Listening to Understand
Pastor Scott Sauls calls people to behave as followers of Christ, especially when we differ. Sauls shares timely advice about humbly engaging with those who don't hold our views. Only then can we seek to understand the other person's position.
About the Guest
Pastor Scott Sauls calls people to behave as followers of Christ, especially when we differ.
Listening to Understand
Bob: It’s important on a day like today—and for that matter, on any day—for us to remember that we are, first of all, citizens of the kingdom of heaven and representatives of Jesus Christ. Scott Sauls says we ought to keep that in mind as we have conversations with others today.
Scott: Who do we get contentious with? Who should we be willing to offend? I think in some ways—in sort of modern contemporary Christian America—it seems that in many instances, the Pharisees might actually be really attracted to the way we do our ministries; and the tax collectors and the prostitutes and sinners might feel completely bruised by it. Wherever that is the case, we need to take a serious look at the way we’re doing things; because—if the kinds of people who were upset with Jesus are happy with us, and the kinds of people who are happy with Jesus are upset with us—we’re probably more pharisaical than gospel.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, November 9th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. What matters more than who won yesterday’s election is how you and I represent the King who is eternal in His reign. We’ll talk more about that today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Wednesday edition. It occurs to me that there are some of our listeners today who are happy with the outcome of yesterday’s election—
Dennis: —and some who aren’t.
Bob: —and probably some who weren’t going to be happy no matter how this turned out today. Ultimately, our sense of happiness, or joy, or contentment, or peace—all of that is not wrapped up in what happened yesterday.
Dennis: Yes; and I’ve now been through a number of election cycles. The conclusion that I’m coming to, increasingly, is—God wants to remind us of where our hope is. He just wants to have a heart check, to go: “Are you placing your hope in who’s in the White House, and who controls the House, or who is in charge at the Supreme Court? Where is your hope?”
I know this—the Bible teaches that God is in charge, and He knows what He’s doing. I think He’s always trying to teach us something, whether our candidate won or lost / whether we’re at odds with other people who believe differently than we did. We’re called to represent the King of kings and be citizens of heaven.
Bob: Well, and it’s not that you’re suggesting that days like yesterday don’t matter or that we shouldn’t be engaged or involved. These are important discussions that we have and important issues that are being addressed.
Dennis: And ones that we need to be training our children in knowing how to think.
Our children need to be trained to think, biblically, and to vote.
Bob: The sad thing is that there have been Christians who have been on opposite sides of issues over the last several months. There have been relationships that have been lost because of political discourse.
Dennis: That’s exactly right, and I’m glad you’re finally admitting that you are—
Bob: That I was wrong and you were right? [Laughter] We’ll have that discussion later; okay? [Laughter]
Dennis: Our listeners now want to know [Laughter]: “What’s the rest of the story?” You know what? You’ll have to wait to read Bob’s memoirs.
Bob: You’ll have to wait till heaven on that one, I think. [Laughter]
Dennis: Well, we have a guest today who’s going to help straighten it all out and really challenge us with a biblical way of thinking. Scott Sauls joins us again on FamilyLife Today. Scott, welcome back.
Scott: Thanks for having me.
Dennis: Scott is pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tennessee.
He worked for a number of years with Tim Keller—taught him everything he knows. That’s why Tim is successful today up there in New York City. I’m kidding, of course, about that, so—
Bob: We’ll make sure to send this to Tim.
Dennis: If Tim’s listening, he probably wouldn’t appreciate that.
Scott: It goes the other way around.
Dennis: Yes; for sure. You tell the story in your book about an encounter you had with a homeless lady—I think it was outside a bagel shop?
Dennis: I was right there with you—I mean, I was feeling some of the same things you were. Share that story, because it illustrates what I think your book is all about.
Scott: You’re referring to an incident that happened when I was walking down Broadway. As is usually the case, there was a woman sitting outside a bagel shop. She asked me if I would buy her some food. I said: “Well, of course, I’d be happy to. I’ll go into this bagel shop here. What kind of bagel do you want, and what do you want on it, and what would you like to drink?”
She asked me if I could get her some egg salad instead of a bagel. I said to her, externally, “Well, of course”; but inside, I felt maybe a little bit irritated; because the egg salad cost a lot more than the bagel did—and just sort of had this arrogant, “Here I am, offering to help; and ‘Beggars can’t be choosers.’”
