Christians Are Far Too Easily Distracted by Things That Don’t Matter

I have wrestled with the level of continual outcry from professing Christians over so many things this year. There are far more pressing issues we need to spend our time upon. We get caught up in the ancillary matters, like whether or not someone should say the Pledge of Allegiance – or if we should stand for the National Anthem. Within our own house there are plenty of matters needing our attention. There are hordes of sinners on the path to hell, yet we are content to bicker with one another over such silly things.

I say this as kindly as I can: I truly don’t care where you land on the issue. It doesn’t matter. If you wish to say the pledge, say it. If you don’t, don’t. If you don’t like it when people are protesting during the National Anthem, so be it. If you do support their protest, ok. Good for both of you. These things are so trivial in the end for those in Christ. I honestly believe both sides are wrong.

Far too often it gives opportunity to the flesh rather than the act of striving with one another to maintain the unity of the Spirit. Why are we biting and devouring one another over what amounts to a piece of cloth when our citizenship is not this country – or even this world? In a world where nearly everything foundational to human existence since the dawn of Creation is not simply being assailed, but openly flayed and exhumed in the public square – we want to focus on flags?

I say all of this, not as some Internet gatekeeper, but as another who can genuinely struggle in remembering the simple truth that we are to be about the business of Kingdom work. We are sojourners and strangers at best, yet at worst, we appear so much like everyone else. We wage war with those whom the Lord has called our brother and sister. After the field has been bloodied, someone inevitably asks, “Where is your brother?” to which we give the trite, muffled answer, “I am not my brother’s keeper.”

How I wish we would adopt grandeur as we go about our generally trivial lives. How I wish we would not only recognize the wonderful gift of God in common grace, but His particular grace. That we would set about on the all-encompassing, all-magnifying, all-glorifying sacrifice of our Savior. On a fundamental level, most of us will live plain, ordinary lives where the most God asks of us is a simple faithfulness to the Scriptures in the midst of a mundane life. Is this not good enough for us?

Tantamount to actually living this out is the recognition that our lives have intended purpose. Our lives have intended purpose because they are not our own. Calvinists ought to recognize this the most – we are not free from the bondage of the will to go and bicker, we are free to magnify Christ as His slave. As we master the art of snark, mocking, and backbiting on the Internet, might I be so bold as to suggest we’ve entered into grave territory?

Might I further suggest we’ve been distracted and asleep for years, to the point where the lie has waltzed over and made its bed with us? I know of some who bite at the bridle as soon as something like this comes up – they’re content in continually mocking another professing believer. They actually make it their goal to be known for this. I say this as one who is firmly convinced mocking actually has a Biblical precedent – yet notice who lady wisdom mocks in Proverbs. Is it one who fears God – even if naively and in much ignorance to the faith?

I’m obviously not stating discussion has no place among Christians. Rather, it seems there are simply some things legitimately worth discussing and some things which present perfect distractions. Sometimes distractions are nice – but they certainly don’t matter in the long run. What most of us do though is placate the sense of need for the things that truly matter because we like to be distracted. Or, we’ve grown to give a head-nod to a Biblical precept, only to freak out when something minimal happens, thus revealing what we truly believe.

It always comes back to sin. I know this. You know this. At what point though will we seek to become known as our brother’s keeper, rather than the older brother routinely annoyed with the “incompetent fledgling” of a younger brother?

This is ultimately the fruit of losing sight of the grand picture. It is the forsaking of gospel truth for social justice. It is the disposition of “enjoying Christian freedom” without respect to the edification of the weaker brother. It is the rejection of tangibly helping our brother and neighbor, but offering our sentiments and prayers. It is the pornographic consumption of our sisters – and offering the tantalizing titillation of immodest dress to our brothers.

Simply stated: it is the pattern of this world as it barrels toward the brethren and seeks to do the work of Satan.

The Christian life is one of continual repentance. All within the church will invariably sin against their brother or sister, yet the idea is that we have a vested interest in pursuing unity. It is not simply a command – it is a means by which we display the wonder of the gospel to a dying world. How in the world have we lost sight of this? Don’t we have better things to do with our lives? If we are truly united by the pure gospel proclaimed in the Scriptures – aren’t there bigger battles?

At the end, everyone will kneel. Not to a flag. Not to a president. Not to a tyrannical ruler – but to the Lord. There won’t be a debate over this; it will simply be a reality for all men. The wicked and redeemed alike shall bow before the righteous Judge of all the earth. In light of this, what have Christians to do with flags and football players taking the knee during the anthem?

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • 92JazzQueen .

