I just finished listening to the audible version of Timothy Keller’s latest book titled The Prodigal Prophet. I’m actually most of the way through listening to it again.
It’s that good.
And that convicting.
As when I read Radical by David Platt, I started guarded. I follow Keller on Twitter and, although I know him to be a fair-minded person, some of his tweets seemed… biased. While I can understand biased tweets from most, Keller always struck me as above-the-fray.
We need more above-the-fray in the church today. Amen?
I suspected my evaluation of Keller’s tweets could be due to my minuscule Twitter participation these days. After listening to The Prodigal Prophet – guards up and everything – I had little to be concerned about.
Keller remains above-the-fray in my humble opinion. His insight and message spring from Christ and Him crucified, as ever. Is his message convicting? It is. His message is also clarifying and goes to the heart of our highly-politicized US culture in 2018.
“Who is my neighbor?” Keller repeatedly asks, and then answers from the book of Jonah.
I love that he acknowledges the fish in the room (or the story, or the ocean) early on and then moves on, rightly labeling it a distraction. there’s so much more to the story. More – and important – lessons to unpack and apply.
I recommend The Prodigal Prophet to all Christians and pre-Christians.
I’m observing an unhealthy pattern of behavior in the church on social media. It unfolds in this manner (see if this sounds familiar):
President Trump says something offensive.
Christians become incensed.
Christians share their incensed-ness on social media.
Incensed Christians then accuse everyone who doesn’t share their incensed-ness of racism, hatred, agreeing with every wrong thing President Trump has ever said or done, not being a good person, and generally not being a (good) Christian.
Church? We’re cool right up until step 4, where we become very uncool. And by “uncool,” I mean we sin.
That’s a great question. Check out Christ’s words found in Matthew 5:22:
But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.
Jesus delivered these statements as part of what we now call the Sermon on the Mount. You can tell Jesus is serious because He says, “…will be liable to the hell of fire” right there at the end.
“Shouldn’t I correct my brother/sister?”
If they need correcting, and if you are mature-enough in the faith to deliver correcting, absolutely. But you should realize there are even thoughtssuggestionsrules commands about correcting your brother / sister, as well. I share some in this post titled Don’t Read This Post.
Let’s also keep James 3:1 in mind:
Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.
That’s one reason I admonish all Christians (and remind myself) to Tread With Care.
When we level such an accusation at anyone, it’s akin to throwing a tantrum – stomping feet and waving fists included. We’ve abandoned discourse of any kind at this point, much less civil discourse. We want our way and we want it now (whine whine whine stomp stomp stomp wave wave wave)!
Does that sound child-ish (aka immature) to you? It should because it is.
And it’s a sin.
“What About What My Brother / Sister Believes, Then?”
“Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.” – the Holy Spirit inspiring Paul in Romans 14:4
Bonus: “The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God.” ibid, Romans 14:22
If you believe it’s your job to correct your wayward brothers and sisters, you may be correct. One symptom of being correct will be your fruit in correcting your brother / sister. Hint: Castigating your brothers and sisters publicly – on social media, for instance – is a deal-breaker.
I learned some things in 2017; some things about God, myself, and others. Some of what I learned was awesome and awe-inspiring. Some of what I learned broke my heart and broke me in ways I didn’t know I could be broken.
I often respond to posts on social media with, “Praying.” I never post that I am praying without, in fact, praying. I also don’t post on social media every time I pray about something. Does prayer make me holier than thou? Nope. Am I informing God of something He doesn’t know when I pray? Not according to God’s Word (He knows what I ask before I ask it).
Then why all the prayer?
That was my lesson for 2017: Depend on God.
I depend on God. For everything. That was my lesson for 2017: Depend on God.
Here are some prayers for 2018:
Hear our prayers.
Thank You for Your many blessings.
Let there be peace on earth.
Reveal Yourself to those who do not yet know You.
Draw those who knew you, call their hearts to return to You.
Grant our leaders wisdom.
Heal Your church.
Lead us to unity.
Fill us with Your Spirit.
Let all that we say and do bring You glory.
Strengthen and encourage and embolden our teachers and shepherds.
Convict us of our sin, help our unbelief, grant us the courage to repent of our sins, renew a right spirit within us, and let us be salt and light to our cultures.
Some friends and brothers suffer from an allergy. They’re allergic to works. They’re Calvinists. Not Puritanical Calvinists because, well, those people “were so square, man.” (Apologies, I think I just confused hippie and hipster…)
I read your posts online, hipster brothers and sisters. I watch your videos and read your memes about short-term missions being “glorified vacations.” They’re cute. They’re lies, but they’re cute.
