Relationships

Politics & Relationships: A Plea for Reasonable Civility

We live in a day of increasing polarization that is affecting relationships within the church. The affect of social media on the unity of the Spirit within the body of Christ seems to have been detrimental (to say the least). So how should we think through political conversations online?

1. Trust that the world will not end if you fail to comment immediately on the urgent events of the day.
Patience is a virtue, and abstaining rather than commenting may be the wisest course of action.

2. Understand that politically conservative Christians and politically progressive Christians often believe opposite things but also believe that the issues of righteousness are so important that they must speak out.
It should move us to humility that Christians can disagree with one another so strongly and still be so convinced that they’re right. Christians can agree on big goals while disagreeing on the path toward those goals.

3. Adopt a tone of reasonable civility, rather than a provocative tone.
Posts are often intended to get a strong positive “rah-rah-rah” reaction from those who agree with us and a visceral negative response from those who disagree. Try to interact in a calmly, reasoned way. Think, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.”

4. Believe that the path to true change is the gospel.
Only as we’re changed from the inside out will the world change too. People who don’t know Christ may believe the only path to a better life is through political and cultural change. Those who know Christ believe that the path to social change is through the gospel first, and it must be our brightest light, even if we also believe in political and social change. It’s gospel first, gospel last, gospel always. 2 Corinthians 4:3 If our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. Let’s not hide the gospel light (or make it distasteful) but make sure it shines brighter than anything else.

5. Be eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, especially in your local church.
Believe that the most important relationships that you have in life and the ones that you should value the most are the relationships in your spiritual family (a.k.a., local church). Do whatever it takes to protect those relationships and demonstrate love. If you struggle going to church because of what you read others saying, unplug. If you think you might be provoking others in a way that makes it difficult to maintain true unity in Christ, unplug.

6. Remember that it’s our visible love for each other that marks us as Jesus’ disciples.
Sometimes the only interaction that other people see is our interaction on social media. John 13:35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. Let’s lead with our love and our unity in Christ.

Ephesians 4:1-3: 1 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Some Thoughts on MLK Day

1. Remember that racial reconciliation matters because the multifaceted (“manifold”) wisdom of God is the way God makes his glory known (Ephesians 3:7-10).

2. Remember that racial reconciliation is a fruit of the gospel and is therefore an important part of reflecting gospel culture to the world (Ephesians 2:11-22).

3. Pray for peace and unity as a fruit of the gospel (Ephesians 3:14-20).
Don’t just speak for and fight for justice. Pray for it!

4. Speak truth in the face of sinful prejudice, and act when you see it.
Prayer is the right starting point, but prayer should move us to speak and act. We must not be silent in the face of cultural evil, no matter what the evil is.

5. Strive to make your home and your church a place that welcomes all people of all cultures.

6. Fight sinful prejudice in your own heart.
Our tendency is to believe that generations in the past struggled with this but that we’ve mastered it. We’re sinners like they are; sometimes our sinful prejudice manifests itself in different ways.

7. Repent of sinful prejudice when you find it in your heart.
Especially, repent of prejudice spoken and acted upon.

8. Proclaim the gospel.
True peace and unity can only be experienced in Christ. Since the gospel is our only true hope for true racial unity, we must speak and live it everywhere we go. We must speak up about racial injustice, but we must do so speaking the reconciling gospel of Jesus Christ.

Christmas & Christian Empathy

If there’s any time of year that should move Christians to empathy with their fellow man, it’s Christmas. Yet when you hear Christians talk about Christmas, you hear words like celebration, worship, family, together, etc. (which are all great!). The incarnation of Jesus, though, is the greatest model for empathy the world has ever seen.

Empathy in the Incarnation
When God became man, he left the eternal glory and joy of being God and of enjoying all that God deserves. Jesus, in entering the created world, humbled himself and entered into our discomfort and pain. He knows what it is to be hungry, to have no place to lay his head, to feel left out and mocked. God tells us Jesus did this because of his great love for us. The shame he experienced was far greater than anything any other human being has ever experienced. And one result of Jesus’ experience of humility and shame is that he can empathize like no other person the world has ever known: “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).

