Responding to attacks

Tags

, ,

How do you deal with someone who is hellbent on attacking you?  We’re not looking at every possible attack here – not the physical or verbal or emotional attacks.  I’m talking about people who are hellbent on attacking you in discussions and arguments.  The type of people who believe they and their positions are always right.  They think they have a direct line to God and that everything they say and claim as true is true.

There’s a particular website and several contributors to that website that have made it their goal to destroy the ELCA – the denomination of which I and the church I serve are a part of.  I am not naming it specifically here because I’m not interested in giving the site any added attention.  They are really good at pulling things out of context, quoting extreme examples and focusing on making differences in theology into matters of eternal salvation.  The folks who contribute to that website believe they are the defenders of “The Truth” and it is their job to save people from heretical teaching that the ELCA supposedly is offering.

There are many problems with this.  I’m only covering this briefly because it is not the main point of this post.

First, the contributors of that website spend no time at all, on the website, building up the Body of Christ.  Their entire focus is on tearing down fellow Christians in the name of “truth.”

Second, anyone who disagrees with them, and they would claim the clear teaching of Scripture, is hell bound.  Contributors to that website support the notion of a seven-day creation and argue that anyone who doesn’t accept the biblical version of creation as the truth is rejecting the authority of the bible, therefore they are heretical.  So much for being respectful and having disagreements without condemning people to hell – especially on matters that are not essential to the faith.  Whether you agree with a seven-day creation narrative or not doesn’t determine your eternal salvation.

Third, the contributors to this website have made their version of truth and interpretation of Scripture and truth into an idol to be worshiped without question or expression of doubt.

Fourth, the contributors have mixed up their roles – believing it is their job to save people.  Only Jesus offers salvation – no human can save anyone else.  Our job is clearly stated by Jesus.  Just two examples – Matthew 25:35 – “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”  Also Matthew 28:19-20 – “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.”

I don’t recall Jesus ever commanding his followers to go around and destroy the Body of Christ, fight with fellow Christians, and condemn people who disagreed with you.  Of course Christian history is full of just this type of behavior.  It’s part of what has caused war, violence, and death.

Enough about that though.  How does one respond to attacks made by such people?  You have a choice. You can respond in kind – attacking the attacks with your own attacks.  You can get yourself dirty and muddy with anger, hatred, fear, and being right.  You can lower yourself to the same level as those that attack.  Believe me, it would feel good to impose karma on these folks.

But the problem with that is that as Christians we don’t believe in karma.  We believe in grace.  Grace is receiving something that you don’t deserve.  Grace is not getting what you deserve.  If we truly believe that God’s grace is life changing, then we are called to respond to attacks on us with grace – not to just be beaten up, but rather to overcome hatred with love.  It’s not easy at all.  Often it sucks.  It feels so much better to call names, to belittle, to verbally attack.

If God’s grace is truly life changing, then we have an obligation to share that with others, especially those that attack us.

And secondly, Jesus gave instructions to the 72 when he sent them out – (Mark 6:11) “And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”  I think the same is true for individuals or groups of people who are not open to conversation, dialogue, and being respectful.  In other words, it isn’t worth your time and it diminishes your character and distracts from the message of God’s love to engage with those who reject and attack the Good News that we are called to proclaim.  There was a saying in sales that I learned long ago that I think applies – “Some will, some won’t, so what, who’s next?”

In Luke’s (10:10-12) version, Jesus gives the following instructions: “But whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.’  I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.”  The middle part of that quote is most important.  “Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.”  How can the kingdom of God come near if we respond to attacks with anger, fear, and our own attacks?

What do you do when someone attacks you in this case – proclaim the Good News, offer grace, treat people with love (as difficult as that is to do), and wipe your feet from them and be done with them – they are in God’s hands.  Move away from them and don’t engage in any conversation with them – it isn’t worth the frustration, anger, and emotional roller coaster.  You’d just be wasting your energy anyway.  You are better off investing your energy in proclaiming the Good News to people who are open to listening and having an actual conversation – people who are interested in building a relationship.  A Greek word here might help – Koinonia.  It means fellowship, community, partnership.  These are the people we are called to spend time with – not people who act like brick walls that are going to fall on you and crush you.

As Mark Twain once said – “Never argue with an idiot.  They will drag you down to their level and beat you with experience.” I think Jesus would have liked this statement.  Better to wipe the dust from your keyboard from these type of people and move on with life.  I guarantee that you have better things to do with your life than argue or fight with people who don’t have your best interest at heart.  Thankfully God loves even these people, because it can be really difficult for the rest of us to love them.  And sometimes it is best to remember that the best way to love some people is to not interact with them at all.

