December 14, 2019

Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.

By Tim Reed, Guest Blogger to NPE

We have a daughter who is five and a son who is one and a half years old and they are so different. My daughter likes to draw and paint. She says her art is “profound.” She is so full of compassion she would give away her Christmas presents if another child didn’t have any. She wants to always make sure the children we help in Uganda have enough. She is like her father. My son loves music and is so driven. He loves to laugh and loves to help. He will climb any mountain to do what needs to be done. He is also so much like his father. Both are amazing children and we love them both so deeply. There are no favorites, just overwhelming love. My wife and I often dream with God about who our children will become, and it usually leads to a discussion. Because my wife and I come from two different backgrounds we have differing viewpoints. We were both raised as “Christians” on the surface. She was a good girl and went to a nice Christian college. I was a bad boy who struggled with addiction, left the church for a while, and only finished college in 2015. She is concerned about revealing my troubled past to our kids without planning out how we will reveal all my mistakes. I believe it should be organic and happen naturally. 

The point is we are different. We both have points of view that have merit and we both need God to help us see a way through. I can argue that she has less life experience than I and she can argue that she didn’t make all the mistakes I did, but God loves us both equally. He wants us to come to Him. He is our mediator when we reach an impasse and we try to mirror that Divine relationship in how we work through problems with our children. We’ve found that it doesn’t matter if it is two people or two hundred, God’s answers seem to apply in all cases. If the children are upset with each other, we redirect angry words from our daughter, redirect pushing (again, our daughter), but we also recognize with compassion that she is adjusting to her new “older sister” position in the household. She is no longer the sole focus of our family. She has grown old enough to take a little better care of herself without as much help from us. Because she is in a period of adjustment, we try to be gentle, offering her compassion and understanding. Our son is like she was a few years ago, so we explain to our daughter that he needs extra grace because he cannot communicate his needs in a way that helps him overcome his frustrations. 

One big idea we try to communicate is that it is not their job to correct (or punish) each other, that job is ours. In our response to their difficulties we may meet their idea of justice, or we may not, but that is not the point. We believe the point is in showing each other love and honor through how we communicate when we are frustrated. We make it clear that we do not expect them to be perfect, but we do expect them to be thoughtful, kind, and loving. God knows we are still working on the same things ourselves. Why? Because we are called to be of Heaven in this temporary life and Heaven is all about relationship. Relationship is how we come to know God.

God has never ever been small enough for us to fully understand Him, so we don’t have all the answers, and as I get older, all too often I find the answer is not black and white, one answer or the other, but both/and. And humility is our friend. I could lecture my daughter on her not being hurt or offended but that is only part of what is going on and I would only be focusing on one side. She is only one party, and this is a two-party disagreement. If my son was older, I could lecture him on being more understanding and kind. But he may take offense because I am only focusing on his mistake. Again, if I did speak to only him, I’d be only addressing one side or at the very least, appear that way. So, we bring them together to work it out and explain that it is not as simple as stating what is right and what is wrong. It is about relationship and finding a common ground to work from. Now, I know what you may be thinking. What does this have to do with politics? 

Defusing arguments between two kids who don’t speak the same language and who don’t have the slightest idea they are not in the right 24/7, has everything to do with politics.

I know the political machine we see on television (or preferred online streaming service) paints the political system like it is reality tv with plotlines all about your preferred party winning. It wasn’t always that way. In the beginning it was about working together for a common good. Thomas Jefferson, our third president, certainly did not believe the same things as our first president George Washington. The Federalist Party didn’t believe the same as the Democratic-Republican Party, but they worked together to establish our form of government, writing and signing the Constitution as one body. The Federalist Party wanted a strong national government promoting economic growth and fostering friendly relationships with other countries, while the Democratic-Republican Party promoted political equality, stressing liberty and unalienable individual rights, and expansionism. Washington (Federalist) said things like “Observe good faith and justice towards all nations. Cultivate peace and harmony with all,” and “Guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism,” and “Religion is as necessary to reason as reason is to religion. The one cannot exist without the other.” Jefferson (Democratic-Republican) said things like “The first settlers in this country were emigrants from England, of the English church, just at a point of time when it was flushed with complete victory over the religious of all other persuasions. Possessed, as they became, of the powers of making, administering, and executing the laws, they showed equal intolerance in this country with their Presbyterian brethren, who had emigrated to the northern government.  The poor Quakers were flying from persecution in England. They cast their eyes on these new countries as asylums of civil and religious freedom; but they found them free only for the reigning sect.”

