• johned@aibi.ph

The Rational Pragmatic Christian Activist

The excesses of the Holy Roman Empire and the Roman Catholic Church led Protestants and especially those who were “non-conformists” such as Baptists, Methodists, Mennonites and Quakers to reject involvement in politics and to argue for a total separation of church and state. On the whole the church focused on morality and theology and worship and perhaps only in health and education did it make much impact on daily life. Late in the nineteenth century  through most of the twentieth century the battle against liberalism and various theological controversies consumed much of the energy of the church. Faith became internal and theological, mental and at times emotional, but rarely practical and powerful.

However this retreat from political life and practical concern has now gone to almost as great an extreme in its direction as the power mad papacy of the Middle Ages took it in the other direction. We have avoided power and avoided conflict and avoided speaking to business and political leaders in our communities.  Now we are powerless and discarded or treated as a “voting segment” to be placated a little with a few phrases at election time. We are not seen as a source of wisdom and practical and useful suggestions for the life of the realm. At best we are a “source of moral values” for young people. However we are not allowed to be a source of moral values for politicians! We have gone from the harlot church to the Cinderella church.

            This would not be so bad except now the world desperately needs us. We are at a crisis that requires the Kingdom and its values and which will not be solved by science and technology. The problem of millions of angry radicalized people in dozens of countries is not a technological problem; it’s a spiritual and personal problem that only the Church can truly fix. And we have no power and little idea of how to acquire power. We are waiting for Prince Charming. We need our political power back, in a redeemed form, as political power that is used honestly and wisely and well, if we are to be transformational. Yet we have been going so long in one direction that now all thoughts of power seem strange and we have invented the logic of the helpless and oppressed, we have a thinking that is now so impractical and other-worldly that it cannot take hold of reality in strong and useful ways.  Before we can hope to achieve justice and wield power on God’s behalf we must think justly and understand power.

This chapter will be quite unlike most of the rest of the book and will deal with achieving a logical and masterful mind that understands justice and can transform communities. This is a chapter about you and your own quest to become a just and transformational individual. Much of it is from other material that I have written.

Justice and The Objective And Masterful Mind

            Justice depends on an objective mind. The Scriptural injunction for a judge is that the judge be impartial. (Leviticus 19:15 NKJV)  'You shall do no injustice in judgment. You shall not be partial to the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty. In righteousness you shall judge your neighbor. Thus there is no role for sentiment in the actual application of justice. No-one can trust a judge that will let someone off because they cry or because they come from a poor family. Likewise no-one will trust a judge who is overawed by the rich and mighty and lets them escape.

 People look to leaders to first of all be strong and fair, after that the leader can, from time to time be merciful. The ability to be strong and fair is foundational and without it no-one will trust us with real power for long. People will not live under a chaotic and sentimental ruler. Here in the Philippines the lack of objectivity of former President Estrada led to his overthrow after less than two years in government. His kind heart and sentimental nature won him many votes but when that same kind heart built palaces for his six mistresses and gave away the nations superannuation fund to his cronies, then people were outraged. He was seen as unfit to rule because he followed his heart. Similarly in Australia the sentimental and kind Labor opposition leader Kim Beazley lost the last election (which many say he should have won) because he lacked objectivity and resolve in dealing with people smuggling into Australia.

            Evangelical Christianity has overemphasized mercy and grace and sentiment and emotion and spiritual feeling to the point where we have no “ticker”, no ability to tackle the tough situations wisely and well. We are often “all mush” and cannot bring even our churches into line let alone deal with globalization or terrorism. We are out of balance. We need to learn to be nice and kind to the broken and to the hurting and as tough as nails with the ruthless and predatory. We desperately need to rediscover the objective mind and a whole neglected swathe of virtues such as strength, courage, dignity, wisdom, objectivity, discernment, justice, nobility, incorruptibility, integrity, and so forth. If we want power we will have to have the virtues that power requires.

            The world will not roll over and change just because you are nice. Being nice has limited utility. Joshua was not told “go into Canaan and be nice and they will all agree with you”. Yet that is not too dissimilar to what many pastors tell their congregations. The real world out there has a deep love of sin and a strong desire to go on sinning and being nice has little impact. Rather, God told Joshua “be strong and courageous” because he saw Israel as having many battles ahead. We need a real, strong and courageous faith that will operate in the real world. We need to go beyond the Desiderata and Footprints and rediscover ‘A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”.

            If we are to rediscover the virtues of leadership such as strength, dignity, and justice; then we need to move from a merely subjective and pietistic faith; to a faith that incorporates and develops the objective mind. We need to develop a faith that can sum up life’s situations judiciously and apply the Scripture to them. We need to move beyond being satisfied with our doctrines and with our spiritual feelings - to being satisfied with our judgments of life, and the fruit of our actions. We need to find our way out of the powerless muddle to a rational, objective, pragmatic and solution-focused faith that can actually transform life’s difficult situations. In fact the Kingdom will be unable to transform the Market until it has developed the same levels of objectivity and power in its thinking.

