Sunday, August 6, 2017

The Lord in Our Midst: Rose Colored Glasses

When I turned 40 last year, my vision began to change. Adam Dossey tells me this is normal for a 40 year old! I have to wear glasses when I sit at my computer for long periods of time or when I read. But I don’t like it! Glasses are designed to help us see better. But have you ever heard the phrase “rose colored glasses”?

This term was first used in the mid-19th century. It means that someone is not really seeing reality. They are seeing only the good and not the bad. During the Civil War, there are stories of doctors giving rose-colored glasses to soldiers. Those suffering from depression were given these glasses as therapy. It was believed that the rose or red tint would actually help their depression. It changed their perception of the world. I don’t know if that works or not, but I do know this: over time, rose-colored glasses have a tendency to cause blindness.

What I mean is this. Sometimes when our world is as it should be, at least in our own eyes, we have tendency to turn our heads away from anything that might destroy that perfect world we’ve created in our minds. We fail to see the world as it really is.

Yes, sometimes our rose-colored glasses result in our own blindness.

Here is one example: Religion in America in the mid-20th century experienced an unprecedented time of growth. In fact during the 1950s and 1960s more people in this country claimed to be Christian than at any other time, before or since. We in Churches of Christ were no exception to this rule. In fact, the UPI declared Churches of Christ the fastest growing major religious group in the United States in those two decades. Between 1950 and 1965, Churches of Christ grew by 135%! In those days, in our eyes, the world was “as it should be.” And still, to this day, many within our congregations look back to those decades as the “golden years.” “If we could just get back to that time… If we would just do things like we did back then…”

But, like I said, sometimes rose-colored glasses can cause blindness.

Because, you see, in the midst of that growth, many within American churches ignored a very significant event, namely the civil rights movement. While some were busy relishing in the excitement of full auditoriums, African Americans living in the shadow of our church buildings were experiencing unprecedented injustice. Some of our own brothers and sisters in Christ were beaten and killed, and our response more often than not was silence. A well-known editor of one Churches of Christ journal said this about the situation:
We do not believe that segregation has ever been a problem with the Lord's church. In my lifetime I remember only one man, in my early childhood, who would deny any human being the right to enter the kingdom of God... We go to men of every race and of every caste and of every vocation with the gospel, offering them the same terms and the same promises and when they accept the gospel we count them our brothers. The kingdom of heaven is the most completely integrated institution we know, and all the brethren accept all the brethren as brethren. We have never had a problem here.
This editor believed the church was the most completely integrated institution in the world, in 1964. I just have to assume the church must have been more integrated then than it is today. But let us not be too critical of those who have come before us, because, I mean, after all, sometimes rose-colored glasses have been known to cause blindness.

And Americans are not the only ones that have trouble seeing on occasion. Let me tell you about the world in which the prophet Amos lived. Amos lived in a time where things were “as they should be.” Israel, during a rare moment in their history, was actually not being persecuted by her neighbors. Most of the time, Israel was being invaded by someone. Most of the time, Israel was being sent into exile or at least being picked on by a larger nation (Assyria, Babylon, Egypt). But at this moment (during Amos’ lifetime), Israel was at peace. These Jewish people were prospering economically. And religion was going well! Because they weren’t under the threat of attack, they could hold great religious festivals. The temple was safe and in order. Worship, I’m sure, was a powerful experience in those days. Amos 5:18–20 says Israel was sitting back in luxury waiting for the Day of the Lord to arrive! Singing, praying, worshipping, just waiting for God to come! But, wouldn’t you know it, sometimes those rose-colored glasses get in the way!