    You make a good point about how we should be focused on more important matters. Trump says stuff that gets us easily distracted.

  • W. A. Bess

    The photo of the Cowboys kneeling is an example of the news and how one sided they are. Of the photos they could select they choose the one of them kneeling with no shot of them standing for the National Anthem. If they were professional they would have show’d both but they are so one sided so anti Trump you would think it was all about them. Oh well if you run out of great northeern . . . .

  • Anthony Martinez

    Mr. Gilbert: After contemplating your post I respectfully disagree with the premise of your writing.

    And as a Christian I feel the flag and our country is important. Just this morning I talked with two black NFL players. We had a great discussion. Both were well versed on their cause, were cordial and non-combative. We agreed on the importance of the issue, but disagreed on the means of expressing it. What they do is their business, in this you are correct. But to be honest your post seemed to me mostly a self-rightous and pompous writ.

    As a fellow follower of Christ I still have feelings and allegiances. With regard to the subject of the National Anthem and flag, they are symbols. Not to be idolized, but respected. To me it is a symbol of liberty and freedom that many of all races, religions, and creeds have sacrificed. It is also a symbol of unity. A unity that all Americans should have, regardless of disagreements on other issues. America is not a perfect nation. Never was and never will be. Interesting that of all the multi-cultural nations there are on planet earth, people still want to come to America. When they see the American flag, even foreigners know it stands for liberty and freedom. Ridiculing the flag doesn’t make sense for the oppression cause. In fact, just the opposite is true. The flag guarantees the right to voice opinion, to protest, and ironically even to burn the flag itself.

    It is my opinion that the kneeling is causing great harm. Recently young black 8 year olds playing Pop Warner Football were coerced by their coaches to also kneel and turn their back on the flag. Sad, their young lives have started with contention for the symbol that should unite us.
    Now you may feel that in the big scheme of things, who cares? Well, if you don’t care whether America ceases to be America or not, then so be it.

    So, I disagree. I will voice my opinions cordially and with conviction and allow others to disagree. I do care. Just like I care when I share Christ with an unbeliever or skeptic. I realize there are various methods to present the gospel, correct false concepts of the Bible or doctrine, and present Christ as their only hope….not only for eternal life, but for the abundant life of walking in His Spirit. Each encounter is somewhat different, of course, but you fit the delivery to the person, without sacrificing the eternal message. Yes, this is why we’re here.

    Preparing for the Kingdom is the priority, but we live in a world where viewpoints, bias, and choices are part of our being. To say they are not worthwhile or trivial is childish. If you are saying you can’t have discussions with other Christians about social issues periodically debated without alienation or ill feeling, then perhaps you are in the wrong Christian circle. Or else set some ground rules before you begin.

    • swbarnes2

      Do you really not understand that they are protesting because for too many people, America is not a place of liberty? For many people, America is a place where the cops can harass, and even kill you, and get away with it.

      If Republicans had their way, the only proper way to protest would be to surround a (black) church with torches. Perhaps you agree with the president that many “fine people” properly protest in that manner.

    • Pennybird

      “We agreed on the importance of the issue, but disagreed on the means of expressing it.”

      I’m sure the athletes were grateful to have your input on the proper way to protest. The reason so many Blacks get into hot water with human rights protests is that they go ahead and do it without White approval first. As a White person myself, I can honestly say that a firm but politely worded letter to the latest police department with a shooting of an unarmed Black man on its record would be very effective, and much easier too. That’s my go to advice, anyway.

    • abb3w

      We agreed on the importance of the issue, but disagreed on the means of expressing it.

      …”on”?

      While I apologize if I’m mistaken on this, I’m pretty sure you don’t disagree that their kneeling is a means of expressing it. Rather, it seems much more likely that you disagree with them as to the merit of using that means. Perhaps you think that there are better means; or that this means is somehow sufficiently lacking merit as to be “bad” via an absolute measure.

      Either, however, seems to lead to a more basic question: on what basis do you evaluate how “good” this means is, or how it is “better” than some other? (The former seems effectively a sub-case of the latter, where “good” versus “bad” is isomorphic to “better” or “worse” than some arbitrary additional reference point that may not itself be an option.) This also leads to the question (which if opportunity presents you might find it illuminating to ask) how that compares to the NFL player’s basis.

  • Guthrum

    You are correct that too often the priorities get mixed up and turned around. Most churches are half full or less on any Sunday. That should be a priority.

    • Obscurely

      Maybe one reason our churches are emptying (esp for young adults) is that we’re making church growth a higher priority than justice for the victims of power and privilege?

