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Let's Talk about the Hard Stuff, Part 1

From the series Not Beyond Reach

Is it possible to discuss hot-button issues – like politics, social justice, or Black Lives Matter – with those we love without starting an argument? In this program, our guest teacher Aaron Pierce says: Absolutely! As he picks up in his series, Not Beyond Reach, Aaron describes how to get past divisive topics and clear the way for the Gospel to pierce people’s hearts.

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Message Transcript

These issues, these topics of politics and sexuality are very divisive and they are very, kind of, intimidating topics, they are also incredible opportunities for the Gospel. They’re moments in which we can connect and actually rather than seeing them as things to avoid or putting them in that box of politics, they are actually opportunities to connect on a deeper spiritual level with people.

And so, part of it is reframing in our own minds these things that are not scary topics, but these are actually opportunities if we approach it in a different way. And so, that’s part of what I want to talk about is how do we approach this in a better way?

Starting with the idea of politics. So, politics has ruined more than a few Thanksgiving gatherings. We all, like, that’s like the thing that you hear today, right? Like, a lot of times there’s a tension, often between the dad and one child on some political issue. And we have this hyper polarized world.

But I think that part of it is that there’s an opportunity here that we can reframe this. And that’s what I want to talk about, specifically through the political lens. Now, one thing I want to make very clear as we talk about this is that this is in the context of how to develop relationships and engage in spiritual conversations with secular people.

So, we’re not making political statements or saying how Christians should or should not engage in the political process; that’s not what this is about. So, remember the context of this. So, the first thing we have to understand is the concept of fear and the political savior. And this is an issue that we have as Christians in the Church.

So, much of the Christian response to the decline of Christian influence and the moral decay of society has been characterized by fear. Alright? So, what happens is is when we have a culture of fear, we see secular people as the enemy. And then we adopt a zero sum game of winning and losing. Right? That becomes the mentality.

So, in a game of winners and losers, the end goal, the end goal of defending Christian values, of saving our country from the enemy justifies the means of achieving that goal. Right? Even if those means are completely anti-Christian in attitude and approach.

It justifies it because the consequences are so severe, right? And so, that is the mentality. And so, this fear has led many Christians to look to a political savior, to a political power. Which is ironic, right? Because that’s what the Jews wanted when Jesus came. Right? And so, it’s the very antithesis of what Jesus did while He was on earth.

And so, the big paradigm here is that followers of Jesus, of all people, should not be known for fear but for hope. Right? We should be known for hope. And we have a hope that is unshakeable by circumstances exactly because we do not put our hope in earthly things. That is why we have an unshakeable hope, because it’s not put in a political party or a politician or even in our religious freedom that our country provides. That is not where our hope is. Our hope is in Jesus and only Jesus.

So, if our country collapses and Christians are persecuted like first century Christians in Rome, by the way, I hope that does not happen, right? But if that does happen, we still have hope because we know that we are but sojourners in exile as it says in 1 Peter 2:11 and that our citizenship is in heaven as it says in Philippians 3:20. We still have hope if everything collapses around us. And that is why our engagement in the political process, but also in engaging non-religious people should be hope-driven, not fear driven.

That’s a big, big paradigm shift in how we approach this, because that shapes the way we engage, that shapes the way we see everything. It’s hope-driven, not fear-driven. And so that impacts the way that we see them.

“Them” is a big issue today in our culture, right? Because we live in this hyper-polarized era, unlike any time in history and it’s us versus them, even if “them” is an exaggerated caricature that bears little resemblance to the, kind of, the complex nuanced reality of who we are, right?

And we like to put these cartoon characters of the other side that we can easily dismiss. And so, it’s easy to hate people that are on the other side because they are no longer image-bearers, they are the enemy, right?

Do you envision real people with hopes and fears just like you? Do you see them as people that Jesus loves so much that He died on the cross for them? Or do you envision nefarious people with malicious intentions out to get you?