Kings In The Kingdom

            Part of the redemptive process is being made like Jesus who is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords so that He makes us “kings and priests” (1 Peter 2:9, Rev 1:6, 5:10. Thus the church is not just a hospital it is also a Kingdom and part of the central promise of that faith is that we will rule with Christ, even that we will rule that nations with a rod off iron:

(Revelation 2:26-27 NKJV)  "And he who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations; {27} 'He shall rule them with a rod of iron; They shall be dashed to pieces like the potter's vessels'; as I also have received from My Father;

and in Heaven the song of the Redeemed is:

 (Revelation 5:9-10 NKJV)  And they sang a new song, saying: "You are worthy to take the scroll, And to open its seals; For You were slain, And have redeemed us to God by Your blood Out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, {10} And have made us kings and priests to our God; And we shall reign on the earth."

Christians will not just reign in a spiritual sense as in ruling over sin or over passions, but in a very literal sense of being rulers over nations on the earth. This is no minor doctrine; there are over 200 references in the New Testament to the church being a Kingdom or Jesus being a king and us reigning with Him. Thus Christian maturity involves, in part, acquiring the virtues and reasoning of a ruler. Maturity goes far beyond not smoking, dancing or drinking, and far beyond being nice and kind and appropriate, it goes beyond being frugal and having a good work ethic, and has to grasp mercy, truth and justice and understanding and fairness and wisdom and dignity and knowledge.

The High Cost Of Being Foolish

            Irrational subjective and superstitious thinking leads to poverty (as we saw in the section on the spiritual basis of prosperity and poverty) and fanatical religion can lead to cruelty (as we saw in the section on radicalization of Muslims). Furthermore problem-focused or overly pietistic thinking leads to powerlessness through the paralysis of analysis or a retreat from reality. On top of this some areas of the church have a helpless and fearful outlook that has retreated into conspiracy theories and a martyr complex even where there is little real persecution. A reliance of the magical and the magician has reduced large sections of the Church to dependency as they wait with glazed eyes for their miracle from the anointed preacher and largely fail to take responsible action at the level of their daily lives. (Now I do believe in miracles and I am a charismatic, but I do not believe in folly and dependency or in improper hero worship.) The Church needs to Think!

 Teaching The Church To Think and To Act And To Be Present In The World

Jesus was Present in the world and directly changed people and situations. He was there, in the middle of the crowd, hands on, and face to face. The prophets also did not prophesy to the air, they walked up to the crowd or the king, then they said their prophecy. They were present in the world, they were there, in the midst of life’s action. Biblical action was direct, unmediated, real and tangible. For some reason we fear this, and run away from actual engagement and prefer committees, conferences, sermons, prayer meetings and bible studies. True biblical action is to speak directly to the people who most need to hear and have the power to make decisions based on what you have to say. Surely that is logical.

            The Church, like her Lord, must learn to be present in the midst of the world offering healing and salvation and calling people to justice where possible. We need a direct unmediated and active approach to life. This is very humbling. It easy to dream big dreams in a worship service but when you sit down and say “how can I change Manila” you feel powerless and small. At first this is not a good feeling. In fact being “present” can initially be painful as our illusions about our own efficacy are punctured. Presence often creates a crisis of faith. The disciples went where Jesus went and were present in many faith-testing situations such as the storm on the lake, the epileptic boy they could not heal, and the feeding of the five thousand.  By being present and being scared they eventually learned mastery. Lets take a few pages to look at what it means to learn mastery of emotions and of life as this is one of the keys to being an effective agent of change.

Fight, Flight or Mastery

You may have heard of the “fight or flight  response” that humans and animals have in response to threat. When the fight-or-flight response occurs blood flows to the hands and feet and away from the brain and huge shots of adrenalin and other hormones take over and the fast action control centers of the brain come into play and suddenly you are exploding at people, or running, or fighting.  In common parlance your “buttons have been pressed” and you are just reacting at an entirely visceral and instinctual level. This is not a bad thing when you are running away from a charging rhinoceros. Speedy reactions may be a very good thing. However in modern life the provocation that sets off the response may be a cutting remark or a threat to our ego in the office. The feeling of threat  is enough to set off the entire chemical cascade that is known as the fight-or-flight response. A minor incident becomes a matter of life and death.

The perception of threat and the impact of adrenalin cause us to react without choosing our reactions. Startled people have accidentally shot their family members thinking they were burglars and soldiers have fired on their own troops through the sheer speed and inaccuracy of this response.  The fight or flight response removes our ability to make wise, free and balanced moral choices and is definitely not the stuff on which Christian character, good judgment or justice is built. Unfortunately the Church has tended to engage in “flight responses” such as pietism , monasticism or conspiracy theories or in “fight responses” such as declamatory preaching when confronted with an unjust world. There is an alternative – personal mastery.


