On Free Speech

By and large, I am a strong proponent of the fact that, as Americans, we can practice what is known as “free speech.”

Free speech is defined in the dictionary like this:

The right of people to express their opinions publicly without governmental interference, subject to the laws against libel, incitement to violence or rebellion, etc. 

I count it a great privilege to live in a country where I, as well as others, can speak their mind and heart, even if we don’t agree.

Sometimes we forget there are places in this world where people are censored for expressing what they believe. In some cases, attempting to speak out can result in punishment, imprisonment or death.

Political cartoonist Pat Oliphant said this:

The fact that we’re protected under that Constitution in exercising the right of free speech, it’s a wonderful thing. You’ve got to come from somewhere else to realize how valuable it is. 

As wonderful as freedom of speech is, it isn’t always easy to deal with. It means that in some cases my ears and brain will be put in the position of absorbing information I vehemently disagree with. Someone else’s speech can annoy, aggravate or agitate me. But when this happens, I try to remember that some of the things I want to say may have the same effect on others.

Bottom line, I’d rather live in a society that allows for such open expression, even when it can sometimes offend…or even hurt me. Trust me, there have been plenty of times I would love to shut down someone’s speech!

Well known (and often controversial) radio host Rush Limbaugh noted:

Free speech gives us the ability to react vigorously with effective arguments and expose the weakness and misdirection of the other side’s claims

Though free speech can be challenging for us, I much more appreciate the opportunities it presents us with. And as Christians who have a very specific message to share, we should be overjoyed by the fact that, as Americans, we are able to (at least for now) share the good news of the Gospel with others.

Of course, legally speaking there are some limitations on free speech. The law says that we can’t say something that incite harm toward others. That’s why we aren’t allowed to yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater. (Unless, of course, there actually is a fire in the theater.)

A few thoughts on the matter of free speech:

  • Just because speech is free, doesn’t mean what’s said is very smart. There have been plenty of foolish and downright ignorant statements made under the banner of free speech.
  • Just because a person exercises free speech doesn’t mean I have to agree with them…no matter how loud a person says it, or how often they say it.
  • Sometimes people use their free speech in hopes of communicating a certain message, but the method of speech they choose is so distracting or off-putting that hardly anyone understands what the person was seeking to communicate in the first place. The lesson here is this: how you say it can be just important as what you say.
  • Effective free speech is much more about persuading than it is pummeling. Attempts at communication without any effort to offer respect won’t go very far. If you don’t seem to care about me, I probably won’t hear much of what you are saying.
  • Although we have a right to speak, sometimes the wisest thing we can do is say nothing at all. Proverbs is full of instruction that reveals the wisdom of wisely choosing when to speak and when to keep quiet. Proverbs 21:23 says “Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble.”

As Christians, the practice of free speech must make its way through the grid of Biblical teaching. It’s great that our government offers us the freedom to speech, but as the old Hebrew National hot dog commercials used to say, “We answer to a higher authority.”

See, although we have the right to free speech, we must also recognize the fact that our propensity to sin can cause us to speak in ways that can be downright destructive.

James makes it clear that our tongues can either build up or tear down.

I love the picturesque language James employs to make this point:

We can make a large horse go wherever we want by means of a small bit in its mouth. And a small rudder makes a huge ship turn wherever the pilot chooses to go, even though the winds are strong. In the same way, the tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches. But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire. And among all the parts of the body, the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself.

People can tame all kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and fish,  but no one can tame the tongue. It is restless and evil, full of deadly poison. Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God. And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right! Does a spring of water bubble out with both fresh water and bitter water?  Does a fig tree produce olives, or a grapevine produce figs? No, and you can’t draw fresh water from a salty spring. (James 3:3-13 ESV)

All of us at one time or another have used words that didn’t help a situation, but actually made things worse. As stated above, just because we are given the right to free speech doesn’t guarantee that all of  our speech will always be used in a wise, upbuilding manner.

The Bible gives us some helpful direction when it comes to our speech. In fact, I believe that consulting the Bible can help us use speech that is more helpful and effective.