And I don’t mean to be naïve, but approaching the world through a lens of conspiracy theory or malicious intentions doesn’t help you foster a love for people. And so, we need to remember who the real enemy is. Right? We are in a war. We are in a war, but it’s not against people. It’s against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms, as it says in Ephesians 6:12. And it’s a war for the souls of a generation who have been deceived.

And so, I prefer to approach people using this thing called Hanlon’s Razor. And Hanlon’s Razor says never attribute malice to that which can be adequately explained by ignorance or deception.

And so, maybe, maybe you’ll be duped every once in a while, but at least you’ll continue to foster a love for people and see the best in people. So, let me illustrate this with a well-known verse; you’ve probably seen this verse before.

It says, “When I saw the crowds, I was angry and defensive with them because they were malicious and plotting to hurt me.” Right? You’ve heard this verse, right? No! This is what it really was. “When He,” Jesus, “saw the crowds He had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless like sheep without a shepherd.”

That should be our approach to people, right? Rather than these malicious, nefarious people that are out to get us and this fear and hostility and fists up, we should see them as people that are confused and helpless and, like Jesus, have compassion on them. That should be our approach.

And so, the thing to remember is that often people’s motivation, politically or otherwise, is technically good when you consider their underlying assumptions, right? They are operating on an assumption and on a worldview where, to them, they believe they are doing right. Right? And so, the challenge is not what they are doing, it’s the worldview that they are operating under.

So, that’s the first thing. It’s our approach to other people. What is our approach or how do we feel and look about them?

The second thing is that we can’t make secondary things primary. Don’t make secondary things primary. And it sounds obvious, but our goal is not to – our goal is to win people to Jesus, not our political perspective. And they are not the same thing. And, often, it seems that Christians are more passionate about their political affiliation than Jesus. Like, the things that they are most getting passionate and worked up about on social media is their political stuff, right?

And there’s some of those issues, to me, that are so secondary and so, like, good Christians can have different views on it. But we are so passionate about it, right? We often get stuck in these downstream battles and secondary issues rather than introducing people to Jesus. Right?

And in terms of societal influence, the law is actually very limited, almost useless, in shaping worldview or changing someone’s heart, right? And so, we need to not confuse political power with societal influence. Right? We, and frankly, we are kind of there right now. We have actually, some of the right-leaning morality, we have kind of “won” in some ways, politically, but I don’t think we have had a lot of societal influence in other ways. Right? So, we have to make sure, again, we separate that. And let me be clear again. This is not about how Christians should engage the political process. This is about: how do we reach secular people? Right?

So, we need to remember that so that as we engage with people who have different political perspectives, we need to make sure we are doing our best to get out of the political box like we talked and avoid debating secondary or symptomatic issues and instead our goal is to point them to Jesus, right?

Now, again, I’m going to say it one more time. We are not advocating political apathy or abstaining from the political process, but as Christians, we should seek to engage and influence every sphere of society, but not from a place of fear and not as our ultimate source of hope. Right?

If politics is not our ultimate source of hope, then we are not going to, like, adopt that win-at-all-costs mentality, because that’s not our ultimate hope. So, that is my key point.

So, next thing about politics. We live in an activist culture and I think this is awesome, because this activism really operates on a framework that connects to the gospel in a powerful way.

We talked a lot before about filtered reality and how we kind of project ourselves. And one of the projections is that we are activists, that we’re making a difference. Often, it’s pretty superficial and, you know, amounts to nothing more than a social media post and wearing a bracelet.

But none the less, there is a desire, right? to fight for something, to be part of something bigger than myself, to care for the oppressed and the marginalized, right? to meet the needs of the voiceless. Like, to stand for what is right. All of these things are good, biblical things, right? In fact, the reason this is in them is because they were created for good works in advance. Right? Whether they know Jesus or not. And God has put them in them.

Like, a more fair way to live out a secular humanistic worldview is just to live for yourself. Right? It’s just to get what you can, right? And it’s about pursuing pleasure and happiness, but an activist culture is about laying your needs down for the sake of others.