Church and Politics

Tags

, ,

I had a wonderful conversation yesterday about church and politics.  It was wonderful because it wasn’t a typical discussion about church and politics.  It wasn’t a discussion about politics in terms of partisanship.  Rather it was a discussion about how politics and church are similar.

I contend that religion and politics are very similar.  Both attempt to communicate a compelling vision of an alternate future – a hopeful and hope filled future.  Politics does this in a secular sense.  Religion does this from a spiritual basis, or better stated, from the sense of shalom or wholeness.

Of course there are differences too, but I can’t help but see the commonality of these two things.  Actually, let me clarify.  The core foundations of these two things are similar and related.  There are principles that politics uses that also relate to church as well.  The differences come out in the specifics.  But these aren’t minor differences either.  In church, money is raised in order to be used to expand the kingdom of God, to declare Good News, to serve those less fortunate, to make disciples.  In politics, money is raised in order to secure or obtain a position of power and influence and expand the base of support to keep someone in power or to gain a seat of power.  That’s an oversimplification of course, but I don’t think it is far off.

I have been exploring the link between church/religion and politics for many years now.  Actually it’s the link between church and campaign politics.  I look forward to seeing where this goes in the future.  I also welcome your thoughts on the matter.  Do you see a link between these two things?  How so?  How not?  Do you have experience working in these two areas?  If so, how have you seen the two interrelated?

Doubt

Tags

, , ,

On Sunday, we heard about “Doubting” Thomas, as he has come to be known in popular culture.  Except Thomas gets a bad rap.  The problem with the label goes beyond the bad characterization of Thomas.  It makes doubt itself seem like this terrible thing.  As if Thomas was a failure because he wanted what everyone else experienced – an encounter with the risen Christ.

Doubt is normal.  I believe God can handle our doubts and our questions.  I believe that our whole belief system won’t crumble like a house of cards if there is doubt.  There are some who disagree.  There are preachers who will go out of their way to make those who raise questions feel like they are in the wrong if they doubt or raise questions.  And these preachers are wrong.  Asking questions and raising doubts is normal and in some ways, it is a good thing.

Having doubt doesn’t mean there is something wrong with a believer.  Doubt is a part of faith.  That’s because faith doesn’t equal certainty.  Faith goes well beyond understanding and knowledge.  Faith is a gift from God.  Often times our faith doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.  But don’t take my word for it.  There are examples of this throughout the Bible.

Abraham picked up all he owned, and started traveling until God told him to stop.  That’s acting on faith.  Abraham had no idea where God was sending him.  Moses acted on faith, without knowing how to get to the promises land.  The writers of Psalm 13, 22, and 88 know all about doubt – they feel abandoned by God, questioning if God even exists.  Even Jesus had some doubt – read his account of praying in the garden before his trial and execution.

Doubt is not a sin.  It means we don’t know everything.  We are not in charge.  Faith is a gift that is given to us by God.  It propels us forward, even, and especially, in the midst of doubt.  Our response is trust.  Faith is linked with hope.  Hope isn’t hope if it is something that we can see clearly, or even at all.  Faith and hope contain doubt by the mere fact that we don’t know everything about them.

This doesn’t mean that there is hopelessness.  It means that we will continue to question and doubt.  We’ll continue to ask questions of God – questions like why homelessness exist.  Questions about violence and evil.  Questions about human trafficking and prostitution. Why God?  Why don’t you do something about these things God?  Can you hear us?  Are you there?

God is big enough to handle these questions.  And God empowers us to do something in response.  To make us so uncomfortable and inconvenienced by these things that we step out in trust and hope – and we bring change.  We bring Jesus with us.  And miracles happen.

Church is like a Hostel

Tags

, , , ,

I’ve mentioned previously that I am part of a group of pastors who gather each week to learn and practice discipleship.  We gather into what is called a “huddle.”  It’s been a great experience.  Yesterday was no different.  During our time together, the one who has been leading us talked about the church being like a youth hostel.  A hostel is a simple place where travelers can stop for a time on their journeys.

Often church is much like a hostel rather than a mighty fortress, even though most would prefer it to be that fortress – where people come in and never leave.  A hostel has people come for a time and then leave – being sent out to plant more seeds for the kingdom where God calls them.  That can be true for people who are a part of the congregation for a time, for pastors, for others who have interactions with the church, and more.