Here are five verses to ponder regarding the successful exercise of our free speech. Put these principles into practice and you will likely end up influencing more people, rather than offending or angering them:

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. (Ephesians 4:29 ESV)

Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. (Colossians 4:6 ESV)

Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. (Ephesians 5:2 ESV)

A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouths of fools pour out folly. (Ephesians 5:4 ESV)

Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few. (Ecclesiastes 5:2 ESV)

 

 

 

 

Where are the Servants?

 The highest form of worship is the worship of unselfish Christian service. The greatest form of praise is the sound of consecrated feet seeking out the lost and helpless. – Billy Graham

Recently I’ve found myself getting a little annoyed.

I’ve been noticing a trend that more people are taking their beloved dogs into stores and various establishments around town.

It seems that some people are finding it very difficult to part with poor Fido.

Now, I am a big fan of dogs. I was raised with dogs. I own a dog. Dogs are awesome!

I just don’t know if I believe they belong in every place I do business.

Not only do I love dogs, I am a huge advocate for those people who have unique needs that can be met by a skilled service dog. I am always impressed how a well-trained canine can assist the blind, the deaf, sufferers from PTSD, as well as others who possess legitimate ailments.

A professionally trained service dog can cost a person thousands of dollars. But because their personal needs are so great, they find the investment in a dog more than worth it.

When I see a person in need with such a dog, I think to myself: “Now there goes a four-legged hero!”

But I recently learned that pretty much anyone can gain a service dog certification. Its as easy as mailing in an application along with $50.

Meaning, in my humble opinion, a lot of people without any true needs for a service dog will seek to have their dog certified. That way they can say they have a legal reason to bring Spot into the grocery store.

To make this happen, all the owner of the dog has to do is come up with some reason why they believe their dog should be categorized as a service dog.

With certificate in hand (and perhaps an accompanying vest) they can take their hound virtually everywhere they go.

The bottom line is this: pretty much every dog can be deemed a service dog if their owner is willing to part with a little time and money.

In the end, for many its really not so much about needs as much as it is wants.

Somehow our culture has come to place of declaring, “You want a service dog? Than you should have a service dog!”

For me, this type of practice brings a certain statement to mind:”If everyone is special, than no one is special.”

Such a perspective makes me wonder about our culture: If everyone wants to be on the receiving side of things, who will be left to act as the givers? What happens if everyone positions themselves in the place of needing to be served rather than looking to serve others?

Hence the title for this post: “Where are the servants?”

See, I have a fear that the world’s strong desire to be served is infiltrating the culture of the church.

It’s not popular to be a servant.

Instead, it’s much more popular to be served.

Yet service and servanthood are huge themes of the New Testament.

To be a follower of Jesus Christ is to take on the perspective that serving is where the action is at.

The quandary  of  whether “to serve or be served” came up one time among Jesus’ disciples.

It all started with a mom who possessed a certain level of ambition. She knew Jesus was setting up some sort of kingdom (though in reality she really didn’t have much of a clue what Jesus was up to). And she got it in her mind to see that her boys were placed in positions of prominence where they would be well taken care of.

The account of this occurrence is found in Matthew 20:20-28

Then the mother of James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Jesus with her sons. She knelt respectfully to ask a favor. “What is your request?” he asked. She replied, “In your Kingdom, please let my two sons sit in places of honor next to you, one on your right and the other on your left.”

Jesus immediately saw this situation as a teaching opportunity:

But Jesus answered by saying to them, “You don’t know what you are asking! Are you able to drink from the bitter cup of suffering I am about to drink?” “Oh yes,” they replied, “we are able!” Jesus told them, “You will indeed drink from my bitter cup. But I have no right to say who will sit on my right or my left. My Father has prepared those places for the ones he has chosen.”

In a most gentle way, Jesus attempted to let James and John know that their perception of rule in His kingdom was a bit off kilter. And, although they didn’t seem to understand, Jesus informed them that, like Him, they would die for the cause of the Gospel.