The alternative to the fight or flight  response is to achieve mastery  of the situation. Jesus always demonstrated mastery of any and every situation He was presented with. He neither fought the soldiers who arrested him or fled them but rather throughout His entire trial demonstrated an amazing degree of personal mastery. At no point in His life did Jesus give in to the adrenalin-filled panic of a fight or flight response. His actions were masterful, strong, wise and spiritual. His Spirit-filled mind had total mastery  over His flesh and His instincts. This gave Him power, poise and a degree of personal authority that seems to have been the main aspect of His personality that people admired and is frequently commented on in the gospels. The following verses are just some of the verses that show how other people saw Jesus as having authority and how Jesus saw His own authority being used to master situations. (Matthew 7:29, 8:9, 21:23-27, 28:18-20, Mark 1:27, Luke 4:32, Luke 9:1, 10;19, John 5:27, 7:17, 12:49, 14:10, 16:13, 17:2)

Jesus was not thrown even by encountering the Devil in person. During the temptation in the wilderness Jesus m et the Devil in a face-to-face spiritual encounter that must have been of incredible intensity. The Devil was out to destroy Jesus, he was malice incarnate, and he was beguiling, tempting, and pushing Jesus into a wrong response. Jesus neither fled nor fought. Jesus mastered the situation, resisted the temptations and used His authority to deal with the problem. Jesus calmly stood His ground against pure evil. Jesus did not fight or flee. Jesus did not launch into an aggressive tirade against Satan. There was no raw and red-necked stream of spiritual vitriol directed against the Devil. Instead Jesus defeated Satan through the calm use of God’s authority  based on God’s Word. Jesus mastered the situation.

The biblical example of Jesus in the wilderness shows us that even if we think a situation is utterly evil and threatens our health, identity and success (as the wilderness temptations did for Jesus) that we do not need to get upset and become reactionary. Nor do we need to pack our bags and run. We just need to calmly and authoritatively expose that situation to the truth of Scripture and the authority of God. We want to end up moving through life as Jesus moved through Israel, and cope with our pressures and threats as he coped with His.  When it comes to social justice it means asking: “How can I master this situation?” rather than “How can I fight this situation?” When the Church decides to use her spiritual authority rather then her reactivity then she is strongest. The difference is often subtle. There is a way of saying “God says this is wrong” that is full of faith and which has presence and power and there is a way of saying it that is fearful and reactionary. The Church needs to speak with mastery, faith and authority.

When I speak of mastery  I am not speaking of sinless perfection. Mastery is more like a combination of faith, courage, decisiveness and balance. It is having spiritual authority, poise and power in all situations. It asks questions such as: How can we master every threat and every frustration with grace, power and poise? How can we move through a grossly unjust trial without losing our cool? How can we forgive those that nail us to the cross? These reactions are the supreme achievements of a Perfect Life. They are what made Jesus the spotless Lamb of God.

Lets move from the cosmic to the comical and consider my attempts at playing golf . Once every few years a friend drags me out onto a golf course. When the ball lands in the rough, as it often does, I have three possible responses – fight, flight or mastery . I can become depressed at the difficulty, give up on the shot and pay the penalty – that is the flight response. I can hit wildly with all my might and try and blast it out of there – that is the fight response. Or I can call up my considerable golf prowess, concentrate carefully, keep my eye on the ball, visualize the wonderful trajectory it will take and get it out of there with just the right touch. This is the mastery response and as you may well guess it is the most difficult response and the hardest to perfect. I rarely get it right, but it is the one I would wish to practice and reinforce.  There is really no other possible choice since the other two responses just lead to failure. Mastery is the hardest choice but it is the only choice that goes anywhere –and mastery comes from the Mind.

The Mind

I need to spen d a few  paragraphs defining what I mean by “Mind” before we go too far and get confused. By the Mind I do not mean various individual thoughts or mind as intellectual activity or a set of intellectual abstractions. I mean mind as the entire mental framework of the person. We use the word Mind this way in the phrases “single-minded” or “open-minded”. Mind in this sense is an inner state of consciousness that has certain properties. The mind is controllable and can be focused by the believer. Paul asks us to set our mind on various things such as the Spirit, things above, and the pursuit of maturity so the mind is something we can focus on God. For those of you who enjoy Greek the phren word family phroneo, phronema and phronesis , phronimos is in view here. Thus the mind is that part of our total consciousness and awareness that we have some control over.  In this definition it does not include dreams or the sub-conscious. The sub-conscious is part of our mind in a larger sense but not part of it in this narrow sense we are using it here because we have no real control over the subconscious and cannot discipline it or focus it. Neither is mind in this sense the scattered thoughts that drift in and out of a person who is daydreaming or watching TV. Of such people we sometimes say “their mind was switched off when they watched the movie”.  Their inner consciousness was inactive. Thus the mind is what thinks when you do some real thinking. The mind is where you receive and mull over wisdom and where you make real choices about your actions. That’s your mind. It is that part of your consciousness that you can control and exert and which bears a close relationship to the “real you”.

The mind is the only part of our consciousness that we can control, and therefore it is of vital importance. I do not mean to imply that we are all mind by doing this or that the mind is superior, it is part of an integrated whole which it directs. The mind is like the wheel on the bridge that controls the rudder of a ship. The navigator plots the course and then the wheel is turned to a definite bearing and the ship holds that course. The course of the entire ship is determined by where the captain’s wheel is set. The wheel is the only part of the ship that can be focused on a direction or course of action. The engine will drive the ship anywhere, the cargo hold does its job, the air-conditioning makes it bearable but the wheel, connected to the rudder sets the entire direction and destiny and decides which port the ship will go to or even if it will be shipwrecked through carelessness. The mind is that part of us which we can steer and which we can plot our course with. It’s the only part of us that can do that job. Therefore it is decisive.

We need to love God with our whole being – mind, spirit, soul, and strength, and all these parts of us are vital and important but it is the mind that directs the spirit, or the soul, or our energy and strength onto God and His purposes. The mind is the critical point where the decisions are made and the course committed to. The mind is the part of us that can grasp issues of justice, mercy and truth and it is through the mind that we will enact justice on the earth as co-regents with Christ.

