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Posts Tagged ‘grace’


This article was written in response to an opinion piece published in The Washington Post on October 16th, 2017, titled, “The religious right carries its golden calf into Steve Bannon’s battles,” by Michael Gerson.

I’m not a fan nor a detractor from Steve Bannon – I don’t know him very well. That said, I felt sad reading so much labeling and name-calling within an article that was purportedly critical of “dehumanizing” people or groups of people. I also failed to observe in the accompanying video any of the vile attacks or racially/ethnically divisive comments the article claimed had occurred – maybe they exist, maybe not. There were plenty of accusatory statements toward Bannon, the President and others, however, without supporting evidence or even bibliographical references. But the article is an opinion piece, so that’s not required (though it might have added legitimacy to the author’s contention). In any case, it got me thinking about how we as followers of Jesus respond to events and to the world’s perspective on them.

I honestly believe we Christians err when we look for the world’s political systems to perfectly or even satisfactorily reflect God’s word. When two believers in Jesus can disagree on how to interpret a portion of God’s word, can we honestly anticipate worldly political players to be more unified? I’m not saying the disagreements don’t matter – they do, and they require wisdom and guidance to help both perspectives grow into unity.  But it isn’t realistic to expect a consistently godly outcome in the contentious, complex and worldly environment of politics. We Christians can, however, offer clarity and wisdom as we are led by the Holy Spirit.

Regardless of which “side” is speaking or what issue is at hand, alarms go off anytime I encounter derogatory categorization of whole collections of people paired with extreme conclusions, particularly when directed at my Christian family (examples from this article include: “[Christians allying] their faith with bias and exclusion,”, “These conservatives have chosen [idolatry] over faith”). How could anyone so grossly suppose to know the hearts of so many they are not in relationship with, indeed have never met? This is a telltale signal that offense and fear are driving the message rather than prayer, wisdom, the Holy Spirit, godly counsel and God’s word. Offense and fear are the seeds from which hatred and violent aggression sprout. To borrow the language of the article, to ally ourselves and be comfortable embracing such superficial, putative invective, we Christians do indeed influence how many see Christianity, even producing distaste and confusion in those observing us, to the detriment of what we state is our intent toward those who live apart from Jesus.

Less about whether to discuss and debate around these difficult topics, I believe the issue is more how we prepare before jumping in. So, my response to provocative, poisonous sparks, in others as well as myself, is to seek to douse them and recognize my own susceptibility to folly. All of us, no matter the issue or position we choose, are vulnerable to express foolish words and actions. Stop, breathe, pray, re-enter God’s word and seek to re-assume the perspective of Jesus: All those bearing the image of God have value regardless of the validity of their argument. They are his creations and he has intention toward them that is permeated with mercy and grace.  Is that the image I am presenting as his child, his ambassador? (2 Cor. 5:20)  Each of us has a voice, a presence we bring into every encounter with others.  What is mine saying about Jesus?

We are certainly called to engage and even oppose those straying or promoting error, but we oppose them with Christ’s very character and spirit at the forefront; not in order to win the argument or conquer them but to win their hearts and help bring them to repentance. (Mt. 18:14-15) Remember, God does not desire for any of his image-bearers to be lost. This turning is accomplished by the Holy Spirit engaging their condition through our relationship and our testimony, not by attack and humiliation. Our only foundation in this role is God’s word, and if we’re not spending time in it ourselves, we can harm others while seeking to help them. We are also called to oppose false prophets, those captive to deceit, in order to defend the Body of Christ and keep the poison out while still praying and longing for the repentance and restoration of the captive. What is the common theme?  We must only confront those in error because we love them as Jesus loves them, and like him, we long for their freedom.

God is not casual or indifferent. He is passionately working on all people all the time, driving us to repentance, calling us to reject illusion and surrender to truth, pleading with us to stop fighting our maker, the one who is willing to rescue us. When responding publicly to statements or arguments, especially political ones in our current times, we must routinely test our own motives and attitudes. When I encounter an individual whose behavior or message disturbs me, stirring up discomfort, disdain or contempt, I begin asking questions. Do I feel God’s love for this person? Am I engaging them as if they matter? Am I listening more than I speak, working to discover their story and their struggles? Am I offering them hope, encouragement, joy? I believe this is the posture Jesus exemplified and encourages us to seek, and their presence or absence is indicative of our own spiritual health. If we find ourselves instead despising, avoiding, desiring harm toward those we oppose, that is a warning.  It’s time to remove ourselves from the conflict and take some time to remember the first and greatest command and redirect the powerful passion in our hearts back toward the heart of God.

2 Timothy 2: 23-26
“Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.”

Scripture References and Quotations taken from
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

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Good times can be hard to release.

 

When crisis is absent, relationships are in sync, my health is good and finances are balanced, I can unconsciously decide to try to preserve that moment, that state.  Knowing God is a given, no maintenance required, but those pleasures must be protected.  So, even as I move away from the Lord, ironically I still expect, even feel entitled to, the pleasure and peace I enjoyed while with him.  While the possibility of stress and fear of discordant outcomes doesn’t seem significant in his presence, once I make my move, that perspective is quickly dispersed and the pressure begins building.

 

The truth is, beyond being futile, gripping my present so tightly harms my future.  If I resist God’s good work to grow me up in favor of staying put, I’ve again wrenched back control from his perfect will and begun managing the elements of my life to form my vision of a good future.  From his endless affection, Father still gives wonderful gifts to me, but I tend toward dismissing their power; enjoying the benefit but ignoring the source.  I suppose that could be a decent seven-word summary of idolatry.  I’d love to say I recognize what’s happening right away and quickly turn back, but it is only when I have traveled a few miles and been sufficiently disturbed by hazards that I realize the error – the repeated error – I’ve committed.  Somewhere along the way, those gifts became my reason and purpose.  With my smiling approval, they became my gods.

 

As my eyes shed their fog, shame and embarrassment pang; my foolishness is distressingly familiar, and I stare, incredulous that I could again voluntarily choose blindness.  Yet even this he redeems!  As I return to him much like the wayward son in Luke 15:17-20, understanding sprouts through the soil of my repentance.  I rediscover his heart and his character as he hugs me tightly, and after a terrible, lost moment, I hug him back.  He suffocates my fear with his love.  The healing from the new wounds will take longer, I know, but I feel no doubt it will come.

 

After several trips through this craggy trail of godless striving I’ve begun to see his intent.  God will always allow our brash interpretations and headstrong wills to take us away from his heart into struggle and suffering and pain – not to punish us, but rather to bring repentance, restoration and peace through letting reality burn away the dross of our foolishness.  And despite apprehension of the experience, I am grateful.  And I’m awed by the agonizing, deliberate restraint of a father who can remove the suffering, but for our sake does not, because he knows it will not last forever, that we will emerge more alive than ever before.  So he suffers with his children through the inevitable shock, accusations and desperate pleading until we collapse into his arms, finally surrendered.  He never takes offense or throws up his hands in exasperation.  His grace, the beautiful, pure grace of the only complete father for his children, never runs out.

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