Social Issues and the Christ-follower

It’s no secret to anyone that our nation is on the verge of some major turbulence at this moment. Issues are climaxing everywhere simultaneously. In early April, Target boldly stood beside the transgender community, creating a chaotic cloud of hateful arguments. Throughout May and continuing to rise, we’ve been watching the political race of two presidential candidates that has left many Americans uneasy at best. A couple of weeks ago, we’ve learned of the deaths of two black men at the hands of two white cops and then the murder of five white cops in Dallas at the hand of a black man. And as if this wasn’t enough turmoil, the recent murder of three more cops in Baton Rouge a couple of days ago has our heads spinning.

All of these events have been contributing to a climate of hate and anger. Most recently we’ve seen riots – “nonviolent” protests turned violent. And frankly, most of me wants to hide. My gut reaction is to confine myself in my little corner of the earth and mind my own business.

But this nagging question inside me resounds, “Is that right?” In other words, “is that what my Jesus would have for me to do?”

Here’s the thing; I don’t think I’m alone in that thinking. I would wager to say that many Christ-followers find themselves thinking that these issues don’t directly affect them, and therefore, they can continue to live in their little canopied safe-houses, intentionally choosing to close their eyes to the hatred and discouragement, the fear and anger around them as they can continue to live theirs sweet, suburban, middle class, American dream. {Shoot, I’ll even add that Netflix and other such streaming mediums have allowed us to avoid the news all together if we so choose.}

These words are as much of a rebuke from the Holy Spirit to me as they may be to you. But here is what I’m learning through my processing: as followers of Jesus Christ, we are to carry the gospel –  God’s only son, Jesus Christ, came to this earth, lived perfectly, suffered and died for our sins, rose on the third day to sit at the right hand of the Father and daily make intercession for us on this earth until he returns to take his followers home with him to eternal community with him, no longer prey to the sin and suffering and evil of this world – THIS GOSPEL is what we’re to deliver to a world that is hurting and in need. And how are we to do that if we close our eyes to others’ pain? How are we to minister in the confusion if we’d rather bask in ignorance?

When Target publicly announced  their position to stand beside the transgender community, using the word inclusivity, as if every other approach is exclusive, I was angered. I felt misunderstood and devalued by the very definition of inclusion they have been and will continue to propagate as truth. Consequently, I entered into the arena of discussion, posting something on my Facebook site, thinking little of the wording I had chosen. I quickly found myself in a discussion with a past student who opposed my view. I wasn’t sorry for my post. But there was a nagging part of me that said in the back of my mind, “I should have just stayed out of it. My life would have been more peaceful. And do I really think that others will shift their perspective because of what I have to say?”

It was during this time that I sought counsel from my very wise and loving dad. {Yes, I’m blessed to have one of those on this earth, although my own dad was not blessed with the same in his dad. This is proof that it matters we get a little messy and share Jesus with others in their hurts or peace. He writes our stories. And if that sweet old lady in Delaware, Ohio, hadn’t shared the gospel with my dad, life would look much different now.} During my discussion with my dad, he highlighted a quintessential error in thought that was keeping me weighed down in my response to this student, reminding me, “Meghann, it is not your job to change lives. It is your job to be a witness to the Truth of the Word of God. What the Lord does with that from there is His job. Don’t put that weight on your shoulders.” (Or something along those lines…)

I was tenderly rebuked. My over-concern with what to say was a smoke signal that helped me to identify two primary idols keeping me from sharing Jesus. First, I desire comfort and ease. Because this has found a place of idolatry in my heart, I’d rather sit back and try to make things as happy as possible rather than stir the pot for the sake of Jesus. Second, I desire approval of man. Because this has found a place of idolatry in my heart, I don’t speak the truth in love as often as I should. Because of these two idols, I was hearing two lies that were and continue to tempt me NOT to speak: First, “if I continue in this discussion, I could really make things uncomfortable for me and others,” and second, “if I continue in this discussion I may not know exactly what to say, and this other kid could look smarter than me/think less of me.” Man, that’s yucky, but it feels good to get that out!

Here’s the beauty of confessing our sins to Jesus: when we let go of these idols we’ve erected above the goal of making Jesus’ name famous through ALL circumstances, social issues included, we are FREE to be a witness to the gospel of Truth! Praise Jesus for his grace. Praise Jesus that despite my shortcomings or your own, we are free to wake up to fresh mercies each day!