The mind in the sense of the phren word family generally means the wisdom and understanding especially of the righteous (Luke 1:17, Ephesians 1:8).  This mind be set on various things. When Jesus rebuked Peter he said he was “not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men." (Matthew 16:23, Mark 8:33), the legalistic Romans nit-picking about food and drink were literally “rules-minded” in the Greek (Romans 14:6). The mind can be set on: The flesh or the Spirit (Romans 8:5,6),things above (Colossians 3:2), or on earthly things (Philippians 2:19) -which caused Paul to weep. Due to the renewing and infilling of the Holy Spirit  we can even have “the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:14-16) and when we are humble servants we have a mind like Christ’s (Philippians 2:5). On the other hand we can have a childish mind (1 Corinthians 13:11, 14:20) Unity of mind is important and Christians are to be one-minded and like-minded. (Romans 12:16, 15:5, 2 Corinthians 13:11) This word family can also mean the careful, prudent mind, that which thinks of others, the mindful and thoughtful person (Philippians 1:7, 4:10) though the word “mind” is rarely used in English translations of this aspect. 

Thus it is clear from the New Testament that the sort of mind we end up with is entirely our choice. We can focus or mind on God’s interests or man’s interests, the Spirit or the flesh, the things above or earthly things. We can choose to be humble, like-minded, unified and thoughtful of others - or we can choose to be puffed up, childish, contentious, worldly and carnal. We have to make a definite decision to move towards acquiring a noble and objective mind that loves justice and truth and is focused on the things above. We need to train our minds like a racehorse, submitting them to the will, thoughts and purposes of God so we can be a force for good mastering the world we live in and bringing it into His Kingdom.

Mastery and The Mind

Mastery is a product of the focused and disciplined mind bringing the whole person into submission to an over-riding ethic or ethos. Throughout history everyone from Zen monks to  Spartan warriors and corporate traders  have discovered this. People have become masterful human beings by disciplining themselves in all sorts of pursuits from archery to fencing to philosophy. That is why competitive sports, while trivial in themselves, have shaped many a person for the better. The somersaults of a champion gymnast are in themselves quite pointless. They don’t feed the hungry or make any great philosophical point. Its not doing somersaults that makes the gymnast great but the discipline  he or she puts in. The sport builds mastery  and mental strength into the gymnast so that when the days of gymnastics are over the character remains. The focus must be external to self. The gymnast does not find self-mastery by focusing on self-mastery. He or she finds self-mastery by focusing on somersaults.

The mind is the only part of our consciousness that we can focus and direct therefore it is the only part of us that can give us mastery . A million dollars will not give you personal mastery. People who win the lottery often end up poor because of their lack of personal mastery. The money has not made them masterful. A strong body will not give you mastery except of certain physical skills. Athletes can be enslaved to alcohol or drugs. Education will not give you personal mastery, there are many well educated people who are small-minded and weak-willed. Willpower won’t give you mastery as the will can simply become stubborn and inflexible, unable to adapt to changing situations and thus lead to inevitable defeat. Even religion won’t give you mastery. Many people are enslaved by cults, caught up in bondage to religious guilt or overtaken by idolatry and superstition. Only the adaptable, flexible, trained, focused and disciplined mind can bring mastery.

Please be clear about this, I am not advocating mentalist philosophies, mind science, Christian Science, or think and grow rich kinds of mental mastery . They are half-truths. The mind is not a terribly significant force in itself. The mind does not have the ability to create heaven or hell as Blake thought. God creates Heaven and Hell. Reality is His creation, not ours. The mind does not create the world but it does enable us to move through it with poise and power. The mind is not God. The mind works best when it is set on God. In biblical terms personal and emotional mastery is a product of the mind set on God and imbued with His Word and authority. The unaided mind operating alone by itself cannot produce mastery of the kind we see in the life of Jesus Christ. For that kind of mastery we need more than positive thinking. We need a direct connection to God and the mind must be resolutely set on God, on the Spirit, on things above, on the Kingdom, and the righteousness thereof.

Directing The Christian Mind

So we see that we are f aced with three universal truths: Firstly that personal mastery  is the only wise option. Secondly that such mastery is solely a product of the mind. Thirdly that the mind becomes masterful as it is disciplined and focused on something outside itself. The highest degree of mastery can only be attained when the ‘something outside itself” is God. You can achieve a sense of mastery by focusing your mind on fencing or gymnastics or horse-riding but you won’t end up like Jesus just by focusing on those things. The mind must be directed onto Christ. That is its proper place.

This directing of the mind is a forceful and decisive activity. It is hard to put into words. It is not concentrating on Christ, neither is it speculating about Christ or studying or daydreaming about Christ. It is not even thinking about Jesus as such. It is not an internal, reflective or meditative process. It’s similar to standing outside yourself and directing yourself onto Christ. Its like standing at the top of a high-dive tower and looking down and plunging in with total commitment. It’s choosing where your life energies will be focused and your mental processes directed. It’s like going outside yourself but towards Christ at the same time. I suppose you could call it faith, or at least faith is very much involved in it. I am stuck for an analogy. It’s a little like those missiles that lock onto their target or a cat focused on a mouse. The whole of the mind is fixed on Christ and directs the total life energies of the believer in that direction. As this focus is attained everything else is entrained, the emotions, the will and the responses. Just as someone absorbed in a video game entrains all their concentration, emotions and will into the game so a Christian absorbed in Christ, with their mind set on the Spirit, inevitably brings their whole life into conformity with Jesus.

