The Beauty of the Greatest Commandments as Our Great Commission

I’ve been thinking about how the Christian life has been anchored in what Christians (mostly preachers and scholars) have branded as the “Great Commission” (Matthew 28:16ff), despite the fact the Scriptures never explicitly or implicitly refer to it in that way. Yet, the Lord Jesus explicitly calls loving God and loving our neighbors as we love ourselves the “greatest and most important commandment” (Matthew 22:37-40).

I can’t help but wonder if we should’ve always anchored the Christian life in what Jesus considered “greatest” rather than what preachers branded as “great.” Maybe then we would have never viewed people as projects to fix, problems to solve or prospects to save, but rather as persons to be loved and embraced just as they are.

How different society might look if the Church would have kept first things first. How different people might feel about Christianity if we would’ve considered what the Lord called “greatest and most important” as the “Great Commission.”

As I listen to my friends who are not Christians I’m learning that they are weary of words. There are too many politicians on both sides making empty promises. There are too many talking heads on television diagnosing the ills of society with no attempt to prescribe a meaningful cure. There are too many Christians who do not seem to be preaching what we’re practicing.

All of this has led me to ask, what if the Church took the greatest commands as our great commission seriously and practically? What if the Church decided to position herself in the world in such a way that others might see the beauty of Christ through the faithful presence of his Holy Spirit filled people call “the Church.”

As I listen to my neighbors I’ve come to believe that the Church can no longer alienate herself from all that is wrong in society. We must enter into it and display something beautiful. We must display a love that is life-giving and offers peace and hope to a world of racked by fear.

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If this is to happen the Church must lay down her anger and replace her defensive posture with the likeness of Christ on the cross–with outstretched arms ready to welcome the weary and hurting and displaced. We must say with our actions that anyone looking for rest, for comfort, for rescue, for security, or to put it another way, a place to call home, can be at home with us because Jesus is Lord.

Our task must no longer be bound up in impassioned attempts to protest the world into a morality, but to project the beauty of God’s passionate love in Jesus Christ by how we embody our beliefs.

Our task can no longer be formed by an understanding that people are projects to fix, problems to solve, or prospects to save, but rather persons to be loved, welcomed and embraced, just as they are. After all, we believe that God loves us just as we are and not as we should be.

Our task must move beyond party-political action, argumentative venting, and to bearing witness to the beautiful presence of Christ among us be enacting gracious hospitality, compassion and self-giving love.

Think about what would happen if we rearranged our lives around a common life committed to the love and life of the beautiful Christ. What if we started with the simple things?

We could make sure that no one in proximity spends a holiday meal alone. We can pay attention to all the single or widowed people around us and make sure they do not celebrate birthdays alone. We can begin seeing the people who greet us in local stores and simply ask them for their name?

What if instead of giving a person living through homelessness money we gave her a meal so we could give her our undivided attention? What if when we made dessert we prepared one more for the single mama living next door or who works in our department?

When we  purchase our toiletries we can purchase a little extra so we can give them to those who cannot afford them. Every time we buy a new shirt for ourselves we can commit to either buy an additional one for the clothing bank or chose to give away one we already own (a really nice one, so that someone else could have a nice shirt too).

What if we tipped servers better, especially the ones who give terrible service?

Velese and Envoy 279What if when we cut our grass we cut the neighbor’s grass too? What if we hosted a back-to-school party for a neighborhood?

What if we made our homes available to others and extended our tables or adopted a refugee family or committed to help housing a neighbor living through homelessness or spent time with the person who lives in a nursing home?

We may not be able to wield miracles like Christ, like heal the sick or raise the dead to life. We may not be able to draw mega-crowds as we tell life-changing stories that make accessible eternal truths.

But we can love.

We can display the beauty of Christ by how we give of ourselves. As the Church we can organize our life around what Jesus told us was the greatest and most important command. We can make love our great commission.

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Tommy

On this day a couple of years ago I lost a friend I dearly loved–my family loved. He was dear to many of us. When he died something changed in me, something I have yet to fully understand, largely due to the circumstances surrounding his death. But I know that because of what happened the previous year I will see Tommy again. He was born April 29, 1964. He was reborn in Christ on Aprile 20, 2014. He left this life and entered into the next on April 15, 2015.

