Jesus Gave Me a Dose of My Own Medicine
SEPTEMBER 1, 2021
When Pastor Martin Niemoller was arrested and taken to a concentration camp for seven years because of his criticism of Hitler, his pastor father took his son’s pulpit and said that he regretted he had only one son in prison. He was proud of his son for “speaking truth to power.”
Niemoller had no choice. He knew the cost of silence. Niemoller famously said, “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—And there was no one left to speak for me.”
We recently recorded our weekly talk show, Steve Brown, Etc., where we interviewed my friend, Eric Metaxas. He was recently “canceled” because of his political views when his popular talk show was permanently removed from YouTube. I, for the most part, share Eric’s political views. The issue for us wasn’t his views, but his being silenced on a very large public platform. We would have interviewed anyone—left or right, Christian or not, “normal” or “weird”—who had been silenced.
They say in an age of terrorism, “If you see something, say something.” That’s a pretty good thing to do in a lot of areas, especially when a brother in Christ (or anyone else) has been silenced, demeaned, or rejected. So we saw something and we said something. I’m not suggesting that what happened to Eric (and what might happen to us since the video version of our talk show is on YouTube) is to be equated with persecution under Hitler, but I am suggesting that freedom—if not exercised—can be lost.
I’m told that in the military during a break, the sergeant would often say, “If you’ve got ‘em, smoke ‘em.” Just so with things like free speech . . . If you’ve got it, use it. We did and we, from our fairly small platform, clearly spoke truth. And, frankly, I’m quite proud we did.
That’s when Jesus “left the building.” Well, he really didn’t, but he did tell me to rerecord the program (before it aired), and we did. The first time around I was so angry, upset, and insufferably self-righteous that I was “cussing and spitting.” So, we recorded it a second time. And may God give a double blessing to those on the program who had to do a bunch of extra work—especially John (our IT and video guy), Jinx (our producer), and Matthew (our executive producer). They had to sort through the first recording, and work out the audio/video clips, the timing, and the spacing to use in the second one.
What we said the second time was just as strong and clear as it was the first time. We spoke truth to power without compromising that truth, and we played a number of audio and video clips from Eric from that first recording. But this time we did it with Jesus looking over our shoulders. That makes a difference.
I don’t want to belabor this. After all, I did write a not half-bad book about the subject, Talk the Walk: How to Be Right Without Being Insufferable. (I’m not above pushing my books whenever I can.) However, I do need to say that Jesus gave me a dose of my own medicine and suggested that I practice what I preach.
Don’t you hate it when he does that?
Paul wrote, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience . . .” (Colossians 3:12). There are a whole lot of texts that call us to the same thing. Paul wrote to the Philippians, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on the cross” (Philippians 2:5-8).
Let me share some things I learned from this whole embarrassing experience. First, a disclaimer. Just because I learned those things doesn’t mean that I’ll always practice them. The disease of self-righteousness is addictive, and I’m probably the most opinionated friend you’ve got. So, please know that I’m talking to me as much as to you. But if we don’t apply these lessons, nobody else will . . . because we’re the only ones who can.
We’re the only ones who have been given the truth (the eternal verities of the Christian faith) and, if we don’t speak truth, who will? When Martin Luther made his statement at the Diet of Worms I suspect he was afraid, and wanted to be anywhere else, but there. But he was being a follower of Christ when he said (maybe with some fearful hesitancy), “Here I stand, I can do no other.” Talk about being canceled, demeaned, laughed at, and threatened. Luther still spoke truth. Nobody else would.
Have you ever felt intimidated . . . and because you were, remained silent when you should have said something? I have and I have decided I’m not going to do that anymore. I’m old and that helps. I don’t give a rip. But still too many Christians (me too), for a great variety of reasons, have been intimidated and silenced. If we don’t speak truth, nobody else will. We are called to speak truth about the only source of meaning (if there’s no God, we’re turnips and nothing matters), moral and ethical issues (God told us that some things are good and right, and others evil and wrong), human value (who’s going to speak for the unborn?), forgiveness (our culture is the least forgiving culture in history), and redemption and eternity. It’s okay to be afraid, to want to be accepted and affirmed, and to want to be just left alone . . . but it’s not okay to remain silent. If we don’t speak truth, who will?
We’re also the only ones who don’t have to yell. We can’t afford to be self-righteous because the Holy Spirit won’t leave us alone, and keeps convicting us of our own arrogance and sin. (“Bless those who curse you. Think what they would say if they knew the truth.”) We are the only people who don’t have anything to prove or protect, or about which to brag. This morning I was praying The Lord’s Prayer and came to the part where Jesus said we should pray, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” I thought, “Big deal! How could I not forgive others after everything you’ve forgiven me for?” I think Jesus said (in Hebrew, of course!), “Bingo!”
The other day Pete Alwinson and I were talking about the importance of speaking truth and how difficult it sometimes is. Pete said, “We can always say, not unkindly, ‘My perspective is different than yours. Could I share what I think with you?’ If we’re canceled because of what we say, it doesn’t matter.” Well, it may not matter to Pete, but it matters to me. Generally, my reaction is, “What’s with you? Do you have the brains of an amoeba?” The problem is that we can’t say it that way and still believe in the Imago Dei (the image of God).
And that brings me to the final lesson I learned. People (racists, critical race theorists, thieves, progressives, liberals, conservatives, straight and LGBTQ people, politicians and those who yell at them, white, black, brown . . . and even Presbyterians) are all created in the image of God. We’re the only ones who know that and, so, the tone of what we say should be different. My friend, Tony Campolo, and I disagree on almost everything except Jesus. (By the way, if you think of it, say a prayer for Tony and Peggy. I talked to them last week and they’re facing some very difficult health issues.) Tony said to me once, “Steve, we agree on what the outcome should be. We just don’t agree on how to get there.” That’s often true. One of the problems is that those of us on one side theologically, socially, and politically measure everyone on the other side by their weirdest and craziest people. That works in a debate, but not in a conversation.
If everyone is created in the image of God, that makes everyone valuable. If we don’t believe that forgiveness, redemption, and mercy are available to everyone created in the image of God, the only alternative is hatred, self-righteousness, condemnation, and cancelation. Not only do we not ask for forgiveness (we don’t think we need it), we don’t give it to anybody else (they aren’t worthy and we are). Christians know that isn’t a choice for us. Jesus said that we are to love . . . because God loved them and “gave his only begotten Son” for them (John 3:16).
Everyone is worthy. In the battle, that’s sometimes easy for me to forget. Others aren’t worthy because they’re right, pure, or good. Worth is a gift from God who made all human beings in his own image.
So now you know why we had to record the second program with Eric.
I still believe that we’re in a real battle and can’t afford to shilly-shally. God didn’t say I couldn’t, as it were, have a gun. He just wants me to keep it holstered most of the time.
Okay, okay, I repent. I’m to keep it holstered all of the time.
The fact that he will still love me if I don’t makes it easier to do.
He asked me to remind you.