By / Mar 11

We are swimming, drowning even, in a sea of words.

According to most estimates, there are around 6,000 tweets sent on Twitter every second. Facebook users, the roughly three billion of them, undoubtedly post even more, both in cumulative volume and character length. Add to this the ever-deepening deluge of newsletters and blog posts and articles (like this one) being published daily, and it’s not hard to imagine why many call this the “Information Age.” 

But as the Information Age has progressed, and each of us has been given a public platform from which to project our own voice, this information-rich age has been diluted. Profitable information, buried beneath the shouts and influencers and vapid words plastered on our screens, has become harder to locate. Social media, for all its personal and societal benefits, has served to replace our Information Age with the “age of opinion.” 

Opinion overload

If you do the math, on Twitter alone, 6,000 tweets per second comes to about 350,000 tweets per minute, 500 million tweets per day, and nearly 200 billion tweets per year. Though not all these tweets are opinion-generated, these are nevertheless staggering numbers that reveal just how much we love to hear ourselves “talk.” What is it that convinces us that our opinions, whether on matters of great importance or the latest entertainment gossip-talk, must be shared?

In a recent newsletter commenting on modern society and how we’ve come to find our way in it, John Starke discusses two terms helpful for this discussion: Expressive Individualism and Performative Individualism. Social media, regardless of what its founders set out to make it, has evolved into a platform that caters to our apparent hunger to express ourselves and to perform for whoever is watching. The sharing of our opinions and our experiences, and doctoring them up to get the most reactions, is often a sort of performative self-expression driven by the need to be heard or, as Starke argues, “to be loved”—even when we’re saying what’s right and true.

Contributing also to our glut of opinion-sharing is the way the merger between the Information Age and our “age of opinion” has developed what Andrew Walker calls “a growing cultural trend of presumed omnicompetence.” Because we have expansive amounts of information at our fingertips, we sometimes assume that a quick Google search offers us the necessary level of expertise to knowledgeably speak to a number of topics and issues that we actually know very little about. And when this presumed omnicompetence is mingled with our compulsion to perform and express ourselves online we find ourselves contributing to the superfluity of social media posts. 

Silence and fruitfulness

If we’re serious about emulating the way of Christ, about “submitting what and where we are to God,” as Dallas Willard wrote, then the way we speak (or tweet or post) ought to be of great concern to us. This includes the amount of speaking that we do. To that point, Solomon in his collection of Proverbs says that “When there are many words, sin is unavoidable, but the one who controls his lips is prudent” (Prov. 10:19). It is not merely that an abundance of words offers ample opportunities to say something unkind or ill-conceived or ignorant, but that logorrhea is a habit of pride, a presumption that our words are needed and definitive. So, in this age of opinion, of performative self-expression and presumed omnicompetence, what does it look like to approach social media with prudence?

  1. Self-Imposed Silence

“It is very, very freeing to not comment on all issues. Self-imposed silence is a gift of wisdom…” says Walker. In an environment where we are affirmed and valorized for our tweeting and posting, and which feeds our craving for the public display of our competence and our piety, self-imposed silence is a way of prudence too often omitted. Neither Walker nor Solomon are advocating for utter silence, but rather for silence where it is appropriate and wise. Like long-winded writers working to meet their word count, we would do well to impose our own similar restrictions.

  1. Fruitful Dormancy

Where Walker advises his reader, in resistance to the “growing cultural trend of presumed omnicompetence,” to war against the compulsion to “say everything about anything,” Starke, responding to the performative self-expression we’ve already discussed, advocates for a “principle of hiddenness,” employing a term he calls “fruitful dormancy.” In a culture that lionizes the public and performative life—a practice that Jesus himself tells us to beware of (Mt. 6:1)—Starke reminds us to “aim our lives towards ‘the Father who sees in secret.’” As it relates to our online life, this is a call (as the term suggests) to embrace a sort of dormancy or temporary inactivity. It’s a call to do an about-face, away from the public life we’ve so carefully curated and toward our God “who sees what is done in secret” (Mt. 6:6).

Maybe this means we should abstain regularly from social media and impose some sort of daily usage rule. Or, maybe it means we delete our account(s) altogether. Perhaps it simply involves asking ourselves a set of questions before drafting posts online or responding to others, questions like: “Why do I feel the need to say this?” or “Is my voice and opinion really needed on this topic?” or “Will this contribute to the conversation positively?” How these ideas are applied will vary, but for the sake of our spiritual health and the public witness of the church we must discover how best to control our “lips.” 

In the secret, in the quiet place

As John Piper has said, “One of the great uses of Twitter and Facebook will be to prove at the Last Day that prayerlessness was not from lack of time.” While this article is not aimed specifically at prayerlessness, it does seem that we’ve contented ourselves with exchanging the quiet of prayer or the quiet of study or the quiet of relative obscurity and anonymity with the noise of social media and its promise of being seen and heard far and wide, even by people we don’t know. Our addiction to this noise has frayed our attention, has impeded our ability to think, and it has convinced us to participate in the charade of performative self-expression. And more than anything, it has withered the roots of our life with God. 

