Can You See Behind the Mask?

cruise

If you’ve ever seen any of the Mission Impossible movies starring Tom Cruise, you’re familiar with the Mission Impossible mask scenes. At key points in the plots, a character you thought was one person turns out to be someone else, disguised underneath an incredibly life-like mask. Tom Cruise impersonates the villain. The villain impersonates Tom Cruise. Tom Cruise impersonates a Starbucks barista. (Yes, I made that one up.) After a while, a viewer familiar with the MI mask motif gets a bit cynical: that guy looks like Tom Cruise, but is he really?  Who’s the real Tom Cruise?

I doubt if perfectly life-like MI masks actually exist. But you do know what it’s like to wonder who’s masked and who’s real. This is the question you ask in marriage after that first explosive conflict: You’re not the person I married – who are you? It’s the thoughts you have in the friendship when suddenly you can no longer agree on even the simplest of things: I don’t think I even know you anymore. After all these years, I can’t believe you could do this to me. Are you really like that?

The problem is especially acute when the other person is a fellow believer. You’re supposed to be on the same team. You believe the same things, you go to the same church, you serve in the same ministry – and yet his behavior or her actions make you wonder if the person you thought you knew was just a mask.

And then it gets even worse when the situation endures over time. Gradually, with every interaction, your opinion is settled and confirmed. They really are like that: nitpicking, petty, deceitful, proud, defensive. It’s not just once – it’s over time, a pattern repeated and long ingrained. You no longer ask, Who are you? You know, and you intensely dislike, the answer.

How do you live in those kinds of relationships, when you don’t know what’s the mask and what’s the real person? Or, even worse, when you come to believe the person you fell in love with, or built a friendship with, was just a masked imposter?

The right question here will completely alter our perspective. The right question to ask is this: who does God see when he sees this person? When we observe a fellow believer and draw conclusions, we are defining that person, and the question we need to ask is whether our definition matches up with God’s.

In God’s sight, the truest identity of any believer is not who they are now, but who they will become. The defining reality of their life is the presence of the Holy Spirit, uniting them with Christ and filling them with the life of God. And because the God who began a good work in them will surely complete it, God alone has the right to define who someone is.

If this is true, then every temporal observation that we make of another believer – even if it’s backed up by years of evidence – is only a half-truth. And a half-truth expressed as a whole truth is an untruth. The full story must include the presence of the Holy Spirit, the outworking of the character of Christ in the believer’s heart, the resurrection power of God applied to making each believer a fit temple of the Holy Spirit (see, for instance, Ephesians 1:15-19 and 3:14-21). If you don’t take this into account, you’re not considering the true person. You’ve been fooled by a temporary – though real – mask.

That person you’re thinking of even now, if they’re a believer in Christ, is not who they will one day be. The weaknesses will be gone. The sins will disappear. He will be radiant with Christ’s glory. She will stand spotless in the presence of God. That future identity trumps all present realities. Those are masks, temporarily hiding what is true and what is real. And so we must learn to see behind the mask.

3 Questions to Ask Before Responding to a Controversy

photo credit: Wolfhowl via photopin cc

If a tree falls in the forest and nobody is there to hear it, does it still make a sound? Yes, but the better question is if a tree falls in the forest and nobody is there to hear it, who cares? If you found out a tree fell would you go tell others? Would you blog or tweet about it? Probably not.

And that’s precisely how we ought to treat many “controversies”. A controversy is only controversial if people talk about it. If we let it lie there like the tree in the forest it’s just something dumb that was said or done and then it goes away. And far fewer people get hurt in the process too.

So many mistakes get blown into controversies by people’s responses to them. Before we decide to write, post, or speak a public rejoinder here are three questions to consider.

1.    Am I really the one to respond to this?

What gives me reason to think that I should be the one raking Miley Cyrus over the coals or blasting a bunch of old white guys for hating rap? Should someone? Maybe, but why me? Just having a strong opinion on the issue isn’t enough. There better be a doggone good reason to enter into the fray.

