Sunday, January 27, 2008

Thoughts on Gossip

MSNBC came out with an article this fall stating that more people are swayed by gossip than the truth. This is not surprising considering we live in a time where it seems that there is a new celebrity gossip magazine at the checkout line every time I am at the grocery store. Our culture thrives on gossip and being in peoples lives. The rise of reality television is a sad testament to that fact. We are obsessed with peoples lives, right down to the type of drink they order at Starbucks.

While this may seem like an abstract article to the average churchgoer, the sad fact is that it directly applies to us. We too are more swayed by gossip than the truth. Rather, if we were really honest with ourselves; often we are the gossipers hindering the truth from going forward. It is true that statistics always have a margin of error, and there really is no telling how accurate the article truly is, but it still made me think. Unfortunately, I have on a number of occasions found myself being the proud producer of gossip. Suddenly that “prayer request” becomes a fifteen minute speculation session on the life of the recently divorced mother.

Pride is essentially at the root of gossip. I know the rush I feel when I am “in the know.” And I have had the desire to fit into a conversation, or, tragically, attempt to destroy someone’s reputation. Gossip has devastating and lasting consequences, especially if the gossip is not even true.

In thinking about gossip and its consequences, three things came to mind. The effect gossip has on the Body, the effect gossip has on the outside world, and the effect gossip has on the Gospel.

Gossip tears down the work of the Gospel in a person’s life and destroys the Body of Christ. If the information is untrue, or even distorted, it is painting the particular person in a light that is not reflective of Christ’s redemptive work. In essence, it is destroying the person’s reputation, and it is completely unnecessary. If the information is true, it can be divisive and have lasting consequences on the people in the direct line of attack. Regardless of the truth of the matter, the Bible never condones gossip, but gives specific instructions for how we are to behave and handle situations with our fellow believers. There are many split churches and ruined relationships all because of a seemingly harmless conversation over a cup of coffee during the fellowship time.

Our gossiping tongues destroy our witness. James tells us that blessings and curses cannot proceed out of the same mouth. They can’t because it cancels out what is being said. If we seek a thrill in knowing and spreading gossip about a person rather than knowing and spreading Christ we are confusing our witness. If we love knowing about a couple’s big break-up more than we love the souls of the affected couple, what does that say about our commitment to Christ and His Bride? Our obsession with always being “in the know” says far more about our understanding of the Gospel than we like to think. What message would we send to the unsaved community around us if we spent our Wednesday night fellowship dinners and Sunday afternoon lunches bearing one another’s burdens rather than talking about the latest “news”?

Gossip effects the Gospel by making Christ look less glorious than he really is. If our conversations are filled with other peoples business, people begin to look more valuable than the Creator of those people. When information surfaces about a person our minds should immediately go towards the Gospel and how the Gospel can be applied to the situation, but so often we are drawn into the idol of information, rather than the Savior. Gossip makes knowledge look like our treasure, rather than the Gospel.

If our hand attacked our head with a knife, we would die, or be seriously incapacitated. And that is exactly what gossip does to a body of believers. It kills and incapacitates for effective ministry. So often in my own life it seems so harmless to give an “update” on a friend, when I am really passing on information for the sake of being the one knowing the information to begin with. Instead, my life should so be characterized by a deep concern for people that when I hear gossip I don’t react with the typical “oh, that is so interesting” followed by a series of follow-up invasive questions. Rather, my life should reflect one of humility and compassion, so when I hear of the failed marriage or unplanned pregnancy, I don’t react with pride and scorn, but respond with tears and prayer.

As Christians, our lives should be characterized by truth, not lies, because we know and have been saved by the Truth—Jesus Christ. And we should be quick to remember that this One who has redeemed us was the most gossiped about of all. As we seek to become more conformed into the image of Christ, let us resolve this year to be less like the world, and more like our Savior—who never reviled back and is always true.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Transgender Rights Trample Homeless Women

A recent commentary on "transgender rights" briefly drew attention to a new development in homeless shelters in New York City. Homeless men can now choose their residence based on whether they feel like a man or woman. While I do not agree with the spirit in which The Trumpet speaks against this development, they do make an important point. Laws attempting to be "gender neutral" or define "transgender rights" have staggering implications in many places throughout our culture. We are now seeing these implications manifested towards the most helpless members of our society. Perhaps the most profound sentence of the entire commentary states:

"To protect the right of a man who says he feels more comfortable as a woman, the law is preparing to trample on the right of women who feel more comfortable in public bathrooms devoid of perverted men."

