust against Christian churches. There are wonderful exceptions which I’ve documented here. But this is not the general perspective of churches here in San Francisco.

Transitions have also been the appointed time, the kairos moment for followers of Jesus to rise up. Historically, persecution against people of “The Way” (what followers of Jesus were called) led to a huge rise of Jesus followers, from an estimated 1000 in 40 A.D. to well over 33 million by 350 A.D.  More recently, we’ve seen the church in China rise up after the communists took over in ’49. There were under 1 million Christians then. Estimates vary because most of the Chinese church is underground, but there must be at least 100 million Christians in China today. Many estimate more, and projected growth doubles that in the next couple of decades. This kind of growth is also true in the Global South. On the contrary, the last 100 years have shown Christian growth slowest in Western nations, places where the faith does not face all the transition that comes with persecution. Transitions are invitations to wake up from Christian boredom, to wake up from Sunday consumer Christianity, to wake up from the lie that the afterlife and the faith have nothing to do with our ins and outs of living.

“Jesus wept,” the shortest verse in the English bible, finds itself in a biblical context that calls and directs Jesus followers, or anyone who wishes to follow His ways, to a certain posture, a perspective that, if followed, will move us towards the abundant living as God intended, regardless of our circumstance. God has something to say through the context surrounding this shortest verse, and what follows is simply a reflection of things I’ve gleaned as I studied this context found in the entire chapter 11 of the Gospel according to St. John. All Scripture references will be taken from the NET version. I will be directing all points below to followers of Jesus, whether called Christians or otherwise. (Terminology to refer to Jesus followers often changed to maintain its integrity. Today, the term Christian is too watered down embodying those who simply subscribe to an organization or set of ideas, yet lack loving action and relationships in the way of Christ).

Jesus seized the kairos, an appointed time, to head towards his friends in a difficult transition, the passing of a dear brother named Lazarus. Jesus did this in spite of opposition. The biblical narrative reads thus:

1:1 Now a certain man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village where Mary and her sister Martha lived. 11:2 (Now it was Mary who anointed the Lord with perfumed oil and wiped his feet dry with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.) 11:3 So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, look, the one you love is sick.”

Love drew Jesus to Bethany. His dear sick friend Lazarus was the trigger. We see this dynamic again here:

1:4 When Jesus heard this, he said, “This sickness will not lead to death, but to God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” 11:5 (Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.) 

I’m a sucker for old-school soul, and the song “Ain’t no Mountain High Enough” is what comes to mind when I think about Jesus not letting opposition get in the way. But no love song can capture the depth of God’s love. Jesus was in transition himself, leaving his public ministry. Bethany was less than 2 miles from Jerusalem where the events of the Passion were soon to take place, the place where Jesus would empty himself, even his very life for you and me. So Jesus stepped into his dear friend’s time of transition while in transition himself. Jesus transition of course would cost him his life, for our sake.

So Jesus SEIZED this “double transition” because it was the season to do so. That’s as obvious as “working while the sun is still out.” Jesus seized the kairos on multiple levels. Such action and sentiment is summarized here:
11:7 Then after this, he said to his disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” 11:8 The disciples replied, “Rabbi, the Jewish leaders were just now trying to stone you to death! Are you going there again?” 11:9 Jesus replied, “Are there not twelve hours in a day? If anyone walks around in the daytime, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. 11:10 But if anyone walks around at night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.”

So Jesus was seizing a kairos (appointed time) here that was both immediate and long-term. He did it for his loved one, and in the bigger scope, for all of mankind.

It’s too easy in our culture to think we’re doing something for others when really it’s for us. A recent term that describes this is slacktivism. From wiki, our “culture lends towards slacktivism (a mixture of) the words slacker and activism. The word is usually considered a pejorative term that describes “feel-good” measures, in support of an issue or social cause, that have little physical or practical effect, other than to make the person doing it feel satisfied that they have contributed. Slacktivism can be defined as the act of showing support for a cause but only truly being beneficial to the egos of people participating in this so-called activism. The acts tend to require minimal personal effort from the slacktivist.”

