Way back in 1987, Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty sang as if they were a married couple blaming each other for all that had gone wrong in their lives. The song’s title is the most memorable line of the chorus: “You’re the Reason our Kids Are Ugly.”
Blaming others for what goes wrong in the world is what we do best. Even (especially?) Christians have made it into an art form. We blame social media, education, the government, entertainment, and mostly each other for the fast and furious cultural shifts over the past few years. So much has gone wrong, they say – legalized marijuana, gay marriage, illegal immigration, . . . – and it’s your fault: “you’re the reason our culture is ugly.”
But how much of the finger-pointing should be at ourselves? Maybe we are uglier than we realize. Our children learned from us to value pragmatism over principle, riches over righteousness, a Mercedes over mercy. Jesus has become merely an app in a superficial but complicated, social-media-dominated Christian life.
The influence of the church has attenuated dramatically over the past two decades at a time when the availability of teaching, preaching and education has exploded. Now, the advantages once taken for granted are at risk; from non-profit status to religious liberty.
What has gone wrong?
What if God is answering our prayers for a revival of faith and depth of relationship with him? What if God is taking away the political and economic substructure that Christians have relied on to perpetuate their lifestyle? What if God is making it so that Christians have to start living the Christ-centered life and not just talk about it?
British philosopher Bertrand Russell, one of history’s most well-known atheists and skeptics, spent his life fighting for a “rational society” and the eradication of religious belief. Required reading for every Christian is his, “Why I am Not a Christian.”
Forty-five years after his death, Russell remains as the embodiment of secular philosophy and social activism. The poster figure for the “Onward Atheist Soldier” cause: brilliant, articulate, passionate, confident.
But his daughter tells a different story. His whole life, she says, was a search for God. Having become a Christian herself, she wanted him to understand the reality of the hope found in Christ. “But it was hopeless,” she says. “He had known too many blind Christians, bleak moralists who sucked the joy from life and persecuted their opponents; he would never have been able to see the truth they were hiding.”
“Bleak moralists?” . . . “the truth they were hiding?”
A depressing description of what is supposed to be good news.
We have all experienced Christians who come across as mean-spirited, vindictive, and patronizing. Why? Even Christ said he did not come to condemn the world.
The way he lived
Recently, I made mention that Christians should actively engage the gay community by caring and serving to demonstrate the light and hope of the Gospel; to open the door for substantive conversations about life, Christ and salvation.
One person responded quite aggressively to my suggestion:
So are we to lovingly embrace those who have brought and assisted bringing suit against Christians for living out their convictions to not be party to, or assist in any way, practices they believe are immoral, and also lovingly embrace the public officials who have assessed fines upon those Christians which take away their livelihood and lifetime’s fortune, and all those in the crowd who have spurred them on?
First, this writer wins the award for the longest sentence posted on the internet that day.
Second, his misunderstanding of a Christ-centered response yields an implicit reprisal toward those who attack Christians for their beliefs and commitments: “We can’t let them get away with the way they have treated us.”
But a quick look at the life of Christ yields a much different approach. This is where I think we have forgotten that we are following him, not a political or theological agenda.
Jesus always makes us uncomfortable since his responses to those who oppose him are completely different then we would expect. In fact, he wants to make certain that those who are watching his life are not missing the points he is making:
“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:27-28).
Jesus leaves nothing to the imagination. His action words are: “love . . . do good . . . bless . . . pray for.”
Just in case anyone is confused by what he said, he says it again and goes even further:
“But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back” (Luke 6:35).
Yikes! So, these people who have been hating, cursing and mistreating you, you are to show love to them, do good to them and – (ahem) – lend them money and not expect to be repaid!
Those who claim they are followers of Christ, children of God, Jesus says that this response to those who hate and abuse you results in: “Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High.”
Why? Because God is “kind to the ungrateful and wicked” (Luke 6:36).
The way he lived; the way he died
Not only in his life but in his death, Jesus modeled an incredible response to those who brutalized him. He suffered the ultimate betrayal and humiliation yet he never uttered a word of retribution.
One writer wryly exposes our own sinful default to vengeance when he asks us to remember Christ’s post-resurrection response:
Remember how resentful he was? The anger He displayed? Remember how He stepped out of the tomb vowing vengeance? Remember, even as He rose He spat on the ground and cursed Caiaphas and Ananias? Do you recall how he swore vengeance on all His tormentors and placed curses on all those who crucified Him?
Of course, Jesus never referred to the events surrounding the crucifixion. Not once. Not even a word of rebuke to his disciples who denied him and fled.
Over the next few years, professionals experienced in the law will advocate for Christians on the legal and professional challenges. But the real battles will be fought in the trenches. And the battles are not against nonbelievers but are the struggles we will have to align ourselves with a Christ-centered life.
And it is happening. Christians around the world follow Jesus’s example and throw themselves right in the middle of controversy, hatred, and sin.
Like the young man who showed up at an adult bookstore that had just opened. Christians were protesting and picketing across the street. He went inside and offered to clean the bathrooms of the porn shop. Taken off guard, they allowed him to do so. Over the next few weeks, he came back several times, always leaving the bathrooms spotless. When they finally asked why he was doing this, he told them, “The Lord wants me to serve you and this is the only thing I could think of.”
The resulting conversations about Christ and the Gospel were life-changing for several of the employees.
Or, of the ladies who provide meals for the girls who work at a local strip club. One of the ladies said, “These girls don’t eat very well so we provide home cooked meals for them every night.” So, there they are, in the strip club dressing room with pots and plates full of meat loaf and vegetables. The care and concern by these women have resulted in dozens of girls leaving the business and many of them coming to Christ.
Or, Army Chaplain Thomas Bruce, who launched the movement, “Adopt a Terrorist for Prayer” (www.ATFP.org). He posts photographs of known terrorists with insightful articles and suggestions on how to pray for them. Some people are critical of his approach as being unrealistically soft on terrorists whose purpose in life is to destroy us.
Or, the well-known story of Julio Diaz, who was confronted by a mugger in a subway station. Julio handed over his wallet and then offered the mugger his coat (because it was cold out) and then invited him to dinner. He accepted.
Not long ago, American culture transformed itself every 25 years; the length of a generation. Public values, acceptable moral choices, and communication methods would slowly develop to merge into a new paradigm.
Now, culture reboots itself every five years.
The center of public consciousness, interest and morality a few years ago is old news today.
A little over five years ago, Miley Cyrus was Hannah Montana, Dmitry Medvedev was President of Russia, and there were no iPads.
What doesn’t change is what it means to follow Christ. It is not merely more Bible study and better teaching; it is putting into practice what Jesus taught us and showed us. We make the choice to follow him or merely listen and nod approvingly.
This reminds me of what the demon Wormwood told his nephew Screwtape when the person he was assigned to demonize became a Christian: “The great thing is to prevent his doing anything. As long as he does not convert it into action, it does not matter how much he thinks about this new repentance. . . Let him, if he has any bent that way, write a book about it. . . Let him do anything but act. No amount of piety in his imagination and affections will harm us if we can keep it out of his will.”
Still ugly but loved
We are still pretty ugly. But we ugly people can live beautiful lives. And we cannot ever forget that Christ said our unity and love for one another are the two marks of his followers (John 13:35; 17:21).
The song, “You’re the Reason our Kids Are Ugly,” is actually a love song.
In the chorus Loretta and Conway sing that the deficiencies of the other spouse aren’t fatal:
“Looks ain’t everything,
And money ain’t everything,
But I love you just the same.”
(Yes, it rhymes. Country music fans understand how that can happen. So they tell me.)