He was a loyal friend and one of the hardest working men I’ve ever known. I miss him.

A few weeks ago an older man entered into the worship gathering at WCC. Afterward he came to me and introduced himself. He said, “I am from Maryland. I wanted to come and worship God here today because two years ago I lost a dear friend named Tommy. In my desperation for hope I found your article, ‘What Tommy Taught Me.’ I discovered you had lost a Tommy too. Your article comforted me and I wanted to meet you and worship with this Church.” I cried.

I told this man how humbling it was he would join us. I shared with him how this article I wrote for Christianity Today was a process of personal healing and that I was grateful to God that he found it as source of some small measure of healing too. In honor of Tommy’s precious life, I share this with you all today:

http://www.christianitytoday.com/pastors/2015/november-web-exclusives/what-tommy-taught-me.html

I want to thank Christianity Today for making this article freely accessible today.

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Tommy’s Bible

 

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Holy Week, Friday – The Cross Speaks What is True

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In the Cross, God speaks what is true for those who believe. As the Word Incarnate died upon it the Cross becomes His voice. In the Cross, God offers this message of truth in both a promise and summons. The promise is new life lived with God now and forever. The summons is to live this new life with a deep-seated trust and obedience to the way of life witnessed in Jesus, and to do so in community with others who believe. In the Cross, God speaks what is true. 

No longer lost, we can live in light.
No longer dead, we can come alive.
No longer blind, we can see.
No longer suffocating, we can freely breathe.
No longer broken, we can be healed.
No longer numb, we can feel.
No longer stained, we can be made pure.
No longer weak, we can endure.
No longer deceived, we can know the truth.
No longer must we search, His love is proof.

He is our way. He is our light.
He is always true. He is our life.
He never leaves. He is our peace.
He is our help and sweet relief.
He is our strength. He is sure.
He is more than enough. He is the crucified Lord.

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Tears Have a Way of Washing the Blindness from Our Eyes

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Oscar A. Romero once said:
“Peace is not the product of terror or fear. Peace is not the silence of cemeteries. Peace is not the silent result of violent repression. Peace is the generous, tranquil contribution of all to the good of all. Peace is dynamism. Peace is generosity. It is right and it is duty.”
He also said,“There are many things that can only be seen through eyes that have cried.”
 
There are days and weeks our hearts must be broken by the lovelessness and hurt in our world. Society tells us that productivity, power, popularity and point-blank speech are virtuous and worthy pursuits. Yet, we see a world increasing with systems of violence, coercion (power-grabbing), anxiety, and fear mongering. When our hearts are finally broken by what we see tears will fill our eyes and we will long for a different kind of peace. It is then, in the words of Romero, we can see things as they really are and that these so-called virtues are not the fruit of virtuous character at all, rather the fruit of godless idolatry and pragmatism.¹ Productivity, power, popularity and point-blank speech will be seen as they should, instruments that work against peace, generosity, and the “tranquil contribution of all to the good of all.”
Tears have a way of washing the blindness from our eyes.
 
May our hearts break and eye be filled with tears. Perhaps then our hands will open, our feet will move, and we will follow the Way of Jesus, and become instruments of peace.

¹ By pragmatism I am drawing from the philosophical tradition and the notion that meaning or worth is determined by practical consequences. It’s close to the meaning of utilitarianism, that usefulness is the standard of what can be called true or good. This understanding aligns with the works of ‘classical pragmatists’ and philosophers like William James, John Dewey and George Santayana. Ironically, pragmatism and a philosophical system of thought originated in the United States and is considered the West’s gift to philosophy.
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Label Makers and the Lord as Maker

Liberal. Conservative. Progressive. Republican. Democrat. Libertarian. Etc. Etc. Etc.

I’ve been called all these and more. I’ve even thrown some at others. I bet you have too. 

After years of label making and label taking I agree with Danish philosopher, theologian and poet Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) who once said, “When you label me, you negate me.” 

Placing labels upon another demonstrates a woefully pitiful tendency to childishly avoid dealing with whatever issue is at hand. Casting down labels is a stubborn refusal to deal with another’s personhood. 

