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Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “Honest Apple”

Out of all the “virtues” the Mane Six display, the one who has a virtue that ends up being a double-edged sword more than anyone else is Applejack with her honesty. On one hand, it means she’s always trustworthy and you can take what she says as face value, which is a rare benefit for anyone. Yet the flip side of that is that she shows little care about giving her honest opinion about anything, such as in this episode when she was invited to judge a fashion show and didn’t bother hiding in the least her thoughts that fashion was a silly pursuit to begin with. In doing so, she ended up being rude, insulting, and callous to the various participants, and all while defending that she was just giving her honest opinion. It wasn’t until Rarity confronted her with someone who also had no qualms about being honest with her personal opinions about apples that Applejack got a dose of her own medicine and realized her mistake.

One of Winston Churchill’s many  noteworthy quotes was: “Tact is the ability to tell someone to go to hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip.” Tact is indeed a great virtue and one of the better talents to possess. It can make a lot of difference in how you talk to someone or, far more importantly, how you offer constructive criticism or call them out on something. And the effects of not having tact, as shown in this episode, are clear. It’s all part of the vital process of communication which, unlike what some may believe, is not simply spewing out words for people to hear and then, once done, you wait for them to stop talking to begin again. And it can make a major difference in what you’re trying to say.

On a personal note, I’ve seen people blow up and lose their temper before and be out of line for doing so. They’ve overreacted and gotten too mean and crass, and at times it’s over something that was their own fault or negligence to begin with and now they’re taking it out on those around them. I’ve seen these same people be angrily confronted and called out on this same behavior just as loudly and fiercely. What do you think was the result? They got angrier in turn and everything escalated. By comparison, I’ve also seen someone far calmer, more rational, and who went ahead and deferred to them a bit confront them in a far gentler way that de-escalated the situation. While they stayed irritable for a time, they were able to calm down in that instance, and once they were calm they apologized for their behavior of their own accord. In both cases they were being confronted about their outrageous behavior, but one method made the situation worse and one made it better. And it all came down to tact and presentation.

The problem is that tact is not only a lost art nowadays, but it seems to be one that people are actively trying to kill. As I’ve mentioned before, one of the drawbacks to humanity reaching the point where we can communicate with each other about everything worldwide in an instant is that we’ve gotten the false sense that our opinions are worth more than simple opinions. As a result, people have gotten louder about pushing their viewpoints across as well as shouting down those who are in opposition to them. Likewise, they’ve gotten more critical and less accepting of any divergent views, and more hostile about promoting their own. In short, people care less about swaying others to their point of view so much as making a point or putting something out so strong (even outlandish) that it garners a lot of attention…not necessarily support.

The worst part is that people excuse themselves more and more for this sort of behavior. Sometimes they defend themselves like Applejack; insisting they’re just stating their honest opinion. Yet like her, often this is a thinly veined way of saying (or at least giving the impression) that their opinion is the “right opinion”, and that everyone else who disagrees is silly, stupid, and/or morally in the wrong.

And when it comes to Christians, they might end up turning to Lord Jesus Himself as defense for the way they say things. They make a point that Jesus and the original Christians never worried about being “politically correct”, but often spoke out boldly and defiantly in the face of those that persecuted them. They also make a point that preaching the Gospel often enraged people in the past (and does even in the present) to the point of violence and oppression breaking out, so any negative attention they receive is not only viewed as acceptable but, in some cases, a sign of virtue. I’ve encountered a few Christians before who seemed to think they should have been getting people mad or they weren’t preaching the Gospel correctly.

I think it’s certainly true that the Gospel has the power to create conflict between believers and non-believers, and inevitably will just as Jesus foretold. “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matthew 10:34) And it’s true that many of the actions that Jesus and the early Christians did called out people on their sin and, as a result, led to anger and hostility. “When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this (Stephen’s witness), they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him.” (Acts 7:54-58) And it’s also true that some people will not only not accept Jesus’ Offer of Salvation but will try to violently suppress or even kill those who preach it. (There’s no need of a Bible verse for this; it happens around the world.)

Nevertheless, neither Jesus nor His disciples used the same “approach” for everyone–either individuals or groups. When Jesus met the Samaritan woman at the well, He didn’t immediately call her out for being a harlot and tell her to repent for the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand. He started things off by simply asking her to give Him a drink–to commit a basic violation of ethnic custom by associating with a Jew. (John 4:1-26) Nor did Jesus always point out sin and its consequences in others. Rather, he often spoke in parables, which served as a way for people to be able to see the wrong they were doing without them growing defensive as it wasn’t directly about them. (Matthew 13:34; 21:45) Paul didn’t immediately denounce all the numerous pagan temples and shrines the Athenians had erected when he met with them, even though he was outraged by them, but rather leveraged them into his own message by finding common ground with them. (Acts 17:16-34)

The same thing can be said about trying to make your point to anyone or to preach the Gospel to anyone. There are ways that will immediately make some people turn you off and shut you out; doing the opposite of what you intend and causing them to cling to their own viewpoint more. But there are also ways of finding common ground or recasting what you say to make it easier to accept or at least consider. While some pooh-pooh this sort of thing for not being “direct” enough, and in some cases they might be right, what one has to remember is the goal of persuasive speaking. It’s not about converting someone to your viewpoint on the spot, and it’s definitely not about making yourself feel good or clever. The point should be to get people to consider what you’re witnessing. If you can get someone to seriously think about what you’re telling them, whether it be your opinion on something or the Gospel of Jesus, you’ve already come a lot farther than you think.

Suggested Prayer: “Lord God, thank you for your saving Word and the message of the Gospel, which is nothing less than the salvation of all the world and hope for new and everlasting life. I ask again that I may always “speak the truth in love” when I am sharing this good news, and that while I acknowledge not everyone will always necessarily receive it, let me always proclaim it as you would have it proclaimed; and always out of genuine love, affection, and concern for all people–for indeed all people have been created by you and for your pleasure, Christian and non-Christian alike. Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”