The way forward seems clear. The call of our day, for many of us, is to retreat from the cosmos of social media where we so often, even unbeknownst to ourselves, practice our righteousness before others, and instead go to our Father in secret, with whom there’s no need to perform, to whom we can express ourselves, and from whom we can receive true competence, the wisdom and understanding founded in the fear of the Lord. It is there, in the hidden place with God, where our need to be known and loved is truly satisfied.

By / Feb 11

Jeff, Chelsea, and Travis discuss three big international stories for Christians to consider. They cover an update on the Chinese Uyghur genocide, how Christians are often left out of Middle East peace accords, and what we can learn about the fragility of democracy from the coup in Myanmar. 

This episode was sponsored by The Good Book Company, publisher of Being the Bad Guy by Stephen McAlpine.

Resources from the Conversation

By / Oct 14

Envied by most of the world, the citizens of the United States enjoy the freedom to hold and espouse diverse political views. Those views, however, do not emerge in a vacuum. They are shaped by our human experience, our family background, and our religious convictions. 

For example, in 1961 President John F. Kennedy signed the Consolidated Farm and Rural Development Act, which expanded the federal government’s ability to issue farm loans. As uninspiring as that may sound to some people, that piece of legislation allowed my uncle to buy a farm that he has worked and expanded for over 50 years. President Kennedy personally knew very little about agriculture, but his efforts to invest in farmers left a lasting and formative impression on my family that has shaped our political perspective and public engagement. 

As public policy initiatives of elected officials affect our way of life, our political perspectives soon shape our souls. How we think, the values we hold dear, the convictions we feel compelled to propagate, and the way we treat our neighbors all come from the private place of our soul. That is the reason that although the government cannot establish religion, the religious convictions of the citizenry most certainly influence public policy. 

Perhaps that is the reason the apostle Paul wrote to Timothy: “First of all, then, I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all those who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity” (1 Tim. 2:1-2).

Paul knew that peace, a tranquil and quiet life, in the city of Ephesus would make room for the gospel of peace in the hearts of the residents of that city and beyond. So “first of all” praying was the most powerful way for New Testament Christians to love their neighbors and to promote peace in their community.

Now in our present political environment as divisions widen on over public policy, as bickering has become a national past time, and as anger is often the currency of public debate, it could be that the most effective way for us to minister to the souls of our neighbors is to pray for everyone, including our neighbors, our leaders, and all who are in authority. 

More than persuasive arguments and more than political tactics, it seems God uses our “first of all” praying to influence our conversations over the backyard fence, to direct our political engagement in the public square, and to ultimately make room for policies that promote peace in our communities. 

It could be that the most effective way for us to minister to the souls of our neighbors is to pray for everyone, including our neighbors, our leaders, and all who are in authority.

How then do we engage in this kind of praying? Perhaps these four “first of all” habits of prayer will help:

Pray with a fresh awareness of God.

Prayer is by definition an invitation for human beings to turn our attention to God. When we pray, we acknowledge that God transcends the time and space we currently occupy. God is eternal with no beginning or end. He is perfectly holy, and he is unlimited in love, power, and wisdom. Very simply, God is greater than we are. His sovereign reign over every created thing means that we can trust him for every issue, big or small, new or systemic, that affects our families, communities, and our nation. 

So rather than living anxious and angry, rather than withholding kindness and love from those who hold diverse views and values, and rather than talking past our political rivals, we can fully trust a God who always rightly acts with righteousness.  

Pray with an honest assessment of yourself.

Prayer reminds us of our personal limitations. If we were self-sufficient and possessed complete understanding, praying to God would be unnecessary. But we have real needs that we cannot meet. We not only live as fallen, sinful people, we also bear the burden of a certain amount of ignorance. The human experience includes consequences of our personal and national transgressions are beyond our ability to repair. 

So we all need mercy, grace, forgiveness, restoration, and wisdom that only God can provide. As we humble ourselves and ask him for help, he responds not with condemnation, but with generosity and blessing. 

Pray with a genuine interest in others.

When the prophet Micah called God’s people back to God, he called them to care about other people: “Mankind, he has told each of you what is good and what it is the Lord requires of you: to act justly, to love faithfulness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).

Additionally, the prophet Jeremiah called exiled Jews to pray for and seek the welfare of their foreign city (Jeremiah 29). And then when Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he pointed out the hypocrisy of some religious leaders who used prayer and fasting as an opportunity to promote themselves. They were more concerned about how they were seen by others than how well they served others. 

Whatever their political views, background, moral or religious convictions, or usefulness is to us, our neighbors, our leaders, and all who are in authority are created by God and bear his image. 

So effective praying comes from the heart of a Good Samaritan who actually stops to help. Our prayers may sound angelic, but without sincere love for neighbor demonstrated by a willingness to listen, understand, and serve people who are different from us, they are only a noisy gong and clanging cymbal. 

Pray with an enthusiastic expectation for the future.

People of faith who have little faith in God do not serve our neighbors very well. The Bible tells us that God hears the humble cries of his people; that God forgives and restores sinful, broken, wayward people; and that God turns weeping into laughter. 

