On Sunday, September 25th, we wrapped up a four-week series called “The Table of Grace”. In our first week, we talked about how God’s grace is unmerited favor and the only appropriate response was to receive it with humility and gratitude. We then talked about the sufficiency of grace that tells us that no matter what, God is still good. Our third week we transitioned and talked about how we as recipients of grace now have the obligation to extend grace to others. Finally, we talked about how the church is to be a community of grace to the world.
The last week was the most challenging because we delved into how the world sees the church and how the church needs to respond to politics. Philip Yancey wrote a very challenging book, Vanishing Grace, and in it he writes about church and society. I was deeply impacted by some of his thoughts as I prepared for the message and felt strongly that I needed to address how Christians need to respond to the very contentious political environment we live in today.
Here are some thoughts from the last message:
Hebrews 12:14–15 tell us to “Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.”
In this verse, the writer of Hebrews presents us with an image taken from a company of travellers, one of whom lags behind, and so never reaches the end of the long and laborious journey. We are to do our best to make sure the world knows about the grace of God and believers don’t miss it, because without grace, bitterness takes root in our hearts.
The Life Application Bible points out, “Like a small root that grows into a great tree, bitterness springs up in our hearts and overshadows even our deepest Christian relationships. A ‘poisonous root of bitterness’ comes when we allow disappointment to grow into resentment, or when we nurse grudges over past hurts. Bitterness brings with it jealousy, dissension, and immorality.”
In my experience, the most destructive of all sins is bitterness. Bitterness destroys people, families, and churches. Bitterness is an attitude that refuses to extend grace. Like a cancer, it grows until it destroys everything around it. Bitterness is passed on from generation to generation.
Bitterness is what I have observed in recent years concerning the church as a whole when it comes to politics.
Philip Yancey, in Vanishing Grace, made some observations about the church:
I began with a concern that the church is failing in its mission to dispense grace to a world thirsty for it. More and more, surveys show, outsiders view Christians as bearers of bad news, not good news.
Nonbelievers tend to regard evangelicals as a legion of morals police determined to impose their notion of right behavior on others. To them, Christians are anti-abortion, anti-gay, anti-women — probably anti-sex, for that matter — and most of them homeschool their children to avoid defilement. Christians sometimes help with social problems, say by running soup kitchens and homeless shelters, but otherwise they differ little from Muslim fanatics who want to enforce sharia law on their societies.
If Yancey is right, the outside world sees the church as motivated by hate, judgmental, hypocritical, close-minded, angry, and intolerant.
“The great divide between Christians and a society that seems increasingly post-Christian. Fear abounds on both sides. The secular world sees Christians as a threat, a breed of morals police intent on reforming society by their own rules and punishing those who object. On the other side, Christians see themselves as a harassed minority holding out against forces hostile to religion.”
We know that the paranoid church narrative is not accurate. Throughout history, it is the serving Christians that have made the most profound change.
As Yancey points out:
In early 2014 Christianity Today published a cover story on a sociologist named Robert Woodberry, who had wondered why some countries take to democracy so well while their next-door neighbors wallow in corruption and bad government. Painstaking research led him to conclude that missionaries made the difference. They taught people to read, built hospitals, and gave a biblical foundation for basic human rights. He concluded, Areas where Protestant missionaries had a significant presence in the past are on average more economically developed today, with comparatively better health, lower infant mortality, lower corruption, greater literacy, higher educational attainment (especially for women), and more robust membership in nongovernmental associations. That does not fit the Hollywood stereotype of missionaries ruining cultures, I know, but so far no one has been able to refute Woodberry’s findings.
I wish those who ask “What good is Christianity?” could spend time with some of the remarkable people who dedicate their lives to humble service. I have visited schools for the Dalits (“ untouchables”) in India where the first generation from that caste in five thousand years is obtaining a quality education. I have reported on leprosy hospitals in Asia, AIDS clinics and orphanages in Africa, and a renowned hospital for obstetric fistula sufferers in Ethiopia, all products of missionary work.
I personally can attest to Yancey’s observations as I have had the opportunity to travel to some remote places in the world and witness the impact of Christians who are serving people with love and grace.
