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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

It is for freedom....

For many years I have been captivated by one verse in Paul's Galatian letter. It helped solidify in me what I am convinced is very near the heart of the wondrous Gospel of grace and Kingdom life. Writing in chapter 5, verse 1, he makes this simple but elegant command: 'For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery." The context for the verse is a long entreaty to the Galatian Christians vehemently instructing them to live by faith in the finished work of Christ, and not in the redundant futility of working to keep the law. They and we are heirs to the Abrahamic covenant fulfilled in Christ. They and we have been set free.

The first two words, "For freedom," or in the NIV, four words, "It is for freedom," have often caused me to pause and wonder why human freedom is so valued by God Almighty that he chose to wound himself by afflicting his Son to set us free? More importantly, doesn't their unfathomable rending and sacrifice necessitate a fully-in response on the part of his followers? Shouldn't we eagerly embrace walking by the Spirit in grace-filled freedom, and then extend this freedom to all who are broken, bound, blind and beaten down? We think it does and are convicted it is a key mandate of the Church universal. Imagine/northampton's 4th Core Value expresses how we see it as in our cultural DNA.

As some of you know, last Friday night, Tricia and Catherine helped us glimpse how we understand it. We chose to name this Core Value EMANCIPATE: Loving Sacrificially to say that as a mission-catalyzed church we will model, teach and motivate true freedom in our midst and for everyone around us. To that end, we will view loving sacrificially as the way of Kingdom life. It won't be a mere slogan or wall hanging. Extending grace toward freedom will be practiced every day with God's help.

Maybe an easy way to get at how deeply infused emancipating people will be central to the life of imagine is to compare it to the centrality of worship in any church. On any given Sunday, 99.9% of the churches in the world worship in some fashion. No one who goes to a church every week wonders if there will be worship that day. It is expected and seen as normal because worship is what churches do. In the same way, the daily work of emancipating and loving people sacrificially will be what we do. It is our mission, Prime Directive, Magna Carta and main thing.

Another way to look at it is we are committed to being a people dedicated to getting into the slop of people's lives, whether they created the mess or it was forced on them. A person does not have to look very far to recognize so many are bound and blocked. So many are perplexed and detached. So many are crushed and disappearing. So many have surrendered themselves to pleasure, sensation and addiction. Others blindly think rebellion is a badge of honor.

The needs are legion, and we recognize loving sacrificially is often inconvenient and doesn't fit neatly into a well-ordered schedule. Desperate needs show up when you are dog-tired and begging to chill. They don't just send an e-mail or text message. They are sometimes not even respectful of your space. They need what they need and they are staring right at you. When people are terrified and at their wit's end, or in excruciating pain what they need is right now. "I'll get back to you," does not cut it.

If imagine/northampton is going to follow Jesus in this world and be where he is (John 12;26), we will be up to our eyeballs in life not prettied-up. The reality of the deal is:

Someone's going to need a counselor for problems so entrenched and tangled it will be hard to see even where to start sorting it out.

Someone's going to need a fearless advocate because everyone who should have spoken up has fallen silent even though injustice threatens to still her voice for good.

Someone's going to need a friend to sit right next to the cancer with him, deep in the pain, loneliness and fear . . . . and never look away.

Someone's going to need help in trusting humanity and the nearness of God again after the hitting has stopped and the abuse has been handcuffed.

Someone's going to need a rescuer who can help her leave the streets and try again.

Someone's going to need a warrior who will fight the addiction(s) with him like a paraclete.

Someone's going to need a faith-filled Christ follower who will point her to Jesus no matter her religion, sexual orientation, race, political affiliation, color or hygiene.

Imagine will be a missional community where we will strive to be all those "someones" and more as Jesus helps us. We will learn it, preach it, model it, motivate, and pass it on to everyone who joins us in this noble adventure. And you can count on it being sloppier than all git out. We will be perplexed and stretched taut at times. The cost will seem high because it is. God showed us that by what he did...he set the example, then said, "You do it too in my Name." This God we seek extends his hand to us. We must follow.

NOTE: Someone wisely mentioned at the last Conversations that the freedom Jesus calls us to has with it a high responsibility; it comes with a yoke. To be freed into Christ is to be yoked to him (Matthew 11:28-30). Paradoxically to be freed in Christ is to be his slave. I know we all hate that word because of the repugnant evil it represents in this world, but to understand Christian freedom rightly is to understand this deep yoking. Ponder what Jesus says in Matthew about the nature of the yoke. The responsibility of our freedom is whole-hearted, no turning back surrender of ourselves, lock, stock and barrel. But in so doing, we are truly free under this yoke right next to him . . . . truly what we are meant to be.

So, if it is for freedom Jesus wants to set free others besides us, then we need to be about that all the time, if we desire to follow him. The glorious upside is that when broken people are freed by Christ their existential beauty surfaces. They come alive and take up residence in their true selves little by little. Northampton is full of people out of phase with their true being and need to be freed. They are phantoms awaiting a heart of flesh. They don't know it. But we do and it matters to us. We will go in after them with Jesus.
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