The Best Kind of Protest

Last week, on the way home from classes at TEDS, I listened in on a radio conversation on Moody Radio (90.1 FM). The host was my friend, Chris Fabry. Chris told the story of a listener who wrote in to express his appreciation for Christian radio. The man had come across Moody in a roundabout way. His car was in the shop for repair and the mechanic had not done the work in the time the customer thought appropriate. So he berated the mechanic quite forcefully.

What caught this angry customer off guard was the response of the mechanic, a Christian. He didn’t return fire. He responded with kindness. This unusual display of love completely threw the customer off guard. Upon leaving, he noticed a “fish symbol” somewhere in the shop. And after starting up his car to go home, he heard Moody Radio playing on the stereo. Somewhere after this time (I wasn’t clear from Chris’ telling of the story), this angry customer, who berated and verbally abused a Christian businessman, put his faith in Christ.

This story made me think long and hard about my response to injustice done to me. It particularly made me think about the current brouhaha over gay marriage. Like most evangelicals, I hold to the biblical position of marriage and am offended when those who disagree consider me a bigot or hateful. I am offended by the words of Starbuck’s CEO Howard Schultz, who essentially told us we can “take our money elsewhere.” Starbucks is a company and a brand that prides itself in diversity, a biblical, kingdom value, so I’m curious about the intolerance toward conservative Christians.

But there’s another side to this we need to consider before we take up a protest against Starbucks. I respect those who will say, “I choose to invest my money elsewhere.” That’s a perfectly legitimate and biblically defensible position. I’ve done this with some of my investment choices over the years. But here’s the rub: however we handle Starbucks and other such controversies, we have to ask ourselves the question: how does the Great Commission inform our public engagement?

Somewhere at a Starbucks is a lonely, seeking, hurting employee whom God just may want you or me to love into the Kingdom. Perhaps there is a family member struggling with same-sex attraction who is looking for someone to walk him through these struggles–with both truth and grace. Somewhere there is an unbeliever watching our public pronunciations and asking himself, “I wonder what Christianity is about?”

There is a place for firm resistance to unbiblical values. You can oppose gay marriage because in loving your city and community and country, you hope for a culture that embraces the family unit. And yet, we must ask ourselves the question, always, “How does what I’m doing fit the mission of God to seek and save those who are far from Him?”

I think this informs the way we engage. Personally I’m choosing not to boycott Starbucks. You may choose differently. We can disagree on that charitably. But what we must not do is allow our protest against values with which we disagree overshadow our responsibility to show Christ’s love for the world. Our posture, when offended and maligned, should be like Jesus’ response. “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). It should not be to “return evil for evil” (1 Peter 3:9) and seek to win short-term cultural skirmishes that surrender the long-term battle for someone’s heart.

Like Jesus we must hold truth and grace in tension (John 1:14). We must be both courageous and civil (1 Peter 3:15). Because it may very well be the person who offends us the most in that moment is the person whom God is in the process of saving. And our gracious response might be the bridge that the Spirit uses to usher him from death to life.

Easter’s Big “If”

What are we saying when we gather to worship on Easter Sunday? We are actually saying something radical, are we not? We’re saying that an itinerant rabbi who lived 2,000 years ago in a backwater town in the Middle East is actually God. But we’re saying more than that, aren’t we?

We’re not only saying that we believe Jesus was God, but that his life and death and resurrection proved this. We’re saying that Jesus’ predictions of his future death and resurrection tell us that He was no ordinary human, but that he was God in the flesh. But we’re saying more than that, aren’t we?

We are not only upholding the apologetic of the Resurrection, we’re not only affirming that the historic Jesus did indeed rise again and was seen by 500 witnesses. We are also saying that “if” this is true, then it changes everything about us, about the world, and about what we think we know about God.

We’re saying Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament Scriptures, the hope of Israel, the Promised One who will not only satisfy God’s just punishment of sin against humans. We’re saying that the fallen corrupted world, a world of war and disease and famine and strife and murder and corruption, will one day be restored. We’re saying that the utopia we long for, the blessed, beautiful world that we all want to see happen, but seem powerless to effect–we’re saying that Jesus’ resurrection signals that this kingdom will one day happen. That’s what we’re saying.

But we’re saying even more. On Easter, we’re saying that “if” this is true, if Jesus was God, did suffer the death for sin we should have suffered, if He indeed rose again, than death is defeated, the invisible enemy was crushed, and restoration is on the way. Easter is a kind of spring season, it reveals the first colorful shoots and seedlings that point to a new a brighter day. It gives us hope that the world’s long winter freeze has been lifted. Instinctively, we all long for a better world, we all want things to change, all want personal renewal and corporate renewal. But we all know that mankind, at his best, cannot bring this to pass. The 20th century marked the century of the most human progress. And yet, it was the century that arguably saw the most blood shed. So, by Easter, that’s what we are saying.

But we’re saying so much more. Easter also says that Creation itself, the world, the planet, the universe, will also one day be restored. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ not only defeated the death brought to mankind by sin, but it defeated the curse placed by sin on creation, a planet and universe that now rumbles with trouble, unleashing devastating natural disasters. Easter says that there is renewal around the corner. But Easter says even more than this.

What we are saying at Easter is that there is a new Kingdom and a new King coming. We’re saying this new King is calling citizens of a new Kingdom, enlisting them in the immediate task of creating an alternate community, the Church, who is to be a window, a glimpse into the final Kingdom. These kingdom people, empowered by the king, live by a different set of values. The poor, the peacemakers, the virtuous, the humble, the forgiving, the courageous. But we’re saying more than this.

