Monday, September 25, 2017

What I Don't Know, and What I Do Know, About What is Happening Right Now

I will freely admit that I'm lacking in wisdom when it comes to dealing with the cultural moment that we find ourselves in - that we found ourselves in over the weekend. I honestly do not know what it will take to put the divisions that we see in our nation back together. It began Friday when President Trump called football players who kneeled during the national anthem SOB's and said they should be fired. It continued when more of those players responding by kneeling during the national anthem. And then it really got bad as people were all over social media on both sides yesterday - ramping up the rhetoric even more. I don't know how this is fixed - it's a microcosm of what we are as a nation right now. We're divided along so many different lines that it's hard to keep count.

So, I said I don't know how that will be fixed - but let me walk that back a little bit. I don't know exactly how it will be fixed, but I do know that this moment calls for Christians to act like Christians. There are a lot of different ways people will read that statement, so let me be clear. Some see Christianity as a political movement - and that our primary purpose in the culture is to win elections or get laws passed. Though that's not unimportant, it's not what Christianity is. Others see Christianity as a social movement - designed to get people to act right. Though that's not unimportant either, it's not what Christianity is. When I speak of Christianity, I'm talking about a group of people who are dedicated to living out the gospel in their lives and in their cultures, because of what Jesus has done for them, and what he has commanded them to do. They live it out through their witness and through their actions. Jesus and Jesus alone has the power to fix what ails us as a nation, but he will not do it through political or social channels. He will do it the way he always does it - by using the radical love found only through the gospel. So though I don't know exactly what this will look like, I think we can find some guideposts that will show us a way forward.

Divisions are healed when Christians choose to listen more than they speak. We have an awful lot of talk in our culture today, but very little listening. Most people don't listen so they can understand - they listen so they can respond. But Christians must be different. The apostle James said this: "Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak." Now, we don't have to be told to listen more and speak less when we're talking to people we agree with. This specifically comes into play when we're talking to someone we disagree with. Christian, have you really listened to people you disagree with? Have you tried to understand why they think the way they think, why they believe the way they believe, why they're acting the way they act? Have you put yourself in their shoes? Even after you listen, you may not agree with them. But you may find you have more common ground than you originally thought. And most certainly, you will be better able to empathize with them. Here's a good practice - every day, read an article or talk to someone with whom you profoundly disagree. And as you do it - look for common ground. You might be surprised.

Divisions are healed when Christians admit they were wrong. It's funny - for a faith that says that every single person on the planet is deeply affected by sin, and even believers still battle a sin nature, we sure have a hard time saying we messed up. But all of us have flaws in our thinking. Some of that is sin, some of it is ignorance, and some of it is a lack of wisdom. But a big first step to peace is admitting that you're not sure about everything - that you might be wrong on issues that are not of first importance. A little humility goes a long way.

Divisions are healed when Christians choose to love their enemies. It constantly amazes me how this clear command from Jesus, repeated numerous times through the New Testament, is consistently ignored by people who profess to be believers. But it's there over and over again: "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." (Matthew 5:44) "Bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you." (Luke 6:28) "But love your enemies, and do good." (Luke 6:35) "Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse." (Romans 12:14) "If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink." (Proverbs 25:21). The witness of scripture is that we should love, pray, and do good for those with whom we disagree with. Can you imagine the difference that could made in our culture right now if Christians chose to listen to and then pray for and then love those with whom we consider our enemies? I mean, instead of going onto social media and putting them on blast.

Divisions are healed when the gospel is taught and lived by Christians. You see, the reason that we are called to all of this is because this is what Jesus did. "While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8) If you are a believer in Christ, you are a reformed enemy of God. You were once his enemy, and he loved you enough to do what you could not do for yourself - he sent his son to die for you. Jesus loved his enemies so much that he was willing to go through the hellish torture of crucifixion - but more than that, he loved his enemies so much that he was willing to endure separation from his father. And in doing so, he reconciled those enemies to himself. I pray that includes you. If it does, he has now called you to a ministry of reconciliation - helping others be reconciled to God. And when people are reconciled to God, then they will be reconciled to one another. The gospel is the only thing that has the power to bring people with such profound disagreements together. But when it is preached right and lived right, you will see people who otherwise couldn't be in the same room together living as brothers and sisters. So, the question for you is this - do you love your enemies enough to try to make them your friends, the way Jesus did it? 

What would happen if Christians in this country decided to live out these truths - putting them before every other competing truth claim? We say that the reason we believe the gospel is because it is the way the world actually works. Maybe the reason the world is not actually working right now is because we are refusing to live out the gospel the way it was meant to be lived. I do not have all the answers - but I know where the answers are found. Will you be an agent of peace, and pray that God will show us those answers?

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Christian, Don't Join a Facebook Posse

About two years ago, when I was working at WTOK, we missed a story that a lot people thought we should have covered. It happens. No one is perfect. Someone posted something on our Facebook page complaining, and I owned up to it. I apologized and told them we would do better in the future, and were taking some specific steps to do better. In the past, that more than likely would have been the end of it. But not in the era of social media. The post was shared hundreds of times by people who were angry we hadn’t covered the story. I was blasted from every conceivable angle. And at that moment, I discovered what it was like to have a Facebook posse come after you. Let me tell you – it makes for a rough few days. I hope my mom didn’t see some of the things I was called.

Since that time, I’ve watched again and again and people have taken part in what looks a lot like what the guys in the picture above used to do – frontier justice on a digital scale. One person is upset about something. They don’t like the way they were treated at a business. They are frustrated by a person they see in a news story. They’re angry at a politician. They hear a rumor that a mother whose child died might have been involved in the death. They see someone taking pictures at a park and assume he’s a pervert. And they want the whole world to know about it – whether it is true or not. There are real world consequences for digital justice like this. Reputations are destroyed. Real people are hurt. It’s like squeezing toothpaste out of the tube – there’s no way to get it back in once it’s out.

