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On Unity

Summary: For all the progress we’re making in the world, we’re entering surprisingly intolerant times - and it's affecting the unity of the body of Christ. How can we stay united when there are such strong forces pulling us apart?

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We're living in tumultuous, polarizing times. At Grace we’ve always done our best to embrace the idea that while certain things in Scripture are clearly defined (humankind’s fallen nature, Jesus rising from the dead to conquer sin and death), there is room for reasonable minds to differ on some matters. When will Jesus return? Does my baptism count if I didn’t get submerged? NIV or ESV? Hymns or Chris Tomlin?

If it’s reasonable to expect differing opinions on scriptural matters, it’s practically a given that a Christian community will be filled with differing opinions on political matters. On any given Sunday, across all of our worship venues, there are plenty of very liberal Democrats sitting right next to some very conservative Republicans. And odds are that both get a little anxious when they realize their church just introduced politics into a blog post.

The reason for making this observation is that, for all the progress we’re making in the world, we’re entering surprisingly intolerant times. Between traditional and social media, we’re tuning in to an overwhelming number of voices, all expressing different interpretations of “the facts” – both true and alternative.

It’s as if our pre-existing opinions are being fed a high-powered diet that has them jacked up like an athlete on steroids. And it can feel – just like it does for the athlete on the juice – empowering, and exhilarating. But it’s not real, and it’s not healthy.

Now more than ever, we need to get better at listening to each other. Not just waiting for our chance to talk – really listening. Because unity starts with listening.

The unity of God’s people isn’t guaranteed; it never has been. And when that unity crumbles, when the followers of Christ can’t be the example the world needs, the world sees it - and they’re either entertained, or put off. Nobody is drawn closer to Christ.

So let’s all hold each other accountable to a greater level of empathy, to a deeper understanding of each other. It’s good for us as individuals, it’s good for the body of Christ, and it’s good for the world. Let’s get off the (metaphorical) media juice, and come together around one goal: reaching more people for Christ.

This kind of unity doesn’t happen automatically; it takes work. So to help foster that unity, here are a few principles we can all adapt in some way or another:

Get your information from a variety of sources. If you watch Fox News all the time, read the New York Times. If you love National Review, try reading Vox. Don’t underestimate the value of publications like The Wall Street Journal or The Altantic. If you only read Huffington Post or Breitbart News, please recognize that those aren’t news outlets, they are blogs. The main point is this: recognize that you rarely ever hear the whole story, even from the best news sources. We all have to allow for the possibility that we might be misinformed.

Make your first source of information the Bible. If you read the Bible like you read the news - picking and choosing the parts you want to dwell on - you’re reading it wrong. Scripture doesn’t just give us the good news of salvation, of God’s intervention in human history, as beautiful and amazing as that news is. The Bible offers wisdom for living a better life, and that helps our perspective on world events stay closer to the way God sees the world.

“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12).

Pray before you speak, act, comment, or share. Is something bothering you to the point where you just have to say something about it – to everyone? For those of us who use social media as an outlet for our thoughts and feelings, keep this in mind: just because you said exactly what you wanted to say, that doesn’t mean people heard exactly what you wanted them to hear. Be aware of the power of your words, and remember that on social media you’re speaking to people who may live in an entirely different context from yours.

If you’ve got a particularly strong opinion on a social or political matter, pray about it. Pray for the people who are in the midst of the matter, whichever side they are on. Be open to God shaping your opinion through prayer.

And if you are taking to social media to share that opinion, it’s a good idea to share it with someone in person first. Before you put words out onto social media, where they can have a life of their own, see how they impact people you know in person. Too many of us say things on social media with a bluntness or an edge that we would never use face to face.

"Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell." (James 3:3-6)

Posting on social media is, by definition, an act of leadership; so treat it like one. I can almost hear the comments coming: “Wait… what? Leadership? Are you telling me that when I share my vacation photos, or that funny video with the panda grabbing the zookeeper’s legs, I’m leading people? Isn’t that kind of a stretch?”

Maybe not as much as you think it is. When you hear us talk about Willow Creek’s Global Leadership Summit (an event for everyone, well worth attending), you’ve heard us say that “we all influence people in some way.” When you are on social media, you’re trying to influence people. You’re trying to change their perspective, get them to take action, or motivate them. You want to engage people in an idea, whatever that is. That’s what leaders do.