The party names and platforms have changed over time. Some say it was the argument over slavery that brought about our current two-party system. The Democratic-Republicans became the Democrat Party and the Republican Party formed having early success with the election of Abraham Lincoln. At our country’s founding, our leaders and future US presidents like Washington (Anglican), Adams (Congregationalist), Jefferson (Episcopal), and Madison (Presbyterian) all agreed separation of church and state was important. They had their reasons. They were reasons like preventing the suppression of free will and preventing the religious oppression they suffered in Great Britain. They knew calling a nation a “Christian” nation closely ties Jesus with all the mistakes of said nation, when nations are created by, run by, and ruled by flawed men. This is all to say, the idea that we have always had a Christian nation from its founding, is a fallacy and is untrue. 

“The government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.”
—John Adams, Treaty of Tripoli 

We came here not to make a Christian nation but to seek the ability to pursue faith personally without persecution and to offer that to all. Our founding fathers wanted to offer the freedom not afforded them in Britain but entitled to them under God. It seems the founding fathers believed that was a fundamental right and giving it to all men of all faiths showed the respect and honor God asks of us. Obviously, the founding fathers had flaws. Some were slave-masters, some had moral failings. They were imperfect men just like many of our Biblical heroes and just like our leaders of today. I don’t believe their imperfection disqualifies the ideals they brought to bear. Same with our leaders today.

But what do we do with these imperfect men who rule our imperfect world today? What do we do with these imperfect laws in imperfect countries? How do we honorably pursue what we believe to be God’s will while practicing the Hippocratic Oath (“First, do no harm”) of our faith “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”? How did we get to this time when each side has become so completely entrenched and polarized over the other party’s intentions, that distrust is at an all-time high? Some of these answers we know. We pray for leaders and support their actions when they deserve our support. We respectfully work to write or change laws to better reflect our ideals. We pursue God’s will by thoughtfully engaging the people in the world around us so we can develop relationships and foster love. And we make sure to represent God well, an example of this might be by not being publicly drunk or gleefully enjoying our social media ego intoxication. Now, this may be the first time you see this in print on the Internet (there are a lot of experts out there these days), but here’s the disclaimer, I am not an expert. So, take this, bring it to God, and see if it sticks. 

I think if we all look at our history, we must admit the church has made many, many mistakes. I can go down the list and call out the Crusades, hiding Nazi criminals etc. etc. and we can deflect by saying “not my denomination” all we want, but the world doesn’t make the distinction. We often fail as a church and it’s because the church is full of imperfect people. I don’t think I am taking a huge leap to recognize that where we like to pretend we are at spiritually and where we truly are in the eyes of God are two different things. They most likely always will be, but the question is, do we keep that in the forefront of our mind so that we might walk in humility? I think many in the church may have fallen in love with knowing or having THE answer and perhaps the spirit in which we’ve engage the world isn’t so humble at times. I know I have been this way. I’ve told a great number of people what’s what. Maybe that’s how we ended up here?

I believe the question is “Should we adjust how we look at the church and the world and tune it to a new frequency?”

Do you remember the news stories in the 90’s and early 00’s? Most of the stories were the same as today. We fought removing the ten commandments from the front of buildings with fervor, but that passion was less prominent when it came to solving homelessness, at least that was how it appeared in the news. I remember stories about how Christians wanted to let everyone know that meek didn’t mean weak. Do you remember that? Maybe that sense of feeling marginalized started to take hold? Maybe that feeling has always been there. Our response was to adopt an American culture war as God’s desire for us. There is nothing like it in the Bible (see 1 Peter 2:15 New International Version). Many of us traded “If we can just take care of the widows and the children” for “If we can just keep the power we have had” or “If we can just force the world to see our monuments to faith.” But which does God love more, a statue that nonbelievers don’t read or a Christian using his or her time and effort to offer friendship with a servant’s heart? In James 1:27 God says “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” 

I know many will say “the two don’t need to be mutually exclusive” and they are right but spend some time with the idea, pray and see what you’re shown. It takes a lot of time and intentionality to build friendship (time we may be using to argue on the Internet). Historically it would seem that we became offended and angered as the secular world moved away from claiming Christianity. But “we are the moral authority” many of us thought (and still do) trading giving it over to God for our own plans and schemes. We often traded showing the boundless love of meeting the world where they are at for being satisfied with the message “come to the beacon on the hill.” We often argued over our own importance or relevance instead of keeping our nose to the grindstone and feeding those who starve. And let’s just admit the truth, if it came down to Netflix or feeding a third world child so they won’t die (like really lose their life), we might choose Netflix. I have. As a church, shouldn’t we strive for a higher level of humility and honesty with ourselves? 