Christian, don’t join a Facebook posse. And certainly, don’t start a Facebook posse. No good can come from this. Today I want to give you four reasons you shouldn’t take part in digital justice like this.

1 – You usually don’t know for sure whether it is true or not. The vast majority of the time that you come upon a post that has been shared numerous times about some kind of injustice, or about some person who has wronged another, you only have one side of the story, and you have no idea whether or not that side is true. “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.” (Proverbs 18:17) In a worst case scenario, you are simply slandering someone by telling lies about them – whether you realize they are lies or not.

2 – It is usually nothing more than gossip. This is extremely important. The apostle Paul includes gossip among a long list of sins that prove the absolute depravity of man:

They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.

We don’t treat gossip that way – we treat it like something we know we shouldn’t do, but is simply a guilty pleasure. But notice that last part – “they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.” When you participate in a Facebook posse like this, very often you are participating in gossip – spreading rumors for no other reason than the rush you get from talking about it. And by participating with others, you are giving approval to the others who take part in it also.

3 – It shows a lack of grace in your life. Many times, situations like this include people competing to think of what the worst punishment for the person involved can be. “Throw him in jail!” one says. “No, throw him under the jail!” says another. “He doesn’t deserve a trial! Forget jail! Someone needs to take care of him right now!” screams another. Christian, this is no way to live. Even if the person is guilty, it shows a lack of grace to scream for this kind of justice. “But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” (Luke 7:47) Those without grace need to check their hearts to see if they have received it.

4 – It will hurt your witness for Jesus. Think of the last time you went off on Facebook about someone. If you come face-to-face with them today, will you be able to tell them about Jesus, with a clean conscious? Even more so, would they be willing to listen to you if they knew what you said about them? Paul said, “From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh.” (2nd Corinthians 5:16) What does he mean? God wants us to first see people not simply as who they are – but as who they will be for eternity. He wants us to mainly see them as people who are going to live forever, and desperately need the grace of God. If you think of someone this way, it will be very hard to go off on them on social media.

So here is what I’m asking. Before you post, think: do I know this is true? Is this right? Is it slanderous or libelous? Will it hurt someone? Am I showing grace? Am I trying to dispense my own kind of justice? Am I only writing what I am writing for the cathartic release? (And yes, I’m asking myself these same things as I write this.) Your witness, your soul, and the souls of those who are being hurt are all at stake. I beg you – don’t join a Facebook posse.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

How Jesus Can Save Us From Our Politics

I hate cable news. I haven’t watched 10 minutes of it in the last five years. When I say that to certain people, they’re surprised. I think they assume because I worked in TV news for 20 years, that I’m a cable news junkie. I do keep up with the news – but cable is not the place to get it. It is a microcosm of what is wrong with our politics right now. If I turn to one network, I get everything slanted in one direction – if I turn to another, it’s slanted in the other direction. And on both, I get people calling the other side names, instead of engaging in ideas. I know this is what gets ratings, and that ultimately is the problem. Social media is just as bad if not worse when it comes to politics.

In an increasingly secular culture, politics has become a functional savior. People see new laws or new regulations, or repealing those laws and regulations, as the ultimate path to salvation for our country. And by doing that, politics or the politicians themselves become gods. This happens on both sides. And when you see your politics or a politician as god, then you have suddenly stepped into a battle of good versus evil – where the only chance good has is to defeat evil.

This is where our biggest problems lie in politics in America right now – we have elevated politics to a place it should have never occupied. Don’t get me wrong – the political process is important. It’s just not that important. It’s not of ultimate importance. See, the only real solution to our problems is that God’s kingdom come, and there are no political solutions for that. God’s kingdom will come when Jesus returns, and until then, we will all live in broken, messed up societies. We can try to improve them in the meantime, but with the understanding that all our systems will always be broken in some way.

Getting this wrong leads to all kinds of disaster. Here’s perhaps the most problematic one. Politics at its best is about persuasion. I believe one thing about an important matter. Another person believes another thing. So it is my job to persuade that person to my side. We have mainly lost the ability to do this in our culture now. Instead, when the average politically-connected person sees someone who disagrees with them, they see it as their job to destroy them, to defeat them. And we believe this because we see politics as ultimate – it’s going to bring the “kingdom” that we’re looking for.

When you as a Christian fall into this trap, it poisons all your other relationships. If you see people with whom you disagree primarily as enemies to be defeated, then you will look at them a lot differently than you would if you saw them as people who need to be persuaded. See, as Christians, we are told to love our enemies, and we’re told to do that because God through Jesus loved us when we were his enemies. We’re told that it is our job to take the message of truth to people who disagree with us – perhaps angrily or even violently – and love them unconditionally and sacrificially to the foot of the cross. And when we do that – and only when we do that – we see in-breakings of God’s kingdom right here on earth. But the point of those in-breakings is to point us to a time when God's kingdom is going to come in its fullness, and no politician can bring that.

This is how Jesus can rescue us from politics. If we primarily see those who we disagree with us as people who need to be persuaded, rather than enemies who need to be defeated, then it will change the way we think about the political process. It will allow us to seek solutions for the common good – without believing that those solutions are ultimate ones. Then, a political defeat is not a disaster. Because Jesus controls our fate, and the fate of our nation, and the fate of the world, and he has promised us how it is all going to turn out. No political party or politician can give you this, no matter how much they promise.