2.    Do I have something to say that others are not already saying?

Most public responses are restatements of something that’s already been said. If you have nothing fresh to offer, please don’t offer it. All you’re doing is piling on and brining in new readers or hearers who otherwise could innocently go about their business. Pay attentions to who is saying what so that you aren’t just another loud mouth pushing a controversy to new lows.

3.    Is my response going to help solve or help escalate?

Don’t fool yourself into thinking your contribution will be the last nail in the coffin. Seriously consider whether you will be stirring up or settling down, hurting or healing. Will you be leading people further into the dispute or leading them to freedom from it?

Ego makes these questions nearly impossible to answer for ourselves, so we must have honest (and blunt) sounding boards. We need people to save us from our own delusions. Find these people and listen to them.

So often, more damage is done through spreading controversy than through ignoring it. I can already see hackles rising on many of you. “But we must respond with CONVICTION! We can’t let so-and-so- get away with whatever!” And to a point you’re right. Some actions must not be ignored. Ask yourself this before responding: Was it malicious, unjust, prominent, authoritative, or personally connected to me? If it is some combination of these it might deserve your ire. But even then, it’s often better to let the tree fall, let the echoes die away, and let it decay where it lies.

photo credit: Wolfhowl via photopin cc

Come On, Be Reasonable And Do It My Way!

“Let your reasonableness be known to all.” That command is in the Bible, though you wouldn’t know it if you were surveying the American church today. We have forgotten it completely, and I don’t mean “forgotten” as in “rationalized away.” I mean legitimately wiped from church memory.

If you were to choose labels for what you see in Christianity today “reasonableness” would be nowhere near the top of the list. Outrage, bombast, extremism, polarity, partisan, sectarian, reactive, over-reactive, accusatory, judgmental, defensive, insulting, ignorant, fearful, hypocritical and others would likely come to mind first. If you wanted to find a more positive description you might go with well-intentioned, determined, or industrious. Of course no one of those terms, negative or positive, accurately sums up the church, but they would be higher on the list than “reasonable.”

Somewhere along the line — you can blame the Enlightenment if you’d like — we decided reasons equaled reasonableness. If we could defend an idea or an action then it was reasonable (even if the reasons were poor). Our hope, and much of our identity, rests in argumentation. And ironically this is often at the expense of being reasonable. Our arguments are loud, long, and aggressive. We “win” them with shows of force and pointed slogans. And we do make them known to everyone.

Real reasonableness is a blend of conviction and patience blended with some empathy and a willingness to engage multiple perspectives. “Engaging” doesn’t mean fighting; it means interacting with graciously. To be reasonable one must be able to stand firm and be gentle at the same time, to know what you believe but communicate it without any of the ad hominem or straw man foolishness so prevalent today. A reasonable person observes much, listens much, then processes and responds. He doesn’t react.

Underpinning all true reasonableness is a constant acknowledgment that God is God. Nobody who is trying to play God in any part of life can be reasonable. Instead we ought to have a confidence in God, in his sovereignty. Sometimes this looks like gritted teeth and a bitten tongue and other times it’s as smooth as butter and as sweet as honey. But no matter what, only by remembering that God is God can we love the unlovable, even our enemies (another forgotten command). If we rest in the reality that God is sovereign we are able to set aside our reasons and actually become reasonable.

photo credit: Vic Acid via photopin cc

Why. Can’t. You. See. What. I’m. Saying?!?

Hey, remember that one time when your child/spouse/friend/coworker sinned against you, and you went to them to speak about the sin, and you spoke all the right, eloquent, exact, pointed, correcting words, and they immediately saw the error of their ways, dropped to their knees, and repented with tears? Hold on just a second! That didn’t happen to you? Me neither! I have to correct my children for the same thing over and over and over. Why don’t they get what I’m saying? Maybe I need to say it differently, with more force, with more gentleness, with more scripture, with less scripture. I just need to figure out the right combination of words, then they’ll get it!

