Last week, I shared Facebook responses to the question, “Why don’t people go to church?” There were two answers from Mike and Susan and others. Most of the comments fell in these general categories:
We preach morality but seldom live it. Hypocrites.
We focus on converts for our church rather than caring about others. Selfish.
We’re out of touch with reality. Relevance.
We’re quick to judge and slow to confess. Judgmental hypocrites.
This seems especially relevant in light of what happened in Orlando last week. In the midst of a national tragedy that impacts hundreds of innocents and exposes so many sensitive issues: terrorism, homosexuality, violence, gun controls.
How should we as the church respond?
Orlando, is usually portrayed as the home of Disney World. Now, after the brutal murder of at least 49 and countless others wounded in a gay bar known as Pulse, Orlando takes on a new unwanted identity. Like Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, Columbine High School, Fort Hood and others, Orlando is now forever marked as a place of tragedy and senseless horror.
We respond like we have so many times before with an outpouring of love and support. Thousands stood in line for hours to give blood, millions joined in prayer around the world for the victims and their families. As pictures and stories of the victims are shared I find myself crying over the senseless violence that took so many promising lives away from us all too soon.
Leaders will argue over whether to put more guns in the hands of citizens vs stricter gun control, strong military response vs diplomacy which all leads to lots of debate with little or no action. It’s frustrating to watch knowing that soon there will be another tragedy with another place name.
What should be my response? As a Christian? As a Leader? As a citizen? Carey Nieuwhof speaks to church leaders around the world about leadership, change and personal growth. Recently, he wrote a blog “Thoughts on How to Be the Church in An Age of Terror” which offers six possible responses for churches and church leaders in the midst of the crisis of terrorism. You can read the entire blog and more by Carey at http://careynieuwhof.com/blog/
1. What the church is doing is more important, not less important. This is the time to be the church, because what Christians have to offer is a radically different ethic and alternative to hatred and violence. Jesus said his followers would be known by their love. This, more than anything, is what Christians need to be known for. Families need this love. Victims need this love. Perpetrators need this love. Children need this love. The Gospel moves us to love when all that is left is hate.
2. Confession and humility are more important than ever. Confession and humility are increasingly rare in the West. And in the church. And yet they are two characteristics of Christianity that run to the core of our faith. The truth is, other religions aren’t the only religions that have spoken hate. Christians have spoken hate as well. We need to repent. We too need a Savior. We too need grace. We too are forgiven.
3. Faith is a dividing line that ultimately can become a uniting line. The reality, of course, is that if you’re a Christian, there’s no ‘us’ and ‘them.’ There is only an ‘us’ and ‘us.’ It was tremendously radical then. It will be just as radical now. We live in an age where faith is increasingly seen as divisive and extreme. Yet Christianity, which man sees as divisive, is ultimately unifying because it ultimately unites radically different people groups under the love of God that is in Jesus Christ.
4. The only ethic that will ever work is the ethic of love. Martin Luther King Jr. faced a situation, someone threw a bomb inside the house where he wife and infant daughter were inside. King stood up on his porch and told the crowd: “We must love our white brothers, no matter what they do to us. We must make them know that we love them. Jesus still cries out in words that echo across the centuries: ‘Love your enemies; bless them that curse you; pray for them that despitefully use you.’…We must meet hate with love.” The only ethic that will ultimately work against hate is love. And no one should be more loving than those forgiven in Christ.
5. Christians lay down their lives in the face of evil. We cannot understand the complexities of leadership or government. But I do have to figure out my personal response. When Jesus was hated enough to be unjustly tortured and killed, he willingly gave his life. He didn’t fight back. He didn’t even enter a defense at his trail. The ultimate Christian response to hatred is not to take someone’s life for hating you, it’s to lay down your life for their sake. You can kill the body. But you cannot kill love. You cannot kill forgiveness. You cannot kill grace. It is to those things we must cling in these days.
6. External regulations cannot trump internal values. Laws alone cannot defeat evil. Laws, in fact, can barely contain it. Ultimately the problems we are facing are not issues of law, they are issues of the heart. Changed laws do not change hearts. What changes hearts? The Gospel. Love. Christ. When a heart is transformed, it’s value system is transformed. Forgiveness dissolves anger. Love dissolves hate. As a result, a person’s value system changes. This is where the hope is. This is where the key to future lies. Why? Because internally-owned values trump externally-imposed rules every time.
So how does love gain a foothold in a culture threatened with hate? People will discover that love is when they meet a Christian who behaves like an actual Christian. And that means this begins with you and me. You may have never met a terrorist. But there are people you don’t like, and probably a few that you hate. Start there. Forgive someone you actually know. The most radical thing you can do today is to extend love in the face of hate. It will require all you have. In fact, you will not be able to do it. You may actually need a Savior to help.
Which is exactly the point. So go be the church… the real church. The authentic church. The church Jesus had in mind. Repent. Confess. Humble yourself. Forgive. Love. Hope. Trust. Turn to Christ for strength you don’t have. He has it. Church…we may actually have the things that can change the world. What you’re doing this week matters more than ever.
Edited from “Thoughts on How to Be the Church in An Age of Terror” by Carey Nieuwhof
One writer on Facebook said it another way: “We (the church) need to go back to the basics. Give me people who “know” God and desire to see others come to this knowledge. Let us then go and “live” what we learned through our actions daily, integrated into a lost world, loving it.”
My prayer based on Carey’s last paragraph: “Help me be the church… the real church. The authentic church in the midst of terrorism and tragedy. The church Jesus had in mind. Help me confess, repent and humble myself remembering that I too need forgiveness. Help me to forgive and truly love others as you have taught us and modeled for us. Help me face the future with hope and trust in your Word and guidance. Give me strength to be a witness in a world that desperately needs to know love as only You Lord can provide. Help me to be the loving witness the world needs and help me do what matters as the church of Jesus Christ. Amen.”
Next Week: More on Why People Don’t Come to Church?