by Laurie Nichols
Whatever the trending issue of the day, you can count on people using social media to fuel the fire of right vs. wrong and love vs. hate. Christians and non-Christians alike now have the ability to speak into issues at rapid-fire speed and with equally rapid-fire desertion. This past year has brought critical human-rights issues to the surface at a pace which shows no signs of slowing down. With a fierce roar, an alarming issue rises to the surface and we jump on the bandwagon of what we believe to be witty and impactful engagement.
But as I look back at the wake of responses—both good and bad—to trending issues, my first emotion is disappointment. So much tangible, heated discussion is left to die out in a Christian graveyard of pithy condemnation or rebuttal. But upon deeper reflection, this past year has taught me much about how to live as a Christian. More, how to be a Christian.
My understanding of gospel witness and evangelism has grown exponentially to enfold courageous and critical ingredients such as persistence, prayer, authenticity, integrity, and most of all the deepness of the love of our precious Savior.
Allow me share lessons I have learned from just three of the major trends this past year:
Longevity and persistence matter. Prayer matters.
Do you remember almost 500 days ago—when 273 Chibok girls in Nigeria were abducted by Boko Haram extremists? The outcry around the world was almost palatable. #bringbackourgirls trended high for days. Outraged by what we saw and heard had happened, we used social media to voice our support of the girls and of those fighting for their very lives.
And then the next tragedy occurred. And ISIS came on the stage. And other more timely and relevant matters popped up in our twitter feeds. And we moved on.
Did you know there are still people fighting for these girls? The Bring Back Our Girls facebook page continues to add the number of days many of the girls have still been missing. Of the 239,000 people who have liked the page, 500 are still “liking” and supporting the cause (ie. the girls!).
In our gospel witness, persistence matters. In a culture that tells us the tyranny of the urgent prevails, a small voice still prods us to hang on to that which is worth fighting for. Don’t give up. Don’t let culture dictate what’s important. Let the imago Dei guide us.
When we fight for that which is important in God’s eyes, we must be faithful and not lose heart. We don’t put down our cross mid-route. We keep walking all the way to the end. We see Calvary as our destination—a place where ultimate love prevails and persistence wins out.
Two takeaways to consider:
First, prayer matters. Long past the lights of trending burn out, people are still hurting and lives are still pierced with pain. Do we keep prayer journals to continue in our fight for freedom and salvation for those who are hurting or in darkness or without the love of Christ?
Second, salvation matters. When years have passed and we have not seen the result we had hoped for, do we lean into God and keep asking? Do we trust that Calvary—the ultimate love—will come and will lead to a more beautiful resurrected day?
In our gospel witness, persistence matters.
The mind and heart matter. The cross matters.
Several months ago, the issue of same-sex marriage roared onto the American scene like a lion. And after the verdict was cast, it left like a lamb. I was in downtown Chicago the day same-sex marriage became the law of the land. Rainbows appeared everywhere. Facebook created a rainbow image overlay for those in support of same-sex marriage. A day—nay, an hour—did not go by when I did not see another commentary on one side or the other about how great or how terrible was the decision that the High Court handed down. Christian friends said God’s hand of judgment was on our nation. Others exclaimed that we were now no longer a “Christian” nation.
In all of this, I struggled to understand the fierceness of the dialogue. I realized that as many of my fellow evangelicals sought to stick their proverbial stake in the ground, they were doing it on emotion rather than well-thought-out reasoning.
In our gospel witness, both the mind and the heart matter. #lovematters taught me that our evangelism and our very lives as Christians must meld both the possibility of true love and the beauty of biblical understanding. It must embody the fullness of who God has made us to be—a beautiful amalgam of mind, body, and soul. Of reasoning and rationalizing. Of tears and dialogue.