Two days ago, our church was a hostel.  A family stopped by seeking a place to stay for the evening.  It was windy and cold – too cold to sleep in their van.  They were from Maine and had traveled to West Virginia for work.  The short version is that the work didn’t pan out for them, so they left.  They loaded up all of their belongings into their van and started to head back to Maine.  Carlisle happened to be a stopping point for one night on their journey back “home.”  They got off the expressway and we were the first church they came across.

I spoke with them, got their names, heard their story, and helped them find a location for their family for the night.  During the course of our time together, I heard the great faith that God had given them.  I could feel it and see it in their mannerisms and expressions.  I sensed the blessing in them in their gratitude.  Who was helping who here?  I felt just as blessed by their expression of faith, as they were in receiving a small amount of help for the night.  It felt as though I were in a re-enactment of Joseph, Mary, and child in their journey from Bethlehem to Egypt.  I can only imagine the encounters that the holy family had with those they came across in their journey – if only for a night.

Church is like a hostel in many ways.  Sometimes we encounter people for many years – we walk with them in their journey of faith from birth until death.  And other times we come across people for a short period of time, saying goodbye before we are ready for them to go.  Either way, none of us are permanently here.  At some point, it will be time for us to go – either through travel or job, or by sickness, age, and even death.

The beauty of a hostel is that everyone recognizes they are on a journey and they stay temporarily.  They look forward to the relationships they develop, and for what they will see and experience during their stay in a location.  Yes, church is like a hostel – a holy hostel.

Narcissists

Tags

Recently I’ve had a couple of encounters with a small number of people who exhibit narcissistic tendencies.  Let me be clear here – I’m not in any type of position to officially diagnose anyone of anything.  And that’s not the point here anyway.  I’m basing this solely on what I know about narcissism.

A narcissist is someone who believes they are the center of their universe, claims to the best (or worst) at literally everything, tries to make it seem that anything you are going through is minor compared to their hardship, refuses to take responsibility for anything, refuses to accept boundaries, tries to get an emotional response from others, and more.

Dealing with a narcissist can be quite tiring – exhausting actually.  Throw on the responsibilities of Holy Week and you have a recipe for a bit of low tolerance for narcissistic behavior.

From what I have read, the best way to deal with a narcissist is to not deal with them at all.  The second way is to be like a grey rock – to be boring enough that the narcissist moves on to someone else. The reason this advice is given is that a narcissist won’t ever change, unless they themselves recognize that their behavior needs to change.

This leads to a bigger question – can a person change?  I tend to think that a person can change.  Our bodies change as we age.  Our ideas change.  The type of abilities we have changes.  Our relationships change.  So do our jobs.

So how is it that narcissistic behavior is the one exception to this?

And secondly, how should a Christian respond to a narcissist?

I don’t know the answer to the first question.  It is an interesting situation though.

And second, a Christian should respond with love.  That doesn’t mean being a push over.  That means offering love for each person you encounter may look different from the next person.  Love could look not dealing with someone – it may be the best option you have and take the other person into consideration.  Love could look like firmly saying no to whatever the narcissist demands.  Love could mean setting firm boundaries.  Love could mean doing anything that doesn’t enable the narcissist to continue doing what they do. Love could mean modifying their request and setting the expectation really low. It could mean lots of things.

Love is not feeding a person’s narcissism.  It is not enabling them to continue with their behavior.  Narcissism ultimately is a cover up – a cover up of flaws and deficiencies a person has in how they perceive themself.

Dealing with a narcissist will put loving your neighbor to the test.

New Video series!

Tags

,

I started a new video series called Sharing the Journey: Encountering the Word.  (With some help from some good friends!).  Each week we’ll take a look at one of the Scripture texts from the Lectionary a bit more in depth and have a call to action.  This week we take a look at the reading from Acts 4.

You can check out the video over at www.pastormatthewbest.com or on the St. Stephen Lutheran Church website – www.ststephenlc.org.

Telling it like it is about “telling it like it is…”

Tags

, , ,

A some-what popular and trendy phrase right now is “telling it like it is.”  There are many who see leaders who “tell it like it is” as a top character trait that they look for in leadership.  Having this as a top trait raises some serious questions.

Typically “telling it like it is” gets translates as being politically incorrect in one’s speech, supposedly in defense of the “truth.”  In reality, the people who “tell it like it is” use it as an excuse to be rude, crude, obnoxious, and inhumane.  In a word – it’s an excuse to be a jerk.

When did it become acceptable to treat people you don’t like or disagree with in a manner that is rude or with little respect?  I can’t pinpoint the exact time, but it preceded the 2016 election.  Maybe it is attached to the reality television and the desire for quick and cheap fame.  Maybe it is tied to the decline of Christendom.  Maybe it’s tied to social media and the easy ability for everyone to have a voice.  Maybe it’s none of these, or all of these.  But really, it needs to stop.  It’s unacceptable.