It may not be i mmediately obvious but when we direct our mind to a purpose it means that we commit ourselves to the rules and techniques that the particular purpose requires. For instance in writing this book I must follow the rules of the English language. I am hardly conscious of that because I have internalized many of the rules. Now and then the spell-checker or grammar checker on this computer alerts me to where I am going wrong. Then I correct it. That is part of writing, part of the project, and part of being focused on writing a book. Following the rules of English grammar is not bad or awful. It’s not a restriction on my freedom or a legalism or a lack of grace.  It’s just required. Mastery of anything means sticking to the rules. Similarly, following Jesus has rules. Submission to the commandments  of Jesus Christ is not optional if we are to stay focused on Christ and know life and peace. Obeying these commandments is not the whole of the Christian life but they are part of the discipline of the Christian life. They make it flow and if you are to have mastery  in the Christian life you must decide to obey the rules. You cannot just make up the spiritual life  as you go along any more than you can decide to reinvent English grammar every time you write.

Deciding to totally set your mind on Christ and achieve total life mastery  is the very hardest thing you will ever do. But what are the alternatives? To potter along lamely is not much of a life. To refuse it totally is to go into eternal darkness. But the effort seems tremendous, the focus too narrow and the rules too hard. The focus must be kept and we are unruly. We are prone to distraction. We are far too easy on ourselves. We don’t want to get up and practice. We want heaven from our armchairs. So we make a commitment to Christ, then that fades, then another one, then a spiritual breakthrough, and then a slack patch. We are all over the place. Our minds are set on ourselves, or on our finances, or on the opinions of the Christian community or on the success of our ministry. We find easier goals and substitute foci.  We become anxious, stressed, harried and spiritually weak. We need to come to a point of final decision where we look at the mess, pull ourselves together an d decide with all that is within us to focus ourselves totally on Christ alone and pursue single-minded, focused, disciplined mastery.

Prerequisites For Self-Mastery

The absolute prerequisites of spiritual progress are that you are born-again with a new nature from God, that you have the filling of the Holy Spirit  and that you are single-mindedly devoted to God in obedience to His word. Without these three things you do not stand a chance.

Unless you are born-again you do not have a new nature. Without the new nature it’s an impossible job. If you are not Spirit-filled and led by the Spirit in your daily life then you will not have power over the flesh (see Galatians 5:16-18) and you will struggle continually and lose continually. If you are not single-minded you will be double-minded and double-minded people receive nothing from the Lord (James 1:5-8). You will be left wallowing in your doubt and indecision. These three things are the basics. Before I go on to talk about techniques in self-mastery  you must have these three things in your life or be prepared to have these three things in your life as soon as possible.

Practical Techniques For Emotional Self-Mastery

Its fine to talk about the need for a personal relationship with God and having one’s mind set on things above but how will that keep someone from exploding next time someone cuts them off on the highway?  What are the practical tips for mastering our fight-or-flight  response and for mastering life?

There are thus two levels to emotional self-mastery . Firstly we must set up the foundations of the new self and the God-focused mind. That renews our connection with God and sets up some spiritual lines of control over the fight or flight  response. Then we must learn the practical details of responding to life intelligently and wisely. 

·         Pay attention to your physical state. If you realize that your fists are clenched and your neck is rigid and you are physically tensed up and alerted for danger then try to undo those physical states. Unclench your fists, rub your neck, relax your posture. The fight or flight  response is partly a physical response and as we undo its physical correlates it will lose much of its power. Perhaps try and relax or use deep breathing if you are tense, guarded or explosive.

·         Be aware of the magnitude of your emotional responses and the quick “zoom” to anger or anxiety that the fight or flight  response produces. Learn to recognize when you are zooming to disaster and practice keeping a lid on it.

·         Take time to think. Use your God-given right to choose your response. Do not just respond on auto-pilot. Once you stop and think you are far more likely to choose a good and much more optimal solution.

·         Disengage. If you have started to move into attack mode pull back the troops! Go for a walk, cool down. Have a pray about it.

·         If you are going into a situation that you know aggravates you (such as dealing with an annoying person) try to make a conscious decision about how you are going to react in that situation. Then rehearse your balanced and biblical reaction over and over in your mind. Perhaps seven times or seventy times seven? (see Matthew 18) Train yourself mentally to react rightly just like professional golfers ‘see the ball going in the hole’ even before they make the shot. Use mental rehearsal to disarm potential conflict situations.

·         In the converse of this  - don’t mentally rehearse the wrong response. Don’t see in your mind’s eye a picture of yourself strangling the boss of the phone company. It may be very satisfying but it is not helpful. It is educating yourself in the wrong direction.

·         Use the ‘what would Jesus do?” question as a quick reference.

·         Question your perceptions of threat. Is this really a life or death issue? Am I getting tensed up over nothing? What does it say about me if I am so easily riled? Or on the flight response:  Is it really that bad? Is the world going to end over this? Is this fear, anxiety and emotional reactivity helping me? Has running away from things helped or hindered my life?

