Saturday, August 19, 2017

Four Ways Christians Can Be Be a Healing Presence in our Country (regardless of political conviction)

Four Ways Christians Can Be Be a Healing Presence in our Country (regardless of political conviction)

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      To say that the current political climate is an inhospitable environment would be a tragic understatement. In the wake of the tumultuous 2016 election cycle constructive dialogue with people on the other side of the aisle appears next to impossible. Those on the right watch in terror as they see the values they believe set our country apart being disregarded and replaced, and those on the left tactlessly label their fears as "digressive" and sometimes, "oppressive." Those on the left are afraid of and angry at what they understand to be a dangerous administration, and those on the right push forward anyway, dismissing their leftist counterparts as "snowflakes" and "idiots." And those in the middle, who believe it is dangerous it is to view the world in such simplistic and duelist lenses, are shamed and accused of complicity and inaction. We don't listen to each other. We don't see each other. We don't care for each other. We only want the other one to get on board or go away. To be some one who loves and values the perspectives of their friends and family on both sides of the arena is to be heartbroken consistently, but to be a Christian who sees other Christians shamelessly engaging in such behavior is devastating on an entirely different level.

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      The biblical story of God and humanity doesn't permit such divisive behavior. In fact, I'm certain Christ would condemn this as idolatry. The biblical story has always been God establishing a people that exists to benefit other people. When he firsts establishes a people through Abram, he tells the Father of our Faith that through this tribe, "all the nations of the world will be blessed." They were blessed to be a blessing. This idea was, and still is, revolutionary because it demonstrates that a tribe that follows God doesn't exist for self preservation, it exists to benefit other tribes. Fast forward to the incarnation, and we see Jesus modeling this same principal. Christ saves and establishes his people to be a healing presence in our world, blessed to be a blessing.

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      It is hard for me to see how one can be fully committed to a political ideology while simultaneously being fully committed to living as a healing, Christ focused presence in our land. In the wake of the officer who shot Philando Castile being found not guilty, in the wake of a Sanders supporter shooting at conservative politicians during soft ball practice, in the wake of the 500+ person protest that consisted of Neo Nazi's, KKK members and people okay associating with such types, the dark influence of the bi-partisan talking heads threatens to steal our commitment to the Kingdom of God.  If it were up to me all Christians would surrender their political allegiances on the altar and leave it there. However, I know this isn't likely to happen, though maybe it really should. So, how do we as a people in covenant with God, a covenant that is sealed by Divine blood, take up our calling to be a blessing to the world in the face of such destructive political behavior? Here are four things that I think can help.

1. Examine Your Allegiances

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A good friend of mine often says to me, "Tony, do you know what would happen to our country if every person who claimed to be a Christian followed the teachings and example of Jesus?" I get goosebumps thinking about it. The harsh truth is most Christians in our country aren't exactly known for following Jesus. I am under the firm conviction that this is in large part due to our misplaced sense of identity. We have a hard time claiming a collective identity as citizens of the Kingdom of God while we cling to identities of Republican or Democrat or whatever. Instead of seeing all Christians as people on the same team as us, when they claim the opposing political identity of us, we view them suspiciously. Instead of a united and collective "us," we label ourselves, whoever we are, as "us," and we label the other as "them." Whether this is conscious or not, a lot of Christians observe the rhetoric of Bernie Sanders more than they observe the Sermon on the Mount. A lot of Christians watch Fox News more than they read their Bibles, and when they do read their Bibles, it's interpreted through the lens of what they heard Sean Hannity say, rather than the other way around. Being a Christian is not at all like adding an interesting nuance to your life that sometimes helps you make sense of the world and gives you a sense of belonging. Being a Christian is entirely like losing your life and then finding it (Matthew 10:39). When we commit to following Jesus, everything else becomes so secondary it sometimes looks like we hate everything else compared to how much we live the way of Christ (Luke 14:26); this especially includes anything that causes us to discriminate against people who disagree with us, like a misplaced sense of political affiliation. But before Christians as a people can be known for following Jesus, we have to get on the same page as to what that means.

2. Study Up!

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What exactly does it mean to follow Jesus? I think there are primarily two schools of thoughts that test a persons commitment to Christ (obviously there are many more nuances to it than this, but I think saying there are two dominant ways of thinking about the issue is fair.). For group one, they gauge a persons commitment to the Gospel based off of the things they see people abstaining from. They want to see Christians who don't drink (or drink to excess, depending on who you're talking to), don't engage in pre-marital sex, take a stand against same sex marriage policies, loudly oppose abortion, and vote conservatively because this is historically the party that stands for these same issues. In a less than appreciated summation, group one often reduces following Jesus to being the ultimate moralist. Group two, on the other hand, believes a committed Christian cares for the poor, fights poverty, fights climate change, fights racial injustice. In less than appreciated summation, group two often reduces following Jesus to being the ultimate Social Justice Warrior. Both have plenty of scriptures to back up their rational, but neither really fully represents the Jesus presented in scripture. So, how do we get on the same page?
 Read the Gospels. Study them diligently. Be a Gospel "expert." And translate it to a modern context. We don't live in 33 a.d. Jerusalem, but the principals of Christ are more relevant than ever. Jesus was the Divine with flesh and blood on who did battled against sin, death and the devil in the spiritual realm and in the physical realm, and through the Holy Spirit God is still looking to put on flesh and blood through us to continue the battle. Allow what you read to disrupt your way of thinking. Maybe fighting poverty is an effective tool in spiritual warfare. Maybe God wants his followers to abstain from things that the world wants us to embrace. Read. Study. Re-think. Follow.

3. Go Where the Hurt Is.

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Something Jesus frequently did was actively be a presence of healing in the face of pain. The greatest moments in church history have been when the church did the same thing. Christians were the first social workers. Before the Sermon on the Mount, adoption agencies and care for fellow humans were next to unheard of ideas. Democrat Christian, go to the family who lost their jobs and have fallen into poverty and believe it is because liberal policies failed them, and serve them, help them, heal them, and check your political convictions at the door. Republican Christians, come to the aid of your black neighbor who believes the conservatives running the show don't care about them and are complicit in their oppression, and meet any and all needs you possibly can, and check your political convictions at the door. See a need, meet a need. Go where the hurt is.

4. Affirm Humanity

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Jesus never told  tax collectors to quit their jobs, even though their jobs entailed doing evil things. Jesus never advocated arresting prostitutes, even though their jobs were destructive to themselves and their clients. He didn't legislate morality.  Jesus affirmed their humanity, served them, and loved them. He saw them deeply, and called out their value. I have seen political allegiances prevent us from seeing each other as people. It transforms us into beings that see people who disagree with us conquests to be conquered, not people who carry the Image of God. It doesn't always have to do this, but it often does. At the end of the day, we are all humans endowed with immeasurable value, and God has plan for us all. No matter what our political convictions, we must affirm the dignity of humanity, and fight for that dignity.

In Conclusion...

If you have been exposed to the light of Christ, you are blessed. If you have wealth, you are blessed. If you are healthy, educated, able bodied, or have influence over others you are blessed. But our blessings become sins when we just rest in them. Every blessing we receive comes with the expectation that it will be used to bless other people. If American Christians reclaim this as our heartbeat, our country will become a much brighter place.

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