Now What?

Beloved, last week was a wrecking ball of a week in our culture.  I want to be honest with you: let’s not pretend that this is just another transition of power for I believe it is not.  I have been a student of politics and this is unlike any of the transitions in the modern era. Something has happened to us as a nation, in part, I believe, because something has happened to us as a church.

Now, established in many levels of government are elected officials who have expressed or demonstrated antagonism towards: the Church and its worship, the unborn and their protection, the gospel and its promotion.

In many of these elected officials, there is evidence of criminal conduct, unethical practices and inclinations towards personal gain.  That isn’t new, but now, through many of these elected officials, the philosophies of man that are directly and openly antagonistic towards the gospel have open doors for influence.  Philosophies such as “critical race theory” and “intersectionality” that promote a victimization mindset and open rebellion against all established norms as a policy including, e.g., tearing down statues, riots, “defund the police” and shutting down worship in churches.  

However, lest we believe our troubles are only found there, we have to recognize that we as a church have for too long given up our prophetic voice in our culture, buying into pragmatic ends that aren’t truly consistent with God’s word and His kingdom.  For example, whereas at one time we judged men unfit to serve by their immorality, many have revised their views and now baptize anything that can bring benefit to our flesh: our retirement, our comfort and our health.

It strikes me that at almost every level, the nation is divided.  How have we become this way?  Beloved, the church is not innocent.  We have not always served the disadvantaged, advocated for the downtrodden, acted for the good of a person’s soul rather than his psychological well-being.  It is complicated to live as salt and light in our culture and we have not been too terribly successful.

In short, now we are reaping in our culture what has been sown since the American Revolution, the Enlightenment, the sexual revolution of the 1960’s, the Moral Majority of the 1980’s and the ubiquity of the Internet.  Additionally, the havoc wreaked by COVID-19, the opportunism of many in politics as a result, the fear and panic it has engendered in our population, all point to the same thing: as a culture we are no longer anchored to the transcendent.  Every man is doing what is right in his own eyes and not the Lord’s.  And, beloved, we are too often guilty.

So, now more than ever, the church of Christ must be a praying church.  Our prayers, however, must be proper before the Lord.  All along, He has been building His kingdom, a kingdom that stands apart from the kingdoms of men.  Must we pray that our government, academia and entertainment reform and return to promoting what is good?  Absolutely. Every day.

But, the trajectory revealed to us in the book of Revelation indicates our culture will descend away more and more from seeking the Lord and promoting the good.  If we are going to penetrate the culture effectively with the gospel, we must not be ignorant but we must be prayerful.  That:

  1. All faithful citizens, Christians whose allegiance is to the Lord come hell or high water, would be men and women of godliness, compassion, service and courage.
  2. All believers would not be fearful or silent but winsome and joyful witnesses in all our spheres of influence. 
  3. God would strengthen His church to be a place of refuge, wholeness and “home” to our culture as it decays into violence.
  4. The church would be truly discerning promoting what is good and praiseworthy, turning away from idols and temporal promises.

Beloved, this is no time for fear.  But it is also no time for pining after a time in our country when (we think) things were better.  Our cultural rot has deepened and it needs the church to be free from it, finding our home and hope instead in Jesus Christ.  The culture needs to “kiss the Son” (Psalm 2:12) but so does the church!  It needs us now more than it ever has. And the gifts of God in the Word, the Church and the Spirit are more than adequate to meet this cultural challenge.  Let us ask the Lord to fill us with His Spirit that we might be the church our generation needs.

Heaven soon,
Pastor Gabe

Relationships are not efficient

I recently returned from a missions trip to Hamburg, Germany.  What a marvelous trip; it is remarkable (though not surprising) to witness first hand and participate in what God is doing through the hamburgprojekt, a young church there.  With a brother from my church we were able to mentor, train and visit with courageous brothers and sisters.  We hope to write more on that later, but there was one element that deserves mention ahead of those details: relational inefficiency.

Recently a pastor friend of mine remarked in my presence that as much as we would like to believe otherwise, relationships are just not efficient.  If you think about a favorite American past time, the “to do list,” versus relationships, we can see just how they differ.  To do list’s:

  • Are strictly controlled
  • Don’t surprise us
  • Don’t act in ways that are destructive
  • Don’t need to grow in holiness
  • Go away when we want them to
  • Don’t say stupid things
  • Can be delayed
  • Can be shortened
  • Take only as long as we want
  • Aren’t shy or guarded
  • Don’t yell at us…

You get the idea.  I guess it is no surprise why they are so popular to us.  All of this is probably clear, huh?  Relationships aren’t like to-do lists at all.  “Of course,” you say, “that stuff’s obvious.”

I think I underestimated how much I often put people in the same category as a to do list.  I wouldn’t really know that I had done so until I…well, left the country for another culture.  Now, no one that I know would suggest that Germans are inefficient!  Yet, one thing that became clear to us what that in their culture (perhaps it is just with Americans) they take a long time to “be known.”  They are cautious and guarded (yet polite and fun).  When it comes to intimacy, they take their time, or, are “inefficient.”