I think that was the big problem—beggars should be able to be choosers, because beggars have as much dignity and the image of God in them as anybody else. The only reason why I’m in a position of being able to buy a bagel has a lot more to do with the conditions in which I was born than it does my hard work and the opportunity that was offered to me that was probably not offered to her in her younger years.
I got the egg salad. She graciously received the breakfast and said: “You know, I’m sorry, sir. I know that this is a lot more expensive than a bagel; but my teeth are completely damaged, and it’s real painful for me to chew on anything.”
You know, it was in that moment that I felt like: “The poor person in this conversation right now is me. I’m kind of like the priest and the Levite, walking by on the other side, in the good Samaritan parable, in that moment, just having a really cold heart.” It really was one of those occasions that helped open my eyes to the reality that there’s a story behind every messy situation. You know, that woman had a story that led her to where she was on the side of the streets. It just reminded me how much I need the gospel and how much I need Jesus to have such a cold heart in that moment. But that was a really formative experience for me.
Dennis: You really are calling people to refresh and reset being a follower of Jesus Christ—and think about it, holistically, as they face all kinds of issues—especially as we can tend to take sides about all kinds of political, moral / all kinds of issues in our culture today that really do want to paint Christians into a corner.
When did you start becoming tired of taking sides? What was it? Was there an incident, or was it just the weariness of facing it over, and over, and over again?
Scott: I think the theme emerged more positively than that; because I came into a church, a few years ago, that was looking for revitalization and renewal. It was a little bit older at the time, and they wanted me to come in and help them sort of bridge the gap with younger generations and that sort of thing. Part of that sort of transformational process in the church included a lot of conversations, and a lot of preaching, and a lot of bringing people together around differences between generations—which led to other forms of diversity starting to come into our midst—not just generationally, but economic diversity and political diversity.
It just became kind of an emerging theme of the beauty of the diversity in the body of Christ that Christ came to create—where, in the end, it will be every nation, every tribe, every tongue, every generation—before the throne of God together. That theme of reconciliation and unity around the gospel, including across the lines of difference, became really a rally call for our community and for our church in the way that we were going to do things.
Bob: I think the thing that all of us wrestle with is when we do have the occasion—whether it’s with a family member, a friend, a co-worker—you sit down with somebody and it becomes pretty clear, right away, that you feel strongly about things from one perspective; and the person you’re sitting across the table from feels equally strong about the opposite position. That puts you in at a place, where you go, “Do we have anything in common, and can we have a relationship?”
You sat down with a pastor, years ago, who came at a lot of issues from a completely different perspective than you had. You wondered whether there was any way to get to common ground in the midst of that; didn’t you?
Scott: Yes. We can’t both be right, and we can’t both be wrong right?
Scott: This was an unfortunate and also, in the best sort of way, life-changing conversation for me. It was several years ago. This one guy on the team just kept getting under my skin, and I kept getting under his. We went out and just talked about our lives and our differences, and we ended up in a shouting match.
A couple days later, he came into my office and he said: “Bottom line is—I know I hurt you the other night, and you hurt me. I’m going to own my part of that, and I’m going to ask your forgiveness. I just need to look at you and tell you that I believe for you, just as I believe for myself, Philippians 1:6—I’m confident that ‘He who began a good work in you,’ Scott, ‘is going to be faithful to complete it.’ Who am I to decide where you should be in your process toward that ultimate destination?”
Then he said: “You and I”—I love this / I’ve used this illustration a lot since—he says: “You and I are a lot like sandpaper. You take two pieces of gritty sandpaper, and you rub them together, and it turns up the heat—it feels like fingernails against a chalkboard—but what happens to both of those pieces of sandpaper after awhile? When you rub them together, they both become smoother.”
That was actually a really formative conversation for me of the value of differences in tension inside the body of Christ. We so often, especially in the kind of individualistic American context, we hit the “eject” button on each other a lot more quickly than we should. Maybe, we ought to move toward those more tense relationships that include significant differences to see what we might actually learn from the perspective of the other person.
Bob: So if you’re in that conversation today—you knew you were going out, sitting across the table from somebody who has different theological beliefs, has different political beliefs, different cultural beliefs—and you knew there was potential for heat to be generated in your conversation, how would you approach it differently today than you did when you and your friend went out years ago?
