From a fifteen-minute talk at the Parliament Hill Christian Fellowship. (Numbers in brackets after quotes are page numbers from Church in Society.)
It seems to be in vogue for speakers to open a talk with a personal embarrassing story. So here goes. As a young preacher, co-pastoring with my wife in our first church, I received the encouraging word, “You could be the next Billy Graham.” In youthful pride I watched Billy Graham on television when I could, observing and practicing his mannerisms―he pointed his fingers only when applying Scripture to current events, open arms when talking about sin and forgiveness, and a corner Bible flip when speaking about the authority of Scripture. I never preached to a stadium full of people. It was about two decades later when I read his autobiography, Just As I Am (1997) that I realized the keys to being the next Billy Graham were faithfulness, prayer, Bible reading and Bible study. I also read his regret about not spending more time with his family. It’s not about preaching to stadiums full of people. Hold those thoughts in mind. We’ll come back to Mr. Graham.
For now, as requested, some random and relevant thoughts from my book Church in Society: First Century Citizenship Lessons for Twenty-First Century Christians.
To begin, I believe
Christian faith is personal, intimately personal. And Christianity was always intended to be public, engaging, and sincere in its expression—not just private. Being a Christ-follower is a both/and experience, not an either/or one. We need to have the private devotion to follow and the public expression to convict us if we are ever on trial for being Christian. (xxv)
That’s the premise of the book. Key thoughts to remember when living out our private devotion to Jesus in a public way are the three commandments identified by Jesus:
- Love the Lord our God (Mark 12:30).
- Love our neighbours as ourselves (Mark 12:31).
- Love one another—by this, the world will know we are His disciples (John 13:34–35). (xxvi)
Loving God requires us to be in relationship with him. If you have ever had deep affection for a person, a pet, or an object you know how life-consuming love can be. You have also likely experienced how that in love experience can adjust over time to be less consuming. The challenge is for the less-consuming love to be a continuing and deepening love. That takes work. The question becomes, are we putting in the effort with God?
Billy Graham’s effort in prayer and Scripture was not unique to him. Prayer, Bible reading and Bible study are the personal and intimate conversations with God that nourish our growth in Christlikeness, cooperating with Holy Spirit in conforming us to the image of Christ (Romans 8:26-29). To live a life of active public Christian citizenship we need first to understand what it is to be and live as a Christian.
Loving our neighbours is premised on the love we have for ourselves. The love we have for ourselves is premised on our relationship with God, who is love and loves us more than we can imagine.
Before we look at our neighbours, let’s think about our love for one another within the Body of Christ. Jesus said it’s that love by which the world will know we are His disciples, His students, His followers.
This commandment is often forgotten or confused in expression as simply “love one another.” Here’s what Jesus said, speaking to His disciples about their relationship with each other.
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34-35) (John 15:12, 17)
In John 17, drawing to a close his comments at the last supper that start for us in John 13, Jesus prayed for unity, not uniformity; unity among his diverse disciples, including us who believe because of the witness by those who were with Him that night. (John 17:11, 20-23)
Jesus knew our diversity would be just as great as, and greater than, that of the twelve in the upper room with Him. It’s not about sameness. Unity is our diversity collected in common purpose. That may involve divergent expressions and pursuits, but with the common purpose of bringing glory to God. May our pursuits be based not purely in personal preference, or theological sameness, but in kingdom purpose. His purpose. (31)
Paul wrote about this as the many parts of the one Body of Christ in Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12. How are we doing at appreciating the other parts and the diverse expressions of the Body of Christ? To recognize other Christians, or to keep a check on ourselves, look for the fruit of the budding and ripening presence of Jesus in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23)
Before becoming a disciple of Jesus, Paul was among the first persecutors of the Church. We have not yet seen the last. When one part of the body suffers, are we aware Christ’s Body is suffering still?
Remember, in the Body of Christ, they are us. (48)
Love one another. By this all people will know we are Christ’s disciples.
As citizens of heaven and citizens of earth we are called to exercise our citizenship in Canada with consideration of these three commandments. Loving God. Loving His Church. Loving our neighbours as we love ourselves. These three are the frame to our motivation for engagement with the time, culture and society in which we live: how we understand our rights and freedoms; and how we participate in our community, with government and through politics.
Let me touch briefly on two subjects in that regard that may be most germane to this audience: politics and media.
Politics, whether in church leadership or national governance, is supposed to be about people. Serving the people. Looking out for the best interests of all constituents. But too often it’s more about power than governance. Part of our sinful nature is the desire to be the greatest by having dominance over others rather than by serving them. (113-114)
I think that’s why Paul told Timothy to pray for people who hold political power. And I think that underlies Peter telling us to honour the emperor. More than submission, we honour the emperor (empress, king, queen, president, prime minister, or anyone in the vocation of politics) by praying for him or her. (114-115)
Here’s what Paul wrote:
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:1-4)
Are we praying for our prime minister, leaders in opposition, parliamentarians, premiers, mayors, city councillors, and school board trustees?
Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. (1 Peter 2:13-17)
These men were writing at a time when Christianity was not welcome. Paul wrote from prison; and Peter already, or soon to be, arrested, then executed.
As Christians, our participation in politics starts and ends with prayer. Pray for government officials. Pray about our participation. Pray as we participate. And then pray for government officials, that those in positions of authority would look out for the best interests of all citizens, including Christian citizens. (125)
It is easy for us to lose our equilibrium if we make the effort to balance our discipleship to Jesus with discipleship to a political party or political objective. Jesus is not to be held in balance with anyone or anything else. It is in Christ that we find the space and capacity to participate in politics, and we must make the effort both to maintain our relationship with Jesus and to thwart the temptation of political passion to overwhelm or compromise our maturing in Christ.
Following on that thought, a few words about our participation in media, which in the 21st century includes mainstream media, alternative media, and social media.
What media do you take in? What media do you rebroadcast? What do you share as a participant in media? How do you assess the accuracy of what you receive and what you personally broadcast? (129)
John Stott wrote, “The influence of the mass media upon us all is continuous, insistent and pervasive.” (131)
David Haskell adds,
The greatest problem with news is not that journalists are influenced by their perceptions; the greatest problem is that news audiences do not realize journalists are influenced by their perceptions. (132)
All media is biased. Mainstream media. Alternative media. Social media. Even our own tweets and posts.
Like mainstream media, the alternative positions of the alternative media—both political left and political right—allegedly ‘report’ on the same events. In both mainstream and alternative media, commentators are masquerading as journalists. They are intentional about stirring emotion with their words rather than informing consumers to encourage independent thought. It is our responsibility to engage in independent thought anyway. Why?
Like the sower in the parable Jesus told in Mark 4 we are sowing seed in what we share. Like the soil in the same parable seed is being sown into us. We are cautioned not to be passive recipients of the media seed we accept into our lives but to actively think about what is taking place in us because of the media we consume. There are a few simple questions we can ask ourselves. Who is the messenger? What is their bias? For whom did the messenger prepare the message? And for what purpose? How reliable is the messenger? How readily can the message be fact-checked and verified with other sources? How current or relevant is the information? (questions from 133-134)
Neither reporters nor social media adversaries are Satan incarnate, whether or not it seems like they’re trying to undermine you, me, or Christ’s work. (140)
And we? We are always Christians. In every aspect of our lives we are united with Jesus. We represent Jesus to others (2 Corinthians 5:20), and we are called to make the effort to do so well: good and faithful; loving God; loving one another; loving our neighbours as we love ourselves.