So, it’s a really interesting thing. And so, even though a lot of the things that people get into like environmentalism, racism, Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ, sexuality, feminism, mental health, suicide prevention, and economic injustice – these are the hot topics, these are the things that culture cares about, even though a lot of these things either are outright anti-biblical or get twisted, right? It says something about people. What it says most importantly is that they believe the world is not as it ought to be.

And that is that, remember when we talked about spiritual conversations, finding a truth that they believe and affirming that? Those that are politically active, that is a key truth that we can hold, that we can affirm in them.

And my challenge to you is: see them as opportunities to connect and to affirm and then have a conversation seeking the truth together.

Like, how do we take care of this planet? Like, how do we see racial equality? How do we treat, where does love come from? How do we create, how do we treat people who are different with dignity and love and respect? Right? How should women be treated? Can we acknowledge the fact throughout history that there has been a ton of marginalization? And can we, what do we do about that? And, of course, Jesus was so radical in the way He treated women, right? And so, see these as opportunities, not as political conversations. Alright?

So, I’ll give you an example of this. This was last year, I ended up meeting a couple of these guys. They are kind of tough looking, tattooed people. And I saw them and I thought, Ah, they kind of look interesting. So, I went up to them and I said, like, “Hey! What’s – how are you doing?” And then I said, “What do your tattoos mean?” Because tattoos are personal and they are easy things to connect on.

And so, I said, “Yeah, what do your tattoos mean?” And he looked at me, the guy in the back there and he said, “Well, which one?” And I said, “Um, that one.” And I pointed to one that was a circle with three downward-facing arrows. And I found out later that that actually was a symbol representing Antifa, which is a leftwing political movement, with some extreme and sometimes violent elements to it.

But he said, “Well, it means anti-fascist, anti-capitalist, anti-authoritarian.” And I was like, “Ooh, okay.” And so, I asked him, “Like, why do you, what does that mean to you? Why do you believe that?” And he talked about, like, kind of the corruption of the system and how you’ve got all these billionaires and their yachts while the poor are struggling and how that is unjust and all this kind of corruption and political stuff.

And then he began talking about, passionately, about implementing his, kind of, socialistic, almost communist system in order to bring about equality. And at that point a well-meaning Christian man that was there doing outreach with us began to have an argument with him about capitalism versus socialism.

And hopefully we realize by now, like, that wasn’t the moment for that. Right? Like, that wasn’t, frankly, he completely missed the point of that moment and that this was not the time to argue about capitalism and socialism, blah, blah, blah. This was a moment where we could connect.

And so, I kindly but firmly took over the conversation and I followed basically a process, a process of first of all affirming in him some good things that I saw. So, I said, “Man, I respect you, because you see the brokenness of this world, you see suffering, and you’re not willing to just stand aside. You want to do something about it. I respect that, because I agree with you that the world is broken as well. And I am an activist too. I’m a Jesus activist.” So, I’m connecting on his playing field, right?

But then I reframe it. And I said, “But the problem is that no matter what economic or political system we seem to put in place, we can’t get rid of the corruption, we can’t get rid of the evil and the suffering. And that’s because I believe the core problem is a corruption of the heart,” I was using his language, “and that there is no political system that can solve that.” And then I challenged him and I told him that as a follower of Jesus, I believe that we can’t fix ourselves and that the only solution was a spiritual renewal and restoration found through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

And then we ended up having this really deep, long conversation and eventually he ended up opening up and he said, “Well, you know, yesterday I was at a funeral and the pastor came up to talk to me and he was talking to me about this stuff too.” And I said, “Well, man, I think God is pursuing you.” And he said, “Yeah, I think you’re right.” And it was a pretty amazing conversation with an Antifa guy that wants, you know, that for most people it was like the enemy that we should stand against, right?

So, how are we going to engage the political process in a different way? That’s our challenge.