Disclaimer: This is not particularly short. No ‘hot takes’ here. If you want to listen to the content, you can play or download the talk I gave this past Sunday addressing current issues here: http://pellissippi.fellowshipknox.org/watch+listen#92
Intense. Frustrating. Inflammatory. Heart-breaking. Divisive.
These are just a few words that can be used to describe the months leading up to the election and certainly describe the emotions many are feeling post election. A million things have been said about the broken paths that got us to this place. This place – the election turmoil and angst, in my opinion, is more symptomatic of a cultural and historical reality, and probably should have been less surprising.
For Christians there will always be points of tension and conflict between our culture and our faith. Culturally speaking, The Garden of Eden is long gone. Most of what some nostalgically recall as the ‘good ole’ days never really existed. On every side we’re confronted with the competing values of the world and the Kingdom of God. Whether it is the election, racism, sexism, sexual ethics, immigration or whatever else may be on the horizon – we have 2 choices:
1) The Status Quo. We can shy away and shrink back into a passive “I hope I don’t have to deal with this” approach, choosing to surround ourselves primarily with people who see the world just as we do. Let’s be honest, this an attractive option. This option is designed to cause us less anxiety and less pain. This is the self-preserving option.
2) Move towards the mess. When can see our differences with people as either obstacles or opportunities. Only with the Hope of the Gospel at our backs and strength from our Savior can we courageously and redemptively move towards the trouble. This is the self-sacrificing option.
Consider Jesus – the Great Shepherd. As the ultimate example of leadership, Jesus always moved towards trouble. He was neither passive nor overly aggressive. He didn’t avoid hard conversations, nor did he provide knee jerk reactions intended to escalate angst. Jesus’ leadership was marked with the kind of integrity that would both scorn the overly religious and graciously embrace the sinner. Jesus leaned into the tension. So should we.
How do we lead ourselves in these tensions points?
We must be Grounded in Truth.
Grounded. Good theology creates a system of roots that keep us planted, fruitful and alive. Yes, we are a people who evolve and change, however it is always a result of growing in truth, not because we’re tossed around ‘by every wind of doctrine … and deceitful schemes.’ (Ephesians 4:12-16) What we are grounded in matters. We are grounded in Truth. As A.W. Tozer said, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” For gospel-minded Christians, our truth isn’t an ever changing product of the current cultural disposition, but our truth is anchored in Jesus. Jesus is our unchanging, fixed north star in an ever-changing world: His name is Jesus. Our feelings and emotions will ebb and flow. Culture will shift and morph, then shift and morph again. Jesus is the immovable, unchanging light that shines through the shadows and darkness around us. Empires come and go. Kings and Presidents come and go. They become little footnotes in history. But Jesus reigns forever.
There has never been a better time for Jesus loving disciples to be grounded in truth. We have more Bible resources at our disposal than at any other time in history. What couple possibly keep us from being better acquainted with our King, Father and Savior?
We must be Faithful in Obedience.
Faithful. Merriam-Webster uses this phrase to define faithful: “steadfast in affection or allegiance”. The Truth, Jesus, has been faithful and steadfast to us, and calls us to faithful obedience to Him. This faithful allegiance to Jesus and His ways are rooted in delight and duty. Our faithfulness is rightly inspired by the overflow of gratitude to Christ who is a sovereign and wise Creator, as well as a loving Savior. This means our faithfulness is rooted in love and devotion to Christ, because of Christ. At the same time our faithfulness is rooted in truth in such a way, that even when our affections for Christ have grown dull, we press in faithfully knowing that He will complete in us what He began. (Philippians 1:6) Our Obedience should mirror Jesus’ who taught us to pray “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”. Jesus didn’t talk a good game, He walked it – praying in the garden before His crucifixion, “Not my will, but yours be done.” We surrender our kingdom for His Kingdom. Like Jesus, we submit and surrender our will to His. It should be emphasized here that our allegiance is to Jesus, not the ‘Evangelical Industry’. The Gospel isn’t a product or a platform. The pathway to faithfulness often comes at a cost, including political power. Especially political power.
This kind of Christian life is bested lived in the ordinary. Our world may celebrate the flashy, fast rising and uniquely talented, but that isn’t necessarily the way of the Kingdom of God. As Eugene Peterson notes in his seminal book, our world is constantly on a ‘quest for the quick fix’. True discipleship that stands the time is ‘a long obedience in the same direction.’ It isn’t always glamorous, but ordinary faithful obedience is always potent.
We must be Generous in Love.
Generous. Jesus response to people who were lost in darkness teaches us much about the heart of God. He wept with compassion. (Matthew 9:35-36, Luke 19:41) This is the heart of Jesus. No one was more righteous or more holy than Jesus. He was perfect in every way. If anyone had a right to a positon of superiority, it was Jesus. And, when he looked upon the multitudes of disenfranchised in need of hope, in desperate need of light, he was deeply moved with compassion towards them.
His heart was broken, not stiffened. This is the example to how we should see others.
