Sometimes it’s enough to stick a rock in someone’s shoe

evangelism-slow-process

“Sometimes you just need to stick a rock in their shoe.”

I’ve been chewing on this idea1 since Thaddeus Williams shared it during his session at the TruthXchange Think Tank last week. Williams was speaking to the idea that sometimes the best thing we can do for those pursuing relationships outside the parameters set by God is to change the categories.

As his argument goes (and it’s a good one), the problem in our relationships is that we put these God-sized expectations upon those we pursue. And when they fail us—and they will, because the weight of our expectations are too great—it’s not simply that our relationship is over, it’s that our “god” has let us down. But we keep repeating the cycle, over and over again, hoping that the next time will be different (though it never is).

This is how you stick a rock in someone’s shoe.

What’s helpful about this approach is that it understands evangelism to be a slow process, something Jerram Barrs addresses in Learning Evangelism from Jesus. Commenting on the interaction between Jesus and the lawyer (or Bible teacher) in Luke 10:25-37, Barrs explains that Jesus was content “to send this man away without the message of the gospel. Instead of the good news of salvation, Jesus leaves this teacher with some issues to ponder in his heart” (61)

In other words, Jesus was content to stick a rock in his shoe.

This, again is helpful for us to keep in mind in personal evangelism: sometimes the least helpful thing we can do for a person is come out full tilt with a full-frontal gospel assault. For those whose hearts have not been sufficiently prepared by the Lord, this may only serve to drive them further away. Instead, there are times when we would be wise to take a different approach—one that gets people thinking (and perhaps even annoys them) as they wrestle with an idea or a question.

Evangelism is often a slow process; sometimes it’s enough to stick a rock in someone’s shoe, and see what God does through it.

How to lose the head, heart and hands of your faith

Whole Bible-Bavinck

What is the most widespread error in the church? There are oh, so many, of course: We have professing believers who say they love Jesus but hate the church, his bride. We have apparent Christians who call the work of Christ divine child abuse. We have church-going men and women who believe it doesn’t matter with whom they sleep, what media they consume, or where they go (and heaven help anyone who says otherwise).

These are all pretty serious things, to be sure. But they’re not the most consistently widespread problem. If anything, these are symptoms of the larger error. That error? The rejection of the Old Testament. Writing a century ago, in a time in church history very similar to our own, Herman Bavinck put it this way:

The worst and most widespread error is the rejection or neglect of the Old Testament. Marcionism repeatedly reemerged in the Christian church and plays a large role in modern theology as well. All this arbitrary use of Holy Scripture leads to one-sidedness and error in theology and to pathology in the religious life. In that setting the full and rich configuration of truth does not come to light. Either the person and work of the Father or of the Son or of the Holy Spirit is then sold short. Injustice is done to Christ either in his prophetic, or his priestly, or his royal office. The Christian religion loses its catholicity. The Christian head, heart, and hand are not harmoniously molded and guided by the truth. Only the whole Bible in its fullness preserves us from all these one-sidednesses. (Reformed Dogmatics vol. 1, 617)

I have never met a spiritually healthy, well-balanced Christian who neglects the Old Testament. Chances are, neither have you.

If we ignore the Old Testament, and the rich promise of Christ contained within it, we do so at our spiritual peril. If we teach that it’s no longer necessary, we ought to have millstones tied around our necks. If you overlook it, you impede your ability to respond to objections to it from non-Christians.

In other words, if you want to lose your heart, lose your hands or lose your mind, just ditch the Old Testament.

Links I like

Links

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Why Does God Love Us?

R.C. Sproul Jr. answers here.

Spending an Evening with Atheists

Douglas Groothuis:

This was easily the most hostile group I have ever addressed in thirty-six years of public speaking. I spoke after an hour and half of anti-Christian propaganda and was on stage with an atheist before an audience of many atheists. Nevertheless, I think my opening comments refuted important claims in the film—I needed several hours to respond to all the errors, many of which were absolute howlers—and I attempted to fairly and calmly respond to all the questioners. I was not stumped by any of the questions or comments, but I always wanted to say more; I am a professor, after all. I tried to give Will ample time to respond, but he often wanted to move on to the next questioner. He seemed quite nervous. At several points, I was able to present the essential gospel message, once in response to a question on hell: Jesus came to save us from that fate.

