Taking a Stand Against Our Culture

In a culture of self-realization, the Christian’s call is to renounce self; in the face of noise, silence is the preference; in a world of competition, the Christian’s declaration is that the winners will be the losers and the losers winners; in a culture whose economy is intent on consumption, the Christian insists on simplicity; in a culture structured by possessions, the insistence is upon detachment; in a culture intent on a high standard of living, the Christian insists upon a high standard of life; and at every point, the Christian exposes the emptiness of fullness for the sake of the gospel’s fullness of emptiness.

— W. Paul Jones, The Art of Spiritual Direction,
referenced in:  Reuben P. Job (2013-10-24). A Guide to Prayer for All Who Walk with God (Kindle Locations 2197-2203). Upper Room Books. Kindle Edition.

The title of this article may have led you to expect me to take a stand against abortion, homosexuality, divorce, or other manifestations of our fallen world.  But I contend that the reason we have such fierce battles to fight on those fronts today is that we’ve failed to fight the real cultural battles like those quoted above.

Where God’s people demonstrate the fullness of lives lived in God’s power, many outside the church are drawn into God’s Kingdom. But when we blend in to our culture to the point that you can’t tell us apart there’s nothing to attract them.

It’s not the sins of the world that I grieve over as much as I grieve and repent over the sins of God’s people as we’ve failed to stand out as different and demonstrate His love as He calls us to do.

We have our successes, and we should celebrate those with gratitude to God and to the faithful saints who withstand cultural pressures with the grace, love, and truth that represent God well. Where the contrast between self-centered lives and Christ-centered lives is strong, two things happen: 1) Spiritual battles, struggles, and persecutions rage; 2) God wins those battles as the world witnesses His people standing strong in their midst. No battle, no victory.

But the battle we’re called to isn’t a power-play against the evils of society, but to follow the lead of Jesus:

“…crushing dissent violently and cruelly was itself anathema to the life of Jesus, who had not killed to protect the truth but on the contrary had freely died for the truth. He might well have forced those who crucified him to accept his teachings. That would have seemed the practical path. But he did not. Instead, Jesus freely suffered and died, and in doing so, he illustrated as eloquently as may be done that naked power was not the most powerful thing in the universe. On the contrary, truth itself was more powerful.”

[1]Metaxas, Eric. Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World (loc. 7968). Viking. Kindle Edition.

May we not run from the battles but humbly engage so that our lives illustrate the power of God’s truth.


How To Handle Criticism

This tribute to Tim Keller is an excerpt from Scott Sauls’ new book, From Weakness to Strength: 8 Vulnerabilities That Can Bring Out the Best in Your Leadership.  Published by David C. Cook.

Finally, Tim could receive criticism, most of which came from the outside and was almost always unfair, and it would bring out the best in him rather than bringing out the worst in him. By his words and example, he taught me that getting defensive about criticism rarely, if ever, leads to healthy outcomes. He also taught me that our critics, including the ones who mischaracterize and falsely accuse us as pastors, can sometimes be God’s instruments to teach and humble us as persons. In Tim’s words from one of my favorite essays of his:

 First, you should look to see if there is a kernel of truth in even the most exaggerated and unfair broadsides…So even if the censure is partly or even largely mistaken, look for what you may indeed have done wrong. Perhaps you simply acted or spoke in a way that was not circumspect. Maybe the critic is partly right for the wrong reasons. Nevertheless, identify your own shortcomings, repent in your own heart before the Lord for what you can, and let that humble you. It will then be possible to learn from the criticism and stay gracious to the critic even if you have to disagree with what he or she has said.

If the criticism comes from someone who doesn’t know you at all [and often this is the case on the internet] it is possible that the criticism is completely unwarranted and profoundly mistaken. I am often pilloried not only for views I do have, but also even more often for views [and motives] that I do not hold at all. When that happens it is even easier to fall into a smugness and perhaps be tempted to laugh at how mistaken your critics are. “Pathetic…” you may be tempted to say. Don’t do it. Even if there is not the slightest kernel of truth in what the critic says, you should not mock them in your thoughts. First, remind yourself of examples of your own mistakes, foolishness, and cluelessness in the past, times in which you really got something wrong. Second, pray for the critic, that he or she grows in grace.

Bless Those Who Persecute You…

A man’s evil toward you will have passed away but your good thoughts about him will remain.  If good thoughts do not arise spontaneously in you, will to have them even though your heart still harbors resentment or hatred.

Wurmbrand, Richard. 100 Prison Meditations: Cries of Truth from Behind the Iron Curtain
(Kindle Locations 1324-1326). Living Sacrifice Book Company. Kindle Edition.

Peace Without Understanding

A sufferer once came to a pastor and asked him many questions. The pastor answered, “Kneel here in church and ask Jesus for the answers.” The man replied, “Do you really think I will hear a voice from heaven?” “No,” said the pastor, “but by keeping quiet in prayer for several hours before God, you will realize that you can go along without answers to all your problems. This would have been Jesus’ answer and it will quiet you.” You do not need more than His peace, which passes all understanding. You do not need both peace and understanding, for understanding presupposes qualifications that most of us do not have.

Wurmbrand, Richard. 100 Prison Meditations: Cries of Truth from Behind the Iron Curtain
(Kindle Locations 143-148). Living Sacrifice Book Company. Kindle Edition.

