Saturday, February 11, 2017

Are we reaping the fruits of an embittered and estranged culture?

I’m being vulnerable here -- I’m really struggling with our culture’s current milieu. Basically, lately, I’m feeling spiritually exhausted by our extremely divisive circumstances. I think our actions, attitudes, and what we are doing to ourselves collectively, is taking it’s toll on us.

We’ve entered an emotionally dark and cynical cycle. We are distancing ourselves from people we disagree with and we’re losing our ability to dialogue. It’s hard to find peaceful examples of people offering respect and tolerance to others who happen to think differently.

My observation is, we are hatefully funneling people into “silos” as we easily jettison them, casting them into opposing camps and applying derogatory categories to people with opposing ideologies. Just like strip-mining leaves a barren landscape in its wake, and just like harvesting grain leaves a field full of empty stalks, America is truly at risk of looking far different than any of us dreamed of or wished for because of our major disdain for people who aren’t “just like us.”

Lately, our polarized nation has been castigating and hurling insults across political party-lines and across our liberal-conservative spectrum. It seems like we can’t find any middle ground anywhere in our country, and everyone labels everyone else as a threat or an enemy.

This world is draining us of our compassion and joy whenever we find ourselves positioning people as winners and losers, or, when it comes down to an “us versus them” mentality. As good as many people are in the world around us, and with the many blessings we experience, there is still a great amount of evil and suffering we are exposed to, and sadly many Christians are adding to the vitriol too. Just check in on social media if you doubt that last sentence.

We cannot sustain this hatred and animosity forever; something has to give. What will give first? More than likely, our faith. Faith can survive persecution, pain, and destitute times. But faith can’t endure for long when it’s being poisoned or when it’s not being fed and nurtured. These are toxic times. We are in a spiritual famine.

Our capacity for faith is like a sieve, therefore, our faith “reservoir” needs to be replenished often. For example, simply participating in a worship service or two every year (like only going to church at Christmas & Easter) isn’t sufficient for sustaining spiritual growth. We need to pray consistently, sing often, share in the Table together as we take the bread and the cup continually, etc.

The difficulty is, anything we do repetitively/habitually has the danger of becoming a mindless act and we tend to go into autopilot mode. Or worse, mandating that people attend services every time the doors are open, becomes deadly and legalistic. Yet, the repetition of all things spiritual is what we need most when the world changes all around us, albeit with balance.

Here’s where it gets difficult, because we have a situation of sorts that supersedes all of the anger and slander our culture is propagating. We, as believers, seem to have grown apathetic and we need to grow spiritually, particularly if we are going to be a beacon of hope to a lost world. So, it looks like we need more maturity. How do we do this? How do we develop further as followers of Christ?

We need to be challenged. But we resent being told what to do, and we resist being challenged.

The Church is a multifaceted, supernatural miracle, it is God’s chosen people, His bride, His redeemed flock. God gives us the church to shape us, encourage us, bless us, and also to stretch us, to wake us up, to help us see the eternal. Sadly, what happens when a church begins to challenge us to see the world through a different lens, we balk and get offended and we, like an ill mannered rebellious child, we pout. Therefore, the very avenue or channel that helps us grow in our time of need is shunned.

Here’s where we in the church kind of fumble things. We don’t have a great track record at motivating people gracefully; we tend to shoot our wounded. Part of the problem is, many churches forget that contending for the faith doesn’t mean being contentious. We don’t need to be mean, combative, negative, or sour to get our message across. You know, we don’t have to be hateful to spread the message of love.

These truly are desperate times. You might be thinking therefore, maybe we need to be more aggressive, and if we offend someone, well then, the ends justify the means. After all, didn’t Jesus offend people? And, isn’t it true, there’s no sugarcoating some truths, and handholding only goes so far. My dear friend Bruce once shared a quote with me which I’d like to pass on to you, “Jesus offended the mind, in order to reveal the heart.”

Jesus wasn’t cavalier when dealing with with people’s hearts, and carrying a Bible doesn’t give us licence to run roughshod over the people we disagree with. Jesus was known to embrace the whores and thugs while simultaneously chastising the religious crowds filled with self-righteous people who thought they knew their Bibles. Which brings me to my point, let’s not ever hammer people with our Bibles. Consider John 5:39-40, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life." If the doctrine you follow isn’t life-giving, or if your Biblical stance doesn’t elevate love and help draw people to Jesus, you need to rethink your theology.

May we hold to the integrity of the Scriptures, while humbly approaching people we aren’t aligned with, with the goal of unity, peace, and love for everyone. Go out of your way to let the Bible shape you and let God’s Holy Spirit guide you as you let down your guard and let other people into your circle.

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