Monday, May 25, 2015

Christian Cop Out #3 - "I just didn't feel peace about it."

Welcome to a series highlighting one of the most offensive trends in modern Christianity. My purpose is not to make us all doubt the sincerity of the people around us, but to encourage us to examine ourselves and ensure that we're not the offenders. Psalm 139:23.

Christian Cop Out #3 - "I just didn't feel peace about it."

Often our will conflicts with God's.

This Scriptural truth is easily demonstrated in our own personal experiences. Even Jesus, who was sinless, found on the night before his crucifixion that his emotional will conflicted with the express will of the Father. 

Given the general unruliness of human emotions, not to mention the blinding qualities of the sin nature, to claim that we need "peace" before we can act is a tricky business.

Our emotions lie to us, and because they lie, peace alone cannot be the guide for divining God's will.

There is a feeling of peace that accompanies following God's will, but there are also times during which we must act against our feelings in order to accomplish that will.

Interestingly, the scriptural phrase "the peace that passes all understanding" does not stand alone. It's given in the specific context of surrendering to God through prayer: "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."

This is the same spiritual path through which Jesus reached peace in Gethsemane. You'll note that for Jesus, peace did not come through changed circumstances (he still went to the cross the next day) nor through added guidance (nothing new was revealed) but as a result of his own willingness in prayer to surrender his emotional will to match the Father's.

The sort of overmastering peace we long to experience often comes not as a spotlight to guide us to the right choice but as the warm confirmation of a difficult step taken in faith.

The righteous live by faith, not feelings, and although faith can affect our feelings, faith is not only a feeling. When our feelings line up with God's explicit will, it's a beautiful thing. When they don't, we can still let our actions bring God the glory that our feelings could not.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Christian Cop Out #2 - "Waiting"

Welcome to a new series highlighting one of the most offensive trends in modern Christianity. My purpose is not to make us all doubt the sincerity of the people around us, but to encourage us to examine ourselves and ensure that we're not the offenders. Psalm 139:23.

Christian Cop Out #2 - "Waiting"

Situations do exist in which it's appropriate to wait for God to move. After all, there are some things that only he can do.

Unfortunately, we may be tempted to use "waiting on God" as a stalling mechanism to avoid dealing with situations that are clearly our own responsibilities. Maybe the next steps are tough, and we dread them. Maybe we're hoping someone else will intervene. Maybe we're legitimately afraid.

Whatever the reason, in such cases "waiting on God" becomes a lie: a spiritual-sounding excuse for inaction. 

If you're a student of the Word, it's rare that you'll reach a situation in which there's absolutely no Scriptural direction. How else could Peter have assured us that God has provided for us everything we need for life and godliness? 

Often God has already made his will abundantly clear in Scripture, and what we lack is not additional leading from the Lord, but the wisdom, courage, discernment, and obedience to follow through on what's already been revealed.

There are times that we wait for God, yes. We wait for God to move, and do what only he can do. But there are times that God waits for us--waits for us to learn, to grow, to mature, to shoulder our own spiritual responsibilities and to step out in faith.

Learning the difference will keep us from using "waiting on God" as an excuse doing nothing.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Christian Cop Out #1 - "Let Me Pray About It"

Welcome to a new series highlighting one of the most offensive trends in modern Christianity. My purpose is not to make you doubt the sincerity of the people around you, but to encourage each of us to examine ourselves and ensure that we're not the offenders. Psalm 139:23.

Christ and the Adulteress, Lucas Cranach the Elder, via Wikimedia Commons

Christian Cop Out #1 - "Let me pray about it." 

Almost any Christian anywhere, when asked to do anything in the church, will give this standard response: "Let me pray about it." It's a good answer. Ministry is tough, and it shouldn't be entered into on a whim. 

But if "Let me pray about it" is really shorthand for "Let me buy some time before I say no so that nobody thinks I'm being unspiritual," then we have a problem.

The problem isn't so much that you want to say no to something. After all, even Jesus said no to other people's well-intentioned (but misguided) ideas about what they thought he should be doing. 

So saying no to a good opportunity for a good reason isn't necessarily a sin.

But saying that you're going to pray about something without any real intention of following through makes you a hypocrite and a liar. That's serious enough, but there's actually a deeper problem at work. What you're really admitting is that you don't want to want to consider it. 

The reasoning goes like this: if you pray about it, God might change your mind about it, and then you'd have to do it. Since you don't want to want to do it, it's simpler just to reject the opportunity out of hand. But you can't admit that out loud, because that would really be unspiritual.

So what do you do? You say you're going to pray about it. That way when you turn the person down the next week, he'll think it's Jesus saying no, not you. 