This is an attempt to eradicate God-given male-female distinctions and causes grave concerns. In reality, women and children with few alternatives may be forced to sleep in dormitories with predatory men simply because these men report that they "feel" like a woman. As Christians we are called to take care of orphans and widows (James 1:27), and many women in our homeless shelters are modern-day widows. If we allow men to sleep in the bunk right next to their young children, what message does this send to a woman who may have already already been abandoned or mistreated by a man?

As our culture increasingly moves away from God and his Word, we will continue to see these developments. All the more reason for us, as the Church, to take care of the poorest of the poor in the name of Jesus. Only through the gospel of our Lord, Jesus Christ, will these women be truly protected. Only Scriptural truth will enable these confused men to understand that their manhood is intrinsic to who they are as created in the image of God. Legislation and transgender rights are not the primary issue. The gospel is. We must stand up against the further distortion of our genders, but most importantly we must proclaim the gospel to the very people who are confused about their gender.

Our churches, my church, and even my own home, must be a safe place for the battered mother of four even when the homeless shelter down the street decides to integrate the living quarters for the sake of "equality" and "rights." It is troubling that homeless shelters, which are supposed to protect, have now become an unsafe place for women. But this does not leave us without hope. It is a reminder to me that if I want to see the effects of sin reversed in my community, I must be a part of my community. If I want men and women to worship God and see the glory of Christ in our genders, then I must speak to the very issue of transgender homeless shelters - and not only to my Christian friends, but also to the homeless person herself.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Unless you Become Like Children

“Truly, I say to you, unless you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”—Matthew 18:3-4

I used to think that this passage was a call to innocence. It seems perfectly logical. God is a holy God, and in order to enter the kingdom we must be perfectly holy. Children are sweet and seemingly innocent. Anyone who has spent any amount of time with an infant or toddler knows they are far from innocent. Romans tells us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” including the adorable three month old baby (Romans 3:23). There is something far deeper going on here than Jesus saying “be sweet and innocent like this child.” He is calling us to be like children in their very nature.

Children, especially infants, are utterly dependent on everyone around them for their very existence. If a newborn is not fed every day by his mother, he will not live. If a toddler is not bathed, she will never think to be clean on her own. If a five year old is not sent to kindergarten, he will never know that learning to read and write is essential. As we grow older we move into independence, but that is not what Jesus is calling us to as believers. He is calling us back to our childhood, and reminding us of our complete dependence on the Father.

Children are also extremely trusting. You never have to tell your eight-year old that food will be in the cupboard when she gets home from school, she simply believes in your provision. In the same way the little boy so quickly offers to be thrown into the air and caught by his father. He simply believes and trusts that his father will keep him safe. As a little girl I was always less afraid at night when I knew my dad was home. I could sleep more soundly knowing that he was in the room right next to me.

As we grow into adulthood we have this notion that complete freedom and independence is a given, a right of passage. And we live in a culture that thrives on personal autonomy and independence. As a friend of mine preached recently, we have a longing to be independent. We don’t want help, but Jesus is telling us that if we aren’t like little children, utterly dependent on the Father for life and salvation, we will not enter the Kingdom. That is a staggering thought.

We can’t enter the kingdom unless we are like children because there is no room for self-sufficiency where Christ reigns as king. It is quite humbling to admit that we are incapable of taking care of ourselves. I spend more time attempting to do things too difficult for me, when I very easily could have just asked for help and been done quicker. The Bible has a word for this. Pride, and we are all dripping with it. But, we are grafted into a family where God is our Father. In a family, children believe that their father will protect and provide for them. When I was a little girl I never was fearful that my dad wouldn’t be there to protect me if I was scared, and I never questioned his ability to provide food for our table. Yet so often I find myself worrying about whether or not my perfect, heavenly Father will provide the food for my table now. This is pride and unbelief in the sovereign purposes of our great God.

We must become like children because we must admit that we cannot do anything apart from the hand of our heavenly Father. We also must believe in the provision and protection of a perfect Father, who will never disappoint us, never abandon us, and never hurt us. Our theology of God has everything to do with our every day lives.

So, as we seek to become like children, let us look first to Christ because it is by him that we are made sons of God. But let us also look to the little children in our churches. Maybe, just maybe, we will learn something theological.