Sunday, October 31, 2010

Addressing Hot-Button Topics without Using a Sword

As society drifts farther and farther away from biblical roots we are seeing the crumbling of long standing social patterns. Life long marriage to one partner is no longer the norm. Sexual purity before marriage is rarely expected, and gay relationships are slowly gaining acceptance on social and religious fronts. Unfortunately, the church’s traditional ways of responding to immorality has garnered criticism from those inside and outside the church. As a result, Christians are floundering in how to respond appropriately to the eroding values and practices.

As believers seeking help to maneuver these social rapids, we can look to the One who has gone before us to show the way. Jesus came into a nation with complex social issues. The religious leaders were twisted with legalism and tainted by corruption. The population was divided in how to respond to Roman domination – by accommodating or wielding a sword. Apparently divorce and remarriage were being practiced but controversial enough that the religious leaders devised a plan to trap Jesus with a question about its legality. We can reap nuggets of wisdom by observing Jesus’ ways of responding to these social woes.

Be Aware and Ready
I’m always challenged by the fact that Jesus had ready answers to the sticky questions put to him. He was clearly aware of what the social issues were. He ate in people’s homes. He chatted, heard their questions, and observed their behavior. He had an uncanny ability to discern the underlying attitudes and values that supported social practices. But more than that, he had obviously processed the critical issues and knew God’s perspective. He was always ready with an answer.

Speak with Authority
More than that, his answers were always presented with authority. He didn’t wobble or waver with personal opinion or scrabble to say things in a “politically correct” way. He spoke as a messenger of God and all answers clearly pointed listeners back to God as the authority and His Word as the standard for determining truth and righteousness. No listener could go away without a clear picture of truth and its Author.

Call Sin “Sin” without Using a Sword
Looking over Jesus’ shoulder in Matthew 19:3-12, you can see Jesus authoritatively addressing God’s perspective on the issue of divorce and remarriage. He clearly demonstrated here how to address sinful practices and attitudes without attacking any person or group. He still called sin “sin.” Neither did He try to sugar coat the word “adultery.” Truth could land where it wanted, and He left the Holy Spirit to do the rest! He could love every person and still scatter truth.

Become the Approachable Go-to Guy
You can see Jesus addressing this hot-button topic surrounded by crowds of people, disciples, and religious leaders. Matthew’s details reveal that this was a discussion, not a lecture. One Pharisee asked the first question, another piped up with a follow-up question, and at least one disciple contributed his sage summary, "If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry."

Some listeners were hanging on his every word, and others were testing him. But they all invited him to expound on his understanding. People loved to be around Jesus and listen. He was accessible and approachable. He was loving, humble, and personal. He offered fresh authoritative perspectives, and He was not predictable. It was almost guaranteed that listeners would not hear the same tedious answers they had heard in the synagogue.

I’m overwhelmed by Jesus’ wisdom and grace. His example challenges me to think beyond prattling against sin from my Christian cocoon. Neither is it an option to try to demonstrate unconditional love to my friends while ignoring the corrosive effect of sin on their lives. Instead of preparing an impersonal Christian treatise on sexual immorality, I’m challenged to engage in loving dialogue and prayerfully seek God’s perspective and answers. I refuse to be content with my shallow opinions. I want to be ready with authoritative answers when I’m invited to dialogue. And finally, I must persist in yielding to the chiseling work of the Spirit so my attitudes reflect the heart of the Father. Only then can I come close to imitating Jesus’ wisdom in addressing hot-button issues.

What approaches have you taken in responding to hot-button issues?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Come into the Light

Writing is a mirror to the soul. When I’m writing you’ll see what I choose to show you and you may catch glimpses of attitudes that I actually don’t intend you to see. Sometimes I’m perturbed by my own attitudes. I don’t want you to see my internal wrestling to be more kind, positive, or self-controlled or to be less jealous, critical or caustic. I’m more inclined to let you see my insights on living a walk of faith and my bragging about Jesus.

There’s something scary about coming out into the open wearing the day’s grime in my attitudes. In the privacy of my thoughts I can ignore nasty stubbornness or quick judgments. But I’m called to come into the light, filthy rags and all. In the light I see truth, and therein lies the power of light. Ugliness is seen as ugly. I cry out for mercy. I catch a glimpse of God’s grace and the flash of His ready forgiveness sets me on a path of repentance. The power of light.