So should we as Christians be speaking Truth into the social issues of our day? The answer at which I’ve arrived is yes, absolutely! Here’s why:

  1. I firmly believe that we, like Esther and all throughout history, have been placed into this specific time and place in history “for such a time as this.” But if we choose to sit idly by and make it not our issue, we do not engage in what Jesus has called us to do – to go and make disciples. You can’t make disciples when you don’t care about people’s hurts and concerns.
  2. Speaking Truth into these situations forces us to search out the Truth in the Word of God. This does two primary things: it helps us to further understand the Word of God as it applies to today, and it helps us to more deeply root our faith in God’s Word, causing us to take more ownership of our personal relationships with Christ.
  3. We reap what we sow. Galatians 6:7-8: “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” We must therefore ask ourselves if we’re choosing to engage in our culture, even when we feel we have nothing masterful to say, to build into the Lord and His kingdom or if we’re choosing to duck our heads and “stay safe”  in this {ironically} very unsafe, unpredictable world. If we’re sowing to our own safety and comfort or even apathy and unconcern, I’m not sure exactly what that will bring, but I’m certain it isn’t advancing the gospel. And then we may as well be like the servant who hid his talent, fearful of what would come if he did something with it. {Side note: THIS is why I think it’s so vital for us to overcome sinful fear. It hampers us from the fulfilling of the Great Commission in our lives.}

I think it’s also vital for me to make a few disclaimers here.

  1. Speaking Truth into this culture does NOT look like an ugly argument to win others to our side. It does NOT look like us accusing others and harming them with vitriolic language for the purpose of serving our own pride and desire to win. Remember, we are called to be witnesses across this earth for the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 1:8). Once we have been a witness to the love and Truth of the gospel of Jesus, we don’t have to force others to say, “I agree with you.” We can continue to pursue others, pray for them, extend love and grace to them, but we don’t have to win the argument.
  2. This cannot be all Truth or all Love. Quite frankly, this tension is extremely difficult for me to understand. I’ve heard it said, and I agree, that each of us has a bent one direction or the other. But we MUST fight to be balanced. To love others at the cost of the Truth is not love at all. To share the Truth without extending grace and love is void of the essence of who Jesus was.
  3. We don’t have to know what to say or say it in a largely public forum. I process things well via a blog, and I have a heart to reach more people with what the Lord is teaching me. But this is not the ONLY place where I should be focusing my efforts. I have family and neighbors and friends and acquaintances around me that need to hear the Truth of God’s Word spoken in love too. Likewise, you may have more of a heart for those local to you. I think the key is in us not allowing fear to stop us from sharing in whatever medium the Lord has asked of us. If I can be gut honest, it’s more difficult for me to share with people close to me than it is for me to write a largely public blog post. But that responsibility is on each of us to be a witness wherever we go. And for those moments when we totally miss it or think we’ve messed up: two thoughts – first, God is sovereign – even in our mess-ups, and second, there is grace for every moment.

Here’s where I’ll end this rather long post. We must care. We must care about the state of our nation, especially when we feel like not caring. We must care for those around us. We must engage this culture because this is where the Lord has us. This is our time in God’s story. Let’s not live for control over our lives but rather learn daily to walk by faith as we surrender to God and trust Him to provide through the Holy Spirit what it is we are to say and do in these times.

 

 

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Faithless people in the hands of a Faithful God

This morning as I read through the Word of God, in His graciousness, He has led me to Zephaniah 3:14-20: “Israel’s Joy and Restoration.” I’m reminded through these words that I’ll soon type out for you to see as well that our Father is ever faithful. He does all in His own perfect timing, and that may not look like our timing at all. But He never breaks a promise. And so I can read the words of Zephaniah 3:14-20 and rejoice in the hope of the promise that will come to pass.

Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion;
shout, O Israel!
Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
O daughter of Jerusalem!
The Lord has taken away the judgments against you;
he has cleared away your enemies.
The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst;
you shall never again fear evil.
On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:
“Fear not, O Zion;
let not your hands grow weak.
The Lord your God is in your midst,
a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing.
I will gather those of you who mourn for the festival,
so that you will no longer suffer reproach.
Behold, at that time I will deal
with all your oppressors.
And I will save the lame
and gather the outcast,
and I will change their shame into praise
and renown in all the earth.
At that time I will bring you in,
at that time when I gather you together;
for I will make you renowned and praised
among all the peoples of the earth,
when I restore your fortunes
before your eyes,” says the Lord.

Our God is good. Our God is entirely sovereign. Our God is entirely wise. Our God is entirely loving. Our God can be trusted – even when all is falling apart in this world around us. Our God made beauty and joy and goodness abound in the gifts we have in the here and now (so good) and the promises that there will be a day when all that was lost will be restored, none will experience sadness any longer, and we will no longer fear evil. Praise Jesus!