Champions for life in every generation

Daniel Darling:

When Roe v. Wade is overturned (and we pray earnestly for that day), it will not end the prolife movement. Other threats will emerge and require the same Spirit-fueled fortitude I saw at the March for Life. If every human trafficker were brought to justice, there would still be attempts to treat human life as a commodity. If every immigrant were welcomed, if our communities were perfectly integrated, still you’d see attempts to value one ethnic group over another.

This reality is not cause for despair, but a source of hope, for in our mission as followers of Christ we find distant echoes of the kingdom to come. Because the march for life is not just a once a year protest, but a daily way of life. Because the march for life doesn’t end on the steps of the Capital or the Supreme Court, but in that city whose builder and maker is God. When we march for life, we’re marching to Zion.

 Ask Celebrity Pastor: How Do I Improve My Sermons

Stephen Altrogge offers a long overdue new edition of fake celebrity pastor Tyler Hawk’s advice column. (Remember friends, satire.)

The incomprehensible evangelist

We can't assume pre-existing knowledge

My oldest daughter is very clever and creative. When she was six, she would often have conversations with her stuffed cat, Hershey. Eventually, she developed what she called “kitty language,” even writing down a series of symbols in one of her notebooks. It was cute… but it was also entirely incomprehensible.

Sometimes, we Christians seem like that to outsiders. We have our own special language, much of it derived from what we find in the Bible (though some of it comes from… well, I have no idea where). But there’s a problem: most people today don’t have any clue what’s in the Bible. Reading The Heart of Evangelism reminded me of this. Jerram Barrs writes:

The words that we hear every Sunday in most of our churches and that we use in our prayers are no longer part of the everyday language of our society. People simply do not talk about justification or sanctification, nor about redemption, salvation, or sin. Language that is precious to the Christian is an unfamiliar dialect to most people around us. This means that church as usual and sermons that don’t acknowledge this problem are difficult for our contemporaries to relate to, just as computer language is incomprehensible to many of us! (139)

When considering how to share Christ with others, this is incredibly important: We can’t assume pre-existing knowledge if we want to communicate the gospel clearly. There are some words that we can probably avoid using, to be sure, but what I never want to do is avoid a word like “sin,” for example. Instead, I want to explain it in a way that makes sense. That sin isn’t simply the “bad things” we do, but a problem within our being—a compulsion to pursue anything other than God as most desirable, and to reject him though he has made his existence plain to us through many means.

A lot to take in? Sure. But we have to help people see that there’s a lot packed into a tiny word like “sin,” if we want them to understand the problem they face. But when we fail to consider our context—when we fail to really acknowledge the biblical illiteracy of our culture (and, sadly, our churches)—we risk our words being seen as incomprehensible as my daughter’s made-up play language. And that just will not do.

Pursue unanimity, not uniformity

unanimity

There are times when our doctrinal disagreements can hinder more than help. There are some things that can be set aside for the sake of gospel work.

Just think about competing views on baptism for a moment. Some of us are convinced infant baptism is biblically acceptable; others believe that only those who have confessed faith for themselves should be. And this is important: only one position is right. One is absolutely correct. The other is completely, flat-out wrong.

But should our convictions on an issue like baptism (as important as it is) get in the way of our partnership in the gospel?

No.

I’m not saying we cannot debate, sometimes with great passion. Nor am I saying we can’t disagree strongly. But if we believe the same gospel—that, as the Apostle Paul wrote, “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-5)—can we not partner together?

One would hope so.

Now, without question there are some we absolutely cannot partner with—fundamentally because we believe a different gospel. Evangelicals cannot partner with Roman Catholics on gospel matters because we fundamentally disagree on how we are made righteous before God. Those who believe there will be judgment for unbelievers cannot partner in gospel work with universalists. Those holding to man’s depravity cannot partner in gospel work with those who deny the existence of sin.

But whether we are continuationist or cessationist, Baptist or Presbyterian, Christian celebrity or one who has embraced obscurity, if the essentials are in alignment,1 we should be able to work together. We may not have uniformity, but we absolutely can and should have unanimity.

One can’t play Scrabble while his partner plays Candyland, after all.

