How Should Christians React to Hate?

It’s no secret that the biblical sexual ethic, a beautiful monogamous relationship reserved for marriage between a man and a woman, has swiftly fallen out of favor in our culture. The recent declaration by Jason Collins, a veteran NBA center, has exposed the deep rifts in our society on the issue of homosexuality. While most of the world celebrated Collin’s courage, ESPN NBA reporter, Chris Broussard, a committed evangelical Christian, had his own courage to say, into a stiff wind of opposition, that Collin’s lifestyle choices conflict with the Christian faith.

Nothing in this story should surprise us. Society has been moving this direction for some time now. But what caught me off guard, I guess, was the public shaming of the Christian position on marriage. I heard many, well-respected sports commentators, guys I’ve listened to and followed for many years, seemingly equate Christians like Broussard with bigots and with the ignorant and unlearned. The sweeping intolerance of Christianity, the crude names leveled at Broussard and others seems to mark a new moment in our country. The reality is that holding the biblical sexual ethic will now invite open scorn. I only expect it to get worse. I only expect those who stand firm on the Scriptures to experience further persecution and hostility. And we shouldn’t be surprised. Jesus himself promised that his followers would endure some level of persecution. “They hated me, they will hate you,” he predicted (John 15:18).

So the question is this: how now shall we live? What should our reaction be? In my view there are two wrong responses and one right one.

1) We can cave in and seek the approval of men rather than the approval of God. There is a growing movement in the evangelical world that is seeking to make complicated what the Scriptures make plain, namely that perhaps the Bible is not so explicitly condemning of homosexuality as we think. As a person wired to avoid conflict I’m sympathetic to the desire to find this in the Bible, but it is just not there. Jesus himself affirmed the law of Moses when he repeated the words from Genesis, “For this cause a man will leave his father and mother and cleave to His wife” (Matthew 19:5). And while Jesus offered grace to the women who violated the biblical marriage ethic and condemned the Pharisees who wanted to stone her, he also told her, “Go and sin no more.” He didn’t act as if her sexual activity out of marriage was okay. He said it was sin. Sin that brought him to this earth and nailed him to a cross. Sin he graciously has forgiven. Sin which invites the grace and holiness of God. As much as we want to cave in on marriage, because to do so would make our lives as Christians much, much easier, to do so is to abandon the way of Christ. I’m reminded of Peter’s words to the persecuted believers of the 1st Century, “Stand firm in the faith” (1 Peter 5:19).

2) We can ratchet up the angry, hateful, personal rhetoric. As shameful it is to cave in on Scriptural truth, it’s equally sinful to sort of use our position as an increasingly marginalized minority to lash out at those who don’t agree with us. But if we’re to take serious the truth we claim to uphold, we have to listen to all the words of Jesus, including his words, “Love your enemies” (Matthew 5:43-48). And we have to listen to the words of that same Apostle Peter. The same guy who told us to “stand firm” also told us to do it with civility and respect (1 Peter 3:15). I find it interesting that Peter, speaking to an increasingly marginalized, persecuted group of Christians, found it important to say, essentially, “Make sure you suffer, not for your own evil, but for doing good” (1 Peter 2:20; 1 Peter 3:17). In other words, we are to speak firmly, but with kindness, winsomeness, charity, and grace. If we are honest, we would admit that the Christian community does not always do this well. We should disagree with Jason Collin’s choices, but we should not mock him, we should not post crude or hurtful slurs online. We should not slander those who disagree with us. We should lead with grace, remembering that Jesus didn’t come to condemn, but to offer salvation and life. Jesus came for sinners and so we should seek to love sinners as much as He did. We should, like Paul, remember that we are counted in that group: we are as much sinners in need of grace as the unrepentant homosexual. I find it interesting that Paul, at the end of his life, nearing the time of his martyrdom at the hands of a cruel despot, surveyed the entire landscape and said, “I am the chief of sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15). Imagine that. Paul looked around the entire world, saw wicked men like Nero and the soft Christians who betrayed him and yet said, “They may be sinners, but I’m worse.” What a spirit of humility! This is the spirit that should inform our engagement on these issues where most of the culture resists. We should ask the Spirit to help us fight the urge to return rhetorical evil with rhetorical evil (1 Peter 3:9). We should reject the sort of knee-jerk, crude, mean-spirited kind of speaking that seems to characterize much of our public discourse. Civility is not unimportant and it’s not overrated and it’s not the enemy of courage.

3) We can respond with love and grace.