I believe our rhetoric keeps people from seeing who we really are. It seems we have become crusaders rather than servants.
It seems to me that Christians today are more concerned about who we are voting for than how we can extend grace. The Christian Right operates as if it has the right to slander and be hostile. It should not matter if I disagree with someone, but rather how I treat someone with whom I profoundly disagree. We Christians are called to use the “weapons of grace,” which means treating even our opponents with love and respect.
We sometimes talk of God judging America as long as he doesn’t include us. Sometimes we even act like we wish it would happen. Where is the brokenness?
Christians are not all to blame, but let’s own the areas we need to own. Our rhetoric and our discussions are usually based on CNN or FOX or radio talk shows, not in scripture or core values. We pick and choose our issues, when both sides of the political isle have very significant issues. Issues such as racism, abortion, immigration, poverty, helping widows and orphans, homelessness, mental health, adoption, alcoholism, gambling, pornography, homosexuality, divorce, murder, suicide, debt, drugs, human trafficking, etc. We should be very concerned about these things, but instead we pick and choose to match our own agenda.
We would rather stand on a street corner and shout than walk across the street and care for the hurting, the needy and the wounded. We are angry at universal health care, yet we don’t do the job we need to in order to help people. We are angry at abortion and yet we don’t care about the pain it causes to the individuals who made a horrible decision and have to live with it the rest of their lives. Our first response is that of condemnation and not grace for those who have made mistakes.
We are more concerned about the removal of the Ten Commandments, but we don’t live by the Sermon on the Mount, the beatitudes. We want to condemn people for living ways that are contrary to our beliefs, but we don’t deal with our own greed, pride, lust, deception, malicious talk, gossip, and disunity. We want to transform society but not transform our hearts.
Martin Luther King Jr. said that the government can require a white man to serve blacks in his restaurant, and can stop whites from lynching blacks, but no government can force a white person to love a black one. That requires a transformation of the heart.
We all need to realize:
- Yes, we need a great spiritual awakening, but it has never, nor will it ever, come through politics.
- No matter what the personal satisfaction we feel when we say it, one of the candidates is not the savior and the other is not the anti-Christ.
- The way we treat others is a direct response to our understanding and acceptance of God’s grace.
We are living in a wounded world trying to find answers and the only answer is in the one who gave himself for us as a sacrifice – Jesus.
Grace is liberating and life-changing. It prevents bitterness, jealousy, dissension, and immorality. When we extend God’s grace to others, it not only brings hope to the receiver, but fresh life to the giver.
The church has an amazing opportunity to be a light to the world because we are living in a wounded world trying to find hope.
My friend, who is a pastor, found out that his unmarried daughter was pregnant. She had lost her way during a bad season of her life and it broke my friend’s heart. He decided to get in front of the rumors and share it with the congregation. I saw him shortly afterwards and he wept as he shared when the response of the church that surrounded him and his family, including his daughter with grace and strength.
That’s the power of grace. It opens the door for others who need to experience grace.
Richard Blackaby writes, “Gifts of grace are like ointment on a wounded soul.”
It’s not that we should ignore politics or bury our heads in the sand. I’m all for getting involved. It’s a great privilege to live in a country that allows us to be part of the process. John MacArthur wrote four insightful articles about how Christians should engage in politics. Click HERE to read.
My prayer is that until election day, we will be people filled with grace speech. Let’s practice what Paul wrote:
“Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.” (Ephesians 4:29)
“Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt so that you will know how you should respond to each person” (Colossians 4:6).
References for further studies on Grace:
Philip Yancey, Vanishing Grace: What Ever Happened to the Good News?
Lee Strobel, The Case for Grace: A Journalist Explores the Evidence of Transformed Lives.
Richard Blackaby, Putting a Face on Grace: Living a Life Worth Passing On
Philip Yancey, What’s So Amazing About Grace?
Max Lucado, In the Grip of Grace: Your Father Always Caught You. He Still Does.
Randy Alcorn, Grace: A Bigger View of God’s Love.
Andy Stanley, The Grace of God.
Max Lucado, Grace: More Than We Deserve, Greater Than We Imagine.