·         Learn to find your emotional center and to live from it and to know when it is in balance and out of balance. This is quite difficult for many people.

·         Some people will push you wanting you to explode so they can take advantage of your immature reaction. Be alert to this and deliberately react the opposite way they are pushing you. (1 Corinthians 4:12) For instance when they revile you greet them with a blessing. (1 Peter 2:23 NKJV)  who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously;

·         Remember that when you react  rightly to unjust treatment that “great is your reward in heaven”. So rejoice and give yourself a pat on the back when you keep your cool. Positive reinforcement for good behavior. (Matthew 5:11)

·         Do not return evil for evil. (Romans 12:17) Keep a lid on your desire to retaliate. Leave retaliation to the Lord. (Romans 12:19) If we return a blessing instead we will inherit blessing. . (1 Peter 3:9).

·         If people rip you off and insult you don’t escalate it into a life or death struggle over honor and pride. This is what Jesus means when He says “do not resist him who is evil”. (He does not mean that the police should not arrest robbers!) Rather it means “don’t let the evil person push you into a full-scale, adrenalin packed, fight or flight  response”. Deny the natural man’s urge to strike back. If he slaps you, turn the other cheek, if he takes your cloak, let him, if he makes you walk a mile, go two. If he says “give me money” let him have some. (Matthew 5:38-42). Deny your reactivity and show you are made of different stuff.

·         Don’t let unkind, ungrateful, stingy, mean or small-minded people get to you. God is merciful to the unkind and ungrateful and we have a great reward in heaven when we do likewise. (Luke 6:35) Brush their meanness to one side without taking it too personally and treat them as well as you can with reasonable safety (because some are quite toxic).

·         Do not get your ego hooked into the game of “Christian comparisons”, my church is bigger than your church etc. This only leads to fuming and fighting.

·         Do not let theology push you into fight or flight  mode. For instance “I won’t study the Second Coming its too contentious” (flight response) or “You are a heretic and I will torch you verbally since the law won’t allow me to burn you at the stake” (fight response). The mastery  response is to learn about the Second Coming and other aspects of theology and grow in God and only debate under circumstances that are harmless to the hearers (such as with good friends in the ministry) unless of course there is an urgent apologetic reason. Even then your speech should be seasoned with salt.

·         Learn correct responses by modeling mature Christians and by studying the heroes  of the faith.

·         Make a personal commitment to grow in this area.

·         Have some friends keep you accountable for your reactions and encourage you to maturity.

·         Enjoy the feeling of grace rather than the feeling of explosive emotional power.

Application To Social Justice

Suppose that a bank is acting in a punitive way towards its poorer customers – do we fight, do we flee – or do we find a way of mastering the situation? A “fight response” would be to send an angry protest letter to the bank or hold a demonstration outside one of its branches. A flight response would be to withdraw your account or just to sit and do nothing putting the whole business in the “too hard basket”. What are some solution-focused mastery responses? Here is my suggestion: Research the issue and the lending policies of bank X and also the lending policies of bank Y which is more just in its policies. Work out how bank X can still earn revenue without exploiting the poor. Buy a few shares in bank X. Send the letter outlining the problem, its consequences and the constructive alternative to the chairman of the board, the CEO and the chief lending officer at least two months before the AGM. Indicate that you are a shareholder and that if you have not received a satisfactory response by the time of the AGM you will stand up and ask about this aspect of bank lending policy. If they refuse to comply, go to the AGM and protest, if that fails go to the media who will probably be at the bank AGM anyway. Show clearly the plight of the customers, the sensible solution and the intransigence of the bank. At that point the bank may well cave in.

If the bank does not cave in, go to your local politician with your constructive suggestion, your evidence and the bank’s response. Inform the politician that you will be calling a press conference after your visit and you would like to be able to report a positive response. Send your documents to the politician’s office at least 48 hours before the interview and press conference. By this time you have a “real issue” in political terms in that constituents are affected, a constructive solution exists, it has been to a major AGM and in the newspaper, its “hot”. The politician needs to get on the phone. The 48 hours gives him or her a chance to do this and have some solutions in place even before you even arrive. If you allow a politician time to find a solution and be seen as effective they will be grateful. The bank will be put under enormous pressure at this point.

This solution-focused, well researched “mastery” solution takes much more time in the beginning and lacks the “high” of campaigning on a rush of adrenalin; but it is ultimately more effective and far less demanding of manpower and resources in the long haul. First the Christian activist needs to put in maybe two weeks of part-time digging around for facts, evidence and possible solutions and the preparation of an intelligent and workable alternative. This intelligent and workable and fairer alternative is the key. It gives the entire case a much higher level of credibility and demolishes any reason the bank may have for holding on to their unjust policy. It indicates that you are not just a powerless reactionary, a “complainer” who can be written off. It demonstrates that you are thoughtful, wise and practical. And when it is shared externally - to the AGM, press or politicians it becomes a blueprint for action. Then you give the solution time to pass through the proper processes, to be considered and be effective. In your research you find the leverage points you can use – the Chairman and CEO and lending officer, being a shareholder, using the AGM, the press and the politicians. And you use those leverage points in the correct order so it is obvious to all that you have followed procedure and given bank X the right information and a chance to change.

