Monday, February 17, 2014

Reacting, Responding, and the Gospel of Peace

Apparently, it just made headlines that Tim Tebow, in an interview with USA Today, stated that homosexuality is a sin.  Of course the media is up in arms and blowing it out of proportion.  The NFL even issued a statement including the line, "...we will not now, or in the future, offer contracts to any person who is openly homophobic."

What was your reaction just now?  

Did you instantly turn to Facebook and post how atrocious it is?  Did you text a few of your close friends with your shock and anger?  Begin ranting about how horrible and sinful homosexuals are?  Start forming a blog response in the back of your mind (this is my go-to)?  Decide to never watch anything having to do with the NFL again?  Well, here's the thing, none of it is true.  I made it up.  I'm sure for some NFL fans that was pretty obvious.  As well as for many others.  I'm not very good at pulling the wool over people's eyes.  lol.

The point here is not about headlines being fake.  Or about rumors spreading like wildfire - though those things are relevant.  The point is, our reaction.

I do not think that we have been reacting to headlines such as Phil Robertson's not-so-surprising stance on homosexuality in the right way.

Now please hear me out before you push the 'x' on the above tab....

I am a Bible-believing conservative Christian.  That means I agree with Phil Robertson and many others, publicized or not, that homosexual acts are a sin.  Just like murder, divorce, stealing, lying, cheating, adultery, etc.  This post isn't about that.

This post is about responding instead of reacting.  This post is about our anger having appropriate outlets.  And, yes, this can be applied to all areas of our Christian walk, not just this one.

A famous quote, attributed to Albert Einstein says that "the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results" (or something like that...).  Well guess what folks, that is what we have been doing.   

Any time something in the media has anything to do with homosexuals and Christians, we lash out about how angry we are that we are being criminalized, we rant about how right we are. 

The anger there isn't a problem.  We should get angry; we're allowed to be angry because of the injustices of this world.  BUT, is the way we are reacting in our anger making a difference?  Absolutely not.  We can't keep doing the same thing over and over and expect a different result!

You see, "we should never be rash in speaking of the things of Christ, but weigh well beforehand what we have to say, lest we speak amiss" (Matthew Henry).  Scripture has quite a bit to say about what we do with our anger and I'd love to discuss a few of those in regards to this matter...

First, here are few thoughts from the book of Proverbs:

Proverbs 15:1 -  A gentle answer turns away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger.

Proverbs 15:18 - A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, But the slow to anger calms a dispute.

Proverbs 19:11 - A man's discretion makes him slow to anger, And it is his glory to overlook a transgression.

Proverbs 29:11 - A fool gives full vent to his anger, But a wise man keeps himself under control. (NIV)

Those few simple verses alone should make us reexamine our approach to the mess that has become "Christians vs. Homosexuals."

But Proverbs isn't the only place where anger is mentioned.  There are a few sections of Scripture I would really like to bring to light today.  The first is Ephesians 4:26-31:

26 Be angry, and yet do not sin;... 27 and do not give the devil an opportunity... 29 Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. 30 Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God... 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.

I'm not going to focus on the first part of this (Be angry, and yet do not sin), though it is pretty relevant.  The part that jumps out to me here is vs. 29 - Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear (emphasis added).

Are the words we are speaking edifying to those that need them in the moment?  Are they giving grace to those that hear?  Looking back to how I've reacted to being called intolerant and criminalized for my beliefs, I can answer 'no' to that question.  I have come a long ways from my original reaction.  I used to lash out for all to hear (or see rather since it is usually on Facebook). While it may have been edifying, my words definitely did not include much grace.  

To clarify, the definition of edification is "the instruction or improvement of a person morally or intellectually" (Google).  Yes, I wanted the  world to know that the Bible clearly states that homosexuality is a sin...and not just in the Old Testament.  I was trying to improve our country morally.  But my words didn't contain grace.  And I truly believe this is true for many Christians out there.  

Something like the Phil Robertson mess comes up and we lash out on Facebook about how right we are, neglecting to think about the implications of our words.  And it hasn't done anything to help.  It has only given the enemy more fuel.  He (by way of the media) has twisted our reactions to mean intolerance and hatred - when I'm sure that most of us are not intending that at all.  

Let's look at another passage - James 1:19-20 - This you know, my beloved brethren.  But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.

