Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Not So With You: A Post-Election Debrief

“Not so with you.” Those four words occur in the New Testament as a rejoinder to the people of God that we are not supposed to think, speak, or act in ways routinely accepted by our culture, but offensive to God. We are to stand up for Christ and stand out as followers of Christ’s ways of thinking, speaking, and acting.

Unfortunately, the campaign season and election we just endured brought out the worst in too many Christians. Sidewalk conversations, emails, tweets, and Facebook posts were peppered with ways of thinking and speaking that are acceptable in our culture but not to God. Co-workers, neighbors, friends, and family members divided up turf, drew lines in the sand, and acted as if God’s very "Godness" was dependent on the outcome of the election. Others conveyed the mistaken notion (and poor theological position) that America is God’s chosen, the new Israel, and that our country can only be great if led by a person who agrees with every jot and tittle of a particular (and often narrow) doctrinal system. Much of that, to the shame of all Christians, emanated from pulpits around this country. Not so with you!

We are, without doubt, living in a red and blue nation. Some are elated with the outcome while others are forlorn. Our state, county, town, neighborhoods, and in some cases even our families are also red and blue. But God’s rule cannot be defined by red or blue. God still wears a cloak of royal purple. God’s blessing or withholding of blessing from a people does not depend on which political party is in charge. God, throughout history, has raised up and destroyed rulers and nations according to his good pleasure and sovereign design. Yet, some Christians have spoken and acted in ways that indicate God can only get good work done through one ideological worldview or the other. Not so with you.

I understand and respect that we have real, well reasoned, and philosophically divergent opinions about what policies are best for our future. But there is a vast difference between standing pat for values and defaming another person’s character because she disagrees with us. We see and hear that happening nearly every day in our society. We expect ugly, partisan rants from left or right leaning talking heads, but “not so with you.”

Governor Romney gave a gentlemanly, sincere, diplomatic, and gracious concession speech. Yet, many people are continuing to write and speak in ways intended to rub loss or reproach in the face of fellow citizens. It is a very ego centric and careless way of acting. The not so subtle racism and ethnic elitism that underlies many of the comments is especially disheartening. Not so with you.

We need to acknowledge that all of us love our nation and all of us are passionate about maintaining her greatness. We all want a better world for our children and grandchildren. Nonetheless, conservatives and liberals each accuse the other of hating and destroying our nation. Really? Not so with you!

Again, I appreciated Romney’s tone, and particularly these lines:

We look to our pastors and priests and rabbis and counselors of all kinds to testify of the enduring principles upon which our society is built: honesty, charity, integrity and family.

I aim to answer the call. Further, I intend to respect and conscientiously pray for our President and other elected leaders (even when I differ with their ideas). I plan to build better relations and dialogue with people who think differently than I do. I purpose to treat all my neighbors in this country with respect and charity. I will earnestly attempt to convey God’s kind of grace to those who will not return respect or charity. I hope it will be SO with YOU all.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

A Graceless Gospel

The moment started innocently enough.  I was walking with my wife through an exhibition hall at the Oklahoma State Fair. We were on a date just enjoying our time together. Then a stranger raised his voice from his rather sad display and confronted me. “Are you going to heaven or hell? Without Jesus it will be hell for you!”  I hardly knew how to respond.  This man did not know me.  He had never met me. He had no idea that I was a pastor and that my walk with Christ is at the very heart of who I am.  There was a part of me that wanted to pivot and talk to the man, but a quick glance at his face told me that he would not be open to a real conversation. The anger flowing on his face showed that he had his confrontational gospel pitch and that was enough for him. He was not looking for a conversation or to begin a relationship, he was looking for instant conversions that he could count and celebrate. He was a “soul winner.”

I grieve this encounter.  No, it did not make me question my salvation or ponder the meaning of heaven and hell.  I grieve it because I realize that I was just one of many that he ambushed with his graceless gospel.  His call was not a call to life with Christ.  It was not about learning what it meant to be a disciple of Jesus.  His gospel was a fire insurance faith filled with smoke and sulfur. I watched as others jump back when he confronted them.  He thought he was calling people to salvation but instead it appeared he was repulsing people from hearing him – and I feared that in the process was also repulsing people from being open to hearing an authentic word on the way of God. 

The latest Pew Forum report tells us that the fastest growing segment of religious life in the United States is the “none.”  Almost one in five people in our nation identify their religious affiliation as “none.” The growing perception is that the Church’s message and methods remnants of another era.  The power of a transformation gospel seems to get lost in the midst of television preachers that are more focused on drawing a crowd than drawing people to Jesus.  It gets lost when those on the right view people as “targets” for conversation rather than individuals who need to find forgiveness, hope, and love at the feet of Jesus.  They continue to call people to fear God rather than to fall in love with God. It is a graceless gospel. It gets lost when those on the left want to do good but fail to bring a vocal witness of the way to Jesus. They demonstrate goodness but in their silence offer a graceless gospel. We are not called to be good, but to belong to God as God’s children through faith in Jesus Christ.   If we seek to be relevant in this era we must learn to build authentic relationships where we can live out and speak out our story of faith.  We live in a land where more and more people live apart from Jesus.  They are weary of the institutional church because we they have watched us fuss and fight and trip over moral failure after moral failure.  We are so busy trying to define and enforce a pure theology that we fail to be the people of God in their midst. We are so consumed by wringing our hands and worrying about our institutional survival and our political influence in the culture that we have failed to be about the task we were assigned on a hillside in Galilee.  If we are to be relevant we must live out and pronounce a grace-filled gospel.  Nothing less will do. 

Grace and Peace, Tom Ogburn