Now, the other disciples got wind of what was going on, and they responded with umbrage:

When the ten other disciples heard what James and John had asked, they were indignant.

So, rather than just speak with James and John, Jesus rounded up his entire troupe for a life-transforming lesson about the difference between being served and serving:

But Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

I imagine to the disciple’s ears that Jesus’ words sounded upside-down and inside-out.

He was putting before them a new way to think. And a new way to live.

Culture always seems to say: “Be served!” But Jesus was telling His followers to pursue service as a way of life.

Whatever our station in life, there are always people around us who have more needs than we do. (Meaning there is plenty of job security when it comes to being a servant.)

Jesus’ challenge is not to concern ourselves with climbing ladders, but rather seeking ways to stoop in God-glorifying service of others.

The truth is this: the more we serve, the more we will be filled.

Our world is full of people who primarily want to receive. They have little interest in giving.

But those who seek to live under the reign and rule of Jesus must take on an entirely different perspective.

Bottom line: To claim the name “Christian” means we will emulate our servant-leader, Jesus.

Jesus didn’t come to the earth to be served…but to serve.

Where are the servants?

 

 

 

 

 

Take a Risk. Switch it Up. Leave Your Comfort Zone.

I like to fish.

Even more, I like to catch fish.

A day of fishing without catching a fish, or even worse, without a nibble or a strike can bum me out.

So when I go fishing, I typically take the types of bait, lures or flies that I’ve had a lot of success with.

Because I usually fish by kayak/paddle board, or fish in streams,  I try to travel light with a minimum amount of gear. That’s why I almost always go with the items that I feel will most certainly hook a fish.

But, every once in a while I will purposely choose to take items out of my tackle box that I have never used or am unfamiliar with. (I inherited a lot of fishing gear from my dad, and much of it is stuff I’ve never used before.)

On top of choosing to take the newer, unknown gear, I will intentionally not bring any of my old-standbys.

In other words, I’m forcing my own hand to try and figure out how to use the items of which I have little knowledge or experience.

It always feels risky and like I’m  setting myself up for failure. But doing so has produced some really interesting experiences.

One time I took only my fly rod and some flies to a local creek where I have a lot of success catching brook trout with my small spinning rod using various baits and lures.

As to my fly fishing skills, I am an absolute novice. My casting abilities are highly suspect. And I’m never quite sure which fly is suitable for the waters I am fishing.

I spent a couple hours trudging up and down this creek with little luck (although I did score a few hits).

Then, just as I was ready to give in and and call it an evening,  I took one more cast with a fly that I couldn’t even identify.

As the fly (identified later by a fly fishing friend as an “attractor”) swirled around a large, placid pool, I started to reel in in order to get ready to hike back to my truck.

Then, BAM!

At first, I didn’t know what it was. Because of my lack of fly fishing skills I thought it was probably a snag on a rock or branch.

But what it turned out to be was the biggest brook trout I’ve ever hauled out of this stream.

Typically the fish I catch are 8-10 inches long, but this fish was 15 inches long.

(Lest anyone think I’m making up a fish story, I submit photographic proof)

big brookie

I must say that I was quite shocked to have captured a fish of this size in such a small stream.

Now, the point of this post is not to crow about catching a big fish. (Though I must admit I was pretty thrilled.)

No, the point I’m hoping to communicate is this: sometimes we have to leave our security behind in order to truly experience a completely new adventure.

I know myself. If had brought along some of my trusted bait or lures, after a while I would have parked the flies and gone back to the “tried and true.”

But because all those items were back in my garage, I was challenged to figure out how to work with what I had.

Sometimes God calls on us to make a clean break from those things that provide us with feelings of comfort, security and stability.

Imagine how Abraham felt when God came to him and gave Abraham this challenge:

The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:1-3 NLT)

God was calling on Abraham to leave all that was familiar. But in this challenge, God also communicated to Abraham some great promises. But for all this to take place, Abraham would have to completely let go of the known and fully embrace the unknown.

