Monday, September 26, 2016
That was the New York Times headline that led my news feed yesterday. The article predicted the possibility of as many as 100 million viewers--20 million more than the 1980 debate between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan that has thus far held the record for the most viewers. 83 percent of registered voters are likely to watch. But many of the reasons behind these predictions have little to do with issues affecting our nation or the expectation of high-minded debate.
And the NYT article didn't hide that fact, stating clearly that "the uniquely uncivil presidential campaign is about to produce one of the biggest civic gatherings in decades. . . .many may tune in merely for the spectacle." Comparing this debate to the Ali-Frazier fight, former talk-show host Dick Cavett stated the painfully obvious; "There's possible drama and fireworks and insults and horror and disaster and potential enlightenment. It would attract anybody."
In short, most people aren't tuning in to be educated on substantive issues. Most will be watching hoping for a train wreck. And in the event of a train wreck, expect lots of pictures. And tweets. And Facebook statuses. And further polarization, contention, and all-around nastiness.
With that looming context in view, it might do Christians well to remember Paul's words: "Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification, according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. (Ephesians 4:29)
There are times when followers of Jesus should engage, and engage fully in cultural conversation. This is especially true when the principles of the Kingdom dictate a higher and more worthy approach than what we hear and the manner in which we hear it. There are other times, when the conversation is set up in such a way as to make it unredeemable, when Christians should just walk away and "take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness." (Ephesians 5:11)
I'm not saying a Christian shouldn't watch tonight's debate. But I am suggesting that our best response to anything said tonight might just be silence. Rick Warren has well-stated that the western church has successfully severed the hands and feet of Christ so that all that is left is a big mouth.
So if I may be so bold, let me make a simple suggestion to any Christ-follower reading these words ahead of tonight's debate. When it comes to your use of social media, just stay quiet tonight.
I think this is a good idea for three reasons.
Division is not our business. Inevitably, there will be someone who responds to this with "but TRUTH divides!" And that's true. But anyone who believes either of these candidates deals in "truth" is living in a dreamworld.
The kind of polarization we have witnessed in recent months--some of which has actually escalated into actual physical violence--is simply antiChrist. Followers of Jesus may disagree with each other--even strongly so--about how to solve a problem. But in the end, our commitment under the Lordship of Jesus should be to the solution, not to attacking those with whom we disagree. Can we all be honest enough to admit that tonight's "debate" isn't going to be about issues so much as personalities? Let's not contribute to the national division we are experiencing by throwing our own vitriolic, social media-empowered gasoline on that already-raging fire.
We aren't going to change anyone's mind. Currently, less than 8 percent of the electorate is "undecided." And even if that number was larger, the chances of changing someone's mind with a Facebook post is slim. The greater chance is that you lose a friend, or lose your testimony. Tonight, refuse to be part of the social media "echo chamber" that in the end, solves nothing and only deepens the division.
We may throw away greater opportunities. I'm the pastor of a church filled with people who will vote for Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, Gary Johnson, Evan McMullin, and Jill Stein. (a few in our congregation have told me they are writing in "Mickey Mouse" as a protest vote, but I digress.) Each has different reasons for supporting their chosen candidate, and none at this point in the election wants to hear their brothers or sisters say "how can a Christian vote for THAT person?!"
Let's be honest. That question could legitimately be asked of ANY of these candidates for various reasons. But when we take to social media with those opinions, we are--more often than we realize--throwing away greater opportunities for unity with each other, and walk in relationship to each other. If someone you know perceives that you think they are "stupid" or "ungodly" or "unenlightened" or in any other way less than you because of a social media statement about this debate, you may very well lose any further opportunity to engage with them about issues far more important than this temporary kingdom in which we find ourselves.
This is especially true for church leaders. Pastors, elders, deacons, small group leaders, Sunday School teachers and others who lead need to realize that if your social media presence causes you to be seen as a shill for one candidate or one party, your influence in the body of Christ will be greatly diminished--perhaps deservingly so. You have a much higher calling that should not be wasted on this nonsense.
In 1 Corinthians 3, Paul compares his ministry to that of a "master builder." In the end, he states that we will all stand in front of Jesus, and "each one's work will become manifest." (3:13) In Paul's mind, there are two kinds of builders; those who build with "gold, silver, and precious stones," and those who build with "wood, hay and stubble." At the end of the age, he tells us that the first group will be rewarded, and the second will have their work burned up. Because in the end, it never truly amounted to anything.
