"Mom, no offense, but sometimes you talk too much.” Katie had asked a question, and I must have delivered an answer that seemed either boring or belabored. I made a mental note to try to get to the point more quickly the next time she asked me something.
A story is told about Benjamin Disraeli, the nineteenth-century British prime minister. A junior member of parliament once solicited his advice about whether he should speak up about a controversial issue.
“Do you have anything to say that has not already been said?” Disraeli asked him.
“No,” the man conceded. “I just want the people whom I represent and the members of Parliament to know that I participated in the debate.”
Disraeli answered, “It is better to remain silent and have people say, ‘I wonder what he’s thinking,’ than to speak up and have people say, ‘I wonder why he spoke.’”1
If each of us were to follow Disraeli’s advice, think of how much more peace there would be in the world. No more endless meetings in which people talk simply to hear the sound of their voices. No more nonstop media chatter. No more senseless blogs and tweets.
Have you ever wondered about the endless stream of opinion surveys that populate our world? Eager pollsters solicit our thoughts on issues ranging from the best brand of diapers to the secret of world peace. Then come the results: 51 percent say one thing, while 48 percent say the opposite and one percent respond in the “other” category. Why don’t the pollsters give you the option of saying, “I don’t know” or “I don’t care” or “I’m not going to offer my opinion on foreign policy because I am not qualified to judge the issues at hand”?
Sometimes we talk too much and ponder too little, with the result that our world is full of clamor and stress. Let’s get comfortable with the phrase “I don’t know” and then start learning to practice the discipline that is called “keeping our peace.”
1. Joseph Telushkin, The Book of Jewish Values: A Day-By-Day Guide to Ethical Living (New York: Bell Tower, 2000), 29.
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If you know your biblical history, you will remember that Isaiah lived in Jerusalem and played a prophetic role from 742 to 686 BC. One of the greatest of the Old Testament prophets, Isaiah warned of the suffering that would ensue if God’s people failed to repent. But he also foretold a time when their suffering would end and they would enjoy the Lord’s blessings.
This passage from Isaiah pictures the Jewish people returning from exile, not as a raggedy band of beat-up captives, but as wealthy people escorted home on ships. I like to think that this is a picture of how God works through our own hard times. We don’t come through them defeated and dejected but with treasures in hand, because God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love him (see Romans 8:28). And everything includes our suffering.
This principle also appears in Exodus, when the Israelites were set free after years of captivity. After the last of the plagues, the Egyptians couldn’t wait to get rid of their former slaves, loading them down with silver and gold. Instead of running away from Egypt like a dejected band of captives, God’s people left like a victorious army, plundering the people who had seemed so strong and who had afflicted them for four hundred years (see Exodus 12:31-36).
What suffering are you enduring right now? Ask God to bring you out with treasures of wisdom and faith, so that like the Israelites, you can attest to his faithful love.
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Peace doesn’t come from pretending there’s no such thing as evil. Even though it can never destroy the soul of someone who belongs to God, evil can do plenty of damage in this world. Have you ever been somewhere and sensed the presence of evil? Charles Stanley tells of traveling with a group from his church to do mission work in Haiti. While there, he had an experience that frightened him.
He and others were watching a man perform a dance. “As he danced and whirled his machete in our direction,” Stanley says, “I suddenly felt a horrible presence of evil all around us. Momentarily, I was filled with fear for my physical safety and the safety of the people with me. My immediate response to this fear was anger, and out of that anger I began to pray and intercede for our safety.
“This fear,” he explains, “was rooted in the spirit realm. It was a fear I’ve come to recognize as a fear that any Christian should feel in the face of pure evil. Why do I say it is a good thing to feel fear of evil? Because that fear can and should drive you to pray, to trust God to deliver you from the power of evil, and to get as far away from evil as possible.”1
Both fear and anger can be helpful emotions, especially if they motivate us to work against and pray against evil. At times, fear is like the gauge on a thermostat, registering the spiritual temperature around us.
1. Charles Stanley, Finding Peace: God’s Promise of a Life Free from Regret, Anxiety, and Fear (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2003), 193–94.
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That thought has repeatedly run through my mind as certain social barriers are collapsing in our nation. Though individual freedom has always been a foundational value of our society, freedom un-tethered from responsibility seems to be the new norm.
In fact we are undergoing a period of rapid un-tethering. We are un-tethering ourselves from history, proclaiming certain kinds of behaviors good that have for thousands of years been considered immoral or maladaptive. We are un-tethering ourselves from biology, locating our identity entirely in our minds without reference to our bodies. It doesn’t matter whether my body appears to be male or female. Thanks to medical technology and psychological trends I can become whatever sex I want to be.
Where will all this un-tethering lead? One likely result is that our sense of community will continue to unravel. It will be harder to create healthy families, churches, and work environments. People will hide what they think out of fear of being labeled and rejected. Civil discourse will continue to decline and healthy community will be become rare. But without healthy communities, human beings cannot flourish.
In the midst of rapid cultural decline, which many are hailing as cultural advance, how should Christians respond?
The first temptation is to condemn those who disagree with us. The second is to go into hiding, hoping that things will blow over if we just keep our heads down and stay quiet. The third is to circle the wagons and try to isolate ourselves from the increasing toxicity of our culture.
But what if there’s a better way--a way to engage the culture lovingly without suppressing or disguising our beliefs? To do so, we have to remember the second great commandment, which is to love our neighbor as ourselves. Disagreements never give us the right to treat others in unloving ways.
We also have to realize that love and agreement are not the same thing. People who are psychologically healthy should be able to disagree without rejecting each other. Even if we are labeled and belittled by those who dislike us, we should not retaliate in kind.
If I am right and our world is getting crazier by the minute, we need to remember that the early church thrived in the Roman Empire in the midst a culture that was far crazier than ours. Though the gospel has important cultural implications, our primary call is to evangelize people not cultures. The culture will change to the extent that more and more people embrace the gospel and live in its power.
The only way to live as faithful disciples of Jesus Christ in this crazy world, is to ask God to give us the faith and the courage to continually display his crazy love no matter how hard it might become in the months and years ahead.