The recent news in Winnipeg has given a lot of attention to the issues surrounding the First Nation reserve, Shoal Lake #40, and the need for a 17 mile “freedom road” to connect that community to the Trans Canada Highway. Shoal Lake #40 was effectively isolated 100 years ago when an aquaduct was built to supply nearby Winnipeg with water from the lake. A canal was constructed across the peninsula on which the reserve community (some 275 members) is located, transforming it into an island. There is no bridge, and transport options to the mainland in order to acquire essential services include a aged ferry (known for frequent breakdowns) in the summer, and treacherous ice roads in the winter. The Shoal Lake #40 community has been under a boil water advisory for most of the past 18 years (irony!), and with no road access there is almost no opportunity to build a proper water treatment plant for the residents.
Many of Winnipeg area churches have taken to petitioning the government to have the “freedom road” built, and have created a network that seeks to show their support to the people of Shoal Lake #40. This is certainly an issue of justice which demands to be addressed by the Christian community! But it is just one of many….
How Do We Respond Faithfully?
Living as a citizen of the Kingdom of God – and as a child of God – requires us to live justly and compassionately, with all humility (Micah 6:8). We are called to love, not only in word and speech, but in truth and action (1 John 3:18). And in a sin-sick world, one replete with the fruit of selfishness, there is no lack of opportunities to show merciful, just, self-giving love in kind with that modeled by Jesus Christ himself. In fact, there are so many people and situations that seem to demand our attention, energy, and resource that it can become overwhelming for individuals and communities that seek to respond faithfully.
Under the pressing amount of need and the high calling we’ve received, we often trend one of two ways. First, we may become frozen in inactivity – numb or even apathetic – unsure of how we might ever show and give love in response to all of these many needs. Alternatively, when confronted with myriad injustices and occassions to exercise compassion, we may begin to hastily and haphazardly scramble about, moving quickly from one concern or cause to the next, never giving ourselves fully to loving well in response to any one of those needs.
We can easily become entangled, caught between knowing we can’t do everything and knowing we can’t do nothing. That’s why, of crucial importance, along with merciful, just, humble love, is wisdom and Spirit-directed discernment. Discernment is the indispensable companion to loving action.
The Lacking Practice of Discernment
Unfortunately, discernment is perhaps the most lacking practice in the life of the 21st century western Christian Church. We are often impatient and impetuous, given to merely copying the structures and strategies that we see “work” in the lives of others or in the world around us. Perhaps, on most days, we can navigate our way through the choices between what is good and what is evil (though that’s not entirely apparent…), but what about the innumerable choices between multiple “goods”…?
Granted that the metaphor may be oversimplified, but you might imagine a baggage carousel at the airport. You aren’t permitted to just take your pick of whichever bags you choose from the conveyor belt and walk away with them, nor are you expected to remove all the bags and walk them to their respective destination. You are responsible for those bags with your name tagged on them…
What bags have your name tagged on them…? Which have your church or community’s name tagged on them…?
Disciples of Jesus Christ – individually and communally – must be committed to doing the ongoing work of discerning the wisdom and call of God, day by day, and faithfully acting in love in accordance. James’ epistle encourages us, saying “If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you” (James 1:5).
What Is God Calling You To?
Take the time to bring questions to God himself, and to His people as well:
What is God calling me to? What is he calling us to? In what ways does the calling God has given me line up with and/or differ from the calling given to my church or community? What have I left undone, or only partially done? What have I been giving my attention to that has actually distracted me from the real call of God?
My prayer for my family, my friends, and my church is the prayer which St. Paul prayed for those he loved: “And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.” (Philippians 1:9-11).
Gavin Jensen is the pastor of Holy Community Covenant Church. He has been serving as a Covenant Church pastor for more than a dozen years, and is excited about what God has begun to do in and through HCCC. He is married to Liz – a wonderful Mexican Mennonite – and together they parent three energetic and highly entertaining children: Shayan, Reuben, and Otis. Gavin loves living in the West End, cooking, eating, singin’ songs, tromping around the wilderness, professional wrestling, and poetry.