I think we are a very partisan country right now and it may be because society is adjusting and the notion of the US being a Christian nation is changing. Why? Because that notion doesn’t work. I mean, does this country being called a “Christian” nation show our future brothers and sisters the respect they deserve for where they are at right now? Perhaps it doesn’t even show God the respect He deserves. Perhaps the love many of us show non-believers doesn’t include the honor and respect we needed while we were on our faith journey (prior to conversion)? We are not being like Paul. Many of us might get a pass having never even had that faith journey because of familial indoctrination. Those that were indoctrinated may not have the framework to understand how those outside our faith view and understand what we say or do. Which is fine if we are committed to learning where we can improve in our communication but many of us don’t want to hear from “them,” because we are right, and “they” are wrong. Are we empty vessels when they speak or full of our own assumptions? When we use our Christian-speak, we are like my toddler running around speaking gibberish that no one outside our immediate family understands. And toddlers can get overwhelming, right? I don’t know about you, but there have been times when our kids have been so crazy that we’ve had strangers step in to “adjust” our kids’ behavior and the atmosphere! How rude! But back to the state of the church. If we don’t fill our role others will step up to fill that void. If we don’t fulfill the duties given to us by the Almighty, others will step into the gap. Being the hands and feet was never a job but an honor and a privilege. We shouldn’t be upset when God’s “other” creations (them, Liberals, nonbelievers) attempt to solve a problem our level of commitment and effort left unsolved. It is estimated it would cost $20 billion to eliminate homelessness in our country. There are 126 million Christians in America. If each one of us gave $158.73, we would end homelessness today. The Passion of the Christ earned $360 million in ticket sales and Christian merchandise sales were over $4 billion in 2009, for perspective.  

The U.S. decline of Christianity continues at a rapid pace according to both Pew and Barna. As of this year 43% of U.S. adults identify with Protestantism, down from 51% in 2009. The world is becoming more and more transparent through technological advancement. The Internet is exposing the underbelly of the American Christian church. One cannot see things like this on an almost daily basis – https://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/investigations/article/All-too-often-Southern-Baptist-youth-pastors-13588292.php and believe the church is operating under wisdom (Galatians 5:9). Go Google “pastor arrested” and limit the search to only the past year. It isn’t pretty and it isn’t all fake news. Where do people turn when the church doesn’t look like a safe place? Will they even open the door to hearing the Good News? The underbelly has always been there but there were always two things the church was traditionally known for, love and wisdom, just not anymore. Now, society is moving in to replace us as the standard-bearers of love (partially because of how we handle those who are marginalized…partially for how they are responding to our affront). What is our response? Holding steadfast to an “us vs them” mentality inside and outside the church. Pastors across the nation are being critical of those who oppose the church, even the brethren who attempt to slow the train. Are people being too critical of the church or are we caught in a situation where God is working through our weaknesses being exposed to re-align us with His vision? Is it a coincidence we are losing our place as a country on the world stage at the same time we are declining in believers at home? “Give us your cold, your tired” only works when people believe we mean it. Do we?

So, I believe the question is “Should we adjust how we look at the church and the world and tune it to a new frequency?” Is all the spin and power-grabbing we are involved in Biblical? Is it a last ditch attempt to circumnavigate a deeper knowledge that we are failing our God? Is our political stance just an attempt at a loophole or to cheat because we didn’t study, and the Revelation exam isn’t far off? Determining that is above my pay grade. But there is a growing body of evidence and instead of facing it ourselves we are scapegoating. 

Some verses to consider:

“Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone,” Col. 4:5-6(NIV)

“When I am with those who are weak, I share their weaknesses, for I want to bring the weak to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some,” 1 Corinthians 9:22

“Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing,” – 1 Peter 3:9

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you,” – Matthew 5:38-42

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