A Problem
In spite of the fact that the Christmas season models the compassion of God so clearly, Christians often view human suffering as a problem to be solved—or worse—avoided and ignored. Simply read what many majority Christians and Christian leaders say about those on the margins of society in our own country or about refugees from war and abuse huddled in camps in other countries.

We view the refugee and the outcast as a political problem to be solved or an inconvenience to be avoided. This ought not to be! There’s truth in the concept of personal responsibility, but the idea that anyone can overcome life’s obstacles through hard work and determination doesn’t work equitably across the board. Jesus’ birth teaches us this. Yes, our world (and the United States, in particular) is filled with unparalleled opportunity, but Mary and Joseph finding refuge in a stable, then fleeing to Egypt, is a model for Christian compassion and empathy, not for the doctrine of self-help.

What I’m Not Trying to Do
I’m not attempting to address the responsibilities of people to own their problems and work to overcome them (that’s the other side of the coin). Rather, I pray that God will give Christians eyes to see that our responsibility is to listen with compassion and empathy. Christian leaders should take the lead in calls for compassion and help for those in need—even if those needs are complicated and difficult to address.

Call to Action: Humility
First, as Christians, we should see the humility and shame of Christ and recognize that a little humility goes a long way for us in these conversations. As first-world, majority-culture Christians, the truth is that we just don’t “get” a lot of problems that those living on the margins deal with. This should move us to humility, as we have a lot to learn. I don’t know what it’s like to be a black or hispanic person in America, and I certainly don’t know what it’s like to be a refugee whose home has been destroyed by war.

Call to Action: Empathy
True humility moves us to compassionate empathy. While we may not literally feel the pain of a Syrian refugee, we should try to empathize with the hurting. Jesus actually did feel our pain and carry it in his body, so that we wouldn’t have to endure the worst consequences of our sin. So take off your “political hat” for a few minutes, and hurt with those who hurt. Weep with those who weep.

Call to Action: Love One Person
One difficulty of calls to listen and empathize is that the problems are so great there is no way any human being or human institution, including the US government, can address all of the issues. But we can love one person who’s not like us. We can love one person who’s hurting, and we can listen with humble empathy to the broader problems, asking God to give us wisdom on when and how to engage.

The Beauty of Criticism

Do you hate criticism? I guess a better question is, who doesn’t hate criticism? In his book Tribes, Seth Godin notes that fear of failure could often be more aptly titled fear of criticism. We fear being criticized so much that we don’t even make an attempt.

But criticism can be a good thing. Criticism can come from soul-sucking negativists who don’t care a bit about you. But criticism can also come (and should come) from trusted advisors, good friends, and people that love you. Feedback, even when it’s difficult to receive, makes you stronger and wiser. Every person has blind spots and needs to hear about them.

As Godin notes, even criticism from negativists has an upside—it means you are doing something worth taking note of. If you are boring and completely unremarkable, critics won’t consider you worth their time. So, don’t have a pity party or be debilitated by criticism. Listen to it; learn from it; move on.

Good criticism can foster a culture of constant improvement, of building on good things that can become great things. Good criticism can give you courage to attempt something more audacious and awesome that you’d have ever attempted without it. 

So listen to your critics … but not too much … and let the feedback motivate you, teach you, and strengthen you. You’ll be glad you did.

Do Something Great! (Even if It’s Small)

Ever wanted to do something that changed the world … or at least the world that you know? What keeps you from acting on your ambition? Perhaps it’s a lack of clarity or a lack of good ideas. Often, though, it’s fear of failure that keeps us from pursuing our passion.

For the Christian, our mission was set by Jesus before He left this earth: make disciples by speaking the gospel to every creature. Being part of accomplishing that mission is something great! What, then, is the most effective, most aggressive way you can help accomplish that mission? What can you pray for and pursue that only God can accomplish? How long have you prayed for your neighbor without sharing the gospel? How long have you developed a relationship for “relational evangelism” without ever speaking the gospel?

