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Thursday, January 19, 2017

Seeking Balance

 When I first started this blog, I made an important decision: while I enjoy discussing politics, this wouldn't be the forum to do so; while I take great interest in debating theology and world religions, this wouldn't be the place; while I do have definite opinions on social issues and culture, this wouldn't be the platform to talk about them. The goal of this blog was to help hurting people find hope...hope in a world gone mad with sin and injustice, hope that healing might find their deepest wounds - sometimes created by the very things I listed above. This blog's intent was to be about God...Who is greater than all the things we often get too adamant and biased about, and Whose love is enough to unify and bring together even the worst of enemies. 
 That being said, I do feel the need to address something that will lead me to touch briefly on a couple of the things mentioned above. As you read what I'm about to say, please know that I will still keep to my commitment to focus on the hurting and, hopefully, this will maybe speak to hurts that you've incurred or inflicted over time...

Balance. It's a word I'm coming to appreciate more and more. It's something that I'm spending a lot of time praying about. It's something that I need desperately...and so does much of the world. As Americans (and as Christians), balance is a concept that we don't understand very well. Our very nature and our culture steer us toward taking sides and having strong opinions, being totally invested in a cause or idea...sometimes to the detriment of those around us. We see it all the time...churches dividing over what people ought to wear, over what style of music to have...even over the color of the new carpet. We've even seen it lately in the recent election - protests over the peaceful transition of the extent that some musicians have backed out of performing at the inaugural events due to threats from fans who see their performance as supporting something they differ with. Thus, millions will be robbed of the powerful gift of music as a result of some whose personal bias and disagreement blinded them to the celebration of our long-standing traditions of the republic ideal. 
On social media, I see this lack of balanced opinion all the time...people post their thoughts on something they've read or seen, and their feedback lends a tone of deep anger and hatred. They may speak true facts, but the spirit in which they present their case lends a feeling of judgement, condemnation, and hurtful criticism. We seem to have lost the ability to be civil. We seem to have given up the idea of respectful conversation, and all we appear to be able to do well now is argue our the demeaning of the opponent. Instead of looking for some common ground...some element of agreement that we can center the discussion around...and doing so in a spirit of mutual understanding, we criticize more than we compliment. As a whole, we're becoming more known for what we're against than what we're for.
 I'm honestly getting tired of the hurtfulness that's pervading our society...and, more importantly, the modern church. Because our standards are either too loose or too rigid, we're alienating one another and causing deep, polarizing relations to form between us. We sorely lack a balanced faith...a faith that holds truth but loves deeply, a faith that's bold yet gentle at the same time. And the results of this sad fact are painful - many people are leaving houses of worship over hurts they've sustained at the hands of others' insensitivity and directness. Some won't even go to church anymore. Some won't vote anymore. Some won't speak to certain relatives or friends because of the divisions that have ensued. 
 As a human race, regardless of our color, gender, religion, or politics, we still have a lot in common in regards to our need for hope and healing. We're all suffering under the effects of Adam's curse - the signs of a broken world are all around us. While our individual experiences are unique and different, our need for a Savior is still the same. But rather than centering our discussions and opinions around this - the most important fact of all - we center them around our differences. And thus, the divisions keep on growing. And the hurts keep on coming. 
 A couple of years ago, I read a very insightful book called "Jesus Outside The Lines." While I did not completely embrace every position the author took, the main point of his writing was well taken, and it's a message that many would do well to step back and heed. 
In that book, author Scott Sauls writes: 

"Is is possible to profoundly disagree with someone and love that person deeply at the same time? Is it possible to hold deep convictions and simultaneously embrace those who reject your deep convictions? Jesus tells us the answer is yes. And he shows us the answer is yes...
What matters more to us - that we successfully put others in their place, or that we are known to love well? That we win culture wars by carefully constructed arguments and political power plays, or that we win hearts with humility, truth, and love? God have mercy on us if we do not love well because all that matters to us is being right and winning arguments. Truth and love can go together. Truth and love must go together."