Every major society has proper procedures in place for its own transformation.  The church can transform society by using these procedures first and using them skillfully. We have just as much right to call for justice as do any other group of citizens. The church will become effective when it neither fights nor flees but by takes a solution-focused, mastery based, authoritative and well-researched approach to problems.

Why The Church Is Often Ineffective

To explore this a bit further – why do Christians engage in highly ineffective behavior? Lets take conspiracy theories as an example. Quite apart from the fact that Scripture explicitly forbids conspiracy theories (Isaiah 8:12,13); nothing constructive is accomplished by publishing a book linking the IMF and WTO and the Trilateral Commission and the Bilderberger Group and the Masons and the Knights Templar. The conspiracy theory book acts within a religious framework to reinforce the fears, dreads, and persecution complex of the buyers. The book gains religious approval and financial reward and gives the author a temporary feeling of importance. Readers can get a false sense of having engaged in a big and important issue through reading a conspiracy theory book. In reality they have spent some money and some time and done nothing of actual tangible value. It is virtual involvement not real involvement.

Virtual involvement rather than real involvement is common in all aspects of life but especially in the Church so that the atheist Bertrand Russell could write of “poor, little, talkative Christianity”. Recently this has even become evident in teaching on prayer where, contrary to Scripture, we are told not to pray “for things” but just to pray to get religious feelings and experiences and dialogue with God. God has given us prayer to usher in His Kingdom and to bring real changes in people and situations. “Whatever you ask for in prayer..” means that you are asking for truth, justice, the salvation of the lost and so on. When prayer degenerates into mere sentimental emotions it is no longer the muscular force of faith that transforms the world.

The reasons for virtual involvement include, fear, ignorance, poor teaching, lack of self-esteem, a prejudice against social action, a lack of understanding of political rights and so forth. I am not interested in analyzing it in depth. What I am interested in doing is seeing the church move beyond dreams and hopes and wishes and into reality. We know what we should be doing, we just don’t do it. Underneath the dreamy waffle of church life lies certain assumptions and errors of fact and logic that are patently wrong and which the whole world tells us are wrong. Here are just some of them, stated a bit plainly, and I am sure you can think of others.

  1. The Church should be concerned about spiritual things and anything practical like money and politics and social conditions, are by definition, not spiritual.
  2. The more abstract, vague and nonsensical something is the more spiritual it is.
  3. Trances and spiritual experiences are a higher priority than helping one’s neighbor.
  4. It is important to keep myself pure and uncontaminated by sin, so I do not want anything to do with social issues.
  5. Wishing and dreaming will get you want you want.
  6. God just wants me to be aware of these issues, not to actually do anything.
  7. My gift is suggesting; other people can do the action. 
  8. If we get too involved in social action we will lose our love of evangelism.
  9. The Bible tells us not to rely on our own understanding, which is why I do not think at all.
  10. Jesus will return soon anyway and the Anti-Christ will take over so it’s useless to think about social action as whatever we do will soon be destroyed.

The church in Acts keenly anticipated Christ’s return but was very involved in meeting needs and being a relevant Christian community. A quick read through the epistle of James or through Proverbs or the Sermon On The Mount or Luke 10 will convince you of the folly of the above ten propositions and others like them. By disengaging from reality the Church is losing credibility, as someone once said “The culture does not abandon the church until the Church abandons the culture.”

Logical, Pragmatic Christian Action

Jack Welch, the recently retired Chairman of the world’s largest company General Electric, attributes his success to a mother who constantly said “Jack face reality. You have got to see the world the way it is.” Jack Welch’s mother was right. The ability to see reality clearly and to act on that reality constructively is one of the keys to success in life. Jack Welch also talks about being “boundary-less” and seeking solutions from up and down in the organization and from both inside it and outside it. Putting this together, Jack Welch’s success in leading a company as massive as GE can in large part be attributed to seeing reality clearly and constantly seeking better and better constructive solutions from wherever they can be found.

A heavenly perspective is not an imaginary perspective. The heavenly perspective should be what God says about reality. Its what the Scriptures say about what is right in front of your nose. Thus the logical pragmatic Christian activist lives in the reality of God’s Word rightly interpreted and the reality of real life situations. One reality is eternal and abiding – God’s Word, the other reality is never final. Or as Benjamin Disraeli said “Finality is never the language of politics”. Once one campaign seems finished, another arises, life twists and turns and progress in justice is “three steps forward and two steps backward”.  While finality can be reached in mathematical calculations or in certain theological conclusions it is elusive in real life. Even our very changing of our society means that it will be different in a few years time.

Thus social action has its real reward in eternity as it seldom sees a final reward here on earth. Moses did not get into the promised land, William Wilberforce died just before his anti-slavery legislation finally became effective and Martin Luther King was assassinated before his Dream came true. Enacting justice is every bit as much an act of faith as planting a church.

In enacting justice we are seeking to conform reality to the will and purposes of God. We cannot afford to be weak, sentimental, superstitious or illogical. Here are some of the almost paradoxical pieces of logic that make for effective Christian action.

1.       Reality is all we have to work with, but reality includes God.

2.       The choice is to engage with reality or to engage with nothing.

3.       I have permission from God to change the world. The permission of other people such as Pharaoh is not really necessary.