Is it possible, then, that negativity among God’s people is the sin that oppresses our neighbors and our nation more than any other? Is it possible that our cynicism toward an unbelieving world reveals our own unbelief that the gospel is really the power of God to turn even the hardest heart into a believing one? Is it possible that our pessimistic view of the world is the attitude God is waiting for us to leave behind? Is it possible our refusal to trust the Spirit to act powerfully through his Church to show and tell the Good News has left our neighbors stuck in the bad news of sin and brokenness? The call to pray is, at the heart, a call to believe God for greater things as he advances his Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. 

Not every Christian is called into politics and not every Christian has a loud voice in the public square, but every Christian is called to love our neighbors. And we do that most powerfully through “first of all” praying—the kind of praying that cares for souls, seeks the peace of our communities and our nation, and makes room for the gospel to take root in the hearts of the neighbors across the street and around the world.

By / Jul 8

Below are lightly edited remarks from Jimmy Scroggins, which he plans to share with his congregation in video form on how we should think about the violence in our country and what the Church must do. They are offered here as a help and an example to pastors who may also be considering how they might address the situation themselves.

Like many of you I have spent the last several days watching the news, following events on social media, and having family conversations about what it all means. Like you I'm frustrated, conflicted, confused, sad, and angry. If I'm not careful, I could get overwhelmed. I want to do something, but I don't know what to do. I want to say something, but I don't know what to say. But this Sunday I will say something because I pastor a multicultural church in a multicultural city and silence isn’t an option. I will expand on the following points:

1. We have a problem.

If this isn't obvious to you by now, you either aren’t thinking clearly or you don’t watch the news. We can pick apart each incident and try explain how it is more complex than it appears on the viral videos, but the sheer volume of these incidents tell us that we have a problem in this country regarding the safety of African-Americans when it comes to dealing with law enforcement. When the black moms and dads in our church are afraid to send their teenagers out in a vehicle, we have a problem. When our brown-skinned brothers and sisters are uncomfortable and even resentful coming to church because they’re afraid that they will be regarded with suspicion, pity, or apathy, then we have a problem. They don't want pity or sympathy; they want solidarity and justice. We will stand with them.

2. We have to care.

It's not enough to exonerate ourselves by personally declaring "I’m not a racist." I have called several black leaders in our church to check on them, listen to them, grieve with them, and learn from them. I can tell you that our black brothers and sisters in Christ are in crisis. They are feeling emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually torn apart. As believers, we’re personally responsible to treat every human being with dignity and respect because each is created in God’s image. But we are also corporately responsible to address structures that perpetrate, facilitate, or ignore injustice. Protests matter, conversations matter, votes matter, jobs matter, schools matter, families matter, and money matters. God was especially harsh in His description of religious people who continued to participate in religious rituals, festivals, and worship services without a serious concern for societal injustice. In the book of Amos God excoriates apathetic believers saying: “I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies…take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:21-24). The Bible tells us to "weep with those who weep." Well, black and biracial families in our church are weeping right now. The families of police officers are weeping right now. We cannot allow ourselves to grow numb and we cannot allow ourselves be silent. We have to weep and we have to care because God is calling for justice to roll down.

3. We need the police.

The social order that holds our nation together is fraying and disintegrating. The violence and terror against police officers in Dallas shows us another dimension to this problem. Police officers and law enforcement personnel are here to serve and protect. The vast majority of them are faithful and ethical and brave. Police officers need to hear that we need them and we’re all grateful for their service. Black moms and dads need them too. So while we call for justice in cases of police brutality, racism, and, murder, we have to remember that these cases are perpetrated by a small percentage of those in law enforcement. We still have to stand with and honor our men and women in blue. If we don't, our society will descend further into chaos.

4. Love, peace, justice.

God knows that the authentic peace flows from genuine love, but is always accompanied by righteousness and justice. We long to experience the peace of Eden and truly love our brothers and sisters, but the sin in ourselves and in our society cries out for justice and justice has to be served. Of course believers in Jesus know that justice will ultimately be served when each person stands before God to give account for the deeds we have done. It is there that God, who alone holds the only set of honest scales, will weigh out our actions and inactions, our opportunities seized and opportunities lost, our careless words, and even our secret thoughts. We know that this justice will come and that it will be swift and complete, but what about right here and right now?

5. Jesus is the only real solution.

Thousands of years ago, the prophet Isaiah wrote about Jesus when he said, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound…to comfort all who mourn…that he may be glorified. They shall build up the ancient ruins; they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations” (Isaiah 61:1-4). Christ is the only hope for rebuilding the ruins of our cities and our society. Jesus offers hope for new generations to live in an environment of love, peace, and justice. The peace of God was on Him; the love of God flowed from Him; and the justice of God rolled down on Him when He died on the cross for our sins and all the havoc they bring. Jesus was then raised from the dead giving us convincing evidence that only He has the power to transform a human heart. And only a collection of transformed hearts can transform a community from a war-zone to a peace-zone.  

As events continue to unfold we need to remember that this gospel addresses these very real life issues. Racial injustice is a gospel issue for us. Respect for civil government authority is a gospel issue for us. Our gospel compels us to be compassionate and active, but our gospel compels us to be confident because we actually do believe that Jesus triumphs in the end. Until then we will think gospel thoughts, speak gospel words, and take gospel action. Because the love of God must prevail in us. The peace of God must dwell in us. And the justice of God must roll down through us.