In the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon offered this statement that, at first glance, may not seem to make a lot of sense:

Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days. (Ecclesiastes 11:1 ESV)

Bread symbolizes sustenance. If you have bread, than you have food, which means you can sustain life.

Yet Solomon says, “Cast your bread upon the waters…”

To the person who is enjoying the security offered by the bread in hand, that might sound nonsensical.

But Solomon’s poetic point is that sometimes we have to part with our security in order to stretch, grow, discover and find new blessings.

Think about it. Isn’t this what a farmer does every time he tosses seed onto the wet ground and waits for it to grow? He’s taking a wise, calculated risk to enhance his fortunes and fill his barns. Seed left in the seed bag will produce nothing!

I like what Jada Pryor writes about balancing our life with times of stillness along with times of risk:

There are times in life when it’s time to sit still. Moments when God calls us to stand where we are, not because it’s the ‘safe” place, but because there is a lesson to be learned in the quiet. But there are also times, of equal importance, when the Lord tells us to get to running, to pick up speed, and prepare to jump. In those moments, when being called to step out in faith, we can take heart by remembering that we are not the first who’ve been asked to do so. We can look to the examples of so many in the Bible, and be assured that, while the way was never smooth, those risk takers who trusted in the Lord were always stronger for having taken the bumpy road.

Life is not meant to be a series of random, foolhardy risks.

We are called to be wise and thoughtful.

But life without taking any risks isn’t much of a life. Hellen Keller put it this way: “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.”

Is there an area of your life where God has a new lesson, a new experience, or a new adventure waiting for you…but your sense of security and desire for certainty are keeping you from it?

 

 

 

Focus

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. – Hebrews 12:2

Many people express an affinity for Peter, the one-time fisherman who became a disciple of Jesus.

The reason isn’t so much because of Peter’s amazing accomplishments, but rather his tendency to occasionally drop the ball, miss the point or put his foot in his mouth.

Perhaps the reason people feel this way about Peter is they wonder something like this: “If Peter could mess up so many times, and yet still be used by God, perhaps there’s hope for me!”

(It’s funny, sometimes we look up to successful people for motivation and inspiration. Other times we look down in the dirt and dust in search of people to remind us of our humanity and our tendency to struggle.)

One of Peter’s biggest challenges, at least prior to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, was his inability to keep his eyes firmly fixed on what was going on right in front of him.

  • It happened when, in the midst of walking on water, Peter took his eyes of Jesus and began to sink.
  • It occurred at the transfiguration of Jesus, when Peter got it in his mind to build tabernacles for Moses, Elijah and Jesus, but had to be interrupted by a voice from heaven that reminded Peter that although great men, Moses and Elijah didn’t hold a candle to Jesus.
  • It took place once again according to the closing verses of John’s gospel. Peter had just been recommissioned for ministry service by Jesus when Peter glanced over at fellow disciple John. Peter started to ask Jesus about John’s future fate. Jesus (realizing once again that Peter’s eyes were drifting out of focus) had to warn Peter with these sharp words:“What is it to you? You follow me.”

It seems Peter had an occasional problem with focus.

Truth be told, losing focus can be a challenge for us all.

Keeping our eyes on Jesus for any consistent stretch of time can be difficult.

Why? Because we are consistently bombarded with outer diversions, as well as plagued by inner distractions.

John boiled it down to three primary challenges every believer will face:

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. (1 John  2:15-17 ESV)

No wonder we have such a difficult time keeping our eyes glued on Jesus. The temptations of the world, coupled with our inner desires, continually seek to divert our gaze from the eternal toward the temporal. It’s an ongoing, everyday battle.

Yet, our development as believers rests heavily upon our ability to maintain a steady gaze upon Jesus.

If we only glance at Jesus from time to time, we won’t soak in the intricacies of who He is and what He desires for us. He will be more like an acquaintance than a close friend. As a result of maintaining such an intermittent relationship, there will simply be too much room for our affections to transfer into other areas of life.