4.       God’s heart on an issue needs our hands and feet and mouths and money. He has delegated this world to us.

5.       There are no elves. There are no invisible realities that will magically appear and do the work. If the world is a mess, and someone does not fix it, it will stay that way and probably get even worse. Its up to us.

6.       The ends and the means must both be just. To achieve a good end with improper means is often just to continue oppression in another form. To have just means without just ends is to wander in pointless wishfulness.

7.       Most societies contain both the seeds of their own destruction and the mechanism for their own transformation. I will choose to find the mechanisms for transformation and use them first.

8.       Utopian perfection is not possible in this present evil age but improvement is possible and by God’s grace I will improve those things I can.

9.       I might not be able to do everything, but I can do something and that which I can do, I ought to do, and that which I ought to do, by God’s grace I shall do.

10.   It is always just one man that has changed the world. The world has never been changed by a committee.

11.   One workable solution is better than a thousand pages of analysis and excuses.

12.   Most change proceeds from the source of power. Persons are the only source of power. Even a billion dollars has no power when it is in the presses in the Mint. It only has power when it is in someone’s hands.

13.   Truth on its own is powerless until it finds residence in the mind of a person who has power. One paragraph addressed to the person who has the power to make a decision on the issue is worth a million words on the issue that are left hidden in a cave. There are thousands PhD theses full of good ideas that have produced little or no social change because the author did not produce an executive summary and send it to someone who could act on it.

14.   Only clear ideas, supported by facts, have power. Confused emotional exhortations are an exercise in futility.

15.   People are generally most influenced by those they know best or have at least heard of. It s time well spent when the church takes time to develop relationships with local leaders of business and industry.

16.   A dead issue is a dead issue. Tackling issues after society feels it has been dealt with is too late, no one wants to listen. We need to respond when the issue is live.

17.   There is a time when issues can be influenced and a time when they are a waste of energy. Tackle the issues that are in process of change and leave the other issues until later, for instance Jesus did not specifically tackle slavery. (Hint: Globalization is still  “live”!)

18.   The thing that most infuriates you may be the thing God is asking you to change.

19.   You cannot change a Supreme Court decision by preaching but you can change it with a legal appeal. Each issue has a right mechanism, use it.

20.   Righteous powerful prayer aims at specific targeted social change such as Elijah’s prayer for the drought or the prayers of Moses, Daniel and the prophets.

Changing the Market

This chapter has been tough on the Church, or rather on the ineffective means the Church employs when dealing with social change. I believe in the Church, regularly attend and preach in a local church and work for the Kingdom as God leads. As a missionary I seek to establish the Church. The Church has permission from God to change the market so it is fair and just. The church should persuade the governments that they need to act and the market that it needs to change. This prophetic role will be far outside our comfort zones. Yet while the market is hurting from the terrorist attacks and the recession there is a window of opportunity to persuade both government and industry and trade of the need for a fairer world. We probably have twelve months. By the time we have preached sermons and called conferences our window of opportunity may be lost. We need to pray now and we need to act now. Whether your contribution is as small as an hour spent writing to your local politician or as substantial as organizing a delegation to visit a key Senator you should make it now.

The market tries to ignore the Church and treat her opinions with disdain. It will take enormous effort to get heard but as I have shown the task is not impossible and the means and methods do exist for influencing the decision-makers in trans-national corporations. The fact that engaging major firms is not easy does not mean that it will not be worthwhile or that we are not called to tackle the task. If you did succeed how would you feel? If your policy initiative and creative solution was adopted by a major multi-national and affected millions of lives – would you feel the struggle was worth it?

There is more to church life than deeply exegeting another verse of Romans (though that is very important too). After the first five years of Christian life I found it was well, repetitive, and my knowledge base was only incrementally being added to. Church is more than adding to your knowledge of the Bible, it’s about adding to Christ’s lordship over this world. Your knowledge of the Bible is an important foundation so you can go out and act as one of God’s vice-regents in His Creation making His Kingdom come and His will be done.

If we are to make Christ’s Kingdom come then we must act in mastery and not from the fight or flight response. We must act with power and poise and become transformational people in that situation where God has placed us. We have to be assertively Christian not just passively Christian. We can learn from Muslim assertiveness but not from Muslim methods. We need to develop the virtues of rulership, such as patience, endurance, strength, dignity, justice, wisdom and noble-mindedness.  We need to learn to manage the world that exists rather than imagining a world that will never exist. True Christian leadership involves managing reality so it conforms to the Kingdom. Reality is not that malleable; so such leadership can involve a struggle that is both physical and spiritual. We have to pay careful attention to our ethics, our facts, our methods and our ends and means.  Out of this disciplined struggle to find workable Christian solutions to otherwise overwhelming social problems comes the glory of the Kingdom.

When it comes to tackling globalization and lobbying for a fair market, not just a free market the Church should select those areas that God calls her to. Globalization can mean a loss of jobs in North America because of low wages in Mexico, it can affect California as well as Afghanistan and we may be called to counter its manifestation in our own backyard, not just across the world. We may find refugees moving in down the street and needing acceptance and help or we may find ourselves working for a firm that dumps toxic waste in Bolivia. In each and every case we will need to move from mastery and not from fear, and move in wisdom and in a solution-focused and well-researched way. Our boundaries will be stretched and our courage will be called on but as we master our environment and ourselves we will grow into beings of whom the term “the image of God” is appropriate.

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