By / Apr 4

It was a cool spring evening in Memphis, Tenn. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stood outside on the second floor balcony of the Lorraine Motel speaking with his aids about upcoming events. His music director, Ben Branch, would later share that they were discussing the musical programming for a future event. Twenty-four hours earlier, King gave a moving speech as he prepared the audience for another march. We now know his final, fervent words to the crowded hall at Mason Temple Church were prophetic:

Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!

And so I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man! Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!

The next day, on that second floor balcony, Dr. King would speak his last words—ever. He was right; he would not get to the Promised Land with those he was speaking to that night. With a sound that was described as a firecracker exploding, a bullet was shot that pierced King’s chin and then his spine. One hour after receiving that wound, he was pronounced dead on April 4, 1968, around 7:00 p.m.

Dr. King’s assassination shocked the Civil Rights community, the nation and the world. King had led the non-violent Civil Rights Movement since the mid-1950s, but his physical activity and presence ended at the young age of 39. Though he is gone, his ministry and influence continues to live and move among us.

When Dr. King died, I was not even a thought in my mother and father’s minds and wouldn’t be born for another decade. But many today still remember what it was like to learn of his death. It shouldn’t surprise us that for some—like many of the responses to world events today—there was little to no response at all. It didn’t affect their lives or their worldview at the time. And yet for others, the news was shocking and nearly devastating. We read the account in history books, but they lived those days and experienced the aftermath. The stories of others brings this day, the day Dr. King was assassinated, to life. Here are a few short reflections of those who were alive the day the news broke:

Dr. Carl Ellis, Jr. | Age 21 at the time of Dr. King's death and a student at Hampton University in Hampton, Va.

During that time, the Black Consciousness Movement was on the rise, and the influence of Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement was declining. I was shocked and shaken by the violent reaction to his death. It seemed that all the progress we had made in race relations was up in the smoke of our burning cities. The future seemed bleak and filled with uncertainty. Even now, a day doesn’t go by for me without the thought of Dr. King.

Dr. George Marsden | Age 29 when Dr. King was shot and was teaching at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich.

I believe I learned of it from alarmed housemates. We were all admirers of Dr. King and were upset. We watched quite a few news broadcasts about it. It was a very demoralizing moment.

Yolande Watson | Age 25 when Dr. King was assassinated; lived in Orlando, Fla.

Being a beginning teacher, I was grading papers at home. It came up on the TV, and I couldn't believe what I was hearing! Of course that ended my grading papers. I was glued to the TV and I was completely devastated! I thought, “How could someone do that?” Unbelievable!

Tom Strode | Age 16 when Dr. King was assassinated, living in a Southeast Missouri town less than 150 miles from Memphis.

I recall hearing reports, but I cannot recall anything about where I was when I first learned of this grievous act. Sadly, I cannot recall what my response was either, other than, I believe, sadness over his loss of life. Looking back, I think it is likely an indictment of the worldview I had as a church-going, yet unconverted, teenager in a Southern Baptist congregation. My culture, more than the Bible, controlled my worldview. At the time, I didn’t appreciate the necessity of the Civil Rights Movement or the courage of Dr. King and others in upholding the truth all people are equal image bearers of God. I am grateful he and others were willing to give, or risk, their lives in a noble cause.

K. Marshall Williams | Age 16 at the time Dr. King was assassinated. Learned of the assassination while sitting in his Jr. High School classroom in Paoli, Penn., just outside of Philadelphia.

I was distraught as my teacher told us what happened! I can remember being broken-hearted, crying profusely, as he was my hero. I didn't know what this world was coming to, and I didn't get any answers.

These stories remind us that what seems like a far-off event wasn’t that long ago. The reality of his death and the pain that it caused continues to be felt and experienced by many still living today. These recollections help me remember that there is yet work to be done in our nation, even as we’ve come so far. Let’s remember the history but not forget the triumph and progress our nation has made in racial reconciliation. God moves in mysterious ways—turning sorrows into laughter and tears into singing.

Reference Links

By / Dec 1

Today marks 60 years since Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat, an act that helped to spark the civil rights movement of the 1950-60s. Here are five facts you should know about the "the mother of the freedom movement":

1. Until her non-violent protest in 1955, Rosa Parks lived a relatively quiet life in Montgomery, Alabama. She worked primarily as a seamstress, and volunteered with the local chapter of the NAACP, which she served as the group’s secretary. Parks, a lifelong devoted Christian, also served as a deaconess at a local African Methodist Episcopal Church. However, in 1955 her refusal to give up her bus seat to a white man—as required by the state’s segregation law—helped sparked a nationwide protest movement and propelled her into the spotlight as “the first lady of civil rights."

2. Parks actions were partially inspired by her experience working on Maxwell Field, a military base on which public transportation was integrated. “I could ride on an integrated trolley on the base,” said Parks, “but when I left the base, I had to ride home on a segregated bus.” In Rosa Parks: My Story, she adds, "You might just say Maxwell opened my eyes up. It was an alternative reality to the ugly policies of Jim Crow." But her refusal to give up her seat was also inspired by an encounter with a particularly nasty and bigoted bus driver, James F. Blake. In November 1943 Parks entered Blake’s bus, and when told to enter by the back door, refused his command. She would avoid his bus for more than a decade. Twelve years later, though, she got on Blake’s bus by accident—and once again refused to comply with his orders. As historian Douglas Brinkley says, “her act of civil disobedience was partially the result of her personal revulsion to one particular bus driver.”