The good news in Abraham’s story

good news-abraham

There’s an old children’s song that goes like this:

Father Abraham had many sons
Had many sons had Father Abraham

I am one of them
And so are you
So let’s just praise the Lord.

I’ve never really liked this song, though, admittedly, I never heard it until I was an adult. 

The problem I have with it at times is the rose-colored glasses view of Abraham himself. He is the man of faith. He is the one who followed the Lord away from all he had known, not knowing where he was to go, and believed God’s promise to bring him to the land he would show him (Hebrews 11:8-10). He is one of the few to be called a friend of God in Scripture (James 2:23).

And yet, when you really consider Abraham… this was one messed up guy. A paragon of virtue, he was not. He grew up a pagan man. And though he believed God, he also had a habit of doing things his own way. On the journey, not once, but twice, he lied and said Sarah was his sister, and she was given to foreign kings as their brides (Genesis 12:10-20; 20:1-18). Why? Because he feared for his life. Could you imagine if the song included some of the other details of his life?

Father Abraham sold his wife
And pretended she was his sister
It’s kind of creepy
Oh, yes it is
So let’s just praise the Lord.

Doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, does it?

But it doesn’t get better. Though he was promised a son by Sarah (Genesis 15), Abraham—at her encouragement—took Hagar as a concubine, and had a son with her, Ishmael, who would be the father of the Arab nations (Genesis 16). So he not only was a liar who prostituted his wife—because he got paid by these kings, too—he was a polygamist, to boot.

How could God use a man like this? How could this man be a part of the family line of Jesus?

Before we get all judgmental and self-righteous on Abraham, it’s helpful to remember: Abraham’s story is, in many ways, ours.

He was not a man of outstanding moral character, it’s true. But neither are any of us. He was not a man who consistently did what was right. Neither are we. He was not a man who, though he believed, even believed consistently. And that can most certainly be said of all of us, too. (Or at a minimum, it can definitely be said of me.)

If his character and actions were the measure of salvation, he would have been damned for all eternity—just like you and me.

And there’s the good news in Abraham’s story. “Abraham believed, and it was counted to him as righteousness” (Romans 4:3; Galatians 3:16; James 2:23a). It was his faith that saved him, that declared him righteous. It was not his character, nor his performance. It was faith alone alone that saved him. And it is faith alone that saves us as well.

What our bestsellers say about our discipleship

What our bestsellers say about our discipleship

Seriously folks, we’ve got to do better than this.

By now, you’ve almost certainly seen the list of the top 25 bestselling Christian titles of 2014. But, of course, there’s one slight problem… Virtually none of these titles are identifiably Christian.

This should greatly concern us, and I truly do mean greatly.

On this list, we have:

  • Multiple editions of a devotional book wherein the highly mystically-influenced author writes as Jesus in the first-person, listening to what he says and writing it down for the rest of us to read. Its sequel is on the list, too;
  • Two editions of a book that flat-out contradicts the Bible’s description of heaven (and whether or not we are to even speak of such things);
  • Two books on personal finance;
  • One book endorsing borderline pagan forms of prayer;
  • Four books from a reality-TV famous family;
  • Two books by prosperity preachers, and therefore not Christians at all;
  • One end-times obsessed bit of crazy, with two more prophecy-focused titles alongside it;
  • Two self-help books and a diet book;
  • One memoir-ish book by a man compelled by love to do unpredictable things;
  • One book on women’s issues; and
  • One book on the importance of being a church member.

So, by my count, at best we’ve got two Christian bestsellers that are actually Christian. A few are written by Christians and published by Christian publishers, but offer little to nothing of substance in terms of interaction with Scripture, and little to no gospel. And then there’s the bigger problem: the ones that should raise major red flags for any editorial team looking at the material biblically.

Now I get that publishing is a business, and editorial teams have to look at what will realistically sell in the market. But my concerns are two-fold:

1. That publishers that should know better than to produce silly nonsense, do anyway. Again, I get that publishers have to make money in order to keep the lights on. I also get that not every publisher will (or should) publish books that only a particular segment of Christians would agree with. But to publish material that, in some cases, flatly contradicts Scripture (and in some cases, stand behind those books even in the face of overwhelming criticism), defies reason. Seriously guys, can we do better here?