      • abb3w

        Possibly kinda-sorta.

        From a social psychology perspective, there seem several stages to such (de)conversions: a point of initial doubts, a “seeker” stage of examining the current role and alternatives, and a transition “point” — followed by developing of an alternative role. (See Helen Ebaugh’s “Becoming an Ex”.)

        The Altemeyer and Hunsberger “Amazing Conversions” study seems long in the tooth now nearly two decades on, but still seems the most solid source for empirical data on relative prevalence. While the impression may be a result of survey wording, its data clearly seems to suggest that failure to aid those considered unjustly oppressed seems likely a (but not the most) frequent source for triggering initial doubts. It is possible that where the injustice is felt most personally — a church failing to provide expected emotional or practical support in time of crisis to oneself or one’s closest kith or kin — it might even trigger the final transition; however, the A&H study and my own anecdata suggest that this is not the most common “last straw”.

        This leaves the “seeker” stage. To the extent that such social justice is considered important — and perhaps even considered so due to religious instruction — and to the extent that a Church lags behind other social institutions, it may be a factor that weighs against that Church for seekers. The problem seems not so much that churches are doing historically poorly (although some may be), as that the competition to do good has gotten more skilled.

        Cue quote by Steven Colbert:

        “If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn't help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we've got to acknowledge that He commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit that we just don't want to do it.”

        So, yeah, this seems likely a factor.

        • Obscurely

          LOVE your Colbert quote! expresses much better what I was trying to say …

  • Donalbain

    Not to a tyrannical ruler – but to the Lord.

    You say potato, I say potato

  • Evermyrtle

    The church is not an “it”! It is a group of, hopefully, believers in GOD and HIS SON JESUS CHRIST, worshiping by singing praises to THEM, teaching and and listening to HIS WORD.

    Of course, it is understood, that is not always the way, it is. I believe there are some true “CHRISTIAN CHURCHES’ , even though the church is one of, the most abused, connection to GOD and HIS SON that we have, today! Many times lies and false, twisted commandments are taught there; fake love, sometimes is very present, the antichrist is working hard, there to destroy all that is Christian, in many churches! Still there are too many who want to be recognized as top leaders, which can lead the treatment of “GOD’S HOUSE” to be a total disgrace in far, too many instances!!

    • Obscurely

      Not sure if you’re saying this post is an example of “fake love,” or false Christian teaching?

  • Kathy Ruth

    I respectfully disagree. Standing (or kneeling) in protest of those who would rob us of our freedoms is NOT trivial!

    • James

      Except that isn’t what they’re doing. They are exercising their First Amendment right to protest unequal treatment.

  • William AndAnn Akers

    Standing or kneeling, really now are we going to punish someone with jail or loss of employment over this nonsense? In Germany during the Second World War giving the Nazi salute war required by law.Do we really want to go there with this?

  • cstump

    If you surrender on something as straight forward as respect for your country, flag and veterans you will not be much good for anything else. I’m not interested in a cowardly religion.

    • Paperboy_73

      None of which are demanded by your religion.

      You may see them as human virtues, but don’t mistake them for religious ones.

  • My Friendly Atheist disqus acc

    “These things are so trivial in the end for those in Christ. I honestly believe both sides are wrong.”

    Ahh yes, leave it to an evangelical to summarily dismiss black americans cry for equal treatment by law enforcement as “trivia” and “wrong”. Something something, Jesus ‘doesn’t see race so stop complaining’ something something, ‘Jesus says stop being an uppity negro’, something something ‘we’re not racist but we don’t care’.

    • Obscurely

      It’s been reported that 80% of evangelicals voted for Trump — that astounds and dismays me as a pastor, but I hope it at least was only 80% of those who actually voted, and surely it also doesn’t include non-white evangelicals?

    • Gilsongraybert

      Perhaps…no, you’ve definitely missed the point here.

      • My Friendly Atheist disqus acc

        Well seeing how you spent 12 paragraphs to make the point that “This is ultimately the fruit of losing sight of the grand picture. It is the forsaking of gospel truth for social justice.” I think my initial comments fit.

        See “Social Justice” for non-white evangelicals actually means a society where black people don’t get shot by the police for things white people don’t. It means getting a call back for a job even though you have a black sounding name. It means not finding nooses hanging on your dorm in the morning. “Social Justice” means black Americans can sit at any lunch counter they want. Apparently working and protesting for those things is a BAD (or at least “trivial”) thing for you. As you “I honestly believe both sides are wrong.”