2 Timothy 3:12 reminds us that “all who live godly in Christ will suffer persecution.” The level of persecution we face today in America is low-level at best. Much of what we think is persecution is simply consequences of our own inability to treat people with grace. But we’re moving into an era where our positions on the issues may invite charges of bigotry. This is where we must not react with surprise or fear–remembering that trials are an opportunity for joy (James 1:2) and occasions for growth and Christlikeness (John 15; James 1:2-4). Fear stems from a lack of faith and fear causes us to react in unloving ways. But if we believe that God is completely sovereign and that we have been tasked by Him to the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18), it is incumbent on us to model Jesus’ behavior and react to hatred and intolerance with grace and love. We should be wise about responding to every charge with a countercharge. We should hold our fire sometimes, as Jesus did in the face of false accusations (John 18:33-38). We should forgive others, looking to Christ’s own forgiveness of us (Ephesians 4:32) and His forgiveness of those who crucified him, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:42). We should not be defensive, whiny, petulant. We should work hard to see every human as someone worthy of respect (1 Peter 2:17), created in the image of God (James 3:9). We should not make our fight personal or political (Ephesians 6:12). The real enemy doesn’t have a human face, but is our adversary (1 Peter 5:8). And our real hope is not in a short-term victory, but in the future hope of a coming kingdom, another world, a city whose builder and maker is God (Matthew 6:10; Hebrews 11:10).

As followers of Jesus, we’re not simply called to be counter-cultural with our sexual ethics, but also in the way we talk, speak, and articulate these things. If we are called to suffer for our faith, let’s pray God gives us the courage and grace to endure and that our lives are but a small glimpse of Christ within.

How to Build Community in Your Church

As a pastor of a small church, I’m particularly sensitive about building a sense of community. I don’t think community is just another 21st century buzzword, I think it reflects the body life described for the church in the New Testament. For example, in our latest study of the Lord’s Prayer, I’ve been struck by Jesus intructions for how to pray. You will notice the use of the plural. “Our Father”, “Give us our daily bread”, “Forgive us our debts.” This pattern is all through the gospels, the epistles, the pastoral letters–commands and encouragements given in the plural. The point is this: Christianity was not meant to be lived individualistically. When you put your faith in Christ, you are baptized into a body, joined to a people. 

So it is an important function of the church to create environments where this body life, this community, can flourish. Much of this falls on church leadership. They must work hard to create environments for God’s people to fulfill the “one-another” commands, where gospel fellowship, confession, repentance, friendship, encouragement, and life can happen together.

But there is a role for the church member as well. Since I’ve been in some form of church leadership for a long time, I’ve really never had the experience that many Christians have in choosing a church. But in talking to people who have joined our church and talking to friends, it seems finding community is at the top of the list when deciding between equally strong, gospel-preaching churches. People will attend and stay at a church where there have friends. But what role do the church members, not the leaders, have in creating such an environment? I want to offer five ways for church members to create community. You’ll notice that these are more pragmatic in nature. I didn’t mention thinks like small groups, bible study, etc. Those are sort of assumed. I’m talking here really of just developing friendships.

1) Attend the Potlucks

I realize that if you attend a large church you may not know what a potluck is. And if you attend a small church, maybe you think it’s outdated. I realize that I’m speaking out of my own experience at a church under 100 in attendance. But my larger point is this: attend social functions at your church. You may think that potluck or chili cook-off or ice-cream social is kinda lame. Maybe there is an NFL game on that night. Maybe you’re on a vegan diet. Maybe you’d rather clean out your car. You should attend the potluck anyway and here’s why: you can’t create community simply by going to church on Sunday morning, checking it off your list, and going home. At some point you need to break bread with people, to experience life with people, to see where your church is going as a body. There is a lot in Scripture about “breaking bread” together, because something beautiful happens when people enjoy a meal together. It breaks down differences and unites you in your need to sustain yourself with food. I’ve often said that what happens at a potluck may be as important as what happens in church. Don’t mistake what I’m saying. Preaching and corporate worship are vital to the body. So is good doctrine. But you can do those two things and not have community and therefore not experience body life and therefore experience a void in your relationship with God. So, go to the potluck and eat the bad lasagna. You’ll thank me later.

2) Host other people at your home

If you want to experience community, you need to invest yourself in creating it. In my five years of pastoring, I’ve noticed something kind of funny. All the friendly people who go out of their way to make friends somehow manage to develop deep friendships. And all the stand-offish people who don’t lift a finger to create friendships seem to complain about not being able to make friends. Relationships take work, they take time, they take effort, they take intentionality.

And if you believe the local church is important, if you think that the way we love each other is a picture to the world of God’s love for us in Christ, then you’ll not consider your church friendships as a sort of neat option, but as something vital to God’s mission. Maybe you’ve never thought of this before, but it could be that having another family over to your house for dinner and developing lifelong, deep Christian friendships may affect the gospel proclamation in your community. Putting that extra roast in the oven may seem sort of pedestrian, but it may be contributing to God’s mission in your community.