2. That we, the consumers, actually buy this garbage. The only reason publishers bring books like this to the market is because we—the consumers—shell out cash to buy this crap. When we look at a list like this, we are right to be concerned, but our criticisms should not primarily be levelled at publishers: we need to look at ourselves.

What is it about these books that appeals to us? How have we let ourselves go so far astray from the true and sure word of God that books by guys who want you to accumulate stuff in this life sell hundreds of thousands of copies? When books that purport to speak for Jesus read more frequently than the book through which we come to know him at all?

In the end, our bestsellers say more about the state of our discipleship than anything else. We read junk because we don’t see how much better God is. We read fluff because it’s easier than being challenged to conform to the image of Christ. We read nonsense because we don’t really believe that what God has for us is better than the temporary pleasures of this life.

And it’s got to stop. We can do better than this. We must do better than this.

How do you get to know unbelievers?

get to know unbelievers

I’m only day into seminary and I’m already challenged.

My first seminary lecture dealt almost exclusively with outlining the requirements of our term paper: a 10-ish page personal letter to an unbeliever with whom we have a close relationship. Now, the challenge for me is not trying to think of unbelievers to write to. I have no less than eight people in my close family to whom I could address this—my parents, my sister, my niece, my in-laws, my sister-in-law and her husband. And then we have a number of non-Christian and nominally Christian friends on top of that.

But as I listened to Jerram Barrs’ lecture, I realized just how easy it is to find yourself in a position where you have no one in your life who is an unbeliever. And if you’re someone like me, who works with Christians, and serves with Christians and meets with Christians… man, it is difficult to get to know non-Christians.

That’s actually one of the things I miss about working outside of a ministry context. While many of my co-workers love that we can pray at work, and that we have staff meetings where we sing together, there is one thing we miss out on, one of the things I think we probably need more than singing songs: the opportunity to build relationships with non-Christian co-workers and share the faith with them.

And it’s actually something I wish I had taken more opportunities to do when I did work in those environments.

Now, at the time, I don’t know what stopped me from being more intentional about this. Maybe it was because these were the same people who knew me before I was a Christian, and saw me working through the mess of my earliest weeks, months and years as a believer… Maybe it was just that I was chickening out. The truth is, I really have no idea why I didn’t, only that I didn’t.

But for me today, it’s harder than ever to meet and get to know non-Christians, largely because I’m not really the type that does small talk or social engagements well. Work made socializing a little easier. So my daughter’s dance class really helps. Making sure I actually talk to baristas at Starbucks (and frequent the same ones) really helps, too.

These ways don’t work for everyone, obviously. But even still, we are all still responsible for getting to know non-Christians. We are called to share the gospel and make disciples. So, friends, who are the unbelievers in your life? How are you intentionally getting to know non-Christians?

Modesty, #ChristianCleavage and me

modesty-post

Some of you may have noticed the hashtag #ChristianCleavage bopping around Twitter. It was started after an unfortunate “modest is hottest” genre post by a pastor named Jarrid Wilson.1

(I must disclose I participated in some of the jesting as well.)

Now, I’m not going to spend time vilifying Wilson, whom I don’t know and I’m sure is feeling pretty rough right now. But the excerpts on Twitter of his original article reminded me of my own time in youth groups in the 90s.

Clothes don’t make the woman(‘s heart)

I wasn’t a Christian, but had friends who were. I had a great time pretending to be a Christian with them at church, at youth group, and Kingdom Bound™. I sat through some pretty weird youth sermons so we could get to the part where we could sing along to Jars of Clay songs, mostly because I liked the sound of my own voice and wanted everyone else to hear how awesome it was. And riding in the flatbed of a truck to get back to town and smoke illicit cigarettes at Tim Horton’s (yes, I am that old) was pretty awesome, too.

I learned pretty fast that sartorial code-switching was going to be required at some of these kids’ houses. I remember calling a friend to vet my outfit before her mom took us to the mall. My jolly roger shirt was’t going to work for that occasion. No fishnet stockings, either.

But you know what? It didn’t matter what I wore. My heart was still dead. I “got with the program” to chill with the church kids, but it wasn’t because of wanting to glorify God.