Easter says that God not only came in Christ to renew the earth, rescue humanity, and reverse sin’s curse, but He came to offer personal salvation and access to God. By his life and death and resurrection, Jesus grants those who believe personal intimacy with God. Easter says that this access, citizenship in the new Kingdom, is not given because of merit or birth but by personal regeneration. Consider Jesus’ words to Nicodemus, the most religious man in Israel (John 3). Jesus said that this eminently religious and presumptively qualified man that despite his religious devotion and spiritual heritage, he too needed spiritual rebirth. He too needed a new heart, a new allegiance, a new life. By putting his faith in Christ, Nicodemus and all who believe, become citizens of this new Kingdom.

All of this is what Easter is saying. It is declaring the Bible’s beautiful narrative: Life was once good and beautiful, how we all think it should be. It tells us that man was created uniquely to image God. It tells us what happened to this beautiful world and to man himself. -An enemy seduced humankind into rejecting the Creator. It tells us the consequences of sin: death, destruction, evil–every imaginable horror. It tells us, though, that God already had a plan to restore his creation and his people, through the death and resurrection of Christ. Easter tells us that the centuries-long desire for rescue–the arc of the Old Testament–was fulfilled in Jesus. It tells us that because of Easter, there is a better world coming.

Easter is an invitation into this new world through faith in the King who died, was buried, and rose again.

This, my friends, and not any other reason, is why we celebrate Easter. If this is true, it truly changes everything.

Thy Kingdom Come

I’m currently in the midst of a series on The Lord’s Prayer. This past Sunday I preached on the phrase: “They Kingdom Come.” I came across some great quotes in preparation:

From Ray Pritchard‘s excellent book, And When You Pray

Consider the matter this way. Every time you pray you must say one of two things. Either you pray, “Your kingdom come,” or you pray, “My kingdom come.” Those are the only two possibilities. But note carefully: When you pray, “Your kingdom come,” you must of necessity also pray: “My kingdom go.” God’s kingdom cannot “come” unless your kingdom is going to “go” They both can’t coexist at the same time and place.

From D.A. Carson‘s commentary, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount

“Your kingdom come.” Christians ought not to pray this prayer lightly or thoughtlessly. Throughout the centuries, followers of Jesus suffering savage persecution have prayed this prayer with meaning and fervor. But I suspect that our comfortable pews often mock our sincerity when we repeat the phrase today. We would have no objecdtion to the Lord’s return, we think, provided he holds off a bit and lets us finish a degree first, or lets us taste marriage, or give us time to succeed in a business or profession, or grants us the joy of seeing grandchildren. Do we really hunger for the kingdom to come in all it’s surpassing righteousness? Or would we rather waddle through a swamp of insincerity and unrighteousness?

The Rise of the Thin-Skinned Radicals

I was in a conversation the other day with some friends about some of the latest debates in the evangelical church. One of the things that struck us is just how thin-skinned we tend to be when our ideas are challenged. What’s particularly interesting is how intolerant we are of people we think are intolerant. A few examples come to mind:

There’s a rich market of progressive evangelicals who like to skewer the evangelical church. Every day, it seems, a book comes out that essentially makes the case that the church has gotten it all wrong and should should reexamine orthodoxies and beliefs. A good example is Rob Bell’s infamous book, Love Wins and his recent marketing of his latest: What We Talk About When We Talk About GodMany of Rob Bell’s fans (though not, seemingly, Rob himself) seem to wince at every criticism of Bell and label it “mean-spirited” and “ugly.” To be sure, there have been mean-spirited and ugly denunciations. But what’s interesting is that Bell’s fans don’t consider his own rhetoric “mean-spirited” or “ugly.” Consider this statement about evangelicals, “We have supported policies and ways of viewing the world that are actually destructive. And we’ve done it in the name of God and we need to repent.” or “people see Christianity as this endless list of absurdities and inconsistencies” Bell is writing and speaking to be intentionally provocative. He’s essentially making his point by calling out core evangelical convictions. I’m not saying Bell doesn’t have the right to do this–he does. But what I’m saying is that when people push back and explain the views they hold that Bell has called destructive and absurd–this is considered by Bell’s fans to be “ugly.” This charge effectively shuts down any constructive debate.

Lest you think I’m picking on people “outside my tribe”, so to speak, let me raise an example from the opposite side of the ledger. There have been a rash of books out lately calling Christians to radical commitment  pushing against the consumerism and spiritual laxity of the American Church. I happen to agree with much of what has been written in books like Radical, and Not a Fan and others. But I find it funny that some proponents of these books get upset at critical analysis, such as the piece in Christianity Today by Matthew Lee Anderson. Again, it’s ironic that some who make a living criticizing other Christians get upset when they themselves are criticized.

I think much of this is due to a lack of maturity on our part. Part of growing in wisdom is the willingness to accept helpful rebuke. It’s the humility to realize that our understanding of God, the world, and the Word is finite. Even at our best, we see, “through a glass darkly.” Our vision is tainted by the Fall.

Immaturity is thinking we are always right all the time. Immaturity is shining a spotlight on the faults of another (whether a movement, an organization, a person) and thinking we are above their flaws. It’s engaging in criticism and being unwilling to be criticized in return.

We seem to be courageous when it comes to “speaking out” against others, but remarkably cowardly when others “speak out” against us. We’re a tribe of thin-skinned radicals.

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