However, as one who has confessed that Jesus is Lord there is one label I’ll readily take: Christian. It is what I am. All other descriptors and labels are frail attempts to categorize others based upon a faulty logic of managing one’s own party-political ideology. 

Jesus won’t be managed. He won’t fit in our ideological categories no matter how hard we squeeze and cram. 

Jesus is the Redeemer, not a Republican. Jesus is the Lord, not a Libertarian. Jesus is the Day Star, not a Democrat. When he chose to walk this earth he was a brown-skinned man hailing from Nazareth, not a white man hailing from the West. In self-giving love on a blood-stained cross He showed us that He would rather die for His enemies than kill them. As risen Lord and God of all creation we must come to realize that He may “fit inside your heart” but he will not fit inside our preferences. He is Lord of lords. He is King of kings. He is the ever-present almighty God of life-changing eternal Love. When all other kingdoms become a footnote in the pages of history, His will stand. And He won’t accept split allegiances. 

I think Christians in these United States would do well to remember this. 

As for me, I am a Christian. I pledge my allegiance to the Lord alone and I am grateful that His grace welcomes a wretch like me. 

Selah.

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Poetry: Free

I wrote this simple poem around 2003. It was a season of profound transition and hurt brought about by a most unexpected disappointment. In a desperate attempt to reconcile my failures with faith, I was pushed to consider Jesus in a way I never had before. The poem become a psalm of personal reflection clinging to the hope that despite all my imperfection I wasn’t lost on Christ, the embodiment of Love and only One capable of setting me free.

Lately I’ve been wandering
Why You came to rescue me
From this life I have made
And my waves of restless peace

My life is so off course
What is it that You find
That You would come for me
To save me from a heart
So darkened by my pride
That You would leave everything behind

Lately I’ve been wandering
Why You would die for me
To give up beauty indescribable
Just to set me free

My life is so off course
What is it that You find
That You would come for me
To save me from a heart
So darkened by my pride
That You would leave everything behind

Brighter than the sunlight on a hot summers day
Cooler than the autumn breeze that could take my breath away
Higher than the farthest star any eye could ever see
Is the Love that came to this world
And He came to set us free
Oh this love
God’s love
Has come to set us free.

~ Fred Liggin, 2003

Below is a musical recording of the poem. Me (guitar and vocals) and my extraordinarily talented friend Simon (guitar and vocals) recorded it at least 15 years ago. We used to play quite a bit together. Although years and miles have separated us, his friendship has left an indelible mark on my life.*

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*Words by Fred Liggin, Music by Fred Liggin & Simon Sakatos
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Lonnie, Jason, 3e Restoration & #GivingTuesday

Hey there! I know it has been a while since I have written. Let me explain. One of the reasons why is due to my work with 3e Restoration Inc. Led by our staff and partnering churches, God is using 3e Restoration to change lives in profound ways. It keeps me hustling and makes it hard to take time to write.

When it comes to 3e Restoration I could offer you story after story outlining how God is rewriting people’s stories through gracious hospitality and friendship. Instead, I will just point you to one  in the form of a video, specifically of my dear friends Jason and Lonnie (click their names or click the picture below).

I want you to see why giving to 3e makes sense. I want you to see why God’s work through 3e is unique. (There are several other videos you can watch on our Vimeo page).

Please, watch the video and consider giving on #GivingTuesday. You can give HERE. Together we can make a difference, alleviate poverty and eradicate homelessness one friend and family at a time.

Oh, and if you’ve never heard of #GivingTuesday, here’s the deal. #GivingTuesday is a movement to celebrate and provide reasons to give rather than consume. This effort harnesses the collective power of unique partnerships—nonprofits, businesses and corporations as well as families and individuals—to transform how people think about and participate in the giving season. People are inspired to take collaborative action to improve their local communities, give back in better ways to the causes they celebrate and help create a healthier society.  Finally, it harnesses the power of social media to create a movement dedicated to giving in every community, city and country around the world.

Thank you for considering 3e Restoration Inc.

Grace and peace to you,

Fred
President of 3e Restoration, Inc.
On Behalf of the Board of Directors

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