Leaders spend a lot of time trying to create a clear picture of an intended outcome within their sphere of influence, regardless of where it is. So be aware that, when you are posting on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Snap, you’re influencing people, and that influence can show up right away or a long time down the road.

Every once in a while, have an “Input Fast.” Periodically fasting from food and water is good for our bodies, our minds, and our souls. But in today’s information-obsessed world, another kind of fast is to stop consuming information, of any kind: news, entertainment, even Scripture. Imagine taking a day or two, and turning off all of the technology, all of the input, and allowing space for your mind to do the other thing our brains were designed to do: create.

As amazing as they are at holding, retaining, and processing massive amounts of information, God didn’t design our brains to function solely as storage containers. They’re also instruments of creation. We’re all designed with an incredible capacity to craft and express ideas. But we rarely ever allow ourselves the mental bandwidth to do it.

So turn off the computer or TV and delete your social media apps – just for a day or two. It will all be there when you go back to it. Take the time you’d spend consuming and start creating: write in your journal, write down your goals, write a letter to a loved one. We were all made in the image of God, our Creator. So go create something, for the good of the world.

(And pray.)

Posted by Jared Willey with 1 Comments

Rules of Engagement

Summary: Following up on his July 4 sermon "Citizen," Pastor Tom VanAntwerp shares some timely, helpful guidelines for political discussions.

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On Fourth of July weekend, I shared a message at Grace Chapel titled “Citizen”. The message touched on a variety of themes including our current American political climate and the upcoming national presidential election.  In that message, I called our congregation to commit to being agents of reconciliation in the midst of a contentious and divisive political season. 

After the service, a woman came up to me in the lobby and said, “Okay, I need you to give me some very practical advice about how to do that because I’m getting together with some family members and I just found out they are big time ________________ supporters (insert presidential candidate here) and my family have been life-long ________________s (insert opposing political party here).  I have such strong feelings about these things and I’m afraid if we even broach the topic it is going to push all my buttons and it won’t end well!”

So for my friend who caught me in the lobby, and for all of the rest of us who will be spending time with extended family and other friends this summer, I put some thought into how practically help navigate moments like this.

Affirm your relationship and acknowledge the challenge.  Right from the beginning, break the ice and verbalize these things.  Say what is true!  Acknowledge that political conversations can often lead to conflict and hurt feelings, and you don’t want that to happen with you.  Let them know that you care about them, and that regardless or your views your relationship is the higher priority.  Simply verbalizing this helps to set a tone.

Agree to a time limit for the discussion.  Unbounded time for heated political discussion only invites a “point-counterpoint” scenario that can go on and on, leading to conflict and resentment.  Setting a time limit says that this topic is a worthwhile one for you to talk about, but you don’t want your time together to be consumed by it.  Set an alarm if you think it would help.

Seek to understand and be understood – rather than to persuade.  Instead of trying to win an argument, try to figure out why the other person believes and feels the way that they do.  See the conversation as an opportunity to learn more about what is important to your friend or family member.  There may be something you learn from their point of view.  There may be grace that you need to extend to them.  At the same time, help the other person understand what’s important to you, why you hold certain perspectives, and what challenges you’d like to see overcome in our world.  Remember that the debate format only leads each side to deeper entrenchment.  Deriding and insulting positions or people leads to defensiveness and closes the door to relationship and understanding.

Point out common ground.  When you find points of resonance and agreement – point it out!  Acknowledge and celebrate it.  We have more in common with one another than we realize.  I often wish someone would hold a forum where the major candidates could only discuss things they agreed on.  If they were able to be honest, I believe would be surprised how much they share in common.  Remember, political campaigns are all about exploiting the areas of difference and disagreement.   That’s all we get to see and hear about because the process is rigged that way.

Acknowledge the complexities we face.  We often pretend that our political point of view would offer simple solutions to the problems of our world.  The truth is, the challenges of our world are very complex, and political solutions offer some help, but never complete answers.  Any political position involves trade-off of values and solutions.  Be honest about these things.

And finally...

Thank the other person for the privilege of the conversation, and move along to talking about other things.  If we express appreciation to each other for the gift of a conversation that helps us understand each other better, we remind ourselves of the primary value of relationship.  It turns a possible point of conflict into an affirmation of relationship.  And isn’t that what we are looking for when we connect with friends and family?

Happy summer everyone!

Posted by Tom VanAntwerp with