The Cure for Cynics and Scoffers

From the beginning of time, skepticism has been the natural inclination of our hearts. Our sin in the Garden highlights the beginning of our doubts. Even the most remarkable truths, like the truth that creation is “good” (Genesis 1), is subject to destruction by the imputation of our preferences over the will of God. We have doubted goodness ever since.

Not only have we doubted, we have disbelieved. In skepticism, we hesitate to agree with declarative statements made by friends and leaders. Yet it doesn’t always stop with simple disagreement. We have somehow found our way into cynicism. It is in our cynicism that we hold so strongly to our preferences and become scoffers of anything that does not build up what we love.

The origins of our cynicism do not begin in isolation, but in communities that forget why they exist. We are inclined to spend time with like-minded friends, and though it is good to dwell in a community that holds similar ideals and opinions, these groups can easily become a breeding ground for an attitude of supremacy. I can give countless testimonies of how this has played itself out in my life, but let me draw you into one way I have been guilty of this. I love good quality coffee and most of the people I spend time with are confessing coffee snobs. Because of this, I have become convinced that coffee is superior to all other warm beverages. In turn, I patronize anyone who thinks differently than me with a “good natured spirit.”  Though this is a light-hearted testimony, there are far more serious acts of cynicism that can destroy the ultimate foundation of our love for one another.

To love one another is not to love our shared ideals. Our sinful motivation to receive human acceptance casts a shadow upon a rightly-motivated longing for unity found in Jesus. This universal striving for acceptance and self-elevation plays out in the lives of Millennials more evidently than any other generation. Far too many of our conversations are about why one church is the best in polity, or how a specific kind of music, preaching style, discipleship model, major, leadership training program, or missions agency is superior to all others. All the rest is reserved for scoffing.

Don’t mistake what I am implying. I am not saying that disagreeing about our preferences is wrong. We are shaped by humbling ourselves and then allowing others to challenge our opinions and ideals in a gracious and loving way. The truth is that there is nothing edifying or loving about a disposition of disagreement. Instead of building up the body of Christ, we turn our opinions into law for other believers. The dilution or degradation of another believer’s voice is a painful reminder that we love ourselves much more than we love each other. When we elevate our personal preferences over the truth of the gospel, we are communicating to those who share in the Spirit of God that we care nothing for their thoughts and ultimately do not need them to interfere with our kingdom of right-thinking. Human dignity is demolished in the face of our adherence to our own kingdom. We set up a banner of unity that says something other than “Jesus.” What we desperately need is to adhere to the King.

How can we achieve true unity? Is it possible to have conversations about Calvinism where our motivation is not to win an argument, but instead we are motivated to elevate Jesus and affirm one another? We could look to plenty of moralistic methods for positive thinking and being tolerant. But “morality” did not save the Pharisees, and it will not save us. The solution is a person, not a system.

The only way we can be healed from our negativity towards one another is through Jesus. Christ achieved the perfection we could not achieve and did so with greater humility than we could ever strive to produce. It is in the context of unity among believers that Paul encourages the church to speak in a manner that edifies and gives grace (Ephesians 4). This leaves no room for cynical, scoffing people in the Kingdom.

Is there hope for the one who, like me, tends to speak her opinions without love? Only in Jesus. We must stand under the banner of His Name, not our ideals and preferences. Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes in Life Together that, “the goal of all Christian community is to encounter one another as bringers of the message of salvation.”

We can bring the message of salvation to one another. But we can only do this by submitting our hateful tongues and dirty hearts to the Lord. Thankfully, it is not up to us to create unity and speak without cynicism; at our best we will still possess latent sinfulness. We need the grace of God and the power of the Spirit to clear our lives of cynicism and make the way for loving unity that only comes by the work and person of Jesus.

What a Friend I have in Jesus

There is no greater friend that I have than in God. He knows me fully, loves me still, and gave Himself up for the ugly girl that I am. Sometimes I will be struggling in my heart with sins and pains that no one knows. My secrets will be hidden by the joyful smile on my face, but they are written blatantly on my heart. In these times I tend to run in to God throughout my day, acknowledge His presence, and turn and walk away as quickly as I can. It is not as though I am unhappy to see Him, because indeed He is my most wonderful friend! It is instead that when I see God, He gives me the look that an old friend gives another; the look of knowing is pervasive across His glance. He looks at me and knows that I am not alright. He also knows that I have to be the one who comes to Him to share my heart, and He patiently longs for me to do so. That should be a comforting thing to me, but the thought of admitting what is going on inside of me brings me great fear. Because I forget that God really is the great friend that I know Him to be, I keep avoiding Him and walking away at every opportunity.