Jen often has to correct me for sins we’ve already talked about many times. What is my problem? What is her problem? Is she not saying the right words? If I’m not getting it, she must be doing something wrong, right? Maybe she needs to raise her voice, lower her voice, scream, whisper, choose different words, simpler words.

What these situations reveal is that ultimately, we cannot change a person. As Zack Eswine says in his book Sensing Jesus:

Somewhere along the way, those of us gifted with words will receive a painful reminder that it is Jesus and not our explanations that can change a heart. Words aren’t strings. People aren’t puppets. Eloquent speech isn’t magic.

Zack is speaking to pastors, but the truth applies across the board. Only Jesus can change a person’s heart. We may have all the appropriate biblical ammunition, we may have carefully crafted arguments, we may have righteous anger, but none of these things can change a person. I can raise my voice, or slow down my words, as if I’m speaking to a foreigner, but none of these things will change my children. My words don’t have the power to change their hearts. Only Jesus can do that. Jen may have numerous real-life examples of my sin, and she may speak to me in the most gentle, humble way (which she often does). But those things can’t change me. Only Jesus can do that.

When tension arises in a relationship, we are immediately confronted with the fact that we are not Jesus. We can’t cause people to be convicted of their sins, no matter how eloquently or forcefully we speak. Only Jesus can convict a person of their sins. Only Jesus can change a person’s heart. When we run into a relational brick wall, we need to immediately run to Jesus and ask him to do the work that we can’t. He must change our children. He must work in our spouse. He must soften our coworkers.

Trying to do the work of Jesus is exhausting and frustrating. Trust me, I’ve tried many times and failed many times. We need to let Jesus do his work in his time.

+photo by Demi Brooke

How To NOT Win Someone To Your Side

Apparently, Rush Limbaugh isn’t trying to win Sandra Fluke to his side.

After she testified in support of mandatory employer health coverage of contraception before a nonofficial congressional committee Mr. Limbaugh called Ms. Fluke a “slut” and a “prostitute.”  Can you imagine her saying, “Oh, I’m so sorry I testified. I can see now I was wrong.  Thanks for setting me straight with those tactful words.”  Ain’t gonna happen.

You can’t win someone to your side when you are in an adversarial relationship with them.

I once heard someone say you can’t win someone to your side when you’re in an adversarial relationship with them.  You won’t win someone who is pro-abortion to your side by getting in their face and yelling, “Murderer!  Baby killer!”  God tells us how to address those who oppose us:

And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will. (2 Timothy 2:24-26).

First of all we should not be quarrelsome.  We shouldn’t love to fight.  We shouldn’t love to get in there and argue.  Some people thrive on conflict.  Some people think they’re always right and smarter than everyone else.  It’s not enough to have the truth. God cares about how we present the truth.  He cares about our attitude when we present the truth.

Next we should be “kind to everyone.”  Everyone.  Even our enemies.  For we were once God’s enemies and he was kind to us.

We must patiently endure evil ourselves, and when we correct our opponents we must do it “with gentleness.”  Not sarcasm, insults, or inflammatory slurs.

Proverbs says a harsh word stirs up anger but a gentle answer turns away wrath (Pr 15.21).  We won’t win anyone to our side with harsh words – we’ll only make them angry and entrench them more deeply against us.  But when we correct them with gentleness, we will turn away their wrath, and that can prepare the way for God to work.

Which is where we must put our trust.  Not in our persuasiveness or superior reasoning or arguing skills but in God.  That’s why Paul tells Timothy, correct with gentleness in the hope that “God may perhaps grant them repentance…”

Christians must certainly stand for truth and speak out.  But let us address our opponents with kindness and gentleness, then trust God to do what only he can do – change their hearts.