WAYPOINTS: Springs of water
Years ago I attended a clergy conference led by a Baptist pastor named Carlyle Marney. During that conference he made a comment that has stuck with me, “People go to church to act what they wish to God they were. That is much different than a hypocrite who pretends.”
I have thought about those words a lot during this election cycle. Leaving the national picture aside, I must say that I cannot recall a state and local election that has been as nasty as the one we have just lived through. It seems as if every day in the mail I received cards telling me how one candidate or another was kind, generous, devoted to God and family, experienced, and entirely wonderful — followed immediately by an unbelievably vicious attack against the character of his or her opponent. Such attacks often took some grain of truth and pulled it out of context to twist and distort it for the purposes of character assassination. Can anyone doubt their effectiveness? There is a part of us that has a weakness for gossip, isn’t there?
Open your Bible to the letter James wrote to believers and read what he says about the tongue:
“With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water?” James 3:9-11
Earlier, Jesus had used a similar image of water,
“Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ Now this he said about the Spirit.” John 7:38,39
OK, so we Christians claim to be filled with the Spirit of the Living God. How then can any believer, whether running for office or not, bless our Lord and Father on Sunday, then spew venom about people made in God’s image the other six days and think for a moment that God is smiling?
How should we respond when we hear such venom? Scripture reminds us that we are our brothers’ keeper. That means we stand up for those who are being unfairly attacked. We do that by first admonishing the attacker to rethink his approach, and by refusing to be a party to the gossip mill by closing our ears to lies and distortions and refusing to pass them on. Secondly, we speak the truth in love. People don’t always want to hear the truth but, in the long run, nothing is more effective than correcting mis-information with accurate information. And we share that truth knowing that we are sinners just like the people we are addressing. Recognizing the log in our own eye makes it easier to address the splinter in the eye of a brother or sister.
But how should we respond when the venom is directed at us? Instinctively, we want to strike back, to lash out at our tormenters. Our culture tells us that the best defense is a good offense. It is a fine saying when applied to the football field, but it makes for lousy communities. Being a counter-puncher works in the boxing ring, but it is not conducive to producing relationships. God’s not smiling when we turn the living water that is supposed to be flowing through us into saltwater more closely resembling the Dead Sea! The truth is that the best response a Christian has to lies and distortions directed at himself or herself is to live a life marked by faithfulness and integrity.
A life well-lived turns away false accusations more effectively than the best-worded defense. That is how Jesus responded. He prayed for his enemies because he loved them, in spite of what they were doing to him. As sinners saved by grace through faith we are called to do the same. When we go to worship the Lord we should want to be counted among those who are doing their best to act like what they wish to God they are and not just pretending like the hypocrites. After all, in the end everything we think and say and do is for an audience of One.
The Rev. Mike Hesse, former senior pastor of Immanuel Anglican Church, is now retired and living in Destin.