Many Christians began to plant their feet in the same-sex marriage controversy to the detriment of the cross. In our gospel witness, we must remember that the stumbling block is always Jesus. It’s the cross. No matter the vastness of the issues we face, it all goes back to the old rugged cross where love was displayed. And love won. In our gospel witness, above all else, the cross matters.
When we fight for that which is important in God’s eyes, we must open-handedly offer Jesus more than an agenda. We must fight for the good of others at all times and with every ounce of our being.
Two takeaways to consider:
First, Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection matter most. Do we place the message of the cross before all our other agendas? Do we offer Jesus instead of a value system?
Second, the imago Dei matters. All are made in the image of God—even those with whom we disagree. None is more important. Not me. Not you. Do we seek to see others through God’s eyes—as children created for His glory? Or do we see others as our opposition, those we need to convert, those who are sinful and without hope?
In our gospel witness, the cross matters.
Authenticity and integrity matter. A holistic witness matters.
It is a nearly unbearable thing to know that each year nearly 43 million babies are aborted. Or that perhaps as high as 700,000+ (4 in 10 pregnancies) end in abortion each year in the U.S. Verses such as Psalm 139:13-16 and Jeremiah 1:5 speak to the formation of each person by God Himself. “Before you were born…”
The very image of God is stamped on each of us before the Almighty breathes the very first breath into our earthly selves. Sometimes, my 3-year-old asks me, “Mommy, where was I when (such and such happened…)?” I respond, “You were a glimmer in God’s eye!”
We are at a time in history when we are using our collective social media and online technology to speak for life. We are saying, “Not under my watch!” to the realities we are hearing about and seeing. This is amazing. However, our cries on behalf of the marginalized have increasingly come at the expense of harming others made in the same image of God. We cry, “Monsters! Barbarians!” to those who perform such acts. We warn, “You’re gonna regret it!” to young moms who consider the possibility of abortion. We have taken shaming to a new level as we fight for good.
But what if we really began to see those on all sides of the issue through the lens of Psalm 139? In our gospel witness, authenticity and integrity matter. Having the ability to tread lightly as we fight evil is critical. Note that I say we “fight evil.” We don’t fight evildoers. We embrace the old Christian notion of “love the sinner, hate the sin.” We actively separate a person from what he or she does.
Once we have the ability to do this—to see even those on the opposing side of what we perceive as good—we can fight with integrity. We begin to use words and language that won’t immediately shut others out. Then, we back those with actions that embrace the “opposition” as fellow humans—as those who need the loving comfort of a God who created even them. Even them.
A holistic witness matters too. As we use our voices and our social media platforms to work towards ending the practice of acts such as abortion, do our daily lives reflect our online call?
Two takeaways to consider:
First, words and deeds together matter. We fight for life. That means we fight for the lives of the babies, the mothers, the clinic workers. Do we come alongside young moms and embrace them? Do we build community and friendship? Do we dialogue with and get to know clinic workers? Do we earnestly and honestly seek to learn about them in order to honor them as God’s image-bearers?
Second, authenticity matters. Have you ever met someone who is disingenuous? I have and it’s not pleasant. The love of the cross bids us to extend the love of Christ to others without agenda. Do we lean into situations and people who make us uncomfortable in order to funnel the love of Jesus to those who hurt? Do we remember that all of those on opposing sides of a debate have stories? Do we treat them as real people, with real wounds and in need of real community and friendship?
In our gospel witness, authenticity and integrity matter.
I have come to believe that there is beauty in what trends. The beauty lives in the opportunity to speak and live as followers of Christ to impact and transform a broken world. If we hang in there for the long haul and fight until we reach the point of Calvary, we may, we just may, begin to live authentic Christian lives.
Laurie Fortunak Nichols is editor of the EvangelVision blog. She is also director of communications at the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism at Wheaton College and managing editor for Evangelical Missions Quarterly (EMQ). Not given the gift of evangelism, Laurie is continually seeking ways to encourage like-gifted Christians to share the wonder of Jesus to those in darkness.