Let's say maybe you actually do say a quick prayer at least once before the next Sunday, just so you're not technically a liar.

Fair enough. 

But there's a difference between sending up a perfunctory prayer to get out of a guilt loophole and really praying about something. Going to your knees and humbling yourself before the Father, spreading the issue out in full and wrestling against the old nature until you reach the same conclusion that Jesus reached in Gethsemane: Nevertheless, not my will, but Yours.

If that's what you really mean when you say you're going to pray about it, then by all means, go for it.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Why I Will Never Be the Matt Walsh Blog

Photo by Sherry Santino

Lately, quite a few of my friends and family members, concerned about the slow progression of my writing career, have asked me the same question: "Why don't you write more like The Matt Walsh Blog?" 

By that, I assume they mean, "Why don't you blog about popular issues like politics and human rights instead of slightly less-relevant topics like historical boyfriends and toilets?" 

It's a fair question, and I'll admit up front that when it comes to making a blog really take off, I'm doing lots of things wrong. 

I thought I'd take a few minutes today to briefly outline my response, but please bear in mind that this post is in no way intended to be disrespectful to Matt Walsh or to other bloggers of his stamp. This isn't a "Why He's Bad and Why I'm Better" post. Instead, it's intended to assuage the concerns of dedicated readers who have asked why my blog gets very little attention and wondered why I'm not doing anything to fix it.

Why I Will Never Be The Matt Walsh Blog: 

First, I don't specialize. 

Matt Walsh writes at the intersection of politics, social issues, and religion. His readers subscribe because they like to keep current with those conversations, and they share his posts to spark debate among friends and frenemies.

This blog, however, doesn't fit into any popular blog genres. It's not a lifestyle blog, a fitness blog, a teacher blog, a foodie blog, a singleness blog, or a devotional. Instead, it's an eclectic collection of essays centering on nothing in particular. 

Because of my failure to specialize, I lack the potential of drawing one particular crowd. A few of my posts here and there will gain traction with a particular group (my singleness posts especially), but because I don't address those topics regularly, not many new readers stick around. 

I know that when it comes to building an audience, this style is a weakness, but it's the type of versatility that I'm trying to develop.

So it's okay.

Second, I don't engage in sociopolitical debate online.

Part of being a good citizen and a good Christian is engaging the culture. When I teach at my church, meet in small groups, or talk one-on-one, I'm open to discussing how we can bring truth to bear on the issues of racism, gay marriage, health care, immigration, climate change, women's rights, and so forth. While I believe that there's a place for engaging with strangers online about social, political, and religious issues, I'm not the one to fill that place. 

When I do write serious essays, I'd rather address simple core truths and allow the Spirit to bring application to readers wherever applicable.

Naturally, this makes my blog much less of a talking point.

But that's okay.

Third, I don't calculate to shock.

Matt Walsh has a special genius for headlines that hit right between the eyes, daring both his supporters and his dissenters to click. (Witness "If You Go Black Friday Shopping on Thanksgiving, You Should Be Deported" and "Climate Change Deniers Are Completely Insane", among others). He also favors an inflammatory style of rhetoric that sometimes offends even the people who agree with him. While that style might be great for making posts memorable, generating attention, and creating talking points, it's not good for the blood pressure.

I'm also not sure that it's entirely Christlike. Yes, Christ spoke truth boldly. When confronting the opposition, he spoke directly and allowed no wiggle room. He did not, however, belittle people. In fact, he often demonstrated remarkable grace and restraint to his detractors, even while making mincemeat of their flawed arguments.  

Although I may resort to eye-popping hyperbole from time to time--such as telling readers to stop being friends with people who don't like coffee--I do this only in my frivolous posts. When discussing serious issues, I aspire to polite discourse, giving the opposing side all of the respect and generosity that I hope they will afford me.

As my dad told me approximately 1,000 times during my teen years, "Learn to disagree without being disagreeable."

In the end, I just can't square a pugilistic tone with the biblical admonition to speak the truth in love. Again, I know that this is a weakness when it comes to making my blog noticeable, but I firmly believe that not all attention is good attention.

So I err on the side of caution.

And that's okay. 

* * * * *

Love or hate his style, dig his point of view or loathe it, there's one fact we can't deny: Matt Walsh is doing blogging right. And by "doing it right," I mean that he posts frequently, reaches a large audience, and has made a career out of sharing his thoughts with the world. 

But blogging is not a source of income for me, nor is it my main creative outflow. It's just a way to develop my voice by practicing different styles, while simultaneously providing some entertainment for whoever wants to read along.

And you know what?

That's okay.