3. Parks’ protest wasn’t premeditated, but her friends and allies realized her arrest would make an ideal civil-rights test case. Parks agreed, despite concerns expressed by her husband and her mother about her safety and her employment. However, it was another woman, Jo Ann Robinson of the Women’s Political Council, who took the initiative to start the bus boycott. Robinson contacted Parks’ lawyer, E.D. Nixon, who organized Montgomery’s black leaders to meet to plan their strategy for the boycott and for Parks' legal defense. After hearing Park tell her story, the ministers agreed to promote a Monday bus boycott during their Sunday morning sermons.

4. Although the boycott had only been intended to last one day, many of the city’s activists recognized the potential that was presented by Parks' quiet protest. On the day of the boycott, Nixon and two other black leaders decided to form the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) to oversee an extension of the bus boycott. That evening a young, relatively unknown minister, Martin Luther King, Jr., was elected as the president of MIA. King’s rousing speech at the meeting was a catalyst for his future fame and achievements. Parks had not only inspired a movement, she helped bring rise to one of its greatest leaders.

5. As a leader of the thirteen-month boycott, Parks became unemployable in Montgomery. She and her husband moved to Detroit where she once again worked as a seamstress. In 1965, Parks quit her job to join the staff of Michigan Congressman John Conyers, who she had helped elect. She worked in Conyers' office until her retirement in 1988 at the age of seventy-five. Upon her death in 2005, her body was transported to Washington, D.C.—in a bus similar to the one in which she made her protest—to lie in honor in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol. She was the first woman and the second black person to lie in state in the Capitol.

By / Nov 16

My friends are good forgivers. In fact, my best friends are women who are hard to offend and quick to forgive. Their love for me has caused them to overlook a multitude of offenses and to continue to think the best of me despite my track record.
Relationships are not for the faint of heart. But they are worth it. When God created relationships, he let us in on breathtakingly beautiful mysteries about himself. As we live in relationship with one another, he takes us into a deeper experience of His love.

Here’s the rub: we have to be willing to navigate hurt, misunderstanding and differences with each other. This can be especially true during the holidays. And while I’m still in kindergarten when it comes to these issues, here are a few helpful things I tell myself when I’m in the thick of a difficult relationship:

1. Be hard to offend.

We are a hypersensitive society, quick to play the victim card. We write about “9 Things You Should Never Say to Your Single Friends” and “11 Topics Guaranteed to Ignite Mommy Wars.”

But meaningful relationships can’t flourish when we’re walking on eggshells.

I’m one to talk: I’m naturally sensitive and have a history of taking things too personally. But by God’s grace, I’m working hard against this tendency because I want to love people, not react to them. Sometimes it’s as simple as growing thicker skin in order to love someone past their rough edges. (So let your friends say something stupid once in awhile. It’s good for you.)

2. Give it time.

As I look back at some of my most intimidating conflicts with family and friends, I realize that time has often played a significant role in resolving our differences and helping us better understand each other. To be honest, I hate that. I want restoration right now. I’m a peacemaker at heart, and I’m miserable when a relationship isn’t in a place of perfect tranquility. But some of the most tender restorations have come years after what felt like an insurmountable difference. God was working in both of our hearts, humbling and maturing us, and that kind of work typically doesn’t happen overnight. The writer of Ecclesiastes says,

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing…

a time to seek, and a time to lose…

a time to keep silence, and a time to speak.”

God can give us the wisdom to know when to pursue immediate restoration (embrace, seek, speak) and when to step back and wait on him (refrain, lose, keep silent).

3. Give fresh grace.

That friend or family member you’re at odds with? You have a fresh and abundant supply of grace to offer them today. God’s mercies are new every morning—for you, for them. It’s easy to start viewing someone through their history of offense, but as L.M. Montgomery once wrote, “Isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?”

When I’m struggling to offer this kind of grace to an offender, chances are I’ve forgotten how much I’ve been forgiven. Think of it this way: if my offenses against God filled the pages of all the books in the New York Public Library, your offenses against me would fit on a small Post-It Note. When I revel in the fact that my library of sin was burned up—I’m motivated to go set fire to that measly little Post-It Note.

4. Cultivate a loving thought life.

Do you have conversations in your head with “that person”? You know, those monologues where you say all the zingers you’ve wanted to say but haven’t?

The fruit of relationship begins in the soil of our thoughts. So if our inner lawyer is rising up in our defense, if we’re constantly replaying another’s faults and failings, if we’re mentally preparing for the next offense, then that relationship will bear defensive, fault-finding fruit.

On the other hand, if we’re applying God’s truth to a difficult relationship—if we’re resolved to love past our differences by God’s power—then no matter what choices the other person makes, we will reap the fruit of a free and forgiving spirit. We’ll no longer feel at the mercy of someone else’s actions.