This type of inconsistent relationship with Jesus reminds me of what James wrote about regarding double-mindedness:

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith,with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man,unstable in all his ways. (James 1:5-8)

When we lock our eyes upon Jesus, being filled His Spirit; informed and enlightened through His word; and strengthened by Him through prayer, we will discover a level of spiritual clarity that rarely comes upon a person whose life is marked by distractions and filled with diversions.

If we are truly focused, we will begin to sense His heartbeat for what matters most in life. We will begin to ascertain His will, becoming more in touch with the plans He has for us.

Becoming more focused upon Jesus is a discipline. It is the hard work of prioritizing our life; letting go of things that pull us away from consistent, extended time with the Lord.

And in our world of diversions and amusements, this is no small task.

But until we commit ourselves to a steady gaze upon the things of the Lord, we will find ourselves often sinking like Peter.

I imagine it might benefit us greatly if, from time to time, we could hear the very words Jesus spoke to Peter: “What is it to you? You follow me.”

(Maybe He is saying it. But we’re to unfocused to hear.)

 

 

 

 

 

“Do Unto Others” (According to Jesus)

The declaration of Jesus found in Matthew of 7:12 is highly familiar.

In fact, it is so well known that many people who quote it have no idea it comes from the Bible.

Here’s what it says:

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”(ESV)

This short phrase delivered by Jesus is known as the “Golden Rule.”

Prior to Jesus, this expression was primarily employed in the negative.

“If you don’t want to be hurt, don’t hurt others.”

“Don’t lie to others if you don’t like being lied to.”

One Rabbi who lived a hundred years before Jesus said it like this:

“What is hateful to yourself do not to someone else.”

The underlying theme in all these statements is the idea of self-protection.

They focus primarily on what we don’t do.

But when Jesus talked about the Golden Rule, He spoke it in terms of the positive.

Jesus’ teaching wasn’t a call to protection, but to benevolence.

Jesus was concerned that we put effort into finding ways to help and bless others.

It was a challenge to think how we like to be treated by others, and in turn, making the effort to treat others in the same manner.

Just prior to Matthew 7:12, Jesus was teaching about the kindness of our Heavenly Father:

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:7-11 ESV)

The picture given to us here is of a loving God who gladly enjoys doing kind things for His children.

And we are called to imitate our Father in heaven.

It might be said that the Golden Rule of Matthew 7:12 is a way for us to test whether the actions we take toward others are kind and beneficial. All we have to do is ask ourselves, “Would I appreciate the same type of thing being done for me?”

What Jesus did with the concept found in Matthew 7:12 is move it beyond passive restraint onto active benevolence.

Regarding all this, one person reflected:

“Christianity is not simply a matter of abstinence from sin; it is positive goodness.” – William MacDonald

Here’s the bottom line: Its really not so hard to refrain from hurting or harming others. But it seems to be much more difficult to take the initiative and do something good for someone else.

The “Golden Rule” according to Jesus provides for us a touchstone for developing a heart for active goodness and mercy.

And if we ever feel we lack for an example of what such kindness and generosity looks like, all we have to do is consider God’s gracious benevolence and His generous providence toward us.

 

Cursing the Mouse

A week or so ago Sara and I began watching the 2nd season of the TV series Alone.

The premise  of the show is this: Ten people are dropped off at various remote locations on Vancouver Island. With no human support, and a limited amount of implements (participants get to bring 10  from a list of 50 items) each person tries to outlast the other. They must forage their own food, build their own shelters and create their own fires. The person who lasts the longest wins half a million dollars.

One particular contestant named Larry has intrigued me.

He already has a bit of a volatile personality. He’s prone to mood swings.

Compared to other contestants, the spot where Larry was dropped off was less than ideal. It was a rocky beach area with no flat areas to set up camp. The terrain is steep and dense with trees, brush and deadfall. The area gets very little sun and seems to cause Larry some feelings of depression and claustrophobia.

Because the conditions are so harsh, Larry finds it difficult to catch fish, forage food, build a shelter, and in a nutshell, find any sense of feeling settled.