“The narrow path of Jesus demands the widest embrace. The more attuned our hearts are to his, the more hope we will have for and the more love we will extend to the prodigals and Pharisees in our midst.” – Scott Sauls
Our attitude towards those we disagree with reveals the greatest truth about the condition on our own hearts. We have a lot of room to grow here. We’ve not always gotten this right. If you were to ask those outside of the church where we have missed the mark, they would probably say our response to members of the LGBT community highlight how the church has often erred. Rosaria Butterfield, a former tenured professor of English and women’s studies at Syracuse University, converted to Christ in 1999 in what she describes as a train wreck. Her memoir The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert chronicles that difficult journey. She says it well recently:
We have all failed miserably at loving fellow image bearers who identify as part of the LGBT community—fellow image bearers who are deceived by sin and deceived by a hateful world that applies the category mistake of sexual orientation identity like a noose. And we all continue to fail miserably. On the biblical side, we often have failed to offer loving relationships and open doors to our homes and hearts, openness so unhindered that we are as strong in loving relationship as we are in the words we wield. We also have failed to discern the true nature of the Christian doctrine of sin. For when we advocate for laws and policies that bless the relationships that God calls sin, we are acting as though we think ourselves more merciful than God is.
When faced with the tension points in our culture we must hold to truth and grace equally and with tenacity. We must not use truth as a hammer to punish, but as a scalpel to bring healing.
Maybe part of our problem with loving well is a lack of understanding love. When we think of love, we must imagine something so much grander than feelings of affection. While emotional feelings are often rightly associated with love – the love personified by Jesus on a Roman cross is a love brought forth by something deeper and wider. Paul Tripp’s definition of love can help us here: “Love is willing self-sacrifice for the good of another that does not require reciprocation or that the person being loved is deserving.” Our speech must be laced with this kind of love. Our posture and attitudes must be laced with this sort of love. Our willingness to speak the truth is motivated by this kind of love. Our willingness to live in humility and with graciousness is adorned by Jesus like love.
Still, this is hard for us to imagine with those who are different than us. Maybe the best way we could show love in a world divided and marginalized is to rediscover the ancient practice of hospitality. Not the Marth Stewart/HGTV ideas of perfectly designed home spaces and dinner plates, but something much better. Something like Ann Voskamp describes:
“Find one person today who is “other” – who thinks differently, lives differently, sees things differently. And just do that: Listen to each other, listen to the “other”. Maybe – if each of us, everywhere, could find just one person who is the “other” today – and really listen until the “other” feels understood – this is what it means when Jesus said love one another – to love the other. Absurd comes from that Latin word, ‘surdus’, which means deaf. Things will only become more absurd times if we don’t listen but grow deaf to each other. Whenever we deafen, demonize, and dehumanize anybody – we can legitimize anything. It’s that Latin word which means ‘listening’ audire – that gives us the word “obedient”. A Faithful Life is The Listening Life. Listening fully to each other – is how to be fully obedient to God. The only way to a sincerely God-Obedient life – is to live a sincerely Listening Life.”
We must be Fruitful in Disciple-Making.
Fruitful. The psalmist describes a blessed and successful person as one who avoids the pathway of sin and sinner, instead delighting in the law of the Lord. The psalmist then unpacks this idea by using a powerful metaphor: “He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.” (Psalm 1:3) How we Ground ourselves in Truth impacts our disciple-making fruitfulness. It is the wellspring of God flowing from a disciple of Jesus that best waters a dry and thirsty soul. When we speak of disciple-making we mean that one ‘Learns Jesus and invites others to learn Jesus until they themselves invite others to learn Jesus.’ One of the reasons these tension points in our culture create such difficulty is that we’ve created an Evangelical industry more than a disciple-making movement. God uses extraordinarily gifted teachers and writers to do great work for His Kingdom. However, God uses ordinary disciples to do the vast majority of His Kingdom work. Let us never relinquish the disciple-making work of God originally entrusted to marginally educated fisherman to ‘experts’ and ‘professionals’. Let’s build up and equip the saints for the work of the ministry. (Ephesians 4:9-16)
We are is a desperate need for a revolutionary shift in western Christianity. There are few who can help us understand this better than Dietrich Bonhoeffer. After Hitler rose to power he left his seminary job in New York, and with his fiancée, returned to Nazi Germany. He would eventually be accused of joining the plot to assassinate Hitler, and spend two years in prison. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed on April 9, 1945, just two weeks before the United States liberated the camp. Let us consider his words:
“Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies. At the end all his disciples deserted him. On the cross he was utterly alone, surrounded by evildoers and mockers. For this cause he had come, to bring peace to the enemies of God. So the Christian, too, belongs not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the thick of foes.” … “Christianity stands or falls with its revolutionary protest against violence, arbitrariness, and pride of power, and with its plea for the weak. Christians are doing too little to make these points clear … Christendom adjusts itself far too easily to the worship of power. Christians should give more offense, shock the world far more, than they are doing now.”
Frankly, there really is only one option for the Christian. We have to move towards the mess. The Cross compels us to abandon the Status Quo and our friendly confines and plunge fearlessly into the fray. For in the fray are people Jesus loved enough to die for.