I think we get that real rich relationships take time to build.  But I wonder in our culture if we have mostly lost the ability and desire to make the investments.  Facebook demands nothing, Twitter demands less.  Email reveals little, text messages less.  I was listening to Christian radio the other day and the host was encouraging folks that if they wanted prayer to text, Tweet or Facebook ’em!  At what point did we think calling into a radio station asking for prayer was even a good idea?!  Do we do that because we knew that if we called a good friend he’d make us actually communicate in ways that would put us off our calendars?

It has taken four years for me to build meaningful trust and communication with my Christian siblings in Germany.  At times it was tiring (surprise).  But, what struck me on our most recent trip (last week) was the remarkable fruit and joy that came as a result of our investments in each other.  I never imagined that I’d be able to share such profound and impacting life and ministry with men and women from a totally different culture!  I believe it was due to the commitment to relational inefficiency that is present in the German culture.  There is a sweetness to the slowness.  There is a profound pay-out for the systematic investments in relationships over a long period of time.  Talk about delayed gratification!

In our culture, most often, we are serial-relaters.  We have efficient relationships, that is, ones that don’t cramp our style and that get us where we want to go.  I am glad that not every culture is as inane as ours.  I don’t intend this to be a German-grass-is-greener post as if one culture rises above all others.  But, clearly, ours is not a culture that places tremendous value on systematic and long-term relationships for their own sake.  How many Facebook friends do you have?

When Language Becomes Worthless

I’ve observed in the last few years a shift in our communication.  Now, I’m not so sure it’s only been in the last few years (others would probably tell me it’s been longer) but I have certainly noticed it as it has invaded my circles.

Worthless language takes many forms.  I have observed that people say things that don’t actually say much at all.  In other words, if I have to ask you what you mean several times – over one statement – it is likely that what you said either was profoundly unclear or unintelligible. Now, of course the third option could be that I’m clueless (that’s always an option).  Let’s assume that I’m not.  (We have to assume something…)

Worthless language can be crude and curse-filled.  In that case, that language, while descriptive, is usually not helpful in advancing dialogue.

What I’m talking about in terms of useless language is user-defined language.  In other words, using words whose meaning is ultimately subjective or user-defined: it means what I say it means.

This language, as far as I’ve observed, is most prevalent when words that were previously used to describe physical ailments, and were at one time metaphorically used to describe our inner existence, crossed over into literal, inner descriptors.

Huh?

Here’s a popular one: “I’m hurt.”  What the speaker means is not something physical and measurable (like the yellow jacket stings I received yesterday) but some kind of inner experience that only the speaker knows about.

“I’m wounded”

“You’re unsafe”

“This relationship is unhealthy”

“That’s abuse”

“You hurt my feelings”

Each of these phrases depicts an inner, subjective experience that defies external definition.  In other words, there’s no real way to test, measure, or gage what the speaker really means.  And we all like it that way.

A problem with user-defined language is that once it is spoken, its meaning is both a secret and controlled by the user.  I have to figure out what you mean and if I don’t I can’t ever do anything to please you.  Maybe vindictive speakers like it that way; most probably don’t realize what’s happening.  But for the hearer, it is a kind of verbal servitude – you own me because you’ve used words that I’ve heard before but whose meaning you’ve defined.

I’m both stuck and beholden.

It didn’t use to be this way.  Formerly, language, while usable in different arenas had specific functions.  Now, those meanings have all been conflated – combined, condensed, melted-together.  And we’re all stuck.  If I’m hurt or you’re unhealthy, we’re slaves to each other until we figure out what the blazes that all means.

I have a better idea.  How about we don’t give a “tinker’s rip” about each others language and we agree instead on a common tongue.  When we talk about our inner experiences – what we think and value and believe – why don’t we adopt a time tested vocabulary and start from there?

The Bible.  The Bible provides for us both descriptive and prescriptive words.  It both describes and explains our inner experiences.  If, for example,  I experience a hardship at your hands, I can tell you that:

“I believe that your words were full of wrath and that you sinned against me” (see Colossians 3:8).

“You were slandering me to my friend and you sinned against me” (see same verse)

“You lied with your words and you sinned against me” (see Colossians 3:9)

“Your speech was obscene and it was offensive; you sinned against me” (see Colossians 3:8)

“Your words were harsh and unloving; you didn’t have my best interests in mind” (see Ephesians 4:15 and Philippians 2:4)

You see, when we use an external, neutral language that both describes and prescribes, things can happen. I can be held accountable and you can get some justice and mercy.  Do we not see that our culture’s current use of formerly physical language is ultimately unhelpful?  Throwing around terms like “abuse” and “safe” and “health” just don’t get us anywhere with each other.  (We’ve seen this for years in the ambiguity of pro-abortion argumentation standing on phrases like the “health of the mother” and then filling into “health” whatever ones wants.)

If you tell me that I’m not “safe” I have no idea what to do except what you tell me.  But, what if what you are telling me to do to be “safe” is contrary to the law of God?  In other words, what if you tell me that I must “stay away so that you can be safe” when in fact the Bible says that I must draw near to reconcile?  What do we do then?

When it comes to the language of blessing and the language of conflict, we cannot let ourselves devolve into subjective, user-defined, worthless speech.  Instead, we must humble ourselves and use the language of Another.  Then we will be able to assign a universal meaning and maybe we can reconcile.