And Larry’s demeanor clearly has revealed his frustration. He incessantly swears at inanimate objects. He deeply complains about every setback or hindrance.

One issue that seems to really agitate Larry is the presence of a mouse that loves to scurry through his gear and his makeshift shelter. Larry begins worrying about the damage a mouse could do to his sleeping bag. Sometimes the mouse wakes him up in the middle of the night. Soon the mouse becomes an obsession. And, for some reason, the mouse does not relent in its activities.

In one scene, Larry is over and over awakened in the middle of the night by the mouse. Finally, come morning, Larry makes a resigned, but resolute declaration: “I need to move.”

So Larry packs up, climbs over one of the steep ridges that had hemmed him in so tightly and discovers that not far from his prior camp is a much better site for his ongoing adventure.

He now has a bay full of fish, level ground to build his shelter and sunshine to lift his spirits.

We might expect at this point that Larry would be thankful for the mouse.

But instead, Larry curses the mouse.

He talks about his desire to kill and maim any mouse he comes across. He boldly declares his hatred for all mice. His words are peppered with all sorts of curses and swear words.

And although Larry reveals glimmers of happiness, he still carries and edge, and his moods continue to fluctuate.

Bottom line: I think Larry has struggles with gaining perspective. He has a bent toward negativity, and perhaps even worse, ungratefulness.

Truth be told, the presence of the mouse was the very thing that pushed Larry to find something better. But Larry can’t find it in his mind or heart to see that.

I wonder how many times God brings along an irritant to get us moving. And rather than try to see God’s hand in the situation, we’re over focused on the person or thing that’s bugging us.

Jonah seemed to be this type of character. He never seemed to appreciate God because He was to busy complaining at God.

To try and help Jonah gain a new perspective, God brought a creature into his life. Not a mouse, but a worm.

Now before this happened, Jonah was already bent out of shape. God had it on his heart to give the people of Nineveh an opportunity to repent, and Jonah felt like they should die, be judged and condemned.

God finally brought Jonah around to do the work of calling Nineveh to repentance. But that didn’t mean Jonah’s heart was completely into it. He continued to harbor a bad attitude.

So God tried to use a lowly worm to transform Jonah’s thinking.

Here’s how the Bible describes it in Jonah 4:

Then Jonah went out to the east side of the city and made a shelter to sit under as he waited to see what would happen to the city. And the Lord God arranged for a leafy plant to grow there, and soon it spread its broad leaves over Jonah’s head, shading him from the sun. This eased his discomfort, and Jonah was very grateful for the plant.

But God also arranged for a worm! The next morning at dawn the worm ate through the stem of the plant so that it withered away. And as the sun grew hot, God arranged for a scorching east wind to blow on Jonah. The sun beat down on his head until he grew faint and wished to die. “Death is certainly better than living like this!” he exclaimed.

Then God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry because the plant died?”

“Yes,” Jonah retorted, “even angry enough to die!”

Then the Lord said, “You feel sorry about the plant, though you did nothing to put it there. It came quickly and died quickly. But Nineveh has more than 120,000 people living in spiritual darkness, not to mention all the animals. Shouldn’t I feel sorry for such a great city?” (Jonah 4:5-11 NLT)

The frustrating thing about the book of Jonah is that we never find out if Jonah dared to try and view things from a new perspective.

There have been situations in my life where I can now see how God was using people, things and circumstances to either get me to move in mind or my actual physical location. As I look back I realize that God had a plan. And sometimes, because of my stubbornness, laziness or disobedience, He needed to employ some drastic tactics in order to get me moving.

In many cases, I was just like Larry. I cursed the mouse. I wasn’t willing to consider that maybe God, in His wisdom and graciousness was actually trying to get to a better place.

Rather than give thanks. I groused, griped and grumbled. I protested. I couldn’t imagine why something so difficult was happening to me.