Loving the Unlovable

One way of understanding what love is and what it means to love is to say that to love something is to see it as we think God would see it— rather than as we, fallen human beings, are inclined to see it. To love something is to see in it the hope and the promise that are in it, which our cynical, tired selves cannot see but which by God’s grace we can see. We do not fail to see the sins and failings, but we also see past them to the hope and the promise. Seeing the sins and failings is therefore not final and fatalistic. We see them but we see beyond them to the possibilities of goodness and forgiveness and redemption. We recognize that “the story’s not over.” We see the hope on the other side of where we are.
So when God in the Bible tells us that we are to love our enemies, he is not telling us to love what is evil, or to love the evil in our enemies. He is telling us to love what is beyond that, to love the goodness in them that he sees and that he put there. He is telling us that if we love that good thing, it will grow. If we look at that— via the “better angels of our nature”— we will feed it and thereby also starve what is evil. In other words, what we love we change toward the good— by loving it. That is the only path forward, if we care about what is good. We must choose what we look at; and we must choose what we look beyond. But if our focus is on what is ugly and evil and dark, we will strangely strengthen the ugly and evil and dark.

Metaxas, Eric. If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty (pp. 230-231). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Doing Battle God’s Way

As our American culture grows less and less “Christian-like”, it’s important for those who serve God to remember that we are called to be soldiers in a spiritual battle. But let’s not make the mistake of thinking that spiritual battles are won the same way human battles are.

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.

2 Timothy 2:24-26 (ESV)

…not be quarrelsome…patiently enduring evil…correcting opponents with gentleness…I don’t remember reading these tactics in The Art of War. But I also don’t always see them in the behaviors of those fighting for the cause of Christ.

Russell Moore’s book, Onward: Engaging the Culture Without Losing the Gospel, is insightful:

The Spirit bears fruit in our lives, as Jesus lives out his life through us. This fruit consists of kindness and gentleness. This is not a break from the fighting. This is how we fight.1

The Scriptures command us to be gentle and kind to unbelievers, not because we are not at war, but because we are not at war with them.2

How easy it is to forget that those who don’t believe in Christ, who have cultural values different than ours, who behave in ways that offend us, are not the enemy: They are victims of our enemy. They’re the ones we’re sent in to fight for — not with.

If we are too afraid of seeming inordinately Pentecostal to talk about the devil, we will find ourselves declaring war against mere concepts, like “evil” or “sin”. When we don’t oppose demons we demonize opponents.3

Moore describes Jesus as a “gentle steamroller”, exposing wrong but seeking to save, not to condemn.

Jesus is harsh with those who claim God’s authority and use it to twist revelation and to condemn. But he is gentle to those who are “sheep without a shepherd”. Too often, we do the exact reverse.4

Kindness does not avoid conflict; kindness engages conflict, but with a goal of reconciliation.5

Sometimes we’re so busy trying to prove we’re right and get “Amens” from our side that we lose sight of our objective: To point others toward the God who loves them.

Our anger, even at the sin around us, does not produce the righteousness of God. We’re told to be good listeners, slow to speak, and slow to anger; humbly responding God’s way (James 1:19-21).

One last radical perspective from Moore:

It may be that America is not “post-Christian” at all. It may be that America is instead pre-Christian, a land that though often Christ-haunted has never known the power of the gospel, yet.6

Whether we’ve seen the height of Christianity in America or just a foreshadow of it may depend on how we engage the battle.

1. Russell Moore, Onward: Engaging the Culture Without Losing the Gospel (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2015),189.
2. Ibid.,194
3. Ibid.,192
4. Ibid.,201
5. Ibid.,200
6. Ibid.,218

Expanding Our Perspective…

To view reality from a slightly different perspective often yields a view of things totally unlike what they appeared to be. If we take just a couple of steps in another direction, what we view as reality is often profoundly changed.

Job, Rueben P.; Shawchuck, Norman (2013-10-24). A Guide to Prayer for All Who Walk with God (Kindle Locations 1359-1361). Upper Room Books. Kindle Edition.

The worst truth seekers in the world are those of us who believe we’ve already found the truth. But if we set aside our arrogance, we can recognize that our human condition limits us to only partial knowledge of any deep truth. Acknowledging those limits opens the door to seeing more of the breadth and depth of God.

We’re more comfortable when we stay within familiar circles that reinforce our preexisting points of view. But our ability to “understand and know God” (Jer 9:24) grows when we non-judgmentally rub shoulders with those who come with a different perspective. Read books by authors with different doctrinal positions. (You don’t have to completely agree with them to learn from them.) Go to a cross-cultural or ethnically diverse church service. Spend time with someone from a different socioeconomic class. Force yourself to do uncomfortable things with an open mind for the purpose of pursuing a broader understanding of God and how He engages with people.

Here’s an illustration: If you hold a basketball up in front of your face, you can see less than half of that basketball at any one time. If that ball is even bigger, the percentage of it that you can see at once is even smaller — picture how little you could see if the ball was a few feet in front of you and was one mile in diameter!  Now imagine how infinitely big God is.  What percentage of Him can I see through my white, middle-class, middle-aged, Southern Californian, conservative, male lens? Not much. Every time I shift that lens a little I have the opportunity to understand and know Him better.

Isn’t it risky to expose ourselves to things that might lead us into wrong thinking? Yes. We worry about those “slippery slopes” leading us astray. But sometimes truth grows on slippery slopes and if we want the truth we have to brave the slope. That’s why we need to keep a rope firmly attached to people who know us well enough to recognize when we’re in trouble and can pull us back to safety. But a risk-averse, stay in my comfort zone, fortress mentality doesn’t equip us to grow the Kingdom of God in a world full of opposition.

So stretch yourself. Experience some discomfort. Take some risks. Seek God in places where you haven’t looked before. You might be surprised to find that God doesn’t look as much like you as you thought He does.