Archive for Us and Them

Overcoming the World: Part 5–As Far as it Depends on You

 

Constantly rejoicing in hope [because of our confidence in Christ], steadfast and patient in distress, devoted to prayer [continually seeking wisdom, guidance, and strength], contributing to the needs of God’s people, pursuing [the practice of] hospitality.

 Bless those who persecute you [who cause you harm or hardship]; bless and do not curse [them].  Rejoice with those who rejoice [sharing others’ joy], and weep with those who weep [sharing others’ grief].  Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty [conceited, self-important, exclusive], but associate with humble people [those with a realistic self-view].  Do not overestimate yourself.  Never repay anyone evil for evil.  Take thought for what is right and gracious and proper in the sight of everyone.  If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.  (Romans 12:12-18 AMP)
Well, the election’s finally over, and as expected, it has stirred up more issues than it has settled.

 

As is usually the case, Truthseekers were at a loss throughout this election, since Truth and politics are generally not found in the same place at the same time.  Some of us voted defensively, some of us searched in vain for a viable third party candidate, and some of us just stayed home.  Now that what’s done is done, we’re all asking ourselves the same question.  “What do we do now?”

 

Well, the answer is the same thing we’ve always done.  Seek Truth in the common ground.  But how do you find common ground in a nation so divided?

 

I covered a lot of this during the last election in the Us and Them series.  However, since it seems to me that strife and discord have been amped up significantly this time around, I would like to focus on the concept of peace and the part we have to play in it.

 

We are called to hate what is evil and cling to what is good.  In a climate such as this, I would suggest that we focus on the clinging to what is good part.  It’s too easy when emotions are running high to go from hating WHAT is evil to projecting that righteous hatred onto people, which is the line we should never cross.  If the news is raising your blood pressure, watch something else.  If your “friends” on social media are stirring the pot with their ignorance, get off Facebook and go put your face in a book.  Better still, put your face in THE Book.  Remember, all evil things will eventually pass away, and the good will remain.  So why expend our energy on things that won’t last?

 

We aren’t supposed to judge people anyway, but we REALLY need to get past this judging people by whom they voted for.  I think most of us can agree that there were no good choices this year, so why should we judge someone else’s choice?

 

That person you’re angry at because he or she voted differently than you and is venting about it on social media—who was that person to you before the election?  Did you respect him or her then?  So why not now?  No one’s inherent worth is diminished by a single ballot.  Remember that.

 

A Truthseeker’s objective is to end arguments, not start them.  It is not our place to try to inject moral superiority into the discussion.  For this reason, I urge patience above all.  Resist the temptation to “correct” people, even if they are obviously wrong.  When people are angry or upset, the lids of their minds are fastened tightly, and you aren’t going to reach them anyway.  Pray for peace and reason to return to our society, and wait patiently for this to pass, because it will.  Dust can’t settle if you stir it up.

 

Look for ways to be kind to people.  The needy are still needy, so don’t forget them.  Let wherever you are be the “safe space” where discussion of politics doesn’t have to happen.  There are so many other things to talk about.

 

Don’t take the bait when some fool on the internet calls you out, directly or collectively, for how you voted and/or the motivations behind your vote.  Justice is God’s job.  If they have it coming to them, they will receive it in their due time.  This is a good opportunity to practice forgiveness.  After all, our sins are forgiven to the degree that we forgive.

 

I don’t really know that there were any “winners” in this election, but there are many who will lose.  I am not suggesting that the criminal element of our society that would riot and destroy and call it a “protest” should be treated with compassion and understanding, but there are many people who stand to lose something dear to them in the upcoming administration.  Be compassionate while they grieve their loss.

 

Make the most of every opportunity to establish common ground with people, preferably face to face.  Listen to their stories.  See people as individuals and not as members of a group.  Come alongside people in their difficulties.  Focus on solutions rather than problems.  Above all, pray first, and listen carefully for an answer, before presuming to dispense wisdom.  When tensions run high, even the most well meaning of advice can be perceived as an attack.

