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Sometimes the Shoe Fits

April 9, 2015

Earlier this week President Obama made an offhand statement in the middle of an otherwise rather nice presentation during a White House Easter Prayer Breakfast.  His exact words, which seemed to have been off-the-cuff because they didn’t fit with the rest of his speech, were “On Easter, I do reflect on the fact that as a Christian, I’m supposed to love, and I have to say that sometimes when I listen to less than loving expressions by Christians, I get concerned.”

The reaction among many Christians was pretty quick.  Fox News was, of course, rather outraged; this guy decided a little ridicule and sarcasm was the right response; and these folks have started an online petition demanding that the President stop “insults to Christianity.”  It is approaching 7,000 signatures as I write this.  Others used the speech as the foundation for urgent pleas to donate to their organizations to help them cope with this dire threat to our faith.

Over on Twitter more than a few Christians have been…shall we say…somewhat less polite in their responses; so much so that you could almost say that they were determined to prove that, for them at least, the “less than loving” charge has some merit.

In John’s Gospel he tells us that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”  We have a Savior and Lord who is the essence of grace and truth and we need to ask ourselves what this means for us as we go about our daily lives; how do we actually live when we follow such a Savior?

We evangelicals are pretty good at the truth part of that couplet.  Scores of divinity schools and Bible colleges educate us by the thousands to know the truth.  Across the land thousands of pastors give weekly expository sermons helping us to know and understand the truth.  Tens of thousands of Bible studies and Sunday school lessons go on where we teach and discuss issues of Biblical truth.  A passion for, and tenacious clinging to, what we feel the Bible truly teaches is the hallmark of our faith.

Grace, uh, not so much.  While we have a pretty good understanding of received grace, that which comes on salvation, our understanding of being dispensers of grace is not heavily emphasized.

Yet, in the Old Testament, there are 36 places where the Jews were commanded to love the stranger.  One Jewish writer says “The supreme religious challenge is to see God’s image in one who is not our image.”  Jesus comes along and ups the ante in the Sermon on the Mount.  He tells us we need to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us.  This is unique to Christianity.  No other faith calls for its adherent to love not only strangers but outright adversaries.  I can’t help but think that, the more we love people that we have no earthly reason to love, the more like Jesus we will be.

It is not enough to sit in our churches and tell ourselves we love “them.”  It isn’t even enough to start our condemnation of others with “I love you but…”  It would seem we are called to be Stephens, calling out forgiveness as the fatal rocks rain down.  We are called, perhaps, to sing praises in jail or – much more likely – to treat those who despise us with grace and mercy.  This is hard, even seemingly crazy.  When we turn the other cheek we are often going to be hit there too.

If you ask many non-Christians what comes to mind when they talk about us you will hear words like “judgmental” and “hateful.”  It is past time to stop blaming the media or those who hate us for this growing reality.  We need to own it.

Perhaps we need to focus more on discussing how to live and demonstrate everyday grace in our seminaries, sermons, and Bible studies.

Perhaps we need to keep our responses to provocations intentionally grace-filled even when every instinct tells us we are being treated wrongly.

Perhaps we need to be humble in our opinions, even to the point of including “but I could be wrong” at the end of every pronouncement.

Perhaps we need to focus on the friendship side of friendship evangelism and let the Holy Spirit open the door to the other side.

Perhaps we can end the culture wars not by winning or losing but by simply being grace-filled no matter the circumstances.

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