        It’s ironic that you say ‘It is the rejection of tangibly helping our brother and neighbor, but offering our sentiments and prayers.” when in fact you snub your noose at movements that are asking for “tangible” actions to be taken on the issue of race in this country, in favor of telling people having good sentiments and prayers will fix it instead.

        • Gilsongraybert

          You keep painting these broad brush strokes as if I and other “white evangelicals” are the only ones expressing doubts on a systemic racism in this country – yet many of my black brothers and sisters also express concerns about the narrative and the ties it has to agendas contra-Christianity.

          Black Americans can sit wherever they please; they do have equal rights as citizens. And for the things that are so shameful, like the example of a noose hanging in a dorm room – I am hard pressed to find a genuine Christian who doesn’t speak out against that.

          With the narrative on police shootings, I’m sorry, but the statistics are not favorable to suggest that there is a conspiratorial, systemic issue at hand. This is not to say all police shootings are valid or that there is no corruption in the system – they simply aren’t and there definitely is. I’m not telling anyone to “shut up” – I’m advocating both sides turn and repent before the living God because the implications of that reach into every aspect of life.

          No one denies racism’s ugly history or sense there is a complete lack of it today. Rather, the idea is rooted in the gospel actually being the real, lasting solution and that mankind’s primary need is salvation. The gospel is likewise the solution to corruption in systems and the powers that be. Yet it is also the solution to literally every issue of sin in this country. You disagree with that premise so it is natural to disagree with the conclusion – but don’t paint it as if the only ones holding such a position are white and evangelical.

          It’s also quite asinine to say the nature of aid I and others provide to people is lacking. Ultimately, the religious give the most toward relief and social issues than any other demographic. Surprise, surprise – we give both money and prayers, not just rants from the safe confines of the Internet.

          http://www.philanthropyroundtable.org/almanac/statistics/

          Yet we also have concerns with blind nationalism in all of this, hence me saying both sides are wrong. The church comes long before the nation. In the end, what I’m tying together is something with a particular focus to the church. The church will outlast civilization and breaks all social/political barriers down, that is, if we actually practice what it teaches.

          Christianity 101 is that we can demonstrate this gospel by our love for one another. Believe it or not, that also deals with how we speak to one another.

          • abb3w

            Rather, the idea is rooted in the gospel actually being the real, lasting solution and that mankind’s primary need is salvation

            Sorry, “the idea”? It’s not clear which idea you’re referring to. From contextual position, the reference would seem to be “the idea of racism”, but given the article that seems so oddly damning indictment of American Christianity as to lead me to presume it almost certainly must be wrong.

            You disagree with that premise

            At the least, it seems insufficiently validated by so-far observed empirical outcomes.

            However, my training is as an engineer, which may bias my basis of evaluation.

            The church will outlast civilization and breaks all social/political barriers down, that is, if we actually practice what it teaches.

            Feed the hungry, quench the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the harborless…

            Isn’t helping those oppressed by evil in guise of authority encompassed somewhere between “release the confined” and “aid the afflicted”?

  • Obscurely

    As a pastor I find my spiritual sympathy for the kneelers as part of my “kneeling to the Lord” as you put it — and if we separate social justice from the Gospel, then we haven’t followed Jesus’ own frequent example in the gospel accounts (and the whole Bible for that matter) … recently I sent a sent the letter below to an old friend in which I tried to make this crucial connection in Christian discipleship …

    ———————————

    I’ve slept on your ‘civic duty’ argument to stand in honor of the flag and I find myself agreeing with it today — but to be honest with an old friend I also find within myself a strong sympathy for the kneelers and their cause …

    Perhaps I’ve shared with you before there’s an American flag right behind my pulpit … I’m sure no one notices it as I preach but each time I move it to the other side of the front of the church, it keeps mysteriously moving back behind my pulpit — probably one of our veterans feels it deserves a place of honor in any church … to avoid offending him and others I’ve decided to fly that ‘higher helicopter’ we talk about and let the flag stay behind me …

    Why would I remove the US flag from our church if I could do it without dividing the congregation? … the answer should be an easy one for committed Christians, but for many it isn’t — “Jesus is Lord,” ergo ‘flag and country’ are manifestly not … as someone who for seven years now has preached the Gospel in its undeniable bias for the victims of power and privilege, I find it my higher Christian duty to honor the hope of those victims above even the civic sacrifices and ideals the flag represents … yes, I will stand during the anthem and at the same time stand with Jesus and the kneelers in their silent cry for justice …

    And so dear friend, in the matter of those kneeling in prayer for justice during the flag’s anthem, my question for you is the same one I often ask my congregation from the pulpit on any and every question of our troubled day — how is your faith expressing the Good News of God for the oppressed and disinherited?