Sanctification and ostentatious dress

There are many women who, though they are far from Christ, dress demurely. Meanwhile there are new Christians who are filled to the brim with the Holy Spirit, immensely grateful for the free gift Christ has given them, and excited to share the gospel. But, in some people’s eyes, they might still look like worldly women. Perhaps, then, it would be unwise to use modest or immodest dress as our measure for holiness. It’s not that modesty in dress doesn’t matter (it does), but God works on the things in our hearts he deems most important first. A gunshot wound must be tended to before a sprained ankle, after all.

All Christian ladies are being sanctified at their own pace, as God works in them. And as a new Christian, I had to come to terms with a horrible fact: I am a tremendously vain woman. As I was nearing my wedding, I realized I wasn’t interested in looking good for my fiancé. I was interested in being admired by everyone else! My heart really strained against the idea that I had to let go of trying to impress everyone in a three block radius with my looks. But God, in his mercy, gave me three children and a lifestyle that necessitates wearing sweatpants much of the time. I still love dressing up, and I think that’s normal, but I’m no longer trying to win everyone’s admiration.

It’s helpful to remember that if we see a woman at church whom we think is dressed immodestly, she may be a new Christian. Or she may come from a different culture (there’s a subject to write a whole book on!). Or this may be the form of dress modelled for her. Or she may simply be so well endowed up top that anything lower than a turtleneck shows their #ChristianCleavage.

While ostentatious dress is a concern, we can’t forget that we don’t know what else is going on in a woman’s heart. We don’t know where God is working most profoundly. So before we get tempted to point fingers, we might want to consider where he’s working in ours first.

Take away the foundation and lose everything

Inspiration-Bavinck

There are certain statements that are trigger warnings for me—at least, when I see them made by a Christian writer, speaker or pastor. References to 1 Corinthians’ famous “everything is permissible” statements (but only because I almost always see them used in the exact opposite way Paul meant them). Nearly any time someone says Jesus doesn’t judge, so we shouldn’t either (again, because, it’s used in almost the opposite way it’s meant in Scripture). And when someone calls the Bible something like a “different kind of center,” or a people group’s collective and growing understanding of God, or some other such thing… oh boy.

When those kinds of statements come up, I usually know where the author or speaker is going, and it’s always to a bad place. Why? Because they’ve lost their footing, having abandoned the foundation of the Bible’s authority: its nature as “God-breathed,” or inspired.

Herman Bavinck understood this all too well, living through the rise of late 19th and early 20th century liberalism. And he knew exactly where it would lead:

There is in fact only one ground on which the authority of Scripture can be based, and that is its inspiration. When that goes, also the authority of Scripture is gone and done with. In that case, it is merely a body of human writings, which as such cannot rightfully assert any claim to be a norm for our faith and conduct. And along with Scripture—for the Protestant—all authority in religion collapses. All subsequent attempts to recover some kind of authority—say, in the person of Christ, in the church, in religious experience, in the intellect or conscience—end in disappointment. They only prove that no religion can exist without authority. Religion is essentially different from science. It has a certainty of its own, not one that is based on insight but one that consists in faith and trust. And this religious faith and trust can rest only in God and in his word. In religion a human witness and human trust is insufficient; here we need a witness from God to which we can abandon ourselves in life and in death. “Our heart is restless until it rests in Thee, O Lord!” (Reformed Dogmatics vol. 1, 463)

This is something we’ve got to get. The arguments we’ve seen re-emerge over the last 20 years or so, the positions put forward by the likes of Brian McLaren, Rob Bell,1 and the like, are little more than the recycling of 19th century (and earlier) arguments by those who’ve attempted to revere the Bible in a sense, while undercutting the foundation of its reverence. We want to treat the Bible as having some sort of limited authority. And yet, unless we take seriously the foundation of its authority—that is, unless we truly embrace its inspired nature in its fullest sense—we’re only going to be disappointed. And worse, if we persist down this road, we’ll be lost in utter darkness.

