Coming into this new year, I, like many, have a sense of hope. If nothing else, it’s for the fact that 2020 is over! I mean, maybe we we’re still on the hill called 2020ISH, but perhaps it we’re on our way down, rather than still climbing.
Now I’m not sure if we’re on the bottom, top, bottom of the top, top of the bottom, or somewhere near Mordor in Middle Earth. Is this the Return of the King? Am I Frodo? Wherever we are, it’s weird.
A few months ago as we approached the Fall, I felt like what God was speaking to me for 2021 (and particularly as it relates to our church and youth ministry) was this word: REMAIN.
Remain can be an unforgiving word, because it causes us to evaluate where we’re at. If you’re like me, you tend to want to stay, where God might be calling you to step back. Or, you might be trying to leave, where God has called you to stay. Either way, “remain” isn’t so much literal as it is a disposition, a spirit, a commitment.
Remain [verb] means to stay or continue to exist, especially after others have retreated or ceased to exist. Perhaps we’ve seen the opposite, and all over the place. For many, the conversations being had are so toxic, they’ve left altogether or retreated deep into their echo chamber. For others, institutions have been revealed as flawed, so the deconstructive mode has taken over. Today, remaining seems like the least sensible – even wrong – thing to do. Yet, it’s what the people of God have done since the beginning, and it’s what they will do to step into the future.
2020 did – and 2021 will – challenge our ability to remain. Much of what was seen as stable has been constantly clawed at and pressed. And, much of what we thought was temporary has had an incredible staying power. Remaining is easy when there’s no pressure.
Take racism for example.
I’ll assume that if you’re reading this, you’d agree with me that there’s zero room for racism in our society, in our churches or in our hearts. And not many months ago, there was essentially no risk involved in holding that simple opinion. Fast forward to 2020, it’s somehow become complex.
Fascinatingly, many point straight to the toxicity of critical theory and use it as an excuse to diminish and dismiss any issue whatsoever. “It’s a tool of the devil.” Quite possibly, but not just from one angle. There are some glaring issues in critical theory that I believe are toxic and should be opposed (a good book read on this). But could it be that the devil, in his snakelike way, is using Church’s opposition to “evil” against her? Could it be that racism (a stronghold straight from hell that sits in direct opposition to God’s heart for humanity) is something the devil desperately wants to see thrive? And could it be that his primary goal is to get Christians distracted by the disdain for one idea, all so that a worse idea (racism) might be able to roam without any opposition from Christians? As long as the goal to be right eclipses the goal to love and serve, the devil’s sneaky tactic is working.
I’ve talked with some who hate critical theory so much that they’ve lived this season void of any compassion (i.e. weaping with those who weap). I’ve watched others who hate toxic leaders so much that they won’t rest until the whole thing (church, group of people, govt office) effectively burns to the ground. In both of these types of cases, the remaining spirit is nowhere to be seen.
But maybe, in an upside-down way, God is calling the His people to remain in spite of some ideas that may not work to heal issues that do need to be healed. What if the aggressive opposition to things like critical theory was matched with a just-as-aggressive compassion, a disdain for injustice, and an endless pursuit to see the imago dei (image of God) realized for all people. What if the hatred for bad leaders was eclipsed by a picture of biblical, christlike leadership? I believe we’ll see it.
So what do we do?
As I write this, our nation is goin nutso. Our capitals are being stormed, toxic ideas are playing out, our pets heads are falling off… It makes me want to move somewhere sunny, stay off the internet, get a new job, avoid this reality. But, as a follower of Jesus who believes in the church as the hope for humanity, that option jumped off the table a long time ago… and for all of us.
So we remain.
Here’s what remaining might look like:
1. Pray. Daily, hourly, everywhere, about everything.
2. Hold the what tight, hold the how a bit more loosely. This takes some humility and learning.
3. Learn. Read, read some more, and then read something that challenges what you just read. Hold it all up to scripture. Then repeat.
4. Build. We’ve gotta pursue a vision for what we want to build – one so compelling that it gives context to what is being tested or torn down. Without a vision, the restraints are out the window (Proverbs 29:18). We don’t want that.
5. Go to spaces others avoid. Just know it might be lonely.
6. Water the dead areas, and start with you. Make it a goal that for each IG story re-share, that you prayerfully examine your heart. Stay humble, lest you be like what Paul describes in Romans 2:18-24 (paraphrased) …if you know his will and approve of what’s superior because “it’s what you do”; if you’re convinced that you’re a guide for the blind, a light for those in the dark, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of little children, because you’ve got the embodiment of knowledge and truth— you teachers, do you teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that people shouldn’t commit adultery, are you faithful? You idol haters, do you consume without contribution? Do you boast in the law while dishonoring God by breaking the law? As it is written: “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”
7. Keep the main thing the main thing. Know your why (Jesus, His Kingdom). Keep it out front. Any – ANY – effort apart from Kingdom is shortsighted.
So today, I choose to remain. Stay, even if others go. Keep learning, even if others portray having arrived. Sit at the table, even if others walk away. Build, even as many work to tear down. Give God permission to dig deeper into my stiff heart, even as others dig their heels in.
I haven’t figured it out, but that’s not going to keep me from the transcendent love and compassion God has called me to. That calling doesn’t care about my opinion.
Remain with me.