God saw something in Israel during this time that the Hebrews never saw! No matter how much these people tried to convince themselves otherwise, not everyone was prospering. No, injustice still reigned in Israel! The poor still had nothing. The hungry still starved. The widows were still alone. The orphans were still abandoned. Sure, things were great for some people in the safety of their large homes, through the protection of their city walls, and in the comfort of their worship. But God, recognizing the injustice, sent His servant Amos with a stinging message. Eugene Peterson paraphrases it like this:
I can’t stand your religious meetings. I’m fed up with your conferences and conventions. I want nothing to do with your religion projects, your pretentious slogans and goals. I’m sick of your fund-raising schemes, your public relations and image making. I’ve had all I can take of your noisy ego-music. When was the last time you sang to me? Do you know what I want? I want justice—oceans of it. I want fairness—rivers of it. That’s what I want. That’s all I want. (Amos 5:21–24 The Message)
Now don’t let the subtlety of God’s message fool you! God says the actions of Israel are so displeasing to Him, He will refuse to accept their worship. The verb in verse 22 is literally, “I will not smell them…” He goes on, “I will not look upon them… I will not listen to them…” God has closed his nostrils, his eyes, and his ears to Israel’s worship. He rejects it all! God was issuing a message to these people that He had given in the past and that He would continue to give in the future. Here it is: To reject others is to reject our Lord. (That is what Jesus said in Matthew 25). I John 4:20 says it this way:
If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.
Church, from the very beginning God has been trying to relay a message to humanity. Here it is: Worship and practice cannot be separated. We cannot sing and pray and close our eyes in devotion in here, and then live like God doesn’t exist out there! Worship and practice (life) cannot be separated.

But it’s so easy to fall into that trap, isn’t it? Thinking that this is all that really matters. I mean, to an outsider it must seem this way. Worship is the only thing they usually see Christians getting passionate about—either positively or negatively. But what would this world look like if we put that same passion into Justice?

Have you heard the parable about the life-saving station? Once upon a time, on a dangerous seacoast where shipwrecks often occur there was once a crude little life-saving station. The building was just a hut. There was only one boat. But the few devoted members kept a constant watch over the sea. And with no thought for themselves went out day and night tirelessly searching for the lost. Some of those who were saved and various others in the surrounding area wanted to become associated with the station and give of their time and money and effort for the support of its work. New boats were bought and new crews trained and the little life-saving station grew. As time went on, some members of the life-saving station were unhappy that the building was so crude and poorly equipped. They felt that a more comfortable place should be provided as the first refuge of those saved from the sea. They replaced the emergency cots with beds. They put better furniture in the enlarged building. Now, the life-saving station became a popular gathering place for its members. They decorated it beautifully and furnished it exquisitely. Because now they used it as a sort of “club.” Fewer members were now interested in going to sea on lifesaving missions. So they hired lifeboat crews to do this work for them. The life-saving motif still prevailed in this club's decoration and there was a symbolic lifeboat in the room where the club initiations were held, but many of the other things had changed.

Then one day a large ship was wrecked off the coast. The hired crews brought in boatloads of cold, wet and half-drowned people. These people were dirty and sick. Some of them had black skin and some had yellow skin. The beautiful new club was in chaos. So the property committee immediately had a shower house built outside the club where victims of shipwrecks could be cleaned up before coming inside. At the next meeting, there was a split in the club membership. Most of the members wanted to stop the club's life-saving activities all together. They were unpleasant and they were a hindrance to the normal social life of the club. Some members, however, insisted upon life saving as their primary purpose. They pointed out that they were still called a life saving station. But they were finally voted down. They were told that if they wanted to save lives of all the various kinds of people who were shipwrecked in those waters, they could begin their own life-saving station down the coast. And they did.

As the years went by, the new little station experienced the same changes that had occurred in the old. It also evolved into a club. And yet another life-saving station was founded. History continued to repeat itself. They say that shipwrecks are still frequent in those waters, but today, most of the people drown.

When the world around us is “as it should be," when we are not being persecuted for our religion, when we meet in a nice comfortable church building, when being a Christian is relatively easy, or in our neck of the woods, “expected,” when the world around us is “as it should be” it’s very easy to get comfortable. And then apathetic, and turn inward, and concentrate on us, to the near exclusion of others.

God has given us an incredible mission. Our world is lost! People crave power. People crave money. People step over other people to get what they want. And they think that is the meaning of life. But we have at our fingertips a completely different message. We have salvation to offer.
Salvation from the selfishness that dominates our world…
Salvation from that feeling of inadequacy…
Salvation from the need to be first or the best all of the time…
Salvation from the sin that cripples us and depresses us…
God has brought salvation and life into our world and he has entrusted us with the noble task of walking into this world, in the midst of its fallenness, and gently helping this world stand again.

My prayer is that God will force us to take off our rose-colored glasses. Because then and only then will we begin to see the injustice that continues to reign around us, and only then will we be able to help justice roll down like a mighty stream into this land.

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