 The Lord Himself is our greatest example of how this can be achieved. Contrary to what many think, the only times that Jesus spoke harshly while He walked this earth was to the religious leaders of His day. Isn't it ironic that the ones who needed to hear His message of balance were those who professed to believe? He often accused them of focusing on seemingly insignificant things and making those things a rule to everyone else. And He wasn't afraid to tell them directly that, because of this attitude, they were missing the kingdom of God. Perhaps we are guilty of doing the same...
 Perhaps we are missing the point of following Jesus when "being right" becomes more paramount than the tone in which we communicate our point. Perhaps we are driving others away from the love of God because our actions do not show that love in the first place. Perhaps, if Jesus were to walk this earth today, He would have some harsh words to say to us because we don't understand how to pay forward the grace we've been given. 
If we're genuinely pursuing a life that reflects God, we should be some of the least offended, most respectful, most gracious people in the world. But sadly, many of the hurts people sustain occur from within this very circle of supposed followers of Jesus. 
 We often speak out of our fears...fears that God cannot defend Himself and thus, we need to help Him win over people to His side; fears that we won't be understood for our point of view, thus causing us to speak with such force that our message is lost in our spirit of anger; fears that we will offend some, so we never address the truth in its fullness. 
 But what if things were different? What if we began a movement, starting with ourselves, that just might change the world - one life at a time? What if we began to seek Christ's example more and our own feelings less? What if we became more concerned with joining Jesus in His work instead of trying to defend our own rights? After all, Jesus laid down His right to respect as the King of Kings in order to be taunted, abused, scorned, and ultimately killed for the sake of our eternal salvation. That type of humble love ought to compel us to love others differently. 
 To quote Scott Sauls again:

"This is where biblical Christianity is unparalleled in its beauty and distinctiveness. I am not talking about distorted belief systems that pretend to be Christianity, yet are not. I am talking about the true, pure, undefiled, unfiltered, and altogether biblical and beautiful system of belief - the one that leads people to trust God and have hope for humanity, to visit the orphans and widows in their afflictions, to love neighbors who are near and who are in need, and to extend kindness to enemies...Jesus did not merely speak these words [" your enemies and pray for those who persecute you..."] as an edict from on high. He became these words. 'God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.' While we were running from Him, while we were passively resisting Him, while we were actively opposing Him, while we were still His enemies, Christ - compelled by love - died in our stead. Do we need any more reason than this to extend kindness to those who don't see things as we do?"

Maybe we can change our corner of the world by seeking to become more balanced in our approach with others. While still taking a stand for the things that matter, can we do so in a spirit of compelling love that doesn't turn them off because of our angry attitude? Can we become more purposeful and intentional about loving others so that they are drawn to the truth through the gentleness of Jesus that they see in us? Can we center discussions around the simple fact that we're all not as we should be...we all have been hurt and are incomplete "works in progress," as they say. But we have at our disposal something that heals all wounds and bind us all divisions...Someone named Jesus who is the perfect example of how to live in the peaceful blend of truth and love. He is not the God of confusion, disorder, disharmony, and division. If we're following Him fully, we will no longer feel the need to put others in their place, to compete, to take sides, or to hold back the truth because of our fear of offending. We will no longer swing from one extreme to the other but will go about our lives with a deep desire to esteem others as valued creations of the Most High. 
 I don't know how this post will apply to your life...maybe you've been the offend-ed or the often-der. But whichever one applies to you...perhaps this is a call to make a change in the way you treat those around you. This world is calling for more kindness and graciousness. And who better to showcase that than those who follow after the perfect example of that in God Himself! 

"In your hearts, honor Christ the Lord as holy, always
being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks
you for a reason for the hope that is in you: yet do it 
with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience,
so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your
good behavior in Christ may be put to shame."
- (1 Peter 3:15-16 ESV)