In the safety of God’s presence, facing ugly truth about my shameful attitudes is tolerable. But being truthful about myself to others can be frightening, especially when I don’t know how others will respond. We’ve all experienced a variety of reactions to our attempts at openness: appreciation, kind understanding, criticism, preaching, gentle chiding, shock, disappointment, concern, or wariness. Reactions are filed away and we’ve made value judgments on openness. We may have vowed to never be transparent again, or we may have warm memories of the appreciation others showed towards our humble attempts to being transparent.

Regardless of how other people might react, coming into the light has an amazing power, and that power is what can drive me to openness regardless of my past experiences or my fears. Speaking the truth sets me free. I’m free from trying to escape your discovery! I’m free from dodging the light. I’m free from the effort of dressing up to present a perfect picture of a person called of God. I’m free from the enemy’s threats to expose me! I’m free to let in more light. And I’m free to pursue the path of God’s amazing grace.

Writing the truth also has the power to help others who are scrambling to evade discovery of their miserable failures to be like Christ. Speaking the truth about my own battles with my sin nature can free others to come into the light and experience the exhilaration of truth in God’s warm embrace of love and forgiveness.

While I’m convinced that openness has power, I’m also considering some parameters that might be important for channeling this power in a public place such as a blog.

1. As a believer, my openness should include the truth about my struggles with my fallen human nature as well as the truth of God’s abounding mercy and grace for victory. If I only whine about my ongoing struggles with fear, I can leave my listeners with a sense of hopelessness, bondage, or even disappointment. But if I also share the secret power of God’s rhema word to strip away the chains of fear, then I have shared truth that can help to set the captive free as Jesus intended.

2. I only have the right to be open about my own humanness. I do not have the right to expose another person’s sin or failure. Therefore my own openness about responding to slander should not be worded in such a way as to throw glaring light on the source of that slander. If my own openness risks harming another I need to reconsider my motives and my words. Can I reword what I am saying so I speak the truth about my own battle in a powerful way that can set readers free without stripping another of his reputation?

3. My truth-speaking should always be guided by the Father. Even Jesus, the perfect source of truth did not speak on his own. The Father directed the where, when, how, why, and what of truth! There are times when God asks me to be open about my own struggles in order to help others. And there are other times when I run ahead of God and for the sake of openness or my own agenda speak about my past failures or my present skirmishes. I’ve seen those times of truth fail in achieving anything of benefit for God, myself, or others.

Openness directed by God has the potential of a flashing bolt of lightening - light, truth, and power in one stroke. Humble open writing can be powerful in the hands of God. Am I ready?

Picture from Comstock Photos

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Judging is Easy…but Grace is Challenging

You’ve seen it. Word circulates that Jean was seen at a cozy table for two with the boss. She’s been your friend. Now you avoid her at break time. When her name comes up in conversation all the office mates sling slurs at her reputation and bring up previous whispers of marriage trouble. Others dig up old grievances with the boss. And you are the only Christian at your office.

It’s so easy to quickly judge a person’s actions and come up with what they should have done, but the truth is that another person’s sin bounces the ball into your court and puts you to the test. How will you respond to the person’s sin or failure? Now it’s up to you to choose how you will respond: understanding, criticism, gossiping, shunning, confronting, forgiving, showing grace, ignoring, or extending mercy. And how you respond will determine where the ball goes and if the ball will be returned to you!

I’ve become aware of some uncomfortable truths. Anyone (me included) can make a judgment; not everyone can make a well informed, just, or godly judgment. Everyone can criticize; not everyone can listen for understanding. Everyone can gossip; not everyone can demonstrate loving support in the face of critical attitudes. Anyone can shun someone; not all of us are adept at godly confrontation. Anyone of us can condemn; not all of us can forgive.

Judging is easy; grace is challenging. It takes grace to lovingly confront someone after a personal offence or when you’ve observed an indiscretion. The much more difficult task is to continue to demonstrate love when someone has obviously failed. And that is where Christians have the opportunity to demonstrate the character of Jesus.

Jesus set aside judgment in order to demonstrate love. He could extend mercy because he was clear that it wasn’t his job to judge! He did not go out of his way to avoid sinners. Neither did he shun those who criticized and slandered him. He moved towards them with love and gentle truth. He never participated in petty gossip parties. He was always ready with grace for any sinner who came across his path. He was sought out by obvious sinners because of this love and grace.

