Be cautious of the crowd.
This thought came to me the other day as I was watching tempers flare and cities burn across the country, including my beloved hometown.
Lives and livelihoods have been destroyed. Companies and individuals have been “canceled” and silenced. Advocates have been shouting, shaming, and slandering.
It’s been devastating and depressing to watch. And, honestly, I’ve been rocked and confused to my core these last couple weeks.
I cried after seeing just a few seconds of George Floyd suffering on camera. It’s a terrible thing that happened. At the same time, my heart hurts as I witness the hate directed toward our law enforcement officers. I’m married to one. It seems as though one move, even one word, and his motives could be labeled and our lives ruined.
What has bothered me most is what appears to be the inability for any civilized discussion or disagreement with any part of the dominate narrative that simplistically screams: black people are oppressed and white people, especially police, are the problem.
The same day I had the “be cautious of the crowd” thought, I felt prompted to pick up Run with the Horses by Eugene Peterson (one of the most impactful books I’ve read). I turned to chapter 11 and read these words:
Crowds lie. The more people, the less truth … The engagement of a majority of people in a certain moral behavior is set forth as evidence of its legitimacy. Approval by the masses is accreditation. But a rudimentary knowledge of history corroborated by a few moments of personal reflection will convince us that truth is not statistical and that crowds are more often foolish than wise. In crowds the truth is flattened to fit a slogan. Not only the truth that is spoken but the truth that is lived is reduced and distorted by the crowd.Eugene Peterson
Peterson is building up to make a point about the prophet Jeremiah, a man of God who moved among crowds on city streets yet remained unmoved in his message and values. “Jeremiah did not commission a public opinion survey to find out what the Jerusalem crowds wanted to hear about God,” Peterson writes. Instead, Jeremiah’s “spiritual intensity and prophetic passion set him apart.”
(Speaking of prophetic passion, I recommend checking out Monique Duson and the Center for Biblical Unity. Her recent content has been incredibly helpful, and I believe God is working through her powerfully in this polarizing cultural moment.)
What I’m seeing and sensing right now is sinister and subtle. It’s sweeping across culture like a freight train and starting to consume the church. It’s the infiltration of this cultural narrative into the church that’s especially concerning to me.
I’m seeing prominent pastors and ministry leaders, local and national, (those I’ve personally looked up to) who appear to be preaching a gospel centered on race, social justice, and the BLM movement.
Let me be clear. Racism is about partiality, and it’s a sin. Likewise, the Lord loves justice (Isa. 61:8). Yet how are we defining racism and justice? We must be sure our definitions align with biblical truth and not divisive rhetoric.
Here’s a passage that reads like front page news:
There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.2 Timothy 3:1-5
Commenting on this passage, Dallas Willard writes, “Who does not know that such behavior, if not approved outright, is excused or even justified by clever psychological, legal, and moral maneuvers, often reciting elevated ‘principles.’”
What we see playing out right now is straight from Scripture. Jesus himself warned of an increase in lawlessness in the last days (see Matt. 24). He also encouraged his disciples to stand firm to the end.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, and especially pastors with a divine call to shepherd the flock, let’s be humble, seek the Lord, listen to the Spirit, repent, forgive, and remember that there’s a better way.
We cannot go with the flow of culture. We cannot bow to the crowd.
For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.2 Corinthians 10:3-4
As Christians, our weapons are supernatural and come in the form of faith, prayer, love, Scripture, and the Holy Spirit. Paul in Ephesians 6:12 reminds us that we aren’t battling against flesh and blood. People, whatever their race, are not the enemy. Rather, this is a spiritual war against the powers of darkness in our world.
We cannot fight the forces of evil in our own strength. Our armor comes from our character — a character that’s being formed in the image of Christ, resulting in the fruit of the Spirit (see Gal. 5:22-23).
The prophet Jeremiah captured our condition perfectly when he said, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”
I’m confident that many of us are feeling fatigued and tired of all the chaos that so painfully characterizes our culture (and even parts of the church) right now. I know I am.
I think we all want to help in some way and contribute to the common good. I suggest that step one begins by looking inside and acknowledging that it’s all human hearts (my heart, your heart) that are diagnosed in Jeremiah 17:9.
We’re all sinners capable, in our ruined states, of committing the worst kind of evil. If God gave us what we deserve, we’d be dead on the spot. And that’s why Jesus came to earth, his eyes set on the cross. He took our place and received God’s just and holy wrath. He beat sin and death and he’s reigning at the right hand of God right now. We can rest in his finished work.
So, again … It starts with your heart, not your skin.
I know, I know. It’s not a sexy statement. Perhaps it appears more attractive to follow the social justice warriors and work, work, work (in your human strength) to appease the crowd, abide by the “rules,” read all the books, and prove your “righteousness.” Where does it end?
We all want to do the right thing. We want to love our neighbors well. Our ticket to action, to true and lasting change, starts with our own transformation from the inside. God wants to work in you so his love and mercy can flow through you.
Let’s dare to open our hearts so God can do a deep work. Let’s resolve to fix our minds on the unchangeable, timeless truth of God’s Word.
If you’re feeling stuck or unsure in any way, I encourage you to download a free copy of my new study—Heart Work: 6 Days to Spark Spiritual Growth. It’s designed to be a self-led study that you can finish in less than a week.
I publish this post, which is imperfect to be sure, in love and with conviction. I’m praying that God would relent and forgive us as we turn back to him.