As I observe how tonight's presidential debate has been set up, advertised, publicized, I see a lot of wood, hay and stubble. Should you watch? That's up to you. Should you vote? I believe you should. Should you watch waiting for the right moment to pounce on the one you want to lose? I'm pretty sure that kind of activity on social media won't amount to anything.
Tomorrow will be a new day. I expect, given what has been predicted, that a blanket of negativity and caustic rhetoric will have been thrown over our national discourse once again. That will be our opportunity to shine a unifying, clarifying light. That will be our opportunity to truly face our national division in a more effective way.
But tonight, maybe we should just keep our mouths shut.
It doesn't have to be fancy or elaborate. Four legs and a top. That's all you need. Some of the most life-changing, world-altering encounters and conversations have transpired around a simple table.
The table is powerful.
Yesterday, we continued our series "A Different Kind of Life" by talking about hospitality. For many people, hospitality is a struggle. For one thing, genuine, Biblically-defined hospitality always involves the love of strangers, and even enemies. But this concept is also a struggle because in our culture, we too often confuse "hospitality" with "entertainment." The real question of hospitality isn't whether the table linens match or if the event schedule is off. Want to know if you are truly hospitable? Ask yourself one simple question:
Do people feel welcome and wanted when they are in your company?
That's it! Are people happy to be around you? In your presence? In your home?
Another way of asking it is this: What do people experience at your table? As followers of Jesus, nothing embodies this call to love and serve others more than a story about a wedding feast in John 2. And when we look at this story and the miracle it contains, we see four things hospitality does.
Hospitality fosters community. Yesterday, we saw that Jesus was invited to a wedding at Cana. This means someone at the party knew him, and liked Him! That is the kind of community that leads to people finding Jesus. No matter how doctrinally sound you are, or how much of the Bible you have memorized, you will never get to truly share your faith with anybody if they don't like you.
But when others feel at ease in your presence, and enjoy your company, powerful spiritual conversations can occur! When you focus on welcoming others and loving them no matter who they are; when you focus on their happiness and comfort--you are creating the very kind of community that can open those doors to share Christ.
Hospitality serves a need. For us, running out of wine (or anything else for that matter) isn't such a big deal. You head around the corner and you pick more up. But in the 1st century, when you're out, you're out! And when you're out at a Jewish wedding, its humiliating.
In Jewish thought, wine is always associated with joy. The Rabbis even had a saying that "without wine there is no joy." And out of this embarrassing crisis John paints a deep, spiritual lesson for us. Apart from Jesus, there can be joy in your marriage, or in a wedding or other celebration. But good times that are nothing more than good times will eventually run out. If we want unlimited joy, we need the presence and power of Jesus. And that is just what we witness in this story. The deepest need at this party could only be met by Jesus. Likewise, our deepest needs, and those of our neighbors, can only be met by the presence and power of Jesus.
Hospitality brings joy to others. When you take the facts of this story into account and do the math, you come to the conclusion that Jesus miraculously produced between 110 and 180 gallons of wine. That's a lot of wine! And that's the point; that the problem Jesus is solving is a shortage of something associated with joy and hospitality, and it is His presence that provides a joy and gladness of welcoming that will never, ever run out.
When we demonstrate Christ-centered hospitality toward others, both the quality and quantity of joy goes up. They have never felt more loved, more welcomed, or more valued then they do when they are in your presence.
Hospitality mirrors the character of God. This entire scenario did what any genuine, Christ-centered demonstration of hospitality should do: it brought great glory to Jesus.
Again, the table is a powerful thing, especially when those tending that table are followers of Jesus. Because when you and I put our focus on another--when we welcome the stranger to our table--we are doing what Jesus did when He invited us to commune with Him. Remember, we were strangers to His table, and had no business sitting at His table. But he invited us anyway, just as he invited Zacchaeus, the tax cheat, to dine with him and it changed that man's life, and he paid back everything he had stolen with interest! (Luke 19:1-10) Being hospitable mirrors God's character, and it can produce miraculous results.
What about you? Who is your Zacchaeus? Who is that person at work? At school? Who is that person in your community that no one wants to be around? Who is that group that is held at arms' length that YOU need to be rubbing shoulders with? Make the time to get out of the "holy huddle" with your Christian friends, and welcome a stranger. Focus on the other. And watch the power of the table as you mirror the character of God by bringing unlimited joy to the lives of others!
Monday, September 19, 2016
Now, when you ask someone to define "holiness" you get all sorts of answers. Growing up in a conservative small town in the south, I was taught that this was always associated with certain activities that one should avoid. In other words, in addition to following Jesus I should never use tobacco, drink alcohol, or vote for a Democrat. (no kidding!)