I read your 140-character-or-less sermonettes about how grace-trumps-works (with an apology for using a verb that reminds you of your hatred and/or shame for the current President of the United States [I’m writing this on Independence Day, after all]) and how works will not garner favor with God nor gain anyone entrance into Heaven. And I agree with you. Sort of. Mostly I fear sermonettes are only useful for attracting Christianettes, but I digress…
Let’s examine a passage of Scripture – a quote from Jesus Himself – that’s way longer than 140 characters and would definitely not be legible if printed in a social media meme:
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
This is the English Standard Version rendering of Matthew 25:31-46. I consider this passage one of the scariest in Scripture for a number of reasons, but I will focus on but one reason today. And that reason is:
When I imagine this scary passage playing out at some future date, I imagine some people overjoyed and other people astonished and terrified. I try to imagine the lives these people lived on earth. I wonder if those who spent time feeding the hungry or giving water to the thirsty or welcoming the stranger or clothing the naked or visiting the sick or imprisoned (aside: do you think this is an exhaustive checklist? Is this THE literal list or is our Lord merely suggesting ways to serve the least of these among us?) were accused of trying to work their way into Heaven? I wonder if they were accused of misunderstanding God’s Grace? I wonder if they were, basically, judged.
I also wonder, are those who didn’t spend any time feeding the hungry or giving water to the thirsty or welcoming the stranger or clothing the naked or visiting the sick or imprisoned wearing t-shirts with Ephesians 2:8-9 printed on them in Instagram Gospel font with “not a result of works” in big emphasized characters?
All throughout the New Testament Christians are urged to do good works.
All throughout the New Testament Christians are commanded to not rely on good works for salvation, but rather to rely of God’s Grace.
Are people who do good works trying to work their way into Heaven, then? I’m sure some are. Are people who do few or no works relying on God’s Grace? I’m sure some are. Are people who do good works responding to the gospel? I’m sure some are. Are people who do few or no works seeking an excuse to do nothing? I’m sure some are.
How are we to sort out the good from the bad? We aren’t – unless we want to be judged. This is why Jesus – again breaking the 140-character limit – tells us in Matthew 7:1-5:
“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”
Most aren’t equipped to judge for at least two reasons. First, we cannot see around our own faults clear-enough to judge the faults of others due to our own eye-logs. Second – unlike Jesus – we cannot see inside the hearts of others (another aside: Jesus cares way more about what’s in your heart than what’s on your shirt or where you vacation [glorified or not]) but must rely on an examination of the fruit of one’s life.
Jesus spent some time in Matthew 13 explaining that metaphorical weeds and metaphorical food-bearing crops are to metaphorically grow together until judgment, and that that judgment will be accomplished by those better qualified to judge. Go read the chapter. It’s a beaut (even though it’s too long to be printed legibly in a social media meme…).
On the Other Hand…
Let’s say you’re nailing it. You’re publicly calling out losers who are clearly and obviously doing-it-wrong. What fruit are you seeing from this work (yep, social media posting is a work)? Are you watering? Are you discerning? Is that your excusereason justification?
Returning to Jesus’ list in Matthew 25, where do you believe your activities fall – in the “doing good” or “not doing good” to the least of these category?
What if your brother or sister is truly sinning?
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load.
This is Paul’s letter to the Galatian Christians, chapter 6, verses 1 through 5. It’s an important teaching about the Body of Christ, the church. It contains another list – a list for us when we observe a brother or a sister sinning. So, another list of questions to ask ourselves:
Is restoration my priority?
Am I being gentle?
Am I watching myself?
Am I being tempted?
Am I bearing my brother’s/sister’s burden?
Do I think I am something?
Do I think I am nothing?
Am I deceiving myself?
Have I tested my own work(s)?
Am I boasting in myself?
Am I boasting in my neighbor?
Am I bearing my own load?
Believe it or not, I asked myself these questions as I proofread this intentionally-provocative blog post. I also asked myself “Who is this helping?” If you read this far, the hope in my heart is that you will hesitate before posting things that refer to works of all kinds as evil; that you will consider your potentially (probably) imperfect view into the hearts of those who may read what you post; that you will not be one who speaks evil of good.