When did it become acceptable for conspiracy theories to be treated on the same level as the truth?  I recently saw something about the people think that the mass shootings are fake.  Yes, there are people who think these tragedies are staged, with actors, all to advance some kind of a partisan political agenda.  This has the same level of legitimacy as the Flat Earth Society – the people who are convinced that the earth is flat and that there is some kind of conspiracy to hide it.

When did it become acceptable to treat victims of tragedy with disrespect and call their pain into question?  Whether you agree with kids from Parkland High School or not doesn’t matter.  They are human beings who have gone through a tragedy – let them speak if that helps them cope with what they have been through.  Give them room to speak.

When did it become acceptable to be a jerk?  Especially in an age in which society is making a major push to clamp down on bullying in schools.  Yet we have “leaders” who draw attention to themselves and their narcissistic attitudes by “telling it like it is” with their cruel words that don’t point towards the truth, but rather the emptiness of their own soul.

Matthew 15:18 states: “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles.”

In other words, you shall know a person’s inner attitude and worldview based on the fruit of their words.  Just as a rotten piece of fruit would be thrown out as unhealthy, so should the words that sound like rot.

When “telling it like it is” become the dominant value, humanity and humility suffer and are held at knife or gun point.  We shouldn’t be surprised that the next step is  violence – from one group of people against another who don’t see the humanity in others because of the way they look, talk, think, live, or where they are from, or their sexual orientation.

We shouldn’t be surprised when “telling it like it is” produces a whole society of jerks who think that everyone has to listen to their rot and accept the way they treat people.

We shouldn’t be surprised that “telling it like it is” produces policies that promote Social Darwinism where only the strong survive and the weaker members of society are left to rot and die because they are in the way and they cost money.  We shouldn’t be surprised.

“Telling it like it is” – that’s what the temple leaders could have been described as doing when they said that it is better for one man to die on behalf of the people.  “Telling it like it is” – That’s what the lame and pathetic excuse the crowd hid behind when they shouted “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!”  “Telling it like it is” is just as deadly now as it was nearly 2000 years ago.

If you “tell it like it is,” you shouldn’t be surprised when you receive a negative response.  Nor should you whine and complain about your feelings getting hurt either.

Instead, maybe you should be surprised when followers of Christ actually carry out what they claim to believe – when they turn the other cheek, when they offer words of forgiveness, when they still love you regardless.  That doesn’t mean they are giving you a pass.  This is costly love – a love that stings the giver.  A love that allowed nails to be put into a wrist and feet.  A love that hung on a cross.  The words of this love produce life-giving fruit for all who hear them and take them in.  The words of this love give nourishment.

Let me be clear – “telling it like it is” killed Jesus.  “Telling it like it is” was the excuse that was used to openly mock Jesus as he hung on the cross.  “Telling it like it is” was the excuse given when the plot to kill Jesus was formed.  “Telling it like it is” was the excuse Rome used when it violently killed and destroyed anyone who got in its way.  “Telling it like it is” – this is the excuse that was used to demean and dehumanize others because of their skin color, religious belief, ideology, gender, family status, mental health, economic status, language, sexual orientation, physical ability, and anything else considered outside of the current definition of “normal.”  Good luck washing that blood off your hands if you insist on “telling it like it is.”

Go ahead and keep “telling it like it is” though.  Everyone will know what is in your heart – a bunch of rot.  But where is Christ, the one so many who “tell it like it is” claim to follow?

Good Friday

Tags

,

Good Friday is an interesting day.  It’s a day that is uncomfortable.  We celebrate the death of someone and call it good.  To someone outside of the church, this day has to make very little sense.

But to those of us in the church, this is the day that leads to Easter and the resurrection.

We have to experience the death of Jesus before we can appreciate the resurrection.  Often Christians want to skip from Palm Sunday right to Easter – from triumphant entry to resurrection.  But that misses a major part of the story – the part that makes resurrection so much more rich.  The part where we see that Jesus really is willing to go to hell on our behalf and on behalf of all creation.  The part where Jesus goes to the crap and comes back.

We don’t like it because we don’t like to dwell in the negative and bad parts of life.  We don’t like to talk about suffering or death.  Yet, at some point in our lives, we’ll all experience some kind of suffering and we will experience death.  And Jesus will be right there with us.  Through it all.  We will not be alone.  Suffering and death will not have the final say.  The resurrection awaits.  Resurrection of our bodies and our lives – both after the suffering and after death itself.