Scott: Well, I don’t know how I would approach it differently, but I’ll tell you how I would want to approach it differently. [Laughter] I would want to approach it with much more of a posture of humility and much less of a defensive posture. We go into conversations like that—and our main priority is to be understood— when maybe the best pathway to us being understood is to seek, first, to understand.
Dennis: I like the way you answered Bob’s question when you said, “Well, I’m not sure what I would do; I know what I wish I would do in that situation.”
I’m thinking of a conflict I had with another person, a number of years ago, where I knew I was walking into a conflict. I purposely humbled myself, at the beginning of that conversation, which gave us the chance—because if I walked in “bowed-up”—ready to argue again or ready to prove my point that I was right—there is virtually no chance of being understood or understanding the other person.
Humility is really absolutely important—to remember who you are, that you’re made in the image of God, you’re dealing with another image-bearer, and you need to treat them with kindness and respect.
Bob: So I have to ask you about verses that say, “Contend earnestly for the faith once for all delivered to the saints,” and “Beware of the false teachers,” and call them out and expose them.
When we’re talking about common ground and middle ground, there are some things that there’s no common ground on; right?
Scott: That is correct. I think—if we look at the dynamic between Jesus and the Pharisees—that becomes quite clear. I think it is Matthew 23, where He starts calling names; right?
Scott: You hear things Jesus sort of pulled out—you know, “You brood of vipers…”—like He has this whole arsenal that He’s been holding inside until that very moment.
I think the important question there is: “Whom do we get contentious with? Whom should we be willing to offend?” I think, in some ways, we’ve gotten it in the reverse in modern, contemporary Christian America. It seems that, in many instances, the Pharisees might actually be really attracted to the way we do our ministries; and the tax collectors, and the prostitutes, and sinners might feel completely bruised by it.
Wherever that is the case, we need to take a serious look at the way we’re doing things; because—if the kinds of people who were upset with Jesus are happy with us, and the kinds of people who were happy with Jesus are upset with us—we are probably more pharisaical than gospel.
You know—the other thing too—I think 1 Corinthians 5 is really instructive here, where Paul is very fiercely confronting a sexual situation in the church of Corinth. I think the biggest issue in that church was—even more than the sexual immorality—was the flippancy / people weren’t confronting this. He’s like, “You need to be all over this,”—you know—“and there need to be consequences of this so you can rescue this guy’s soul.” He says, “Don’t even eat with such a man.”
Then he goes on to say: “I’m not at all talking about people who aren’t in the church. I’m not at all talking about people who don’t identify as followers of Jesus, who are involved in sexual immorality. God is the judge of those on the outside.”
In other words: “Pursue friendship with people who don’t identify with Christianity; and then those who do, let’s hold each other accountable to live in line with the faith that we profess.”
Dennis: Let’s talk about those, though, who are growing up in our household—and who have been trained to think biblically—and are listening to the culture and changing their views on some of the most basic issues that the Bible teaches about, like marriage being between a man and a woman. What would you say to the parents, who are dealing with a teenage son or daughter or perhaps a young adult son or daughter, who have kind of caved in to the culture around marriage being okay between two people of the same sex?
Scott: I would say a couple of things. I would first ask a question: “Who was the first one to cave in to a culture?” because I think a lot of Christians, over the age of 45, caved in to a pretty legalistic church culture.
I think the fruit of the ’90s moral majority—so-called Moral Majority Movement—sort of speaks for itself—that a lot of the consternation and rage against Christianity right now, and the way that public Christianity is being sidelined, is largely because of how Christians severely fumbled the way to be in relationship with sexually-broken people.
Dennis: In other words, a segment of Christianity, who were finger-pointing, judgmental—
Scott: Yes; yes—9/11 happened and a famous Christian pastor pointed his finger into a national TV camera and said, “It’s the gays’ fault.” He named all these different kinds of secular organizations and groups of people, that didn’t identify as Christians, and blamed them for something that happened from the other side of the world. There was a real scolding posture, and you never see this with Jesus.
We have a lot of encounters between Jesus and sexually-unorthodox people.
