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Fair is a Four-Letter Word
“That’s not fair.”
It’s a child’s first sentence, perhaps a senior’s last, and it makes many appearances in between. So who would have thought that fair is a dirty word? It should never be spoken within the boundaries of the Kingdom of Heaven; it is never spoken there. You have to leave the throne room before it can be muttered.
Fight injustice not fairness
We know salvation is not merely about personal security, but it carries with it an obligation to stand against oppression. “Fair” wants justice, which, we would think, is a good thing.
Fairness usually takes aim at perceived injustices against ourselves. The danger is, we are better about identifying true injustices when they are against others than when they are against ourselves. When it is about me, a slight becomes an injustice. That is, you took my toy, and that was an egregious wrong, and I want revenge . . . I mean fairness.
Though we might be clumsy in our concerns for justice, we are right to pursue them. When we talk about fairness, however, we are actually speaking about something different from injustice. Fair, to us, is not so much about injustice as it is about symmetry. We want the pot divided evenly.
Don’t sacrifice relationships in pursuit of your perception of “fair”
The other day my wife and I were out for dinner, and her portion was bigger than my own. Maybe this wasn’t an injustice, but this, of course, was unfair on two counts. First, the portions should have been even. Second, if you take into account the portion-size to weight-of-the-eater ratio, and realize that I outweigh my wife considerably, then fairness meant, if there was going to be a larger portion, I should have it. Yet I was patient. I waited until dessert and took a big spoonful of her white chocolate ice cream. Life then returned to its harmonious balance, though it almost cost me a couple fingers.
Look around. Any time you hear the word fair you will find broken relationships and other forms of nasty fruit. Guaranteed. In other words, during our fine dinner, I was actually turning away from Jesus Christ to utter some profanity – “this waiter should know better; this isn’t fair” – while my wife continued on her normal course of sanctification, except for when she tried to stab my hand.
The danger is, we are better about identifying true injustices when they are against others than when they are against ourselves.
The problem with all this? There is no symmetry in the Kingdom of Heaven. Instead, God’s Kingdom is completely lopsided. God has done it all. He pursued, loved, forgave, blessed, and promised a lavish inheritance. We can never meet God half-way, and we should stop trying.
Thank Jesus for imbalance
There is a kernel of something right in fair. In a close relationship, if one person always receives preference, the relationship becomes strongly hierarchical rather than mutual. The result is something less than a genuine relationship. In such situations we might speak out because of our interest in unity, but we do that in humility and gratefulness as we remember the unbalanced nature of real life.
If we keep in mind the story of the ungrateful servant in Matthew 18:21–35 we will see the asymmetrical kingdom. Jesus, the most asymmetrical human life, was never angry when he was violated and abused. He always loved first and loved more, and he always will. Be thankful for imbalance.