Links I like

Links

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Today is also $5 Friday at Ligonier, where you’ll find a whole bunch of great resources on sale, including:

  • Heroes of the Christian Faith teaching series by R.C. Sproul (audio download)
  • A Survey of Church History, Part 3: A.D. 1500-1620 teaching series by W. Robert Godfrey (DVD)
  • Mark by R.C. Sproul (ePub and MOBI)
  • Feed My Sheep: A Passionate Plea for Preaching by various authors (ePub and MOBI)
  • The Promises of God by R.C. Sproul (Hardcover)

$5 Friday ends at 11:59:59 tonight.

And finally, be sure to check out this great deal on a new curriculum for middle schoolers at the Westminster Bookstore.

Jesus and Scripture

Andrew Wilson:

Post-evangelicals often present the options as (1) an infallible Bible and an infallible Church, or (2) a correctable Bible and a correctable Church. But if we were to present these options to Jesus or Paul or Moses – or Gregory, Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, Wesley, Spurgeon and the rest – I suspect they would splutter in astonishment and tell us about option (3): an infallible Bible, and a correctable Church. That, surely, is the way to preserve divine authority and human humility; a word from God that never fails, and people that frequently do.

Today I stopped being afraid of the social media mob

Really appreciated this piece by Matthew Paul Turner.

The Worst Ever (Mis)Quotation Of The Bible?

David Murray, continuing his series reading through Joel Osteen’s Your Best Life Now:

The more we read and study the Bible, the more painful it becomes when we hear a verse quoted out of context and even used to advocate for the exact opposite of the verse in its context.

In reading through Joel Osteen’s book, Your Best Life Now, this pain is fairly constant. But the worst context-ripping and heart-rending example is Osteen’s use of Colossians 3:2 in Part 1: Enlarge Your Vision.

7 ways handwriting can save your brain

This is really interesting (HT: Aaron Earls)

All I really want

Red Rubber Studios did a great job on this new music video for Deni Gauthier:

What to Do When We’re Prayerless

Jon Bloom:

If prayer is the native language of faith and we’re struggling with prayerlessness, then the first thing we need to do is look for a faith problem. There’s a faith breakdown somewhere and until we get that fixed, our problem will remain.

How do we fix this?

 

It’s getting real

origin_4353718520

Yesterday was kind of a big deal on this education journey I’ve been on. I completed my registration for my first course at Covenant Seminary, and paid my tuition. My books have been purchased, and are sitting on my coffee table (see the list here). So, next week, I begin studying apologetics and outreach with Jerram Barrs.

I’ve gotta say, I’m incredibly nervous in some ways. I have no idea what it’s going to do to my schedule yet. A healthy work/life/ministry balance is not something I’m terribly familiar with. I’ve got a bit of anxiety about whether or not I’ll actually do well in the class. I’ve not been a student (formally) since 2002…

Making my tuition payment is a big part of what brought up all these jitters.

All of a sudden, it got real, y’know?

But beyond the jitters, I’m still excited. Yes, it’s getting real—but it’s also getting real (if you follow).

But one of the greatest stresses has been the financial side. When I went into this, I didn’t have a clue if I would be able to pay for it. I mean, we’ve definitely got our needs covered (and a number of our wants, too), but no one’s making it rain.1

And this is one of the things I’ve been most thankful for, which is to see how God has provided. He’s done it through regular people—both friends and strangers—giving to my YouCaring.com fundraiser, and well as providing some really cool opportunities that have allowed me to earn a little extra income. And because of that, I was able to pay for the tuition for my first course without incurring any debt.

There’s still a long way to go, obviously—and not just on the finances side—but I am very grateful and encouraged. Being able to start my first course in the black is wonderful gift from the Lord. And however the Lord provides, I’m more confident than ever that it was the right commitment to make. Thanks for helping make this first step possible!


Photo credit: the tartanpodcast via photopin cc

Can we be politically disengaged as Christians?

politics

As a Canadian, I find American politics intriguing. The way Americans engage—regardless of their views—is astonishing, and somewhat refreshing. Every time I see it, I’m reminded of how different not only our governments are1 but also how different we are as people.

By and large, Canadians don’t care about politics the way Americans do, certainly not to the same extent at any rate. So the debate on, say, the most recent State of the Union address, would likely never happen here.

We are, for the most part, a politically apathetic people. And if we’re not careful, for our culturally-induced political apathy can quickly seep into our faith, as well.