5. Stop acting surprised.

There should be a disclaimer at the outset of every new relationship, be it friend, roommate, spouse or in-law: “At some point along the way, I will miserably fail you, hurt you and anger you. Guaranteed.” So, we should stop acting so surprised when it happens.

Yes, we have the best of intentions to love each other, but the truth is, we’re two sinners in relationship, and things are going to get messy from time to time. Don’t make the mistake of putting your friend or family member in the place of God. It leads to unrealistic expectations and unnecessary hurt. God is perfect. They are not.

If we’re going to enjoy authentic, life-giving, loving relationships, we need to be ready to forgive (and be forgiven). Seventy times seven.

Easier said than done, isn’t it? We’re going to fail often at forgiving and loving—but he won’t. Today, let’s turn our thoughts away from others’ failures and to the One who loved us with His very life and forgave us seventy times infinity. We love because He first loved us.

PLEASE NOTE: This article is addressing everyday relational offenses (between believers), not serious issues of abuse or immorality.

Scriptures referenced: Prov. 10:12; Eccl. 3; Lam. 3:22-23; Matt. 18:22; 1 John 4:19.

By / Oct 9

Many churches rightly celebrate Sanctity of Life Sunday at the beginning of a new year. We stand and mourn the over 51 million children who have been killed innocently. Fifty-one million is a big number, equal to 40 times the total American war deaths, from the Revolutionary War until the present. Take New York and California and wipe out their populations. Take a fifth of the current U.S. Population.

That gives you an idea of the innocents killed. So we mourn. We’re prolife, not because it’s a conservative issue or a Republican issue. Truthfully, some of my political positions put me in the conservative camp and some put me in the liberal camp and I don’t mind that at all.

But to be pro-life is to be biblical, because God is the author and creator of life. It is an acknowledgement of God’s sovereignty over all things. To fight for the unborn is to do our job as Christians fight against injustice.

So we mourn and we fight. But, the church, more than any other institution in society is uniquely poised to win this war, because the church lives, not on the sin side, with 51 million dead, but on the grace side, where the blood of Calvary’s cross empowers us to provide hope to the unwed mothers who face difficult choices.

In fact, abortion is one political issue where Christians can make a lasting and real difference and actually save lives. I’ve been digging deep into the work 0f compassionate pro-life work and have come away inspired and motivated.

Everyday, 3,300 young women wake up with an unplanned pregnancy. These are vulnerable young women, confused, ashamed, scared. And this is where we have the opportunity, as Christians, to live out the grace we’ve been given and help shepherd these women, not only toward good choices, but good parenting, and ultimately, peace with God through Christ.

I’m amazed at the effectiveness of prolife resource centers. There are around 23,000 across the United States. Many offer ultrasounds, all offer compassionate counseling by presenting the mother with options beyond abortion. Amazingly, this is done on a very shoestring budget and mostly volunteer. There are approximately 40,000 volunteers who staff such clinics, 29 out of every 30 workers are volunteer. Most are funded and staffed by local churches. It is estimated that these clinics have saved around 90,000 lives around the country.

I also believe we are winning the war in the culture. Recent data suggests that not only are a majority of Americans now prolife, but the younger generation is more prolife than it’s parents. Plus, more women are prolife than ever before.

The point is that through public advocacy for the unborn, compassionate counseling on the local level, and new emerging technologies, we may be turning a tide. I look at the pro-life movement as a steady march in the culture, not unlike the campaign of William Wilberforce against the slave trade in Britain. Perhaps we’ll look back one day and, like slavery, wonder how we ever affirmed the morality of abortion.

We’re even influencing Hollywood. In recent years episodes of Law and Order and House have wrestled with the moral questions raised by abortion. And even MTV recently portrayed the anguish of a young girl who chose to end the life in her womb.

We’re winning this war, because of the grace and love shown by volunteers and crisis clinics. Because of the resolute faithfulness of pastors and leaders who stand up for life. We’re winning because of technology that is showing the viability of babies in the womb. We’re winning because of creative strategies that are getting the word out.

Heroic Media is a pro-life media group that runs 30 second commericals over a course of ten weeks in selected markets, educating about life and offering a crisis helpline. They have found a 42 percent reduction in the abortion rate after their commercials have run.

You see, to be prolife, I believe means more than just checking that box, every two or four years, in an election cycle. I believe it means caring for orphans, caring for mothers, and caring for the children that are born. I believe it means we get involved in fighting human trafficking and sex slavery. I believe it means we work harder to mentor young, at-risk children, to help men become better fathers, to help moms become better moms. It means we stand up for the elderly, the disabled, the less fortunate. That’s what it means to be prolife.

When you see the vast numbers of children being killed every day due to abortion, it turns your stomach. But that anger should move us to concrete action, here in our community.

We ought to be horrified, sick to our stomachs at the thought of babies being mercilessly murdered, but if that anger only moves us to listen to more talk radio, to flip off liberals, and put a bumper sticker on the car, it does no good.

It must move us to save lives in our communities, to save babies from the precipice of death by reaching out to confused young women and sharing the love of Christ, guiding them in their decisions, and helping them embrace that life within them.

I think of the example of the midwives in Exodus. While Pharoah was slaughtering young boys, they couldn’t save them all, but they could save some, right there, in their midst. And so can we.

