If you tried to sell cookies that didn’t have any chocolate chips as “chocolate chip cookies,” you’d be hard pressed to attract chocolate chip cookie lovers. You may even make people mad — and rightly so. I think many conservative Christians are doing something similar without realizing it. Slowly, over the passage of time, we forgot an important ingredient in the gospel. It’s kind of important, because without it, we end up sounding annoying — and if I can be honest, conservative evangelicals have unintentionally rebranded themselves as exactly that. The good news is that this can change – and it must change if we really want people to see the real Jesus of the Scripture.
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I’m a conservative, evangelical pastor — and this is not a post to suggest that truth needs to be sidelined. Nor is it to suggest that I’m above the fray. Quite the contrary. It’s precisely because I’m an insider that this weighs heavily on my heart. Yesterday, Fox News published an op-Ed I wrote, and many responses reveal how people nowadays simply don’t know how to read and think. Instead, they read what they want to read, and miss the point. The new American approach of talking at one another needs to be replaced by healthy dialogue, where we learn how to listen and really understand. On the other hand, a great many people did read and think about the op-Ed — and the overwhelming responses we received, and keep receiving, are positively refreshing.
Truth needs to be front and center these days, because we are living in an age of what I call “reverse intolerance,” where the very notion of absolute truth, given by God and not people, has been replaced by relevance (if it feels good for you, do it). America has become all about “tolerance” – unless, of course, you believe in absolute truth. That’s the new exception to the tolerance ranting we hear all day, every day. It’s nonsense – but I don’t want to digress from the nonsense we conservative evangelicals are guilty of: many of us sound like clanging cymbals nowadays, because we are focusing on the communication of truth without the essential ingredient of love.
“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal” – 1 Corinthians 13:1 (NIV)
Granted, this is not true for every conservative, evangelical — but it’s become true on a big enough scale that we have unintentionally rebranded ourselves. We are the people who often talk about love — and we should because we have the ultimate example in Christ. But many of us have become like peddlers of chocolate chip cookies without the chocolate chips. The general perception of conservative evangelicals has been deeply tarnished by an inside job where we have undermined ourselves.
Yup, I get it. There are huge issues that need to have the truth of God’s word brought to bear on. We must never compromise on the truth — but I do feel that we often make the mistake of compromising on the demonstration of our love. This, I believe, is what needs to change. We’re out of balance, folks.
To love someone when you disagree with them is not a compromise — even if that disagreement is deep. To love someone is an honor — and an opportunity to behave extraordinarily. Any fool can hate. Love is actually the fulfillment of the entire Bible because it is the very heart of God: “For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Galatians 5:14, NIV). When we love someone, it does not mean that we throw away truth or our values so we can approve of attitudes or behaviors that are improper (parents discipline their children out of love, not hate). To love someone is to speak and model the truth while communicating it humbly, kindly and yet unapologetically. The most unloving thing we can do to a person, when we know the truth, is to withhold it from them. That, in the end, is true hatred.
And, yes, there are times when a bully will come along and need to be put in his or her place. I usually get one or two on social media now and then. One need not be milquetoast in the face of bullying. Sometimes, a bully needs to get a dose of his or her own medicine in order to get them to stand down, or else you are simply empowering them, feeding their wounded egos that they are forever trying to numb by beating others up.
When it comes to Jesus and the gospel, it’s not just truth, brothers and sisters, that matters. The truths entrusted to us by Jesus need to be communicated in love. Equal parts of each are a necessity in the epic task of pointing people to the biblical Jesus. I think many of us are unintentionally guilty of preaching only truth. I think we are forgetting that important ingredient called love, which is essential in the process of communicating truth.
“Instead, speaking the truth IN LOVE, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ” – Ephesians 4:15 (NIV)
Without love, truth merely stimulates grey matter and completely misses the heart. And if we miss the heart, we miss the point. While truth may not be attractive these days, love still is. It’s what draws people to the living and true God (1 Thessalonians 1:9). (This isn’t to say that truth isn’t a draw, too. Remember, both are essential in the divine equation).
I think it’s time that we start with ourselves and take the logs out of our own eyes. Then, as Jesus taught, we will be in position to remove the spec from the eyes of our brothers and sisters (Matthew 7:5).
WHAT DO YOU THINK? DO YOU THINK YOU COULD BE PART OF AMERICA’S MUCH NEEDED SPIRITUAL AWAKENING BY ASKING GOD TO HELP YOU SPEAK AND LIVE THE TRUTH IN LOVE — LIKE NEVER BEFORE?
ABOUT ME: Most of the lessons I’ve learned in life I’ve learned through failure. I typically publish my blogs Tuesday through Friday, here and on Facebook. We welcome and read comments from readers just like you because they help us (and others) think and grow. Don’t be shy. Chime in.
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