The Olympic Games came and went, and Canada won hockey gold again. I intended to get up early to watch the men’s final game. On the Pacific coast that meant 4 a.m., and thanks to our new baby girl, who cried me awake, I was up. I sat in my comfy chair and promptly fell asleep before the puck dropped. I woke up to see medals being placed around the necks of the Canadian guys. They were gold. Apparently we had won.
The Canadians dominated that tournament. In six games, they allowed three goals. They didn’t score much, but they didn’t have to. It was clinical and surgical. However, for most of the Games there was endless criticism and negativity about how the team was performing. It was typically Canadian. We flip-flop easily between sarcastic self-congratulation and self-conscious negativity. Both are the way we deal with our national angst and search for significance, I think.
I am struck with how this also shows up in our churches.
At one end of the continuum there are camps of Christians who heap negativity on those human systems that are trapped by sin. These Christians are deeply critical, protesting in nature, always pointing the finger—prophetically they claim—at the perceived wrongs of those systems human beings find themselves sometimes serving and sometimes struggling within. Ironically, pacifists can seem like the angriest people on the planet.
At the other end are those Christians who heap negativity on those individuals trapped by their choices or simply hit by the fallout of life in an imperfect world. These people only see individuals as sinners. They love to harp on those who do “wrong” or “live in sin.” The fervent evangelist can be utterly joyless.
Notice the common thread of negativity. The result of this is a mission of negativity in our culture that is already trapped in negativity, our rabid criticism over our winning teams standing out as a cultural example. It makes me wonder if our way of life as a church is shaped more by our culture’s dysfunction than our king’s declaration?
I am not saying that sin-stained systems or sin-marred people should not be prophetically named or invited into the salvation of Jesus. At issue is not this message, it’s that we’re so blasted negative about it, and I think we’re actually out of step with our Lord on this.
When Jesus described his mission, he quoted Isaiah 61 (see Luke 4:14-20). This was his mission statement and he eventually says we are sent as he was (John 20:21). Isaiah 61 is a thoroughly positive word. The Spirit of the Lord is upon the Messiah to proclaim good news, bind up the broken-hearted and proclaim the season of God’s favour. His mission is to bestow crowns of beauty on people instead of ashes, oil of joy instead of mourning, praiseworthy clothes in exchange for cloaks of despair. God is seeking to turn people into the proof of his strength and splendour. How can this be negative?
Here’s my growing conviction: We should stop trying to put people in their place, and instead join Jesus in placing crowns of beauty on those who have believed they are worthless and are mourning because of the mess of a sin-tainted world. We should cease heaping burdens on people neither we nor they can carry, and instead show and tell the implications of the good news of the kingdom alive in the community of the king who wore a crown of thorns that we may wear a crown of beauty.
Yes, this will confront sinful systems and it will call individuals to repentance, but it will finally make room for the convicting and freeing work of the Holy Spirit, rather than highlight our self-righteous negativity. You who follow Jesus have received mercy and have been brought into the kingdom of his light, so stop being so grumpy and find someone today to give a crown to.
Phil Wagler (email@example.com) lives in Surrey, B.C.