There is a level of discipleship and spiritual growth that only happens in long conversations over food.

3) Help someone move

It’s amazing how much you can learn about a person as you are lifting a couch with them. I know it sounds weird, but working with someone, outside of church, outside of the sort of dressed-up official Christian functions goes a long way to developing life-long relationships. Plus, as Christians, we’re supposed to serve our brothers and sisters in the Lord in their needs. So maybe it’s giving an elderly person a ride to the doctor or maybe it’s helping a Christian brother with his basement remodeling job or maybe it’s shoveling snow for a widow. Either way, you develop deep, good, rich friendships as you are working and sweating and struggling alongside people and learning their unique sorrows and joys.

I’ve found myself that once I’ve spent a day with someone doing something other than church stuff I’ve gone somewhere with that person. I’ve learned about their jobs, their families, their history. I’ve earned a bit of relationship capital, the right to speak into them and they’ve earned that with me.

4) Get involved in a ministry

Again, I’m showing my small-church bias here. In a larger church, ministry opportunities may not be as readily available. Maybe they are. Regardless, you begin to make the church community your own by rolling up your sleeves and getting involved. Taking ownership of an area where you can apply your unique set of gifts and talents. And in many cases, you get a chance to work alongside someone you may not know. Perhaps it’s folding bulletins or maybe it’s working on a church project. Last year we remodeled the outside of our building. Many of our guys came out to work on Saturdays–as a result we got to know each other very well and developed deeper friendships. Many who work in our children’s ministries have said the same thing–they’ve had the chance to get to know and make friendships as they’ve worked alongside others.

Plus, by serving in whatever capacity you are gifted and wherever there is a need, you demonstrate to the church body that you care about them, that you’re not just at church to receive, but to give, that the welfare of the church matters to you. So much so that you’re willing to give time and effort to ensure the community is served.

5) Know and pray over the needs of others 

Do you pray for the people of your church? Do you know what to pray for? In order to pray rightly for your brothers and sisters, we actually need to know what their needs are. And to receive intercessory prayer, we need to be a bit vulnerable and share our own needs with others. Every church has a different mechanism for prayer requests. You have the formal lists that go out via email and other forms–we should take these seriously and pray for them. But you might also find that person who sits next to you at church this coming Sunday and just lean over and say, “Is there anything I can pray about for you today?” And perhaps if you’re having a difficult season, you might ask someone in church to pray for you. Open up a bit and say to them, “Hey, I could use some prayer–would you mind praying with me?”

I’ve found this to be a vital part of my own spiritual life. I have several folks in the church that pray for me specifically. I’ve had moments where I’ve pulled in a brother and said, “Hey can we pray over this really quickly?” And I’ve had brothers and sisters pull me in and ask for prayer. Something powerful happens in a friendship when you pray together.

A Commitment to Holiness and Humility

I had the privilege of interviewing Rev. Samuel Rodriquez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. Rodriquez is a well-known speaker who represents the growing Hispanic evangelical population. I asked him about a recent honor he received:

You were the first Latino leader to give a commemorative address at Dr. Martin Luther King’s annual commemorative event. Was that opportunity a dream come true?

Beyond a dream come true, the opportunity graciously rendered serves as a testimony to the purpose and promise of God for each of our lives. When I was 14 years of age, I saw a television special on Dr. King when a still small voice in my heart prompted me to write, “One day, God will enable me to connect with Dr. King’s family as I serve our communities.” With a commitment to holiness and humility, all things are possible.

I also asked Rodriquez about immigration reform and the misconceptions white evangelicals often have about Hispanics. You can the rest  of the interview here:

7 Steps to Get Started Writing

I have a lot of people who are interested in launching a writing career, but don’t know how to get started. It seems a bit overwhelming. So I decided to try and write a post with seven sort of first-steps on writing. I hope this helps those who feel this call.

1) Take a Long View. This is less of a practical step and more of a vision thing. But I think it’s importnat to not get too caught up, right away, in that big book project or thinking that you’re going to make a ton of money so you can retire. You need to think of writing less as a way to make money (which in the future can happen, at least in a side-business kind of way) and more of a calling to communicate and use your gifts to lift people. Don’t take an all-or-nothing approach with the idea that “God told me to write this ONE book and if it doesn’t get published, that publishing house isn’t following God.” Take the long view and think of it as a progressive development of your gifts and your platform. Ok, with that out of the way, some practical steps:

2) Start a Blog. It used to be that to get started writing, you needed to get published somewhere, some kind of byline. Otherwise, where would you have an outlet to publish your stuff? Not anymore. I still think its important to get started writing in a various outlets (see step 3 below), however the internet has flattened the publishing world in that you can begin to write right away. My advice is to create a blog using a free service like WordPress or Blogspot and establish a regular rhythm of writing. Set a reasonable schedule for yourself, perhaps two to three times a week, and commit to it. It’s important for you to start writing even when you have an audience of nobody. You need to find your voice and work those writing muscles. Starting a blog is not as scary as it seems. I highly recommend Michael Hyatt’s book, Platform and his website to get going. One word of caution: don’t think you have to do everything Mike recommends right away with your blog (He says this as much). Just get your blog going, figure out a theme for your writing, and start writing. Don’t spend all your time with gizmos and gadgets and sacrifice your time writing. 