I believe that slacktivism is a growing threat to society, and especially to churches in Western worlds. Why do I need to quality “Western worlds?” It’s here where we’ve long enabled an “intellect only” Christianity. As a guest preacher in dozens of churches, I’ve seen the fruit of a knowledge, task-based church where leaders are promoted, even leading groups purely based on what they know, head knowledge verses heart-knowledge. I’ve seen this for decades. I myself was promoted in churches and ministries because of my head knowledge base whereas looking back, I would not have had me lead knowing what I know now. Instead, I would have invited myself to environments to expose my need for healing, my need to grow in emotional maturity and heart-knowledge, things I’ve pursued in the last few years. I blame my unconscious belief in slacktivism for my “wasted years.”  For decades, it’s “too easy” to send money to missionaries (I being one of them at one time) without actually being involved. It’s too easy for the church to hide behind walls and not be present to seize the “kairos” put before us. 10 years ago, Chinese churches held up signs and took out full page ads in the paper declaring “one man, one woman.” Though I believe that is God’s intention for marriage, I detested the methods used because they sent a hate message to the community. The onslaught of social media just makes it easier to “pretend” to be involved. Now mind you, I’ve not attacking social media. There are endless examples of how social media has helped connect people to “real kairos” moments and causes not possible even a decade ago. I’m attacking the oft-unconscience tactic of using social media to “feel good about oneself” without actually getting involved.

A good example of a company avoiding slacktivism and seizing the kairos is found in what Chick Fil-A, a Christian owned and operated restaurant, did in response to the Orlando shootings. “On Sunday, the day that Chick Fil-A is always closed so its employees can worship God at their churches and observe a Sabbath rest, they decided instead to brew gallons of tea and prepare hundreds of their sandwiches, and then they handed them out free of charge to people who were donating blood for the LGBTQ shooting victims.” The fact that Chick Fil-A was cast in the news this way is particularly interesting because the company is well-known for making the news in light of its conservative stances. The fact that at they “showed up” with action speaks louder than the controversy that surrounds some of their conservative practices. The Salvation Army is another example of a well-known “first responder” ministering to those that, on paper, might otherwise feel excluded from the “Army’s” theology.

Real theology is found on the streets, in the trenches, not in stuffy rooms and board meetings. I live in San Francisco and have had dozens of conversations about who Jesus is. Most describe a Jesus that’s been marred by the church institution. Often, I just listen and sometimes find myself saying “I’d be hurt too if i were in your shoes. The Jesus I know and read in the Bible would not have allowed that to happen.” I can “set the record straight” simply by pointing to WHO Jesus was, and who Jesus is. Too often in my church travels, I hear people trying to get people “into church” rather than introducing them to Jesus, who would have stepped into their lives too, if they let him.

This post was pulled from a sermon I gave on the subject last Sunday. This was just the 1st point of a few. It’s be too much to write out everything i said here. And even this post is a contraction of what I actually said (because absorption dynamics are different read then heard. I’m a speaker more than a writer.)  Thus, I intend to post the next few points in the days to come, and in the end, I will relate this back to the Orlando massacre.

Let me conclude this post w this. I believe there are kairoses for Jesus followers to step into all the time. I’m concerned that Asian churches especially over-program their members such that there’s little presence. I’ve met too many church leaders who don’t know how to engage a hurting world around them. I would have been one of those.

Then there are those who step into the transitions, no questions asked about their “theology.” Just last weekend, a huge fire in San Francisco displaced over 40 people. And a church friend of mine with his wife and baby were there with clothes, blankets, and toys.

The biggest transitions for me have been the past several years, with a wife who was sick (we only went out for doctor visits), a son with special needs, and a mom transitioning to a nursing home. Growing up, I HATED any kind of transitions and the emotions, good or bad, associated with them. That led to a life filled with only doing and learning. My recent transitions killed my previous life and opened up a life I never knew. It’s not all good today; I’m still in the midst of transition, grieving changes, realities, limitations, and more. But life is more real than it’s ever been; stepping into my own transitions and into ones for others have been a gateway. God cared enough for me to allow these transitions to happen. And the fruit I’ve seen has simply been a “paying forward” of what God’s given me through my transitions. I pray more would step into the transitions of others, with love and compassion, as Jesus did, and his followers have done for millennia, to open wider the doors to transformation and an abundant life worth living.

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