 

And PLEASE avoid the temptation to seek revenge, whether in word or deed.  That is NEVER our job.  It is natural to feel some sense of satisfaction when the times shift in your direction after they have been against you, but it is not our place to rub anyone’s nose in their own misfortune.  You will never earn someone’s respect by spiking the football.  Just hand it to the official and go back to the sideline.  Justice is God’s job, and part of that is righting wrongs.  It will happen in His timing.  Don’t force the issue.

 

Most importantly, it is up to you to make the first move toward peace.  You will have to use your best judgment with each individual you encounter as to whether that means actively extending an olive branch or remaining silent.  Things are going to be ugly for a while.  They may get out of control for a time as well.  You have a choice to make it better or make it worse.

 

You may not be able to single-handedly fix what’s broken in our nation, but how you treat other people is one thing that you CAN control.  So stand firm, pray hard, and keep hoping for the best.  It WILL get better eventually.

 

Us and Them: Part 5–Nineveh

God displays his heart for the people he created very explicitly in the book of Jonah, my personal favorite in the entire Bible.

 

Most people know about Jonah being swallowed by the whale/big fish, but that’s not really the point of the story.

 

Jonah was on that ship in the first place, because he was (futilely) trying to flee from God.  He was fleeing, because God had told him to go and preach in Nineveh, the Assyrian capital.  In that time, the Ninevites were the ultimate “them” to the Israelites.

 

So after his aquatic incident, God gives Jonah a second chance to preach to Nineveh.  He gives the shortest sermon in history, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned (Jonah 3:4 NIV).”

 

But then, a curious thing happens.  The Ninevites listen!  And REPENT!

 

So Jonah goes up to a high place where he will have a most excellent view of God destroying “them” down in Nineveh.  Except it doesn’t happen, because God has heard their prayers and is giving “them” a second chance.  Jonah, being one of “us” (that is, Israel), has issues with this.  But listen to God’s response:

 

“. . .  Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well.  Should I not be concerned about that great city?”  (Jonah 4:11 NIV)

 

Jonah is the only book in the Bible to end with a question.  So what’s the answer?

 

Did you notice the theme in the book of Jonah?  Both Jonah AND the Ninevites get second chances.  God does not show favoritism.  Because he made all of us, to Him, there is only “us.”

 

But here’s the catch.  We have to affirm that Truth.  God is willing to include anyone as “us,” but WE have to accept the invitation.

 

We become part of “us” by laying down our pride, which is the mother of all sin, and the creator of “them.”  We become part of “us” by trusting God with our hearts, our fears, our anxieties, even our bodies.  By submitting our will to His, he responds by meeting all of our needs.

 

Now at this point, we still have a multitude of bad habits to break (Lord knows I do), but we have an example to follow in Jesus.  His perfect love drives out fear, the constant presence of His holy spirit keeps us safe from harm (if we let Him), and if we follow Him faithfully, the hope for our future will play out in front of our eyes, day by day.

 

The key word there was “faithfully.”  We do have a part to play in this transaction.  If we allow ourselves to be polluted by the world (James 1:27), and look to the things and people of this world to meet the needs that only God can, then we will become the “them” that we had despised.

 

The Bible calls “them” sinners.  Here’s the clincher—if you look at other people and see a “them,” you are one of “them.”

 

However, if you look at other people, no matter how different they are from you, and still see an “us,” or at least a potential “us,” then that is a sign that the Holy Spirit is within you, transforming you into the likeness of the Jesus, who being one with the Father, created us to be “us.”

 

Us and Them: Part 4–Love

 

You can love your country, but since a country is an abstract concept that really only exists as lines drawn on a map, it cannot love you back.  Your country can have a strong military, but that can’t keep you safe from what happens inside our borders.  Your elected officials can promise you everything, but they themselves are not in a position to truly provide you with anything.

 

Bottom line—if you put your hope in politics, you will always be disappointed.  However, there is a way not to be.

