It seems chaotic. Crowds moving, people hollering. Some are mocking and laughing. Others simply shake their heads as they pass by. For many there, vicious — almost indescribable — anger is thinly veiled beneath jeering and taunting. Never has laughter been so spiteful.
And then there are a few — just a few — who stand still. Silently, mournfully, disbelievingly, gazing upward at a bloodied and broken man, still hoping that any moment now they will awake to find this has been a horrific dream. But it’s not. It won’t go away. Nothing has ever been more real. Nothing has ever seared the eyes of his loved ones and friends like this sight. And nothing will ever look the same.
The crowd itself is diverse. There are young and old, male and female, rich and poor. Some people just happened to be passing by on the way into town, some are there for the show, and others are there to make sure that death truly transpires. There are many Jews, but also Romans. Soldiers and government officials, to be precise.
Everything about the moment seems wrong. A man who had been righteous, merciful, gracious, and kind is now maligned. He who had preached love is hated. The one who had claimed to be a king is strung up as a criminal. The one who was supposed to save the Jews from their oppressors has been handed over by the Jews to their oppressors to be killed. The only human who has ever tasted true innocence or breathed true righteousness is condemned and suffering death for sin.
It is as if nature can’t bear the burden. People who died long ago are raised. The earth quakes. The day becomes dark. The holy place of the temple is exposed as the curtain tears in two from top to bottom.
Here, in this moment, the most bizarre convergence of wills of all time takes place: the will of man for the death of God and the will of God for the life of man. Death approaches for Jesus as life draws near for us.
To Test Us
It still amazes me how little the church of Christ can sometimes actually look like Christ. And I say that as a leader of the church, myself bearing the brunt of the blame.
The hypocritical media and self-appointed moral police of our city have brought a man before us who has been caught (on video) in sin. Death threats, drunken stupors, and binges of crack-cocaine — all from a man who should be an example and a leader. They have set this man in our midst. They are testing us, as a society now. It’s clear how the majority of our city feel. As a church, how will we respond to Mayor Rob Ford?
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford speaks from the podium at the cenotaph during a Remembrance Day service in Toronto on Monday. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)
The world knows that the righteous law of God condemns these things. They remind us of that and ask, ‘So what do you say?’ They say this to test us, that they might catch us in hypocrisy and discredit us. Are we a people of mercy or judgement? If we don’t draw a hard line now, how can we speak out against other moral issues facing our culture? But what are we to do when the matter is so clear that even the immoral are offended?
Leaked videos have proven it, blog commenters have spoken; can there be any doubt? What will we do with him?
Our Response to Date
Sadly, some Christians have prioritized politics over personal integrity. ‘He has good politics, even if his life is a disaster,’ we say. And we overlook how he has offended a Holy God and betrayed the City that vested trust in him.
Sadly, other Christians don’t look any different than the world. Here is a chance to stand with the world, rather than against it for a change. ‘We can show them that we’re not weird political conservatives with blinders on, we can see this is wrong too!’
But you know what’s missing in both of those responses? Jesus’ response.
One news headline caught my attention today. This is what it said:
Junction neighbourhood bully gets more jail time for harassment
The headline caught my attention not because it’s the biggest news story of the day, but because I have friends and family who live and work in this area, so it was a matter of concern for me. The story is relatively mundane (hey, it’s life in the Junction!), but one line in particular startled me.
When speaking of the ‘neighbourhood bully’ who has been forced by the courts to move, one man offered this profound theological insight:
“The law can’t force a person to love thy neighbour,” John Ritchie said. “But the law can stop the conduct and this behaviour.”
Wow! Unless this man is a pastor, theologian, or mature believer, I think he probably spoke better than he knew. This is biblical truth.
Yesterday I was able to add one more thing to the list of ‘Things I Never Learned in Seminary.’ Somehow our church had the opportunity to be involved in helping to put on the Toronto show for the Unashamed Tour. It was a blast to get a group of volunteers together and get a ‘behind the scenes look’ at how a show like this is produced.
Early on in the day I had the unexpected privilege getting to meet and chat with several of the artists. Fortunately for me, being as ignorant as I am, I didn’t know who most of the guys were who I was talking to. I introduced myself and we chatted, just like I would with anyone else.
Many of you who follow this blog will be well familiar with the situation our church is facing with the Toronto District School Board. Since you’ve been praying for us, I wanted to post an update — we still need your prayers.
If you want to get caught up on the situation to this point, you can start by reading here.
The short version of the story is that our church was given 3 days’ notice on a 450% hike in our permit fees (we meet weekly in a public school). We have been petitioning the TDSB since the beginning of September for some changes and some relief. Though the changes affected other groups as well, the most drastic hikes were targeted specifically at ‘faith based organizations,’ who are now being charged the same rates as ‘for-profit businesses.’
As many of you are aware, our church plant has been going through a battle of sorts with the Toronto District School Board about some drastic overnight increases to our rent (to the tune of 400+%). Our current response is to pray, appeal however we can, and look for somewhere new to meet as a church as soon as possible.
The story itself has been well documented in Canadian news (National Post, CTV and again, Toronto Star, Toronto Sun and again, CFRB 1010, Winnipeg Free Press, etc.), and also in international news (WORLD Mag, Christianity Today, and an upcoming WDCX interview one week from today). Because of the public pressure that has been mounting, the School Board has been scrambling to create canned responses for newspaper reporters and also for people who write the offices of their local Trustees to complain.
But despite all the rhetoric from the School Board, there are still some pretty profound questions that I think need to be answered in this situation:
Why is a government-funded organization using government funds to discriminate against a government-recognized charity?
In their own ‘Community Use of Schools‘ policy document, they state:
The Board will actively collaborate with the governments of Ontario and Toronto to achieve solutions and ensure affordable and accesible use of public space for community-based programs.’
I’m very thankful for my friend Tim Challies for many reasons (on personal, church, and global-internet levels). Today I’m thankful for him taking up our cause on his blog.
Over the past couple of weeks our church has been thrust into a very difficult situation as the Toronto District School Board has raised our rent in unethical, discriminatory, unwarranted, and unforeseen ways. Since our church meets weekly in the gymnasium of a public school for now — but can no longer afford to go on doing so — we are scrambling to find a place to meet that will accommodate us.
Today on his blog, Tim writes about the larger issue affecting not just us but all churches who rent space from the TDSB.
Toronto is a city of 2.6 million where churches are small and real estate is costly. For this reason many churches meet in gymnasiums and cafeterias they rent from the Toronto District School Board. But now, very suddenly, theTDSB has taken action to get churches out of its schools. At the end of August each of these organizations was notified that they would face an imminent increase in rental fees. The next day they learned that this increase would range from 140% to 800% and that it would begin to go in effect in just four days. Unless the Board can be convinced to change course, they will effectively drive hundreds of churches from its nearly 600 schools.
Read the rest here…
I’m praying our Sovereign Lord would somehow put this blog post on to the screens of the right people with the right connections in the right places so that somehow we would be able to go on renting this publicly owned and taxpayer funded facility at a fair price.