Elections come and go and we should have a say. In the meantime, there are vulnerable young girls who need guidance and direction. And we can make a dent in that abortion rate, one life at a time. Today, the church can’t do one single thing about Roe v. Wade. But they can offer support to the 3,300 women who wake up every day with a choice of what to do about an unplanned pregnancy.

This was originally published here.

By / Jun 25

Dylann Roof, a white male with a white supremacist ideology, shot and murdered nine African-American Christians gathered for a Wednesday night bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church—a historic African-American church in Charleston, S.C. This evil act supports that the sin and evil ideology of white supremacy still holds a grip on parts of American culture. The Charleston shooting is the recent, most violent expression of white supremacy in America. The constructs of race and racism are very complicated, but white supremacy is basically an ideology that believes the European/white race is biologically superior to the black/African-American race. White supremacy had its racist fangs in the ideology of American culture from this country’s beginning.

Thomas Jefferson, one of American’s founding fathers, believed that blacks have a natural inferiority to whites. In his day, Jefferson suggested that the black “race” was inferior to whites. In his Notes on the State of Virginia in the 1700s, Jefferson stated “I advance it therefore as a suspicion only, that the blacks, whether originally a distinct race, or made distinct by time and circumstances, are inferior to the whites in the endowments both of body and mind.” To be fair, Jefferson’s notes do not state that he believed his views of blacks were scientifically verifiable. It is clear, however, that he thought blacks were nevertheless inferior to whites. Jefferson is the same man who signed the Declaration of Independence, which affirmed that “all men are created equal.” He, along with many other founding fathers, embraced a white supremacist ideology that believed the white race was superior to the black race. But from where did the American construct of race and white supremacy come and why does current American culture both consciously and subconsciously continue to affirm this construct?

The English term “race” first referred to human beings as a term of classification in English literature in the 16thcentury. In the 18th century, the term “race” was applied broadly to the diverse populations of Native Americans, Africans and Europeans in England’s American colonies. In this historical context, the term “race” developed into a hierarchal ranking system, which reflected the dominant English attitudes toward the diverse groups of people. The conquered Indians were segregated from Europeans, exploited or expelled from their lands for new colonists. The enslavement of Africans and their offspring was eventually institutionalized in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. By then, many Africans were identified as property and sources of wealth.

In the 18th century, European scientists collected data and arranged materials about the newly discovered people in the New World, Asia, and Africa. Scientists like Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778) and Johann Blumenbach (1752-1850) thought that different groups represented variants within a human species. As a result, they constructed “racial” categories based on skin color and other physical characteristics. However, their method often included anecdotal data from travelers, missionaries, merchants, and sailors instead of depending on hard science. Eventually, these descriptions and classifications of diverse people entered the learned communities in Europe and America, and these communities eagerly appropriated these classifications to folk ideas about human differences. Eighteenth century anti-slavery sentiments threatened the system of American slavery. Advocates of slavery developed new and stronger rationalizations for the institution than previous arguments by focusing on the slaves’ nature and by hyperbolically explaining the differences between Africans and Europeans. Defenders of slavery linked behavior with Negro biology and constructed a description of Africans that suggested they were innately wild, uncivilized, inferior to whites, and whose natural state was slavery (Audrey Smedley, “Race,” Oxford Companion to United States History, 641).

The earliest and most sustained arguments of black inferiority arose in this period. Edward Long, a Jamaican jurist and a plantation owner, and Charles White, an English physician, employed an ancient model of a racial taxonomy in order to argue for the natural inferiority of Africans. By the 19th century, as abolitionism increased, folk images of Indians and blacks as inherently inferior became increasingly popular. The scientific writings of Samuel Morton, a Philadelphia physician who collected and measured skulls, Louis Agassiz, a Harvard zoologist, Josiah Nott, an Alabama physician, and others within the scientific community identified the Negro as “a separate human species.” Scientific debates eventually emerged in the middle of the 19th century about the Negro’s place in nature. “On one side were polygenists who, using cranial measurements and archaeological measurements, asserted that blacks had been created separately and were a distinct species.” Using equally pseudo-scientific racism, monogenists argued for a single creation. Yet, they likewise maintained that Negros had degenerated. Both of these so-called scientific communities accepted an image of the Negro that was tantamount to distinctions within species. These racist classifications became widespread throughout Europe and America during the 18th-19th centuries (Audrey Smedley, “race,” Oxford Companion to United States History, 641).

In its modern form, then, white supremacy is a racist social construct that emerged in modernity in the 18th-19thcenturies, influenced by scientific racism—eventually called pseudo-science. The category of “race” as we use it today in America emerged out of this racist context. Those in the 18th-19th centuries basically defined race as fixed, immutable, determined, biological characteristics that classified a group as superior or inferior to others without allowing for individual differentiation within a particular group. An element of this modern race theory suggests that certain “races” are biologically more beautiful than other races. For example, in his Outline of the History of Mankind, Christoph Meiners (1747-1816) stated “one of the chief characteristics of tribes and peoples is the beauty or ugliness of the whole body or face” (citation from Benjamin Isaac, The Invention of Racism in Classical Antiquity, 105; original citation from German original Grundriss der Geschichte der Menscheit, 43). He classified blacks as “ugly” people “distinct” from the “white and beautiful peoples by their sad lack in virtue and their various terrible vices” (citation from Benjamin Isaac, The Invention of Racism in Classical Antiquity, 105; original citation of Meiners, Grundriss der Geschichte der Menscheit, 116).