 

For the first 33 years of my life, my needs were never truly met.  But for the last nine, they have been.  Since surrendering my life to Jesus Christ, I have experienced love:

 

Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.  (John 15:13 NIV)

There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.  (1 John 4:18 NASB)

 

The first time I felt truly safe was when I learned and internalized these words:

 

Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day; nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness; nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday.  A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee.  (Psalm 91:5-7 KJV)

Even in my moments of weakness, when I let world events and political rhetoric get the better of me, I still hold fast to this truth:

 

In my anguish I cried to the Lord, and he answered by setting me free.  The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid.  What can man do to me?  (Psalm 118:5-6 NIV)

 

And for the first time in my life, I finally have a hope and a future (anybody who has ever bought a wall plaque at Family Christian knows where I am going with this):

 

Yes, I know that this is one of the most overused, out-of-context Bible quotes of this age.  Yes, I know that it was a specific message given through the prophet Jeremiah for specific people in a specific situation at a specific time (the Jewish exiles in Babylon in the 6th century BC).

 

But see, that’s just it.  The Jewish exiles of 2,600 years ago had the same needs that we do today.  They needed to know that God still loved them, that He would preserve and protect them, even though they were captives in Babylon for 70 years, and that they would have a hope and a future (in their case, that they would return to their homeland and rebuild Jerusalem).

 

Different situation, different time, same needs.  Because they were “us,” just as we all were created to be “us.”

 

This is why I emphasize “common ground” so much when writing about the concept of being a Truthseeker.  These needs are common to all.

 

I have found that all of these needs are met in Jesus Christ, and in Christ alone.  I am able to love, because He loved me first, before I even acknowledged Him (1 John 4:19).  I know that under His protection, no weapon formed by man shall prosper against me (Isaiah 54:17).

 

But most of all, I have a hope and a future.  I know (because I have seen) that my Lord has gone to prepare a place for me (John 14:2), and that a day will come when my cup will overflow with streams of living water, coming from God’s throne (Revelation 22:1)—the Day when my future will become my eternal present.

 

God wants this for all of “us.”  Christianity is not supposed to be an “us” vs. “them” proposition.  Jesus said in Matthew 28:19 to go and make disciples of all nations.  He didn’t say, “Go into the world, but don’t baptize or teach ‘them.’

 

(For a great example of how God really feels about “them,” come back for Part 5–Nineveh.)

 

Us and Them: Part 3–Need

Now we come to the heart of it.  There really is no “them.”  There is just one big “us.”  We all need the same things, though we need them in different ways.  We need to be loved, we need to feel safe, and we need to know that we have hope for our future.

 

However, whenever we place our trust in worldly things that divide us into “us” and “them,” we will always be disappointed, because our needs will not be met.

 

We won’t feel loved if someone hates us because we hated them first.  We won’t feel safe if we feel that someone is out to get us.  And if we feel neither loved nor safe in the present, then it becomes virtually impossible to have hope for the future.  We become depressed, desperate.  We look for somebody to blame.  So we create a “them.”

 

It doesn’t meet any of our needs to have a “them,” but at least we feel better about ourselves in the moment we are condemning “them.”  We feel better, because if there is a “them,” that means there is an “us.”  And “we” are “one of us.”

 

In other words, we feel like we belong to something.  And belonging is kind of like being loved, right?

 

So next, we want to be safe.  The only way for “us” to be safe is for “us” to protect ourselves against “them.”  Therefore, there needs to be more of “us.”  So we need to tell everybody we meet that if they’re not one of “us,” then they’re one of “them.”  And you don’t want to be one of “them,” do you?  Because if you’re one of “them,” then, well, you’re not one of “us.”

 

Does that sound a lot like the current political climate to you?  Are you as unsatisfied with it as I am?  Well, here’s the reason why.

 

You can pretend that you are loved by creating an artificial sense of belonging to an “us.”  You can pretend that you are safe by surrounding yourself with more of “us.”  Nevertheless, even if you can delude yourself that far, what you can’t do by yourself is fulfill your third need—hope for the future.