In my generation, in a few generations before, and in every generation after - no one knows the meaning of "slow to speak."  Because of Facebook, Twitter, e-mails, text messaging, and many other outlets - our thoughts can be read by 100's (if not thousands) of other people in a matter of moments.  It is also relevant to note that tone cannot be conveyed well through the written word.  Things are misinterpreted so very easily.  And not many of us take the time to really think those things through.  Though, for various reasons, we spend hours trying to get just the right "selfie" (and, no, I'm not speaking from experience here...).  Sometimes once those things are sent or posted, they can't be undone.  It's too late, someone saw it, someone read it.  This could be an entire blog post in itself so I'll stop here.

The point is, we are to be slow to speak - whether that is audible speaking, sending a text, or posting a status.  And we are also supposed to be slow to anger.  Honestly, this is something I struggle with, mostly in my marriage.  I am learning that if I don't react to a situation, lash out in the heat of the moment before thinking, things go much more smoothly.  If you are slow to anger, slow to speak - you give yourself time to respond.  And responding means you've had more time to think your emotions through.  You've had more time to put words to the correct emotions.  Responding means you don't say things you will regret the next day.  It means you are able to communicate better and run less chance of hurting someone else (which never helps a situation).

And did you catch the last bit of that passage - the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.  It doesn't get much simpler than that.  Our anger doesn't do anything to bring about God's righteousness!  So what exactly is the point then?  If it doesn’t do any good, then there has to be a different solution.   

The last bit of Scripture I want to bring to your attention, was brought to my mind by a recent sermon:

Ephesians 6:13-16 - 13 Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14 Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; 16 in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.

First of all, I just want you to notice - none of the items listed here are offensive, only defensive.  Interesting isn't it?

Most importantly, however, the Gospel is referred to as the Gospel of Peace.  It doesn't say to shod your feet with Gospel of condemnation or the Gospel of righteous anger or anything else like that.  We are to shod (or shoe) our feet with the Gospel of Peace.

Yes, there is a Spiritual Battle beneath the surface.  It is a war we are fighting every day.  I truly believe that.  But when we confront the physical world with swords swinging and guns blazing it doesn't do us any good.  The people we are trying to 'save' from a world of sin end up running away in fear or standing up to fight back.  It is a fight or flight response.  When someone comes at you red faced and arms swinging, those are the two reactions - fight or flight, neither of which are going to win anyone to the Gospel.  And that is exactly how so many Christians approach the debate over homosexuality - red faced, arms swinging, swords out, and guns blazing.

It's about time we left the definition of insanity behind.  It is about time something changed.  The next time a headline screams something about how Christians are intolerant or that some TV star or corporation doesn't support homosexuals, don't react, respond instead.  Take some time to think and process everything.  Don't let your anger get in the way of your witness, because that's all it is doing.  When you finally decide to say something or post something, think about what the reaction will be - is it going to cause the fight or flight response or is it going to cause an atmosphere of peace?  Because we need to strive for the latter.  It is the only way to bring light and life to a dark and dying world.

I don't have an answer for what that response of peace should look like.  I don't really know anyone who is homosexual or transgender and so it is difficult for me to understand.  I could come up with all sorts of ideas but I can't guarantee that they wouldn't be offensive or even taken the right way.  But it is something I'm striving to figure out.  My heart has been hurting over this matter for a long time and God is still working on me.  I am trying every day to understand what God wants from us in days like today - when the world has turned what is black and white to grey.  But one thing is for sure, we have to show His heart, not His wrath.  I ask that you would join me, and pray for this issue.  Pray that God will direct your heart, that He will give you the appropriate words when you need them, that He will make you more like Him every single day.  He has told us that anger doesn’t bring about His righteousness, pray that He will show you what will!

I apologize to any who heard or read some of my rash Facebook posts (or anything else).  I didn't understand then how hurtful simple words could be to a group of people I'm unsure of how to relate to.  I apologize for interfering with your chance to truly know what our Lord is like.  I'm sorry for making you fight or flee, for making you believe the Gospel was about condemnation and righteous anger.  It isn't.  It is so much more than that.  It is the Gospel of peace, love, hope, forgiveness, a future, and so very much more.  Choosing the Gospel, choosing Christ, is the best choice you could ever make.  You will no longer live in darkness; there will only be light.  You will no longer be dead; you will be given new life.  It doesn't get much better than that.

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