    • Gilsongraybert

      Not trivializing those who kneel, merely commenting on the division within the church over what might appear to be nationalism. Ultimately, the gospel – not the flag, breaks down racial barriers. We can get into debates about a systemic oppression, but people of all demographics land differently (not just white, Trump voters). The problem I have is in fellow black Christians calling other black Christians “Uncle Tom” – or whatever race being labeled as racist/Marxist for their conviction on the matter. Regardless of one’s conviction, it is an abundantly clear teaching from Scripture that the church is one new man, ethnicity is something to be celebrated, the brethren are to love one another and abide in truth, and they are not to slander. Far too often, both sides devolve into these things, leaving their brothers along the way in favor of nationalism or whatever other thing they wish to pledge fidelity to. That’s the truly sad thing here – especially when we see without question the full-frontal attack on biblical values across the board.

      • Obscurely

        Great commentary, brother — so I take it you’re in agreement with me that the Gospel is on the side of the kneelers?

        • Gilsongraybert

          I think the gospel is on the side of the gospel. The gospel isn’t social justice – as important as that is.

    • Pennybird

      If your congregants would be angry for you removing the flag, they might be Americans before they are Christians. They might be conservative before they are American. Nothing wrong with any of that, if that’s their choice, but it is disingenuous for them to claim otherwise.

      • Obscurely

        I guess it’s ultimately my lack of faith in their faith? plus I need the job 🙂

  • axelbeingcivil

    This is a pretty unChristian view of things. You have a duty to provide justice. Christ did not merely shrug at the worldly suffering of those around Him; He went out, met it, and opposed it. He called out the rich who shun their duty to the poor; lambasted the powerful who refused to do their duty; shook the complacent from their seat. Your tutting at protest is ignoring that it is your duty to protest the wrong things in the world. These people, risking their careers to protest violence and suffering and bigotry, are acting far more Christ-like than you, even if you feel their actions are misguided.

    And, for the record, “modesty” is relative. In earlier times, showing ankles was titillating. It’s up to you to adjust your expectations and remember that a woman is a person, not on her to try and anticipate whatever arcane dress code you’ve concocted that will prevent you from drowning in lasciviousness and lust.

  • swbarnes2

    May I suggest that if millions of Christians do think it is so absolutely vital to refuse to allow even the mildest criticism of the country for any injustice, no matter how heinous…well, maybe then blind worship of the powers that be, no matter how corrupt and inhumane, really does “matter” to a large chunk of Christianity.

    It really isn’t your place to tell someone who, say, believes the Nicene creed and thinks the Jesus died to redeem them from their sins that any disagreement with what you think is central to Christianity is unchristian.

    You may not like that worship of hierarchy and an unshakeable belief that “might makes right” is a good moral foundation is Christian, but empirically, you can’t say that it’s not.

  • Obscurely

    Here’s a more radically Christian perspective (from Brian Zahnd) on the anthem kneeling, one I find deeply rooted in the New Testament’s moral imperative for the disinherited …

    “I’m writing my postcards from Babylon calling on Christians tangled up in red, white, and blue to renounce the idolatry of American civil religion. America is not an object of reverence — it’s just the latest in a long line of here-today, gone-tomorrow empires. I can love America like I love hamburgers and rock ‘n’ roll, but I can’t love America like I love Jesus. America as my residence within this world is fine, but America as the savior of the world is heresy. The gospel of the American dream is not the gospel of Jesus Christ. They are antithetical to one another. It’s either the story of Jesus that gives meaning to life or the story of America that gives meaning to life, but it’s not both. Lincoln, Reagan, Clinton, Bush, and all the rest can claim America is the “last best hope of earth,” but it’s not true. That’s just the sort of thing that empires say; but it’s also the sort of thing Christians must never say.

    “America is many things. It’s a country, a culture, an empire, and a religion. As a country and culture America can often be respected, admired, and celebrated. But as an empire and religion, America is a rival to Christ. One of the reasons that Christian discipleship is so difficult in America is that we are trying to make disciples of people who are already thoroughly committed to a rival religion. You can either operate under a governing philosophy of America first or you can seek first the kingdom of God, but you can’t do both. To claim otherwise is to either tacitly or explicitly claim that Christ is a servant of the American cause. But as Karl Barth (who knew a thing or two about the dangers of Christian nationalism) taught us, Christ cannot serve some other cause, Christ can only rule.”