In my recent study of Acts, and in reading other Scriptures, one word seems to stand out at me: boldness. The apostles preached gospel of Jesus with boldness (Acts 4:13, 31). Paul asked for prayer that he would speak the message given him with boldness (Ephesians 6:19).
I can be bold, but boldness hasn’t described me lately. In fact, I’ve written a few blog posts over the summer about topics I’m passionate about, but I never posted them. My heart has been in such a fragile state all summer that I couldn’t dare risk sharing an opinion that might be rejected. I feared others’ opinions. And worse, I feared being wrong.
So, I’ve stayed close to topics that were centered around my struggles, topics that typically don’t bear the marking of controversy. You know, safe topics.
But that word – boldness – keeps coming up.
What were the apostles bold about, and what should I take from that? They were bold about preaching and teaching the good news of Jesus.
I want to be bold in doing the same. And I’ve never had a problem with that. But perhaps I am to take it a step further. I want to be bold with issues that obscure the message of Jesus, that hinder others’ seeing the truth of the gospel.
The last thing I want to do is be bold with issues for issues’ sake, as if God needs me to fight for Him. I want to be bold when those issues are getting in the way of people seeing Christ and hearing the message He lived and died and rose for.
And on a personal level, I need to be bold enough to share, yet humble enough to be open to correction, or other points of view. And I can’t be open to that correction if I hide behind safe topics all the time.
With that in mind, I share with you a post I wrote a few months ago but didn’t publish. No hot-button topics were in the news at the time; I came across this merely from my own time in the Word:
Why Liberals and Conservatives Might Both Have it Wrong
I’ve grown numb to the hot-button culture topics of today. I don’t recall the last time I read an article or opinion on gay marriage or religious freedom, and I know I didn’t read anything on the whole Bruce Jenner ordeal.
I’ve just grown weary of it all.
I know, as a Christian, as a representative of Jesus in a dark world, I should care. And I do care. But among the sea of blogs and opinions, I’m usually left with two feelings: frustration and helplessness.
I get frustrated at the extreme conservatives when they don’t stop and consider the other point of view. Understanding goes a long way. And I get angry when extreme liberals lump us who are more conservative-leaning under one umbrella that doesn’t even touch what many of us actually believe.
And I get sad for the people who are living the issues that the rest of us want to quarrel about. I can imagine many of them just want to be left alone in the culture wars, and perhaps, maybe, sought to be known and loved.
So that leaves me helpless. I’m not an activist. I can’t change people’s opinions. I can’t change the culture. I don’t feel called to be an influencer or thought leader on these issues like the Jen Hatmakers of the world.
Right or wrong, that leaves me ducking my head, scrolling past the headlines in my newsfeed, and pretending these issues aren’t present. Okay, well, maybe that is wrong.
But what is an everyday person to do?
The Word is My Lighthouse
One of my devotionals recently pointed me to read the very familiar passage in Luke 15 about the Parable of the Lost sheep. Reading this passage again, I began to see some elements I had never seen before. (God’s Word is funny like that. Probably because it’s, you know, living and active -Hebrews 4:12.)
Back when I was reading many blogs on culture issues, I noticed that Christians in both the most conservative and liberal camps would use God’s Word to justify their points of view. The conservatives would point to God’s Word and His truth. Liberals would point to how Jesus dealt with people. For an ordinary person, it would seem as if the two concepts are competing against one another.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Without truth, what’s the need for grace? And without grace, we’re all doomed.
That’s why when I saw this beautiful blend of grace and truth in this passage, I wanted to share it with you.
The Parable of the Lost Sheep
15 All the tax collectors and sinners were approaching to listen to Him. 2 And the Pharisees and scribes were complaining, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them!”
3 So He told them this parable: 4 “What man among you, who has 100 sheep and loses one of them, does not leave the 99 in the open field and go after the lost one until he finds it? 5 When he has found it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders, 6 and coming home, he calls his friends and neighbors together, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, because I have found my lost sheep!’ 7 I tell you, in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous people who don’t need repentance.
Luke 15:1-7 HCSB
What is Jesus telling us here?
1. Tax Collectors and sinners were approaching Jesus.
Tax collectors were among the most hated in society. They exacted taxes from a foreign government and charged the common people whatever markup they wanted. Their wealth came on the backs of others. Both the tax collectors and the sinners were reviled in the eyes of the Jewish people, particularly the religious leaders.
Yet, these sinners were coming to Jesus. Why? Was Jesus delivering a feel-good message about how God loves us and wants us all to be happy? Was he giving us ten steps to find our purpose in life?
No. In fact, in his sermon immediately preceding this parable, you could find these words, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his own father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters – yes, even his own life – he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple (Luke 14:26-27).
I’m not sure that sermon would draw a crowd today.
Yet, it was the truth of Jesus that drew people to Himself.
We aren’t called to sugarcoat the gospel or downplay sin or the cost of following Jesus. His message is foolishness for those who are perishing but for those who are being saved, it’s the power of God (1 Cor. 1:18)! These tax collectors and sinners had ears to hear, and they came to a loving Jesus despite the hard message.
2. Jesus welcomed sinners and ate with them.
In Jewish culture at the time, it was looked down upon to share food with those living a sinful lifestyle. They were to remain apart from the tainted world. Yet, Jesus did the exact opposite. He not only welcomed them, but he ate with them. He entered their lives and asked them to enter His. (Zacchaeus was a tax collector, and Jesus got into all kinds of hot water by going to his home to eat – Luke 19.)
Jesus didn’t finger point people’s sins from afar. He got into their lives – intentionally. And because he did this, they were changed.
3. In the Parable, the Shepherd left.
The Shepherd didn’t stay with his sheep and call out to the one who had gone astray. He didn’t plot with the sheep on an outreach plan to bring the lost sheep back. He didn’t stay where it was comfortable, fellowshipping with the 99.
He exited his comfort zone. He left the 99 – his gated community of saints if you will – and searched out the one lost one.
4. The Shepherd placed his lost sheep on His shoulders.
You don’t see the Shepherd dragging the prodigal sheep back by the wrist like an unruly toddler. He joyfully placed him on his shoulders. Perhaps, the sheep who had left the protection of the flock was battered, bruised, and tired from his rebellion (see the parable of the prodigal son in the latter part of Luke 15 for the consequences of sin and rebellion).
The Shepherd didn’t berate the sheep for his sin. He carried him home.
5. The purpose was repentance.
“I tell you, in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous people who don’t need repentance” (Luke 15:7).
The purpose of the Shepherd leaving his comfort zone, leaving the other 99 sheep, and rescuing the lost lamb, was repentance. Not acceptance of his sin. Not acceptance of his rebellion. The purpose was repentance of a sin that almost destroyed him.
By not calling sin a sin, we cheapen why Jesus had to die the gruesome death he died in the first place, and why we are hopeless had Jesus not conquered death and rose from the grave. Jesus never condoned sin.
My heart is that each of us will seek God personally and His truth, revealed in His Word. My challenge is that you don’t be swayed by the most eloquent opinion on a topic, as we’re all surrounded by them. Get in the Word yourself, and study it with a group of people you trust. It’s the only way to navigate the swelling tide of the culture wars that threaten to drown us.