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Forgetting Our True Enemy

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Forgetting Our True Enemy

I really can’t explain it.  I have no excuse but I have somehow become a huge fan of The Hunger Games trilogy.  I’m not a big reader of fiction books so my love is really for the movies but, nonetheless, I’ve become enthralled with the drama in Panem.

I love the story of the people rising up against tyranny.  I love the underlying sense of hope they feel in spite of absolute desolation.  And I especially love that it all starts with a teenage girl selflessly taking a death sentence on behalf of her sister and showing grace to those who have counted her life worthless.

As Holly and I were watching Catching Fire a few nights ago, I was struck by the final scene between Katniss, Peeta, Haymitch, and Effie.   Effie is getting emotional over the idea that the Capital she loves has just thrown her victors under the bus again.  Peeta is giving his final goodbye to their mentors.

As Haymitch is leaving, Katniss asks him for any final advice.  Haymitch’s reply is incredibly profound:

“Stay alive…and when you’re in the arena, remember who the real enemy is.”

Katniss is unaware Haymitch is plotting with over half of the tributes to rescue her and incite the revolution.  As I reflected on this recurring theme in the movie, I began to realize something troubling.  As a Church, we have forgotten who the real enemy is.

Friendly Fire

I’ve recently been concerned that the Church in America has become distracted.  As our world becomes increasingly polarized, it seems that we have been preoccupied fighting battles against liberals, the LGBT community, and anyone else who might stand opposed to a biblical worldview.  For liberal Christians, the same can easily be said about their engagement with conservatives.  In the vitriol we use in public, it appears we’ve made these people our enemies.  We’ve taken up arms against them in our rhetoric and turned them into the ones we are fighting against.  But I love Paul’s reminder to the Ephesians.

“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

— Ephesians 6:12

When I was in college and began my Biblical Studies degree, I was struck over and again by the sense of spiritual warfare that drips from every page of Scripture.  I’m not talking about the Israelites waging war against the Canaanites to take the Promised Land.  Nor am I talking about some future Armageddon.  As we read through the Bible, we find that God is at war against a personal evil force – Satan.

From the temptation of Eve to the present day, there is a battle for the souls of humankind.  The cost of this war is so great that it would bring the Son of God into our broken world to die by crucifixion and rise victoriously over death three days later.

As Christians, God calls on us make his Kingdom known in this world.  Jesus did this throughout his ministry, from preaching in the city streets to healing the sick, casting out demons, and raising the dead to life.  As those who bear his name, we are called to seek justice and restoration in this world while preaching his Gospel.  But instead of fighting for those who don’t know him, we have chosen to fight against them.  We’ve forgotten who the real enemy is.

Hear me out – these issues that face our society, both socially and politically, are important and deserve an informed debate.  As Christians, we should be concerned about their implications too.  But our rhetoric should by the kind that draws those who oppose Christ towards him, not further away.  So how can we do this?  Here are a few tips:

 

1.    Get engaged with the world around you.

Watch the news and listen to those with whom you disagree.  While I am politically conservative, I primarily get my news from two sources- NPR and CNN.  I don’t listen, read, or watch them because I agree with every word.  I am engaged with their voices and opinions because I care about the people who do agree with them.  I want to know how they perceive the Church.  Where those perceptions are negative, I want to think critically about how to better address them.  As popular news outlets, their voices are powerful.  People listen to them and it helps to know what they’re saying when I’m asked to explain what Scripture says in light of these contentious issues.

2.    Ask more questions.

Several months ago, I found myself in the back of a plane headed for Omaha.  I was relatively alone with the guy sitting next to me.  He was with a group of retail managers heading to a corporate convention for their clothing line.  As we got to know each other, he began to tell me about his boyfriend and their struggles together as a gay couple. As soon as he realized that I am a Baptist minister, I could tell he was tensing up.  But I badly wanted to talk with him and make him feel at ease.  There was only one solution – I asked a lot of questions.

I asked him about his boyfriend, how they met, and about their experiences in the Church.  (It turns out they both grew up in Christian homes and his boyfriend was even a former youth minister!)  As our conversation wore on, it became apparent that plenty of other Christians had been quick to criticize his lifestyle without even getting to know him.  The very act of asking these questions gave me the opportunity to engage in deep spiritual conversations with him.

Be willing to ask questions and learn from those outside of our faith – not to prove a point but to genuinely care about them.

3.    Watch your tone, especially on social media.

When it comes to the way you address those you disagree with, be mindful of how you’re voicing that disagreement.  In general, I’d say it’s a terrible idea to engage in contentious issues on social media.  It’s not a place for informed debates and it often does more harm than good.  Remember, we are called to speak the truth but to do so in love.

4.    Remember who the real enemy is.

Our enemies are not those who might disagree with Christianity.  Those are the very people we are called to unconditionally love and serve.  Our true enemy is the one who tempted humankind and sentenced all of creation to death.  It is the ruler of darkness and he has been defeated by the true King.

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