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First Thoughts

Light in Dark Places

I am sure you have noticed by now that it seems like nobody knows how to talk to each other anymore.

Everyone is angry all the time about everything. The way we all talk to one another has sunk so low that it is hard to imagine how terrible it could be to hit rock bottom. Social media highlights this ugly mess.

Social media gives everyone a microphone—no group hires you, no committees exert oversight, and no editor can push back. Social media also gives everyone an immediate microphone—you don’t have to think, pray, or receive counsel about what you will write, but you can immediately proclaim your thoughts, regardless of your emotional state. Social media also gives you an immediate microphone to the whole world—a private disagreement between two people or a local problem in one area, immediately involves everyone in the whole world. Most issues are simply not big enough to carry this kind of weight.

Jesus makes clear that whether we speak, tweet, or post, we do it all out of the overflow of our hearts (Matthew 12:34-35). There is nothing wrong with social media, the internet, or any other technology. But the loud, wide, and immediate microphone of the internet reveals the darkness of human hearts that would rather gossip than stay silent, lie instead of telling the truth, destroy rather than build up, and vent anger more than show love.

It is really, really bad out there. Our culture is collapsing under the weight of all this. The victims of it are already innumerable and are increasing.

The Horns of a Dilemma?

I was talking with a pastor at our church the other day who said something like, “It seems like everyone is either loud and angry, or cowardly and silent.” Now there are exceptions to this—I know it, he knows it, and you know it too. But the exceptions are too few.

The point is that the dominant voices all seem to be the loud and angry ones. Many look at that mess and decide they do not want to play ball, and so they choose to stay silent.

But silence is a bad option as well. We are facing too many important issues in the world and the church to retreat into a cone of silence unconcerned about all the issues out there. The issues out there are coming to each one of us. We must find a way to discuss controversial issues in a way that is life-giving.

Kindness, Candor, and the Character of God

 The great question is what it means to speak faithfully in our day. Obviously, a great part of our current problem is that few Christians agree on what this faithfulness should look like. But we will be greatly helped if we take the cues for our faithfulness from God himself. The character of God teaches us a great deal about how we can be faithful in times like these.

On a recent read through Psalms, I noticed a splendid reality about God’s character. More than a dozen times, God’s loving character is inextricably linked to God’s commitment to the truth: “All the paths of the Lord are lovingkindness and truth” (Psalm 25:10; 40:10, 11; 57:3, 10; 61:7; 69:13; 85:10; 86:15; 89:14; 108:4; 115:1; 117:2; 138:2).

We are like God when we wed an unrelenting commitment to love well with a resolute commitment to tell the truth. Both are important.

An authentically Christian approach to discussing difficult issues requires us to be like God himself as we reflect his lovingkindness and truth: “Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person” (Colossians 4:6). We must provide a response to everything going on out there. But that response must be gracious.

Storming the Gates of Hell with Truth and Love

I am convinced that Christians have a clear path forward in our witness to the culture that steers a gracious course between silence and hostility.

That path forward is the one that reflects God’s own character and speaks the truth in love. Love without truth is called emotionalism. Truth without love is called harshness. These days, you could be excused for believing that the absence of both love and truth is called social media. All of these are faithless and none of them are like God.

Jesus says that his sheep listen to his voice and follow him (John 10:27). Our goal for the First Thoughts blog is to have a voice that is informed by the character of The Great Shepherd and is defined by the sort of kindness and candor that grows from our conviction about the character of God.

We will have a commitment in this space to address the most complicated and controversial issues that are out there. We will not shy away from the tough issues. But we will not respond to tough issues with a tough spirit. We will be gentle, kind, gracious, and relentlessly committed to defending the faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3).

In doing this, we hope to reflect the gracious and faithful character of God himself. And in doing that, we are excited about how God will grow faith and expand his church.

Dr. Heath Lambert is the Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, FL. He is the author of several books, including The Great Love of God: Encountering God’s Heart for a Hostile World. 

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