November 15, 2018

Dear Friends,

Our study of Esther this fall has had us exploring the question of what it looks like to live lives of faithfulness to God in a pagan culture. I think you’d agree that the subject is relevant in our day.

A few weeks ago, I referenced what I think is a key New Testament text on this subject. It’s from the Apostle Peter, who told believers in his day (and in our day as well) to “abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul” and to “keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.”

Those are our marching orders as followers of Jesus. Abstain from the passions of the flesh. Keep your conduct honorable. And demonstrate the reality of your love for God and others by doing “good deeds” that stir in people a reverence for God.

Here’s what we need to keep in mind. If your goal is to win acceptance or affirmation from our pagan friends, that strategy will not insure our success.

Andrew Walker provides us with a clear illustration of my point. I’m reprinting for you here, in its entirety, a blog post he wrote this week titled Cultural Winsomeness Will Not Be Enough For Christians.

He writes:
Bravery is the willingness to do what’s right no matter what the circumstances, and it’s contagious.

There are lots of examples of bravery or courage in our culture. Considering we just celebrated Veteran’s Day, the countless soldiers who serve Americans by their willingness to do whatever is necessary to protect our freedoms are a classic example of this valor.

A story out of California shows another example of courage. It’s the type of courage or bravery that doesn’t just require sacrifice, but a willingness to stand against the crowd when the crowd has all the power and seems to be shouting the loudest.

An illustration is the story of Isabella Chow, a student senator at UC Berkeley in California. By abstaining—neither voting yea or nea—in a vote for transgender rights, Chow is experiencing an immense blowback on campus. She did not vote no. She did not defame gay or transgender persons. She chose not to participate. She did not want to be drafted into a cause that she has moral concerns about as a Christian.

But as you’d expect, social media is now defaming her. She’s been disavowed by her own political party on campus. A petition has been signed calling for her removal. She was denied the ability to further explain her abstention in the student newspaper, but in turn, she’s been editorialized against—ostracized for her Christian faith. The whole campus has rallied in opposition to Chow.

And for what? Because in her explanation for why she abstained, she dared to express her Christian faith’s belief that, in her own words, “God created male and female at the beginning of time, and designed sex for marriage between one man and one woman. For me, to love another person does not mean that I silently concur when, at the bottom of my heart, I do not believe that your choices are right or the best for you as an individual.”

But Chow did not launch into a barrage of missives against the LGBT community. In her prepared remarks, she even spoke out against discrimination and hate against the LGBT community.

Chow is the very definition of class, dignity and civility. She’s a model for what faithful Christian discipleship looks like in the public square. There is no foaming-at-the-mouth hatred for anyone. She loves everyone; she just did not want to violate her conscience.

What’s the lesson here? There are many. But to focus on just one, this story is a reminder that no amount of cultural sophistication or intelligence will absolve the Christian from being seen as a backward-thinking bigot. I say this because there’s an evangelical temptation that believes that if we can just communicate orthodox beliefs in the right way, if we can appear as nuanced as possible, then those on the other side of the aisle will see us as goodwill, reasonable actors.

We’re tempted to think that finding the right aesthetic or tone will resolve the underlying tensions that exist when Christianity confronts the world with an ethic that the world does not want to hear. We think we can have our cake and our popularity, too. Chow is a living example of how this approach is naive.

Winsomeness as the utmost priority for Christian faithfulness in the public square will leave individuals with no place to go when this kind of witness still earns us the reproach of culture. As Chow’s example demonstrates, we should be willing to share our convictions without the fear of what reprisal will come.

Be gracious. Be winsome. Be civil. Be polite. Of course, never be less than these things, but at the same time, realize that to be a Christian, more may be required of you, like sharing what’s on your conscience and being willing to pay the price for it. Your kindness will still get you in trouble.

No amount of niceness, civility, or winsomeness will pacify those voices who will hate you and your Christian values no matter how sophisticated you appear or whatever attempt you make to distance yourself from the Christian conservative caricature you do not like.

Chow, at this point, has no plans of stepping down. Good on her. As she stated to the San Francisco Chronicle, “No, I’m not planning to resign. Because if I do, there will be no one else to represent the voices that are ignored and misunderstood on campus.”

In the future, there are going to be more Chows, not less. Her example is an example for all of us as Christians prepare to stay faithful in a culture that looks less and less Christian by the day.

As bond servants of Jesus, we are duty bound and Holy Spirit empowered to live lives that are characterized by Christian virtues like love, joy, peace, kindness, forbearance, humility, compassion, meekness and patience.

But we must also be prepared for the times when our gentle answer doesn’t turn away wrath. When our peaceable spirit doesn’t sow peace.

Our model is Jesus. Peter tells us that it is “a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in His steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in His mouth. When He was reviled, He did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but continued entrusting Himself to Him who judges justly.” 1 Peter 2:19–23

May God grant us grace to entrust ourselves to Him who judges justly.

Have you filled up your shoeboxes yet?

This Sunday is collection day.

As Matt shared in church, there are some do’s and don’t when it comes to filling a shoebox. Like don’t include any candy; toothpaste; gum; used or damaged items; war-related items such as toy guns, knives, or military figures; chocolate or food; seeds; fruit rolls or other fruit snacks; drink mixes (powdered or liquid); liquids or lotions; medications or vitamins; breakable items such as snow globes or glass containers; aerosol cans.

In fact, you can click here for some great suggestions on what to include in a shoebox (like a “wow” item, a craft or activity item and a personal note to the child).

A week from this Sunday, November 25, it’s our big night of Hymns, Carols, Cookies and Classics with singer/songwriter Bob Bennett. Here’s scoop.

This is one of those great “invite a friend” opportunities. Great music. Great fellowship. Start thinking and praying now about who to invite.

And the kids who don’t want to sit through the concert can enjoy watching this:

It’s gonna be a great big fun night for everyone. A great way to wrap up the holiday weekend and begin to tune our hearts for Christmas.

And then in December, it’s the annual Women’s Christmas Tea. Emily Davidson is still looking for anyone who would like to lend a helping hand to make the event a success. Here are all the details.

Royal insomnia. A second lavish banquet. And an unexpected turn of events for the King of Persia’s Chief of Staff. Chapter six of Esther is full of drama and insight.

See you in church.

Soli Deo Gloria!
Pastor Bob

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