3) Start publishing in smaller markets. Besides getting a regular blog schedule going, it’s important for you to start getting published in other publications. This is important for several reasons. First, it helps get used to working with an editor and being edited. Second, working on a deadline forces you to produce something. Third, it establishes some credits for future work. Editors at publications and book publishers like to see you’ve been published elsewhere. My advice is to start small. Do yourself a favor and invest in The Christian Writer’s Market Guide. This book is filled with hundreds, if not thousands of big and small Christian publications needing articles. There are lots of opportunities with publications such as Sunday School take-home curricula, denominational papers, niche Christian magazines, Christian websites, devotional magazines, etc. And here’s a really cool thing. Let’s say you have an idea. You can spin that idea in a variety of ways depending on the needs of the publication you’re pursuing. This is a great, great way to break into publishing and establish a bit of a name for yourself and to get used to writing professionally.The best way to query these publications is usually with a short email pitching your idea (though you’ll want to pay attention to the guidelines in the Market Guide or on their website). I also encourage you to begin pursuing guest posts on popular blogs in the area where you’d like to write. Unlike most print publications, blogs typically don’t pay in dollars, but they pay in traffic and exposure for your own blog and help you establish a reputation. Jeff Goins has a great blog on how to write a good guest post here. Typically the more popular blogs will have a section outlining their guidelines for guest posts. If there isn’t one, then you’ll simply want to email the proprietor and pitch your idea in a short email.

4) Get some professional training. I highly recommend you get some professional training and feedback on your writing. If you can afford it, I highly recommend attending a good Christian writer’s conference. The Christian Writer’s Market Guide should have a list of the popular conferences. I’ve attended and spoke at a number of them. If you’re in the Chicago area, I can’t recommend Write to Publish any higher. Others around the country are ones like Glorietta, ACFW, Write His Answer, and others. There are also one-day conferences. Really, Google “christian writer’s conferences.” Now, some words of advice. Not all of these are the same. I would look at the faculty teaching and the classes–does it fit what you want to do? And are do the faculty have substantial publishing credits? Also, see if there are editors attending and if they give time. This is one of the key benefits of attending a conference–you get to meet editors and build relationships that can sustain your writing career. If you can’t attend a conference due to costs, travel, etc, there are other options. I recommend taking a short course such as Jeff Goins’ Tribe Writers course. It’s relatively inexpensive and is packed with good stuff. Also, Mary DeMuth has some great resources as well. My writing mentor, Cecil Murphey has a terrific website with some really good, practical writing stuff. You want to grow in your craft. You want to improve.

5) Network. Writing can be a solitary calling–you and the laptop, so you need to work hard to find a community of writers who can strengthen you. You also need to build relationships with people in publishing. Relationships are everything. I highly recommend you join a Christian writer’s group either in your area or online. This is also why attending a conference is good as well. A few pieces of advice: Never burn bridges. Christian publishing is a small, small world. Editors move around. They talk. So if you become known as a prima dona or someone with very think skin when it comes to your work, well, you’ll have a harder time getting published. Never publicly bash editors or writers. Never gossip about editors to other editors, etc. You should do this, not only for your future career, but because you are a Christian called to “love one another.”

6) Get active on social media. I mentioned this last because there is a temptation to get active on social media without actually putting in the grunt work of writing. Don’t do this. Start writing and commit to some kind of schedule or deadline. But, I will say this, in this day and age, it’s vital to build a platform via social media. And here’s how to use it. You’ll want to use your social media accounts to leverage your writing. I typically use Bufferapp to send people to my blog posts. I also do this to send folks to my writing on other sites and, when a book comes out, to send them to my book. A tip here. I’ve found that using Buffer to schedule a “tweetable” quote from your work seems to work better at driving traffic than simply tweeting something like, “New blog . . . .” Another tip: find a few networks that work for you and use them regularly. You can’t employ every network. Twitter and Facebook work for me, but I’m going to explore using Pinterest this summer (and thereby sacrifice my mancard).

7) Read a lot. Good writers are active readers. Reading helps stimulate creative ideas and it also fills your well. Nourish your soul with good books from a variety of genres. I also recommend you take in content in other ways, such as sermon podcasts, online videos, etc. But you must regularly, regularly add to your creative reservoir.

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