How many instances on record do we have of Him scolding somebody who is not abiding by the one man/one woman, inside of marriage, sexual ethic? We don’t have any record of that; but we have Him relating very tenderly, and thoughtfully, and in a very nuanced way. I think we also need to ask the question, “How many people do we know who have the testimony, ‘I fell in love with Jesus because a Christian or a group of Christians scolded me because of my ethics’?” I’ve been a Christian for almost 30 years. I’ve never met a single person with that story.
I’ve met a lot of people with the story of, “I came out of addiction…” “I came out of sexual brokenness…” “I came out of anger and arrogance, because Christians loved me,” “…because they invested in me, and they treated me with dignity.” I can count thousands of stories like that.
I think we have to admit that to the next generation and say: “We really blew it. We did not, as a whole, represent Jesus Christ in the way that Jesus Christ represents Himself.” We have to own that.
Dennis: So a parent should repent at the point he—
Scott: That’s the first thing we need to do.
Dennis: Then what do they do?
Scott: I was reading something yesterday—I can’t remember who wrote it—but they were talking about how there’s sort of this double-edged sword with particularly the millennial generation, where there’s this real energy in millennials behind justice efforts—like the poor, and the marginalized, and ethnic minorities, and such—which is awesome / it’s all biblical stuff. But the concern that was shared was that most millennials aren’t getting these ideas from the Bible itself. In other words, biblical illiteracy is at an all-time high with the generations under the age of 45.
I think the challenge for us, as parents, is: “How do we move into that and affirm the things that actually are biblical?”—and maybe—“Your ideas, as my daughter, about poverty or about caring for aliens, and strangers, and refugees, or cross-racial relationships and reconciliation—those are thoroughly biblical things that our generation and the generation before us completely missed.”
In a way, this generation is a biblical corrective for us, but—you know, the real question is, “How do the two generations come together and get into the Bible together?”
The other question is: “How do we persuade our kids that the Bible is a legitimate source?” because the culture around us is now saying that it’s an illegitimate source. Never has Western culture been as bold in sort of speaking about the Bible as a non-credible source.
We have a big challenge, I think, in front of us; but—
Bob: At the end of the day, the authority of Scripture, here, is a bedrock issue—that until we settle that—we’re just going to have a lot of conversations, going back and forth, about, “Well, I think this,” “Well, I think that.” When you come down to say: “It doesn’t matter what I think. It matters what God thinks, and Scripture is our way to determine that.” Now, at least, we have a reference point from which we can have dialogue.
Dennis: And entering into those conversations, as we talked about earlier, with humility, with some repentance of those matters that we’ve not handled rightly and maybe our kids are doing a better job of handling; but then—ultimately, you just exhorted us to do here, Scott—ultimately moving to the true authority on matters of morality and justice and getting God’s mind on what He thinks about these social issues of our day, and thinking from Scripture rather than to the Scripture. That’s a challenge with some millennials.
Bob: Yes. So listen to the chapters in Jesus Outside the Lines:
Red State or Blue State?
For the Unborn or for the Poor?
Personal Faith or Institutional Church?
Money Guilt or Money Greed?
Accountability or Compassion?
Hypocrite or Work in Progress?
Chastity or Sexual Freedom?
Hope or Realism?
Self-Esteem or God-Esteem?
I mean, these are good subjects with which to wrestle. I’d just encourage listeners to get a copy of Scott’s book, Jesus Outside the Lines, and start the dialogue.
Dennis: And maybe what you do, as a parent, is give the book first to your son or daughter and say: “Why don’t you read the first couple of chapters and underline statements in here that you agree with or don’t agree with? I’ll get it / I’ll read it and do the same, and then let’s grab a cup of coffee. Let’s have a reasonable conversation together.”
Bob: You can order copies from us, here at FamilyLife Today. Go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com. The book is called Jesus Outside the Lines: A Way Forward for Those Who Are Tired of Taking Sides. Order, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call to order at 1-800-FL-TODAY—1-800-358-6329.
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Now, tomorrow, we have a couple of newlyweds who are going to be joining us. In fact, this weekend, our friends Nancy and Robert Wolgemuth celebrate their first anniversary as husband and wife. Some of you know Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth from her radio program, Revive Our Hearts. She and Robert were married a year ago this week. We’re going to catch up with them and find out about how the first year of marriage has been for them. I hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Justin Adams, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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