Thursday, May 28, 2015

Christians, Social Media and the Loss of Grace

To begin, please take time to read this story from our Lord:

"Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, 'Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?'

Jesus answered, 'I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

'Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.

'But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded. His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’ But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.

'Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

'This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.'"

My heart has been heavy for a long time. It's heavy because I see such a lack of grace from many Christians in our society. And where I see it most on display is in the realm of social media.

We live in a difficult time. We live in a time where it is so easy to fail publicly. Our sin isn't dealt with just between those we have hurt and God anymore; no, the whole world gets to weigh in on it.

We live in a time where people's sense of justice is often doled out on everyone they hate, even if the person they hate is someone they have never met, never talked to, never walked with.

I can take that kind of justice from secular people. I don't like it, but I get it. What I can't take is the absolute hate coming from Christians. Christians who seem to have forgotten how much debt they have been forgiven. In social media, we get the opportunity to not only make people pay who have personally offended us but people who have offended others. We insert ourselves into the issue and decide to make the lives of the offenders living hell so we feel a sense of personal justice.

Maybe that's the problem with social media. We somehow feel when someone is revealed to have committed a sin or made a mistake that this action was taken against us even though it wasn't.

Now before you think I am more holier than thou, I struggle with this tendency in myself. There are times I feel just like Jonah. I don't want Ninevah to repent. I don't want people to be forgiven because I can say right along with Jonah, "Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity." Sometimes I want to see justice. I don't want God's grace to fall on sinners.

Think of someone who has done something you consider so awful, so heinous. Now, think of Jesus sitting down and eating with that person, getting to know them and treating them with respect. Now we know how the Pharisees felt. "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?"

God's grace doesn't make sense to us. Our capacity for grace is so small. It doesn't matter that our large debt was paid, we want everyone else to pay their debts back to us. We even want people to pay debts back to us that never even offended us personally.

Perhaps we've forgotten who and what God forgives...

A prophet who runs away from a God-commissioned mission... 

A disciple who denies he knows the Messiah when he swore he wouldn't....
A patriarch who deceives his father to steal his brother's inheritance...

A king who gets another man's wife pregnant then kills him to cover it up...

And many more. God's capacity for grace is boundless. There is no one that is beyond his grace.

Christian, you know what, we can get that. Maybe we're okay with God's grace, probably because we have received it. But giving grace to others as a representation of Christ to the world, that is hard. Especially when the whole world is slamming someone else on social media. It's so easy to join the crowd throwing stones, or at the least hold their coats while they do it.

What was Jesus' response to the Pharisees? "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." Mercy, not sacrifice. Not righteous, but sinners.

If we are ever to reflect our savior then we must desire mercy, not sacrifice. We must declare the grace of God for sinners. We must pray that our stone hearts become hearts of flesh. That our way would be the way of forgiveness.

Pray. Pray. Pray. Sometimes, that is all we can manage. Our anger may be so rich, our hearts so stirred up, we must pray if that is all we can do. Pray for hearts of mercy. Pray for hearts of grace. Pray for the ability to see sinners through his eyes. Pray that somehow forgiveness will take the place of anger. Pray for that person we cannot see but with hate. Pray. And sometime, somehow, in someway, forgive.

(Caveat: I have been working on this blog long before the Josh Duggar incident. I have never watched the Duggars. This blog is not a blog written in response to that incident. Although the issues may fall within the scope of this blog, it was not the impetus for writing this blog).

(Caveat the second: God gives governments the hand of justice. They can punish and do punish. Actions are punishable. But earthly punishment still does not negate forgiveness, whether from God or from man).

Sunday, May 10, 2015

What Living Overseas Does to You

I recently had a conversation with a friend currently overseas and we discussed the fact that once you live for an extended time overseas you are ruined forever. That is, you can't belong to either your own culture or your adopted one anymore. You see the world from a unique perspective and you will often feel like a fish out of water wherever you go. As I thought more about our conversation I came up with a list of six things that living overseas does to you:

1. You realize the world is far bigger than you knew. When you live overseas you experience a larger world. When you lived in your home culture you heard about other cultures, but you didn't experience them (high school culture fairs don't count :-D). When you live overseas you all of a sudden come to understand that the world is really more than your home corner of it.

 2. You begin to see foreigners as complex instead of simplistic. It's easy to see foreign people as one dimensional when you don't get to know them. It's easy to paint a whole culture one way and assume you know exactly what the think and why they think it. But when you actually begin to make foreign friends and go deep, all your preconceptions are challenged. You find people really are individuals no matter what culture they are from.

3. You stop seeing America as the answer to all the world's problems. Not all, but a lot of Americans think Americans have all the answers. I get that. My guess is most cultures would claim their culture has all the answers since that is all they know. So since my culture is American, it was America I realized wasn't sovereign when I lived overseas. There were things the culture I lived in did better than America. There were ideas they had and ways they acted that showed me they had something to contribute to the world just as much as Americans did.

4. You appreciate some of your own culture more. The culture I lived in did do some things better than America, but America does some things better than the culture. I appreciated America had provided me with security and a freedom that was not necessarily apparent in my host culture.

5. You experience the universal nature of the church. Best of all, you get to worship with people of another culture. You get to see the Bible and God's word through their lens. You start to realize there are ways to see scripture that differ from yours and that's okay (I am not talking about fundamental basics here. I am talking about something like how the famine in the Joseph story impresses your students from poor farming families who farm with implements from the 1800s far more than you who never worked on a farm in your life). And as you view Christianity through a different lens you start to see the cultural trappings of the way you do Christianity, those things that are not biblical, but cultural. They aren't necessarily wrong either, but they aren't necessarily right. You learn Christianity is far broader than you knew and, indeed, is a religion for anyone.

6. When you come home, you struggle with your home culture and your home church. Because of #1-5, you feel odd in your home culture. You feel odd in church, too. It takes time to reorient and you'll never reorient completely. You'll think things no one else thinks. You'll say things people don't get. Maybe you'll be labeled as odd, not with it, wrong thinking. When I have friends coming back to the States, I often tell them to be patient with themselves and their home culture. Remember that people here haven't had your experience. There is now a gap in experience, but that is okay. Just as we went overseas with the desire to understand the people in our host culture, we need to desire to understand the people in our home culture. And hang in there. You'll meet people who have lived overseas, too, and then you can commiserate together :-D

Actually, I think you can have all the above experiences within your own culture, too. For example, the United States isn't uniform. If you ever live in another part of the country than you grew up in you will experience this. Even if you just minister to a different socioeconomic group in your own area you can experience this. I think it's good to experience people in other places whether overseas or at home. It helps us to see the world more broadly and to sympathize with those different from ourselves. And above all, it makes us appreciate the image of God in all people everywhere.