3 Great Untruths Affecting Society

Have you had the sense we’re losing our moral bearings? Been dismayed by the outrage culture creeping into social media, rendering Twitter and Facebook more acrimonious than ever? How can we make progress toward civility?

Christians, whose faith is summarized in “love God, love neighbor,” should lead the way. But to get there, we may need help assessing what makes things so contentious.

Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt give us a big hand up in their recent book The Coddling of the American MindBy “coddling” they mean “overprotecting,” the modern tendency to insulate one’s self from disagreement, risk, and adversity. For instance, college students are protesting assigned textbooks, and visiting speakers, not because their ideas are immoral but because they “harm” or “trigger” the student.

The authors argue that refusing to engage ideas that you disagree with, in the name of harm, actually does more damage to the self and society.

Our society has become so accustomed to comfort, that differences of opinion and the exchange of ideas are seen as threatening. They argue this is damaging to society:

We are not saying that the problems facing students, and young people more generally, are minor or ‘all in their heads.’ We are saying that what people choose to do in their heads will determine how those real problems affect them.

With this in view, they identify three Great Untruths that must be overcome:

  1. Untruth of Fragility: What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker (retreat from hardship and difference)
  2. Untruth of Emotional Reasoning: Always trust your feelings (emotional intuition trumps reason and truth)
  3. Untruth of Us vs. Them: Life is a battle between good people and bad people (I am good; they are bad)

They note, “Anyone who cares about young people, education, or democracy should be concerned about these trends.” I would add, anyone who care about their city, neighbor, church, small group, or children.

3 Elder Essentials

1) Lead the Mission of the Church. We see church leaders doing this throughout Acts. Paul deliberates with the elders about his missionary travels. Local elders make decisions through reasonable discussion and dependence upon the Holy Spirit. Deliberating an important decision on behalf of the Jerusalem Church, the elders concluded, “It seemed good to us and the Spirit” (Acts 15:22-28). It is noteworthy that these elders made a decision in unity. Elders should work through issues toward unity in the Spirit as much as possible, speaking with one pastoral voice to the church on important matters. They should be careful to not bend an ear to individuals in the church, inadvertently becoming a pawn for divisive agendas, but always seek to shepherd together in tenderness and truth.

If elders don’t seek the filling and wisdom of the Spirit, they overestimate thier own power and wisdom and fail to serve the church well. They will easily become self-protective and withdraw from people or people-pleasing and engrossed in people. The Spirit reminds us that Jesus is the Chief Shepherd, so we don’t bear the burden of changing people nor do we have to find refuge in isolation, since the Lord “prepares a table in the presence of my enemies, and leads us through (not abandons us) the valley of the shadow of death.” The elders at City Life seek the Spirit together through study, reflection, and prayer. Our bi-weekly meetings and retreats help us focus our leadership.

2) Pastor the Church. Good pastoring starts on its knees. In Psalm 23, David recongizes his ultimate Shepherd is the Lord. In staying close to the Chief Shepherd, he will not lack anything he needs for his calling. Our elders open every elder meeting with prayer, and pray for specific people in the church who are in need. In addition, we pray for five members by name. We alternate emphases of our meetings between shepherding for pastoral care and strategy to set visionary leadership.

All of our elders are engaged in counseling the sinner, sufferer, and struggling saint, in community with our church. They are remarkably faithful, self-sacrificing, compassionate men. We frequently pair up to provide support to those who need counsel with the aim of: Listening to their Story, Empathizing with their Story, and Retelling their Story around Jesus. Counsel happens very intentionally through coaching and training leaders, doing life together in City Groups, and always seeking to be a counseling & encouraging presence. This is critical. Elders must be in touch with the flock to shepherd the flock. For that reason, it is unwise for elders to have a community group all thier own. They must live in the pastures, so to speak, in order care for the sheep well.

3) Promote & Protect the Gospel. Out of our devotion to Jesus, and his greater devotion to us, we are called to shepherd with the Rod, guide with the Lamp, and point to the Treasure of this Word. The rod is God’s Word, which should be used to guide, protect, correct the flock in holiness. This happens when we preach, teach, counsel, pray. We labor to push the gospel through everything in order to avoid authoritarian or passive leadership and to rivet people’s attention to Jesus Christ as thier supreme authority and King, and thier source of endless satisfaction, love, and forgiveness as Redeemer. Elder authority is alway mediated through Jesus, and points back to Jesus as Head of the Church ruling through his Word. Spiritual authority is not residential in elders, but in the office that must maintain the utmost character to carry out the ministry of the Word among God’s people.

