This week the world watched as America went crazy.
It actually broke my heart to see the nation that has been the shining light of democracy the world around have insurrectionists attempt a coup.
I have had the privilege of visiting so many moving American monuments about freedom and democracy; I mourned on Wednesday to see what was happening.
I don’t like getting political on this blog, but I hope we can all agree that, no matter one’s political leanings, what was done on Epiphany (how ironic!) was unconscionable.
The only thing making it worse was all the “Jesus Saves” signs they were carrying.
I’d like to share some quick lessons I’ve learned trying to process how things can go so wrong.
As I’ve shared on recent podcasts, and on the blog for the last year and a half, it’s been so disillusioning watching the evangelical church spread such dangerous and harmful messages about marriage, sex, and women. How can a group that I love get it so wrong?
Where is Jesus?
And as I push back, and try to get people to see the truth, I often get attacked. Or people do things that I can’t see Jesus ever doing or saying.
I know that’s what many people are reeling from right now, and here are a few things that have helped me process when my world appears to be falling apart:
1. Not everyone who says they’re a Christian is a Christian.
One of the big things I had trouble dealing with was, “how can people who know Jesus say such things or act in such a way?”
Why doesn’t God do something? Could God really be okay with this?
But as Rebecca reminds me frequently, “Just because people can quote the four spiritual laws does not mean that they’re Christian.” In fact, Jesus spoke very clearly that those who know Him will:
- hear His voice and recognize His voice
- love one another, and be primarily known by their love
- bear good fruit
If someone is not loving; is bearing terrible fruit; is known as a judgmental person who wrecks everything he or she touches–it could be that he or she doesn’t know Christ at all.
And the Bible is clear that many in the last days will say, “Lord, Lord,” and Jesus will say, “Depart from Me, because I never knew you.” (Matthew 7:21-23). Many people think they are following Christ when really they are following nothing of the sort.
To me, that’s actually a hopeful message.
2. Many are always speaking truth; but rarely are these people in power
If you wonder why those in power don’t “get” it, it’s likely because, as Rebecca and I discussed in yesterday’s podcast, there’s no real incentive for them to get it. There’s a reason that pressure to get rid of slavery; end the Salem witch trials; reform the church; fight pornography; fight child sex trafficking; feed the hungry; deal with abuse has come first from voices outside of power in the church. Christians will be fighting for all these things, but often they’re fighting the leaders in the church. And each time a victory is won, and the church becomes a little bit better, then a new institution is calcified. No institution, though, will ever be perfect; there are always changes that need to be made. But leaders, who have their power and jobs from things staying the way they are, are usually not the force for that change.
Leaders rarely do the right thing until they lose the people they are leading.
When the people turn against the leaders, then, and only then, does real change usually occur within the church. Until then, it tends to take place outside the church walls. Once people abandon the church in great numbers, then it becomes incumbent on leaders to change, and they do.
So if you’re dismayed that leaders aren’t leading, look outside of leadership. People are indeed leading the way. Look for them. You’ll find them. Join them.
I find the story of Elijah so interesting in this regard. Elijah has spent years calling out King Ahab and all the priests of the land. He’s been studying the leaders, wondering why they’re not following God, and driving himself crazy (almost literally) because of it. Even after the big showdown on Mount Carmel, when he called down fire from heaven to consume his sacrifice, while the priests of Baal accomplished nothing, and even after he had all kinds of priests executed, the leaders still weren’t listening to him. He felt like he was the only one.
So he went off in the wilderness, as the leaders of the day were out to get him, and he felt sorry for himself. God showed up, and talked to him, and made him many promises of what would happen. But this reassurance is very apt for today:
Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel–all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and all whose mouths have not kissed him.
Earlier Elijah had had this showdown with 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah. After he won that showdown, he had them all killed.
So he had been focusing on these 850 people, plus the king and queen, who were at the head of the country, and who had turned against God.
And then Elijah told God that he was all alone; he was the only one left.
God replied by telling him, “Actually, there are 7000 more that I have reserved.” 7000.
That’s almost 10 times as many as Elijah had seen killed.
They weren’t high powered. They weren’t visible. But they mattered. They believed. Elijah was not alone.
The halls of power may disappoint you. But perhaps we should stop looking at the halls of power, either in evangelicalism or in politics or wherever, and start looking for likeminded people, wherever they are, who are running after Jesus.
3. Tipping Points Happen Quickly
One of Malcolm Gladwell’s first big books was The Tipping Point. His question was, “how does something that has been present in culture, but has been largely ignored, suddenly become something that everyone knows about?” How does an idea, a product, a cultural moment become part of our consciousness?
I love that book from a social and a marketing point of view.
But it’s also a really good way to describe what’s been happening. There’s been a drip-drip-drip of scandal in the church for years. Sexual abuse. Power hungry pastors falling. Coverups. Everyday there’s a new headline.
But when does anything actually change?
What Gladwell showed was that when change finally happens, it tends to happen very, very quickly.
Everything that can be shaken will be shaken.
I think these verses from Hebrews 12 describe what has been happening in so many arenas lately:
At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain.
Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.”[f]
Everything is being shaken. And when things change, they will change quickly.
Do you feel like everything is accelerating? I do. That’s scary to live through, as what we have built many of our identities around is all falling down and crumbling around us.
But it’s also comforting to know that God is at work. He is shaking. And when we remain in Him, we will still remain.
4. God sees you.
Finally, one last thing–or perhaps the most important one.
Elijah had his eyes on the seats of power, and felt alone, like the world was ending–and God told him to look lower.
God doesn’t only look at those in power. Our God’s eye is on the sparrow. He knows if it falls. He sees you. He is not only concerned with those in power. He cares about you.
When the three of us think of how badly women have been hurt by the obligation-sex message, whether through manipulation, obligation, coercion, or pain, we’re reminded of the Bible story of Hagar, Abraham, and Sarah. As you may remember, God had promised Abraham he would have a son and from this son God would make a great nation. The problem? Abraham and Sarah were both old, and Sarah was barren. In desperation, Sarah suggested that Abraham have a child with her slave, Hagar.
Nothing in the Bible story tells us that Hagar was a willing participant. As a servant, she would not have been able to truly consent. Her feelings and needs wouldn’t matter. Nevertheless, Abraham heeded Sarah’s advice and used Hagar to have a son. Some years later, miraculously Abraham does have a child with Sarah. Now Hagar and her son Ishmael were threats to Isaac, the child of the promise. Abraham sends Hagar and her son away.
While she is in the desert, God provides for her. And here’s where things get interesting. Hagar is the first person in Scripture who is given the honor of bestowing a name upon God. And the name she chooses? “The God who sees me.” After being sexually assaulted, forced to carry a baby, and then abandoned, never having her needs or wishes taken into account, being invisible and used to meet other people’s needs, God sees her.
And being seen makes all the difference.
God sees you. You matter.
We are living in a time when everything is being shaken, and the foundations of what we thought we believed and what we thought are holding us up are crumbling down.
But God has not left. He remains. And we are not alone. He has reserved others.
Cling to Him. Look for the fruit. See who is moving towards Christ. And know that you are never, ever alone.
I’m leaving this open for comments–but please, let’s not get too into politics or into the validity of the election results. I will delete that. I just want to talk about trusting leadership, not what to do when your world view crumbles. Thanks!
Sheila Wray Gregoire
Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum
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