But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.-1 Peter 3:14-16
This may be one of the most important blog posts I have tried to write. I heard something on the radio the other day that was enlightening and alarming but maybe not for the reasons you might initially suspect. Josh McDowell, a leading Christian apologist, was sharing some insight of a recent research project.
What he found is that for those in America twenty one years old and younger, the question for them is no longer “what is truth” but “what is good.”As he elaborated on that, he shared that not only do feelings (subjective) rule over truth (objective and Scripture based), but many perceive Christianity as “evil” because to them, and what they have seen or experienced, it doesn’t seem “good.”
Now, here is what “alarms” me about this. It’s not the fact that objective reality and Biblical truth are no longer the basis for life, nor really the starting place if we are going to reach a new generation. It’s the fact that the “Christianity” most are seeing is perceived as not good, and that means we have been failing to show and reflect the goodness of God. This is alarming because the very core of authentic Christianity, the character of God, and the Gospel message, could be summed up by the “grace or goodness of God!” Gospel itself means, “Good News.” The message we have to proclaim is “Good News.” It is the message of God’s goodness and grace. But this generation is not hearing or seeing this goodness.
Instead they are seeing anger, outrage, politics, hypocrisy, judgemental-ism, prejudice, and pettiness.
For years, I have been trying to both speak, teach, warn and write about how “conservative” Christians are failing to convey the love, grace and compassion of God because of our angry, fearful, political rhetoric and frustration about how “bad” the world is. Even if there is truth in some of what is stated, shared and spoken, the truth is not being spoken in love, respect or gentleness; but the exact opposite. No wonder this generation is rejecting that kind of Christianity! To be honest, I don’t want anything to do with that version either, because I just don’t see Jesus reflected in it or through it.
Here’s another reality that troubles me. When I travel to other parts of the world where the church is growing (Asia, Africa, Latin America), I see a very different kind of Christianity being expressed. What do I see? I see Christ more clearly. I see his goodness. I experience his presence. I feel his love. I sense his compassion. I see his humility. I witness those living a life of true sacrifice, devotion, passion, service, faith and prayer. I experience what I see in the book of Acts, and would describe what I sense in my spirit as a more “authentic Christianity.”
Of course no church, country or Christian is without it’s faults and problems. No church, country or Christian is perfect. We all fall short, myself most of all. I am also not saying that doesn’t exist at all here. I have seen, and do experience, God’s goodness in ways here too.
But frankly, I have been tempted to say to people, come with me on a mission trip to experience a more authentic Christianity and taste the goodness of God, because the experience is very different than what I see in most of our churches and our own lives (mine included more than I would like). I come away from the countries I travel too with a longing and hunger to be more like what I see there. It exposes my own spiritual poverty. But I come away having “tasted” and “seen” that God is indeed good.
In America, we have made everything about being “right” that we have failed to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15-16). In America, we have made our focus political rather than the person of Christ. In America, we have succumbed to fear, anger and outrage with those who disagree with us or hold a different worldview, instead of living a life of hope, joy, respect and gentleness. In America, we have failed to show this generation the goodness and grace of God by our attitudes and rhetoric.
I am writing this article on the day of Billy Graham’s memorial service and burial. As I have been reflecting on his life, I think what endeared him to so many was that he so consistently reflected the character of Jesus. He was humble. He was gentle, even though he spoke the truth so powerfully. Those who knew him, spoke of his genuine love and care for all people, even those who disagreed with him. He was even gracious, forgiving and did not lash out at his critics or enemies. He was kind, forgiving, winsome and charming.
As I think on what his daughter Anne-Graham Lotz wrote about his death, I think it is exactly what is needed for this generation. Her prayer was that God would raise up not merely another Billy Graham, but thousands of men and women who will carry this “Good News” and demonstrate God’s goodness whether they become “famous” or not.
That is exactly what is needed if we want to reach a generation to whom truth is not their starting point or question. They want to know whether Christianity is good and how else will they know and see unless we speak the truth in love and show the goodness of God by our lives, attitudes, actions and behavior?
I see this as an opportunity actually. But first, we have to get over the fact that people, even those who grew up in the church, no longer hold to a Christian worldview. Ranting and raving about that will not win or attract anyone to Christ. But authentic relationship with Christ, out of which our character is conformed more to his likeness, and his love is authentically experienced through us towards others; this will present us with opportunities to be a witness, and to witness to a world far from the truth of Jesus Christ.
Lord, help us show the world your goodness, share the Good News, and speak the truth in love, with kindness and gentleness, and in a way that honors you and respects others, even when they disagree or mistreat us. Help us be authentic, consistent, faithful, compassionate, forgiving, kind and gracious in our attitude, actions, words and behavior.
Taste and see that the Lord is good;
blessed is the one who takes refuge in him. -Psalm 34:8