And that is the challenge in this age. Anyone can judge. We can all do it well. And if we can’t, we can all learn by listening to our neighbors, watching t.v. or reading our current newspapers and magazines. Judging and criticism abound. But where are the grace extenders? Who can we learn that from? As a parent, are you teaching your children to be grace-extenders? As a workmate, are you demonstrating grace, kindness, and mercy? As a neighbor are you gossiping grace or judgment? As Christians we have abundant opportunity to be grace-extenders and grace teachers in our generation. Judging abounds. What about grace?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Greed for Significance

Would I be content to be a fingernail in a body or would I insist on being an eye? The Bible uses this analogy to poke at our human tendency towards comparison and discontentment even within the church (1Cor 12). Somehow I can laugh off my brother’s desire to be an eye rather than an ear or a foot rather than a hand. But the truth is Paul wrote about it because it is so universally human to want someone else’s giftings or to feel useless if we aren’t playing a more significant part.

Come on! You know it’s true. We’d all like to repress our own thoughts of inferiority and quash our longings for more significant roles or recognition. Some of us do a better job than others at winning the battle over needing recognition. Some of us are so secure we can work behind the scenes and know we are significant. Others quiver at playing a servant role without appreciation and impatiently await recognition and promotion.

Why this drive for significance? I’m not sure if our culture feeds the flame of longing for significance or if our culture simply accommodates that human need. It certainly seems as if our school programs are pushing our youth to make a mark on their world and television ads harangue us with what we need to be of value in our culture. It’s also possible that trendy theology nurtures a discontentment with simple whole-hearted service and instead charges believers with a greed for mega doses of personal destiny and significance.

I’m grappling with a few questions. Firstly, who is in charge of my destiny? Is it really me or is it God. And if it is God, as I’ve been raised to believe, am I content with what God has planned for me regardless of whether it involves recognition, honor, or promotion? In other words, what if God really does want me to be a fingernail in his Kingdom? What if that is what he decides my role should be even when he knows I may be smashed, broken, or ignored? Such an assignment will truly test who is really driving my life, where my security lies, and how well I handle the very human greed for significance.

And God does need fingernails, and liver cells, and heels, and armpits. He needs faithful Christians who share with their neighbors; he needs office workers who pray for their work mates; and he needs people committed to care for the despised and neglected of the world. When the curtain is pulled back and we truly see from a heavenly perspective, we will see the childish nature of our search for significance. Meanwhile, God, give me the grace to confidently serve whomever and wherever you want without demanding that you fulfill my human greed for significance.

Doubt-Proofing My Life

Is it really possible to doubt proof my life – to journey confidently through each season, tribulation, or loss without a trace of doubt? It is very doubtful.

Writers all over the web are talking about doubt these days. The discussion has allowed many believers to take their masks off and openly admit their own wrestling matches with doubt. But the truth is that doubt is not new. It’s as old as the ancients of Scripture. Just read through the Bible again with your “doubt glasses” on. You’ll find Abraham faltering in his faith and fathering Ishmael. You’ll see Joshua crying on his face before God when Israel failed at Ai. He was overwhelmed with a sense of failure overshadowed by doubting the validity of God’s promises. Join Elijah under the tree in the wilderness doubting his call and God’s ability to bring revival to Israel. Glance through the prophets and see the valleys of doubt nestled beside lofty prophecies.

Doubt seems to be one of the many facets of the human journey of faith. While the journey may be largely described as victorious and joyful, many of our biblical forbears experienced times of searching and even despair. As humans with limited understanding of spiritual realities and a propensity to trundle after our emotions, it is more than likely that we will experience times of doubt. The more amazing element of our journey is our ability to recover from doubt and follow after our God with resolute submission and the wonder of ensuing joy.

While I don’t believe that we can fully doubt-proof our lives, I believe an awareness of its likelihood to appear somewhere on our faith journey can help us be better prepared when it blusters near in its attempt to derail or devastate us. Doubt questions God’s Word, God’s promises, God’s ways, and God’s character. We can take comfort in the fact that doubt need not deter us from a victorious journey. In fact doubt can be the means of deepening our roots into the eternal source and strengthening our stance in the raging winds attempting to devastate all that is God’s in this age. In that sense, times of doubt are beneficial in developing the strength and breadth of our faith. And for that reason, I don’t think I’ll work on that doubt-proofing idea. I think I’ll focus instead on developing my ability to press into God and his Word. What about you?