When I get home and close the door to my room, my sin sits on my bed like a wolf waiting for its prey and stares me in the face. Its gaze is also one of knowing, but a knowing that says “you know you want me” with a dagger-like bite waiting to strike if I reach out to pet it. I crawl into my bed, tired from a day of struggle, and kick my sin to the edge where it still paces and lingers over me. In the darkness of this room, I find myself once again looking eye-to-eye with God. He’s there, right in front of me, and this time I know I cannot turn away because my pet-enemy is crouching and ready to devour me. I can only turn to my most faithful friend.

My words fail me and I cannot muster up the ability to say what makes me want to turn to my enemy instead of my friend. It is in this moment that I realize God is not so far off that I need to shout for Him to hear me. He is there, He is in front of me, He is near. All that I can do is whisper to Him. When I first have the courage to whisper the words “God, I need You,” the wolf instantly goes away into the darkness. As I continue with more confidence to whisper to my sweet friend, my heart finds comfort in His closeness and His attentiveness. God, my friend, hears every word that is so quietly uttered from my lips.

Not only was He hearing me, He was reminding me between every tear that He yearns for my confession and trust in Him. He desires to have fellowship with me, His daughter, and He wants to point me to what He did for me on the cross. In light of God’s great love, my swift avoidance of interacting with Him was foolish. Yet even my evasion of Him was paid for and washed away at the foot of the cross. What a friend I have in Jesus!

A Deliberation on Communication

Communication finds its heritage in making things common. And this is what anyone who has ever had a friend, teacher, lover or family member could attest to. 

It is no surprise that the word “community” and the word “communication” find their construction in the word “common”. Communication implies that it must be done in community; it must involve more than one party. Likewise, community implies that there is a form of regular communication established. How could a community share things in common (Acts 2:44) if there is no communication? The answer is that they could not. 

Communication should be thorough yet simple while still being direct and loving. As a student of the humanities, I find much of my career in higher education being determined by my essays. If I am not thorough and simple (a nice word for this concept being concise) and if I am not maintaining direction and love (I think edifying is the most appropriate word), then I have not achieved what I set out to do.

When I am not thorough, my argument can easily be seen as foolish. If I lack simplicity, my writing will not be understood by many people. If direction is absent, readers will search for a point and not find one. Finally, if I do write from a standpoint of love, the essay is not of eternal value, and is therefore of no value at all. This may seem technical, but I believe that well-rounded writing helps strengthen better communication. Obviously I don’t claim to have a complete list of the necessities of good communication, but at this point I’ll stand by these four concepts as foundational ones.

In a practical sense, I have also spent much of my time in college living in small, sometimes forced, intentional and extremely messy communities. It has been proven to me time and time again that our ability as a whole group to communicate thoroughly, simply, directly and lovingly dictates how well or how poorly we are going to function.

I could probably tell a story where I failed or someone else failed in every single one of these areas. But the point here is not to complain, but to encourage. When we take a serious approach to the way we communicate with those around us, our lives with one another look vastly different than the world. Ephesians 4:29 is set in the context of describing a community of believers. In this verse, Paul commands “do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” 

As a follower and lover of Jesus, we must consider how much of an impact our communication with one another has on the community in which we dwell. 

Thorough, simple, direct, loving. Let us think and speak within these things.

Hopeful Wandering

In the midst of seemingly endless traveling, we remember that we are hopeful citizens of an eternal city, and we take comfort.

The idea of a hopeless wanderer carries with it the implication of a journey with no end in sight. There is no hope for the one who seeks to find himself along the way because there is no guarantee that he will find what he is looking for and therein direct his steps upon a path. He will not be able to step towards anything. It is possible for a man to step away from his current situation when it is dissatisfying or when he feels he is being held back. Yet stepping away can only be fulfilling if the steps move at an end that will keep a man from falling back into the very thing he sought to remove himself from.

First, he must be found, then he may step forward in confidence towards that which finds him.

The Christian who knows God knows what he is seeking and where he belongs because he has been found by the One who knows all things. When God calls us out of darkness, we are called into His light (1 Peter 2:9). Not only that, but we are then to live a manner worthy of the calling we have received (Ephesians 4:1).

At times it seems as though the follower of Jesus is able to be none other than a vagabond. For many, this is the lifestyle that we live in. I certainly resonate with those who are constantly traveling and are not sure where to call “home”. I have accepted that a regular part of my life may be moving from place to place, yet the way my thoughts are guided by this reality can shape the structure of my path.

The difference between those who travel as the world does and those who travel through the world is based on the end that is in mind. 2 Corinthians 4-5 help us remember that those of us who are a part of the holy nation belong not to this world, but to the eternal city of God. Our wanderings can not be called hopeless, for we have the greatest hope in the promise of our unity with Jesus for all time. Instead, we can only take comfort that we are hopeful wanderers in this life with the permanent promise of being forever with our King.