Abiding in Chaos – the Fight for Freedom

I’ve been wrestling for quite some time with this notion of freedom in Christ. What does it look like? Is it tangible? Can I see evidence of that in my life? Does it mean that I’m always smiling and kind? Does it mean that I lose some element of my struggle – my temptations, my fears, my doubts, etc? Does it mean that life somehow gets easier – less weighty? How do we have the abundant life of John 10:10 while still walking through the unpredictable – most of the times mundane, more times very joyful, and occasionally very sorrowful – moments of life?

As I’ve wrestled, my incorrect definitions of this freedom have caused me frustration time and time again. Perhaps you’ve found yourself here too.

Early on in this journey, I defined freedom in Christ as a release from the sins that so easily entangled us – and not just a release but perhaps even a decrease in temptation – an ability on my part to see a lessening of sin inside of me. (I giggle as I look back on this definition I had contrived…a touch of realism mixed with mostly dreams of the future grace to be extended to us.) You can easily see why I have ended up frustrated so often.

It was in the midst of that prior definition that I remembered we’re living in the time of the “not yet.” In other words, Jesus has yet to return and eradicate evil. And so as I have continued to search for this concept, by the grace, I have found myself leaning into the Lord – reading more from His Word, soaking in more truth. As Scripture states in Philippians 1:6, it is Christ who will finish the good work that he began in me – not me. This good work can’t be accomplished without walking through the yucky around and within me and watching the Lord remain faithful to His promises through it all.

I’ve been reading a short devotional most mornings entitled “Peace – Life in the Spirit” written by the great mind of Oswald Chambers (on whose words I frequently have to pause and think quite hard to understand). Anyhow, in one of my recent readings, I found myself challenged by one word in particular in Chambers’ thoughts – abide. Take a look at what he has to say.

After being born again a man experiences peace, but it is a peace maintained at the point of war. The wrong disposition is no longer in the ascendant, but it is there, and the man knows it. He is conscious of an altering experience, sometimes he is in ecstasy, sometimes in the dumps; there is no stability, no real spiritual triumph. To take this as the experience of full salvation is to prove God not justified in the Atonement.

(i.e. – to assume that freedom in Christ is the absence of struggle is to prove God not justified in the Atonement.)

To be a believer in Jesus Christ means realizing that what Jesus said to Thomas is true: “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Jesus is not the road we leave behind as we travel, but the Way itself. By believing, we enter into that rest of peace, holiness, and eternal life because we are abiding in Him.

The Spirit seemed to highlight the final words of that devotional thought for me: “by believing, we enter into that rest of peace, holiness, and eternal life because we are abiding in Him.” Scripture has much to say about abiding in the Lord. Take a look at just a few of the passages I found.

Psalm 91:1 “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.”

John 6:56 “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.”

John 8:31 “So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed Him, ‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples.'”

1 John 3:24 “Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.”

This concept of abiding in the Lord is a closeness – an obedience – a trust in Him. We believe the words of the psalmist in verses 9-10 of Psalm 139: “If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.”

Hidden in these truths is the secret to the freedom in Christ – the abundant life. It is not the absence of temptation. It’s the not the absence of sin and struggle and fear and loneliness and doubt. It’s not confining ourselves within safe zones so that we’re never afraid or weakened or alarmed by what is around us (although sheer wisdom in where we place ourselves is always a good idea). It’s walking through each of the unknown places of life looking forward to the journey of increasingly learning to abide in Jesus – in the Word – in what God says about us – not about what this life is shouting at us in each stage, as it will continue to do.

This past Sunday, as Pastor Mike spoke on the intended, contextual meaning of Jeremiah 29:11, the sermon’s big idea spoke such truth into the chaotic times in which we currently find ourselves. “In the middle of painful circumstances {or unknown situations, or big changes, or whatever unsettles you}, demonstrate your hope in God by growing where He has planted you.” In other words, I think we could say, abide in Christ. Abide in His Word daily. Abide in growing a trusting relationship with Him through prayer. Abide in and believe the truth of His Word over whatever else combats for our allegiance. And in this is there freedom in this life. In this can we find the abundant life in the here and now as we anticipate the evil-free, sin-free, perfect life that we are promised at the return of Christ. Praise the Lord!

Let’s remember this wonderful truth as we face the chaos of the world around us. As Pastor Mike said, let us build homes, plant gardens, multiply our families, pray for our land, and display the love of Jesus Christ to all around us here in this land. Through abiding in Christ in the middle of the chaos, we CAN bloom where we’re planted. This is graciousness to us.