Perhaps it’s time to do the thing that you fear. Perhaps it’s time to risk a venture that may fail. Perhaps it’s time to speak the gospel to someone who may reject it and may even reject you. Maybe it’s time to embody and speak the gospel boldly in your community in a way that you haven’t before. You see, the fear that keeps you from doing something great (even if it’s small) is the same fear that keeps you from truly taking part in God’s mission for the church: speaking and living the gospel boldly.

“Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.” (Acts 5:41, ESV)

The apostles rejoiced in rejection, because they were part of something great. Sharing the worth of Christ and the good news of the gospel may seem small, but it is a great thing to do. So … do something great! (Even if it’s small.)

When Fear Is Cute

Kids are cute.

One of the cute things about kids is their innocence. My three-year-old makes my life more enjoyable because so much of life is a discovery of something new and exciting. We walked through a store recently, and it brought so much joy to see her so excited about things I walked past without a second thought–a zebra on a shelf, a poster of a tiger, a football.

Kids are afraid. But not always.

Because children are innocent, they are often scared of things more educated people are not … like being scared of the dark. And sometimes it's cute.

On the other hand, children don't have the fear of man that more “worldly-wise” people have. Ever been with a small child in a library or a nice restaurant? You may be paralyzed by the child's loud laughter, but the child just knows the enjoyment of that moment, without the fear of what other patrons may think (I'm not advocating poor behavior for children in public places!). The beautiful thing about childlike innocence is that he/she may just be naive enough to miss pressure a more “educated” person would experience.

Adults are like big kids.

What about adults and fear of others? That's not cute.

The thing about fear of man is … it's fake. Others have power over you only insomuch as you allow them to have power. What sophisticated library patrons think doesn't have ill effects on a child secure in the love of his parents. And the approval of others shouldn't affect children of God who rest secure in the love of their Heavenly Father.

Was Jesus an Introvert?

I've read a number of articles in the past few years on introverts vs. extroverts. The commonly agreed upon definition of an introvert is that an introvert is someone who gains energy by being by himself/herself. An extrovert is a person who feeds off of being around other people. People who have aspects of both introverts and extroverts are called “ambiverts.” The idea is that based on your assessment along the introvert/extrovert scale, you can more effectively recharge and work in your field.

I'd like to take just a few moments and reflect on this line of thinking from a biblical perspective. I'm not questioning that there are different personality types in the world (I tend to be more extroverted than my wife). However, I believe that God has designed every person for a rhythm of time alone and time with other people. God has called every believer to rest and recharge, and He's called every believer to reach out in love to others.

It seems fair to say that Jesus is the only perfectly balanced ambivert in the history of creation. In the gospels we see Him ministering to crowds (Mark 6:30-44; 8:1-10), and we see Him taking time alone to pray and recharge (Mark 1:35; 6:46). Was Jesus an introvert or extrovert? I think the answer is that God designed every human being who has ever lived–including God-incarnate–for a balance of pouring out to others and recharging in private.

God established a pattern of rest and work at creation. Jesus Himself engaged in personal recharge, as well as public ministry, and He established a pattern for His people to pursue both rest and work.

It's not more holy to be either an introvert or extrovert. But every Christian should spend some time in personal rest, recreation, and worship, and every Christian should be actively pursuing ministry to others. The balance will be different for each person, as those made in God's image reflect different aspects of God's creative design in different proportions. And sometimes the balance for an individual will vary based on his/her stage in life.

Pray for wisdom to know how to engage in personal worship and proactive ministry to others. Was Jesus an introvert? Sometimes… Was Jesus an extrovert? Sometimes… Remember this as you minister to others and as you seek to help those around you know how to balance life and ministry. And remember this when you are tempted to judge those with a different balance of introvert/extrovert than God gave you!

Saying Goodbye

This evening, I read the letter below to our church family. I let the other pastors in our church know of God's leading this way in July. We would appreciate your prayers for God's guidance regarding our next steps. I am thankful to God for the opportunities that He has blessed us with as a result of our time at Hampton Park.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

It is hard to believe that we are in my sixth year of serving as a pastor at Hampton Park Baptist Church. It has been one of the great joys in my life to serve here and love and be loved by this flock. I thank God for the gifts that He has given this body and the way that you all have used those gifts to minister to Liz, our girls, and me.