 

Enter the politicians.  They play on your first two needs by creating two teams, Republican and Democrat, or if you like, “us” and “them” (or “them” and “us,” depending on which party you belong to).

 

By declaring your party affiliation, you belong.  Then the party to which you belong will remind you that you need to be kept safe from “them,” so that you can have . . . wait for it . . . A HOPE AND A FUTURE!

 

Isn’t that politics in a nutshell?  Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign was pure genius in that he distilled the fears of a nation to a single word—“HOPE.”  Then he set down the means of providing hope also to a single word—“CHANGE.”

 

Now before you go beating up on Barack Obama for the HOPE/CHANGE thing, be honest for a minute.  Doesn’t every politician do a variation of the same thing?

 

Obama’s approach was the simplest and most literal, but they all play on the people’s need to have a hope and a future.  The main difference between Democrats and Republicans is that Democrats say the government provides hope for your future, and the Republicans say they provide the means for government to get out of your way so that you can create your own hope and future.

 

Guess what?  They’re both wrong.

 

(OK, so now what?  Come back for Part 4–Love)

 

Us and Them: Part 2–Popping the Bubble

For every “them,” there must be an “us” to balance it.  So instead of seeking Truth, you start seeking people who will agree with you.

 

It’s not that hard to do in this age of technology.  For example, Facebook lets us create an alternate reality where, with canny use of the “hide” feature, everyone in your virtual world thinks you’re brilliant.  You must be, or why would you have so many “likes” on your last post with nobody disagreeing with you?

 

Well of course everybody agrees with you, because you aren’t friends with any of “them.”  Now you have your own custom-designed “us.”

 

Now here’s where this gets especially dangerous for Truthseekers.  As I mentioned before, if you’re busy building your “us,” you have taken your eye off of the truthseeking.

 

Let me put this in the context of Christianity.  Those of you who are Christians, do you spend the majority of your time and energy seeking God or seeking other Christians to build you up and make you feel better about yourself?  Nothing wrong with being built up or feeling good about yourself, but remember that God is the one who builds up and tears down ultimately.

 

You don’t need self-esteem when you know whose you are and in whose image you were created.  Other Christians can sharpen you by challenging you, educating you and edifying you, but I believe that the true tests of Christian character come from interactions with “the world,” which is church-speak for “everyone who’s not a Christian.”

 

Yes, that means we have to be around “them.”  Guess what, Christian?  Before you were one of “us,” you were one of “them.”  Remember?

 

You don’t want to remember, do you?

 

Do it anyway.

 

How old were you when you accepted Christ as not just your savior from sin and death, but as the Lord of your life in the here and now?  Some of you did it as a child, and don’t have many memories of how you were before.

 

I was 33 when I finally closed the deal, so I have a LOT of memories, some of them painfully fresh.  Satan reminds me of them every day, trying to tell me how unworthy I am of God’s grace, which of course backfires on him, because I already KNOW that.  That’s why it’s called grace—because you don’t deserve it.

 

So when attempting to make me beat myself up doesn’t work, Satan reminds me of “them.”

 

Those morons, those degenerates, just LOOK at them!  Flaunting their perversions in broad daylight, acting as if they were the normal ones, tearing “us” down at every opportunity, blindly following Barack Obama like lemmings.

 

Oops, tipped my hand a bit there, didn’t I?

 

But here’s the thing.  I voted for Bill Clinton in 1992.  I fiercely regretted it by 1994, but on election day 1992, I was at the Macon County Courthouse as the election results were pouring in, watching politicians sweat, pace and mutter to themselves.  I looked at my wife, at the 7 ½ months worth of swelling in her belly that would soon come into the world as my first child.  I felt exhilaration, and hope.  Hope for change.  I even briefly considered naming the child Hillary if it was a girl (it wasn’t.)

 

Why did I feel these things, even though there was no logical reason for me to have that hope?  Because I was one of “them.”

 

(So who are “them” really? Come back for Part 3–Need)