Of course, the problem with "lists" of forbidden behaviors is that they really don't produce the kind of life Jesus calls us to. While there may be wisdom in avoiding activities that could be enslaving to the body and soul, even those who meet those standards often find themselves thinking the same way, having the same worries and concerns, and possessing the same aspirations as others. In short, when others look at our lives, they often see little noticeable difference.
That raises a question: What is this "different kind of life" that we are called to? Well, that kind of life involves several things, and we began this series yesterday by emphasizing that this kind of life should be "questionable." Our lives should be lived in such a manner as to cause others to ask, "who ARE you?!"
In Paul's letter to the Colossians, we get a glimpse of what this looks like. When we looked at Chapter 4 yesterday, we saw a contrast between what he prayed for them as opposed to what he asked them to pray for him.
Be Vigilant. Paul asked the church to be persistent in their prayers, and to pray fully aware of their circumstances. When we read these requests, it should cause us to ask if we pray fully aware of what is transpiring in our neighborhood, our cul-de-sac, our community, and our world.
One of our staff values is "Prayer is our Primary Strategy." In other words, prayer can't just be the "bookends" of a long meeting. We try to look at our agenda, and if that agenda could be discussed anywhere outside of the church if we just removed "prayer" from the beginning and end, its probably not an agenda that deserves the attention of God's people or their leaders.
How about you? Is prayer a regular and strategic part of your life? Your family's life? Vigilant prayer is informed, purposeful, personal, and as a result, far more powerful, and any truly "questionable" life starts with, ends with, and is permeated by it.
Be Bold. Paul further asks the church as they pray to ask for boldness on his part. It is obvious from this and other places in the Scripture that Paul was a gifted evangelist, and God tells us that He still gives the church those kinds of people today (Ephesians 4:11). These people have an extraordinary ability to share the message of Jesus with clarity and compel others to turn from their sins and put their faith in Christ.
This doesn't mean that ONLY gifted evangelists should share their faith. But it does mean that when it comes to these people, we should give them the room they need to exercise their gifts, encourage them, and pray for them often--that they would be BOLD!
But again, not everyone is gifted in this particular way. Ever feel as though the church was "squeezing you into a mold" you didn't fit? Some of the worst stories I've heard involving this were stories in which well-meaning church leaders suggested that everyone should be the bold, door-knocking, barrier-crossing evangelist. Are you one of those people? What if you aren't gifted in that way? How should you take responsibility for sharing your own faith?
In other words, "what about the rest of us?
Be Intentional. When Paul shifts his focus back to the church in verses 5 and 6, his tone changes. Rather than ask for them the same thing he asks them for, he prays that they will "walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time." Picture an airplane circling the airport--a regular stop in your routine. Paul says to the church, "I want those moments to be spent in the presence of outsiders."
If he were alive today, Paul might express it this way; "Get out of the 'Christian bubble!'" For too many followers of Jesus, we isolate ourselves from the very relationships Jesus intends that we establish. Maybe its because we don't want to be uncomfortable. Perhaps we think in doing so we are protecting our children from "corrupt influences." But regardless of our reasons, the Apostle is telling us here "rubbing elbows with non-Christians should be a regular and intentional part of your life!"
In short, be strategic with your life! And to be strategic and intentional, you have to walk among the world "in wisdom." Think about how you spend your life. Some of us have better health than others. Some of us have more money than others. But time is the great equalizer. Every one of us is given the same 168 hours per week. God expects us to use those hours strategically.
He also intends that we use that time in a way that is "questionable" to the world. So while gifted evangelists should seize every opportunity to proclaim the Gospel with boldness, most in the church will share their faith via answering the questions unbelievers are asking who are in relationship with them.
That raises another question: What are you doing, and how are you living that makes your life questionable? If we worry about the same things as our non-Christian neighbors, spend our money in the same way, act the same way, react the same way to problems--if our life looks EXACTLY the same as theirs, what would they ask us about?
Paul's challenge here is to live a freakishly weird life--the kind of life that causes others to ask "who ARE you?!"
By the 4th century, the Roman Empire, which at one time saw Christianity as an undesirable faith to be eliminated, had begun to see thousands of people following Jesus. That didn't happen because of mass evangelism, literature distribution, or a "hot band" on the stage. It happened because followers of Jesus fed the hungry, showed hospitality to strangers, tended the graves of the dead who were not part of their faith treated women as equals in a male-dominated world, and treated household slaves as brothers.
Rome came to faith in Jesus because no one in Rome had ever seen a life quite like this!
How about you? Are you living in a "questionable" marriage? Are you running a "questionable" business? That is our calling; living a questionable life to the glory of God!