I have known virtually no other church than Hampton Park. For the past 32 years, with the exception of a few months away for ministry at various times, I have attended and served in this local body, and I thank God for the influence of the members here in my life. This body has been incredibly generous and gracious to me and my family. Much of who I am today is a result of the ministry of people here. Thank you for your kindness. You wept with us when my dad died, and you rejoiced with us in the subsequent salvation of two of my brothers and more recently in the birth of our two daughters. Space does not permit me to recount all the grace you have shown us. I love you and will forever be deeply indebted to you.

Through a variety of circumstances, the Lord has made it evident to Liz and me that He is moving us on from Hampton Park to pursue ministry elsewhere. We are praying for the growth and continued ministry of this body, and it will always remain dear to our hearts. We greatly desire your prayers for the days ahead, and you certainly have ours.

May God's grace and peace guide you as you seek the health of this body for His glory.

Love your brother in Christ,

Joshua

 

Pursuing Peace without Man-Pleasing

How do we live at peace with everyone, without getting into man-pleasing?

  • Recognize that pleasing God is your most important priority. This takes the pressure off of other relationships.
  • Enjoy the fact that you will ultimately be judged by God, not men. But let this put the fear of God into you too. Romans 12:19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”
  • Remember that you aren't the ultimate judge of others and that your conscience or judgment could be wrong.
  • Recognize that God has established a natural hierarchy of relationships for you (spouse, children, immediate family, church, friends, etc.).
  • Remember that truly loving others means that you are opposed to anything that would threaten their good. This means you don't agree to things that are against God's revealed will, against God's design, or against your conscience.
  • Seek to have a pleasant disposition that is gracious toward others. When you disagree, don't do it in a way that stirs up unnecessary strife. We've all been around people who agree with us in a way that makes us want to distance ourselves from them.
  • When you disagree, agree to disagree. Do this in a way that recognizes the disagreement clearly (don't give a false impression) but charitably (speaking the truth in love).
  • Be quick to forgive. Colossians 3:13 Bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.

 

When Finding Peace Is a Battle

What do we do when it feels like we're trusting God, yet we still feel like we don't have peace? Our anchor for peace is what is taught in Isaiah 26:3-4 and elsewhere: subjective peace requires reliance on God. But what happens when we are asking God for faith to rest in Him, and we still don't seem to be enjoying peace? What do you do when the battle for peace doesn't seem to work?

First, we must never lose our anchor.

We often take our eyes off of God and focus them on our problems. This results in frustration and turmoil. God, our Everlasting Rock, hasn't changed, but our thinking is more informed by our circumstances than our relationship with God. So, look to Jesus, run to God in faith, asking Him for grace to trust Him and peace in the midst of difficult circumstances.

Second, we must never blame our circumstances.

Circumstances are not an excuse for our failure to trust God. It is my fault because I fail to trust God. Sin around us cannot be an excuse for our lack of peace. Think about Paul and Silas in the jail at Philippi. Their circumstances couldn't have been much worse, yet they were singing hymns to God. What is your response when you face difficult circumstances? Do you rest in God, or do you take your eyes off of the Savior?

So … we can't lose our anchor or blame our circumstances. But living at peace with others in this world still requires great wisdom. It is possible to enjoy peace with God, yet not enjoy peace with all men. What do we do at those times?

Romans 12:18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

Paul teaches believers that we should pursue peace with everyone with great effort. The point is that being at peace with others requires intentional focus. As much as it up to us, we ought to be at peace with others.

What the New Testament says here, it also says elsewhere. Consider the following passages:

  • Romans 14:19 So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.
    • Paul is referring to something more than a casual nod of the head. He means that having peace with others requires intentional focused effort.
  • Ephesians 4:1-3 1 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
    • The eagerness in verse 3 has the idea of expending every effort. We should exercise ourselves toward the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. We should give our best effort and be diligent in the pursuit of peace.
  • Hebrews 12:14 Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.
    • “Strive” is the same word for “pursue” in Romans 14:19. It is used negatively to speak of persecution–in other words, persecutors, pursue or chase after believers. We should chase after peace with great zeal.

How do we live at peace with everyone, without getting into man-pleasing? We'll consider that question in the next post.