Racism, therefore, as an American social construct is an ideology of hate and particularly an ideology of hatred directed toward black or dark skinned people. And it refers to “any attitude towards individuals and groups of people which posits a direct linear connection between physical and mental qualities. It therefore attributes to those individuals and groups of people collective traits, physical, mental, and moral, which are constant and unalterable by human will, because they [are believed by the racist] to be caused by hereditary factors or external influences, such as climate or geography” (Benjamin Isaac, The Invention of Racism in Classical Antiquity, 23) (bracketed emphasis mine). One thing that makes racism so evil and potentially deadly is that racists consider individuals “as superior or inferior because they are believed to share imagined physical, mental, and moral attributes with the group to which they are deemed to belong, and it is assumed that they cannot change these traits individually.”

In fact, many racists in the 18th-19th centuries and racists today believe that it’s absolutely impossible to change these fixed, biological traits because they are predetermined by their physical, biological makeup. This is why many of our founding fathers believed racist ideas about blacks. This view of race is why racist Nazis sought to exterminate the Jewish people, why the KKK has historically committed hate crimes against African-Americans and other ethnic minorities, and the above racist view of race explains why Dylann Roof, and other white supremacists like him, believe that blacks are evil and are inferior to whites: namely, because these racist groups embrace a white supremacist view of the world, a view which by definition requires them to classify groups based on perceived, illusory, fixed, immutable, and inferior physical, mental, and moral traits for the purpose of advancing a white supremacist ideology.

However, although the racism of white supremacy has often historically manifested itself by means of violence and terror—as we’ve seen with the Nazis, slavery, lynching, Jim Crow laws, the KKK and the devastating Charleston shooting—the ideology of white supremacy is still present in America even when unaccompanied by violence. For example, when white parents refuse to let their kids date or marry African-Americans, they do so because of an inherited white supremacist worldview. White supremacist ideology is the reason why many make racist statements like “why do black people act that way” or “black people want to rape our women” without any evidence or scientific proof. A white supremacist worldview is present when teachers and professors make their students read only white authors or when they ignore black, brown, or African-American voices in history. A white supremacist worldview is present when whites naturally suspect blacks as being intellectually inferior because they are black. A white supremacist worldview is present when political leaders in Southern states, once divided by slavery and still affected by racism, refuse to take down the Confederate Flag—a symbol of white supremacist, racial hatred. A white supremacist worldview is present when the media reports crimes committed by blacks and people of color against whites as normal and crimes committed by whites against blacks or people of color as abnormal. A white supremacist worldview is present in churches when members refuse to pursue racial reconciliation or leave when their churches diversify or when the church’s leadership diversifies. A white supremacist worldview is present when people choose to isolate themselves from people of color because of race and associate themselves with their racial homogenous group.

Unfortunately, white supremacy showed its ugly face in Charleston, S.C., when Dylann Roof executed a premeditated and calculated massacre of nine African-American Christians at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. However, this methodical act of racist terror should remind every single American and every Christian that Dylann Roof’s racist actions were the result of his sin, and his personal and willful participation in and compliance with his choice to sin resulted in a massacre of nine innocent African-American Christians in a sacred place—a church that has been a symbol of African-American freedom in this country for decades. Sin continues to use the racist ideology of white supremacy in many different aspects of American culture, even though we are now living in a post-segregation age, for there are those Americans who consciously and subconsciously often assume that whites are superior to blacks and people of color. And neither new laws nor a resilient enforcement of old laws or government restrictions will change a white supremacist’s racist heart. Only the life giving power of the gospel of Jesus Christ will turn white supremacist hatred, and all racist hatred, into Christ-centered love.

The Church of Jesus Christ must in fact state loudly and clearly that God has provided redemption from the evil ideology of white supremacy and from all forms of racism. God’s provision is the bloody and resurrected gospel of Jesus Christ who died and resurrected to unify all things and all people in Christ (Eph. 2:11-3:8). And the only way white supremacy and all forms of racism will be overcome is by multi-racial partnerships of gospel believing Christians and churches scattered throughout the world faithfully proclaiming and obeying the gospel of Jesus Christ and pressing the claims of the gospel onto racist societies. Jesus’ ability to bring redemption and racial reconciliation through the gospel was so powerfully personified in the Charleston, SC court when the Christian families preached the gospel to Dylann Roof and offered him their forgiveness even as they expressed their grief. As the family has so beautifully demonstrated, Jesus Christ is God’s provision for racial reconciliation and the solution to racism. The gracious response of love from the beautiful African-American Christian family members directly affected by Dylann Roof’s racist actions, and the response of many African-American and white Christians in Charleston, also prove that the ideology of white supremacy is based on a racist lie. The gospel of Jesus Christ demands that Dylann Roof, and all racists in both church and society, must repent of the sins of racism, embrace Jesus by faith, and live in pursuit of racial reconciliation in the power of the Spirit.

This was originally published here.