But as Christians, this should never be. In fact, we should care deeply about politics.

By this, I don’t mean the old stereotype of marrying the Christian faith and political activism, seeking cultural transformation through legislation, as the Religious Right and Moral Majority have often been accused of. Instead, we need to think about politics Christianly–that is, in light of three realities: the source of government, our identity, and our obligation to society.

1. The source of government: God. God establishes all governments. He is their source, existing only at his good pleasure. They are his instruments, existing for our good, and requiring our prayers (even if their leaders’ values do not align with our own). Their laws are to be obeyed willingly and in good conscience insofar as they are not in conflict with the commands of God (see Romans 13:1-8; Acts 5:29).

2. Our identity: Ambassadors of Christ. In Christ, all Christians are citizens of the kingdom of God. Thus, our primary allegiance does not belong to an earthly nation but to the Lord Jesus. God has also determined the times and places in which we live. As such, we serve as ambassadors for Christ in those nations (2 Corinthians 5:20), with the local church functionally serving as embassies of the kingdom.

3. Our obligation: to point others to Jesus. As Christ’s ambassadors, God has charged us point the lost and perishing to Jesus Christ. We are ministers of reconciliation, through whom God makes his appeal. We are to be salt and light in the world, letting our deeds cause others to give God praise.

Seen in this light, how should we think about political engagement?

I would suggest that it is an extension of our role as Christ’s ambassadors, and of the command to love God and our neighbors (Matthew 22:37-40). Thus, we cannot be “apolitical,” at least not in the way some may wish to be. While we are not all compelled to participate in the political process to the same degree, we all would be wise to participate. But to the degree to which we choose to participate, we have the opportunity to speak truth with conviction and compassion into situations where we might not otherwise.

We can show the lost the values of God’s kingdom in action, provided we stand by our convictions. And even when we “lose” temporally, we can be confident knowing that our loss is only temporary—and in doing so, we get to show that our hope for a better world comes not from politics, but from the promised return of Jesus, when he will usher in his kingdom in its fullness.

So, Christian, what do you think: should we care about politics?

Three ways to avoid futile discussions on Twitter (and create healthy ones)

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It was so tempting to hit the send button.

But I knew if I did, I’d regret it, because it’s nearly impossible to have an intelligent discussion on Twitter.

The other night, I read what I felt was possibly one of the most asinine statements I’ve read on Twitter in at least two or three days.1 I’ll spare you the details because, well, I don’t want to fuel anyone else’s irritation.

When I read the comment, though, I had a lot of things I could have said. And it was really tempting to do so. But I didn’t, because those words would have been wasted.

After all, when you get in a debate on Twitter, no one wins. Opinions are rarely changed. It’s too easy to wind up frustrated.2

But just because you can rarely have a meaningful discussion on Twitter, does it mean that you can’t have one around something said there? On the contrary. There are many profitable discussions to be had when approached in this fashion. So how do you do it?

Here are three ways I recommend:

1. Ask for clarification, publicly or privately. Invite an opportunity to clarify. This isn’t a debate, just saying, “can you explain what you mean by that?” If this is done publicly, and you receive a response, simply say, “thanks,” since meaningful discussion is challenging with 140 characters. Privately sometimes gives you a bit more room for conversation, since, particularly if it is someone you may know from outside the Internet, and can often be far more fruitful.

For example, I had someone contact me in this fashion last week about something I wrote, not in a tweet, but in an article. I wound up writing something that came across extremely negative. The private discussion gave me the opportunity to work through with those who contacted me what I intended by my comments, and re-phrase them in a more helpful fashion. But if this person hadn’t taken the step of contacting me, I’d have been worse off for it.

2. Open up discussion on a more meaningful platform. Maybe write a blog post about it. Invite discussion with the person whose message got your back up. The goal here is to be charitable, so you may want to avoid titles like “37 reasons why so-and-so is a ninny.”

3. Stop following people who say ridiculous things. Make sure you’re using common sense when choosing who to follow. If you’re following people who are consistently making you angry (and not in a convicted way), use the magical unfollow button. It will breathe new life into your Twitter experience, and you’ll be a better person for it.

What about you: how would you recommend avoiding futile discussions on Twitter and creating healthy ones instead?