Careful Love

We’re all careful about what we love. If we love a movie, we’ll read the reviews, track the showings, and buy tickets in advance. If we love an author, we’ll follow their writing, pre-order their books, and dive into their biography. If we love our spouse, we’ll think about them and tell them what we appreciate about them.

But if our true love is the sound of our own voice, then tracking what God loves will be unappealing, distasteful. Service to others, prayer for the kids, prayer in general, Sunday gatherings, community groups, discipleship, and evangelism will all become negotiable. Why? Those words have to contend with the voice of the Inner Me.

If the weather is bad, if there’s traffic, if we just don’t feel like it, we won’t expend the energy necessary to join the church in worship and be shaped by God’s word. Instead, we’re shaped by our own inner words, our rationalizations.

If its been a long day, and the kids have been trying, then we won’t make the extra effort to join our community group and encourage others. We won’t lay our head down, reviewing God’s grace from the day, and thank him before we sleep. Instead of listening to his words to find rest, we’ll invite digital words in to soothe us from a narrative that excises God. We’ll be carelessly shaped by other voices.

Joshua urges the people of God, “Be careful to love the Lord your God” (23:11). Be careful, pay attention, slow down, reflect on what you love. If we don’t, we will be blinded by our own idolatry, snag our eye on a thorn, pop an eardrum. We’ll be maimed and disfigured.

But if we love God, we’ll read his words, listen to his voice, and invite them in to shape us more than anything else. His voice will speak the loudest. As a result, we’ll stand tall, even in hard times. Our eyesight will be clear. We’ll even have words for others. So let’s be careful with our love, and trust the words that never fail, “not one word has failed of all the good things that the LORD your God promised concerning you. All have come to pass for you; not one of them has failed” (23:14).

Favorite Summer Reads

While I didn’t read as much as I would have liked this summer (lots of family time, travel, movies & writing), I definitely found some gems. Here are four favorites:

Favorite Fiction: The Great Alone, Kristin Hannah

This book is great for page-turning leisure and characters you care about.

After reading Hannah’s New York Times best-selling Nightingale, I thought I would try another one of her novels. I finished this 400-page novel in four days. The story follows a family’s move to Alaska in search of a new beginning. As I read the compelling descriptions of Alaska’s raw beauty, I found myself longing to see it firsthand. This beauty, however, is sharply contrasted by the challenges of rugged, remote living and a dark, inner struggle within the family. It is a story of love and loss, hope and redemption, justice and compassion. It moved me to the brink of tears several times.

Most Fascinating: How to Change Your Mind, Michael Pollan

This book is a trip, perhaps a sign of things to come, and evidence that rational-materialists can be converted by the hope of paradigms of greater explanatory power.

Pollan is most well-known for his Omnivore’s Dilemma, but in this book he takes a deep dive into the scientific, historical, existential, and spiritual merits (and concerns) in using psychedelic drugs. As a rational-materialist, Pollan experiences a kind of conversion to the usefulness and spiritually eye-opening power of psychedelics. It was remarkable to watch a credible intellectual long for more than his scientific worldview would allow, while also learning more than I wanted to about drugs. I

Most Timely: The Death of Truth, Michiko Kakutani

This book is excellent for preachers who want to commend truth to a secular audience.

Although left-leaning, the Pulitzer prize-winning Kakutani tries to show how conservatives and liberals have contributed to the death of truth in our modern age. While Trump is a constant heuristic of moral and truth decay, the book develops its call for truth and fact by appealing to literature, philosophy, and common sense. It is admirable to see a journalist champion truth in this way, even if it’s not always even-handed.

Favorite Christian: Disruptive Witness, Alan Noble

Everyone in your church needs to read this.

Alan’s thesis is apropos: in an age of thin beliefs, and pantheon-like approach to truth statements, Christianity and Christians must be more disruptive in their witness for the exclusive and unique claims of Jesus to be heard. He takes up major insights of the philosopher Charles Taylor, explains and applies them to various aspects of discipleship. I think just about everyone in our church would benefit from reading this book.