I want to share with you a part of my story, a painful part. But first:
I want you to say what you want to say. If you feel the need to vent or march or put on a ski mask and club people or pepper-spray them, I want you to vent or march. Clubbing and pepper-spraying people… not so much. I wore a uniform years ago and it was my privilege and duty to protect our rights, one of which is the First Amendment. The right to free speech predates the First Amendment, but that’s another post.
I complained about the previous administration. I disagreed with the policies of the party in power and I stood with my brothers and sisters who disagreed. I demonstrated my solidarity by sharing posts and pictures and clips on social media.
Well, that’s a lie. “Andy Leonard is a liar.” Go ahead and post that and link back to this post (especially since comments are disabled). You may be thinking, “Andy, I’d never post that! You’re finishing the introduction of a blog post and about to make a point, I’m sure. Why would I post…”
I posted and re-posted because I was angry. I didn’t like the direction our country was headed. I wanted it to change. Someone needed to do something, to stand up and be counted. By jivities, I would add my voice and be counted among them.
So, what changed? Three things:
1. I lost friends. In the social media economy, it’s easy to believe I’m so helpful that people would continue to follow and listen – even put up with my politics and maybe, just maybe be persuaded to take another look at the other “side.” It turns out that the social media economy behaves differently: People will un-follow you and instead miss the helpful stuff you share. It is way easier to irritate people enough so that they stop following you, regardless of how many books, free utilities, and helpful blog posts you write.
There is now a sign in my office:
Who is this helping?
2. At least one company stated they would never hire me or my company to do work for them. There were probably more than one, but I only learned of this one. You may think that’s awesome or terrible. It can be both at the same time, depending on which “side” you support and with whom you agree.
3. I built unnecessary barriers between myself and people with whom I may have been able to share the gospel. I type this with trembling fingers. The rest is nothing compared to this.
The gospel of Christ causes offense. I will continue to share the gospel on social media. I will continue to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves, and this will continue to cause offense. It will, perhaps, cause other companies to not want to work with me. It will, perhaps, cost me more friends.
My goal isn’t to stop offending.
My goal is to stop offending unnecessarily.
How Social Media Changed My Vote
Social media changed my vote in the 2016 US presidential election. If you ever want to post “‘A social media post changed my vote,’ said no one, ever,” you cannot. I ruined the curve. (Apologies…)
Until a day or two before the election, I was trying to decide which candidate would receive my vote. It wasn’t going to be Clinton or Trump. I was bouncing back and forth between 3rd-party candidates.
A friend who was a staunch supporter of Clinton posted pro-Clinton and anti-Trump comments on my political posts. While I didn’t support Trump for president, I didn’t like the overt anti-Trump bias in the media. I suppose my friend interpreted my posts about anti-Trump media bias as “pro-Trump.” I understand that.
I care about a handful of issues. One of them is abortion on demand. I viewed Clinton and Trump as pro-choice (I was fond of telling people, “Trump has been pro-life for about 15 minutes.”).
I grew tired of the online debate in October 2016 and began un-following people I felt were being belligerent. Mind you, I was being belligerent. </HypocrisyAlert> My friend was not dissuaded. After I un-followed him, he continued posting anti-Trump posts and he began tagging me in them to make sure (I think) I would see them. I believe he was trying to get me to change my vote.
It worked. I read some of the links he posted. One of them played a clip from one of the debates in which Trump promised to nominate textualist judges for the federal benches. I’d missed that. What did that mean? It meant the judges Trump promised to nominate would not “discover” rights in the US Constitution, they would interpret the text, to the best of their ability, as the founders intended.
Almost all textualist judges oppose abortion on demand. So I decided to vote for Trump for that reason.
There’s still plenty I don’t like about the man, personally and professionally. I voted for Trump because the president of the US can make a difference in the abortion on demand policies by nominating judges, and I believe he will keep his campaign promises. (I could be wrong. Time will tell.)
As for social media, my tone and frequency of political posts has changed. I post less frequently about politics. When I find myself about to comment or re-post something political, I glance at my office sign and ask myself, “Who is this helping?” If the answer is, “Just me,” I don’t post it. That happens about 95% of the time these days. Maybe more…
In the social media economy, unnecessarily offending those with whom I disagree is like a social media tax. I reduce the value of my thoughts and my sphere of influence, and that influence could be put to better use… like spreading the gospel. If I’m offended and I intentionally seek to offend in response, I’m doing the opposite of what a Christian is supposed to do.
This book – Unoffendable – helped me reach these conclusions. You might want check it out, especially if you find yourself stressed by those with whom you disagree.