Here’s a quick little verse from 1 Thessalonians that may serve as a helpful antidote for such a skewed perspective:

Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:18 NLT)

Maybe the challenge for us comes down to this. Rather than looking at every obstacle or difficulty and wondering, “Why is God doing this to me?” or “Where is God?” we should rather reflect, “What might God be doing in my life through this and how can I thank Him?”

 

Where’s my Outrage Fix?

It’s a good thing to be informed.

We live in a time in history where keeping up-to-date is very easy to do.

Maybe too easy.

Truth be told, most of us are subjected (although we are often willing participants) to a never-ending, 24-7 news cycle that pummels us with story after story about what’s happening in our community, our state, our country and around the world.

Now, of course its often helpful to be apprised of what’s taking place in our world. The expression, “knowledge is power” holds a strong ring of truth.

But I am of the strong suspicion that much of what is being dished to us as “news” is nothing more than a boatload of inflammatory information designed to raise our ire and provoke our emotions.

In time, if we ingest a steady diet of this type of provocative information, our brain can actually become a bit addicted to the daily surge of endorphin and adrenaline. In response to our growing dependence on news that stirs us up, we may consider a slow news day to be a disappointment. Why? Because nothing dramatic or aggravating was broadcast over the airwaves or delivered to our computer screens. The result? We missed a fix.

We may not realize it, but subconsciously we may find ourselves wondering throughout the day, “Where’s my outrage fix?”

As a pastor, my concerns center around how all this culture of outrage and indignation affects our relationships with others.

One of the effects of finding ourselves attached to so many outrages is that we can begin to look at our fellow human beings with fear and disdain. See, much of the 24/7 news cycle seems intent on drumming up fear which, in turn, divides humanity.

If we are always in a mode of disapproval and disappointment, and in some cases fury and rage, our outlook on humanity will likely be dimmed.

A few questions to consider:

  • How can I love my neighbor if I’m afraid of him?
  • How can I pray for my mayor, congressmen or president if I have developed a deep-seated hatred for them?
  • How can I share the gospel if I view someone as the enemy?

The other thing that comes to mind is the fact that if I find myself living in a continual state of indignation and agitation, I will likely have very little room to display the fruit of the Holy Spirit.

Remember how Galatians 5:22-23 describes the Spirit’s fruit?

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”

The culture of outrage seems to produce the exact opposites to these characteristics. Instead of love, we see hate. Instead of joy, we witness anger. There is little peace but a lot of anxiety. Kindness, goodness and gentleness  give way to animosity suspicion and harshness. And quite often, all the fear, anxiety and aggravation have us tossing self-control out the window.

We may view all this as a modern problem, what with all our technology that sends the news around the world in the blink of an eye.

But the teaching found in Philippians 4:7-8 makes me think otherwise.

In these two verses, Paul exhorted his readers toward a discipline that we often find difficult to perform: thinking about things of value rather than things that create a lot of heat, but very little light:

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Philippians 4:7-8 ESV)

Here’s my final word:

Beware the temptation to have your mind flooded with a steady stream of information that, in the vast majority of cases, you can do little about.

Yes, the world’s a scary place. Yes, bad things happen. Yes, things are changing…and much of it for the worse. There are innumerable reasons to find our trousers in a wad.

But in the midst of all the bad news, God offers us better news…in fact the Bible refers to it as good news.

Because of Christ, we personally can have a great measure of hope.

Through Christ, we can help bring salt and light to a dark and decaying world.

Maybe it’s time to no longer allow the world – and it’s perpetual cycle of agitating information – rob us of our joy in Jesus.

 

 

 

 

New

Everyone likes new things.

New cars. New clothes. New phones.

“New” communicates a certain sense of hope, freshness and opportunity.

The Gospel of Jesus is wrapped up in the idea of newness.

The apostle Paul made this declaration about the transformational character of being in relationship with God through Christ:

This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! (2 Corinthians 5:17 NLT)

Our adversary, the devil, loves to tell us we can’t change.

But the Gospel declares that through Christ we can experience spiritual renovation.

Who will we believe?

In recent years, the term “born-again” has been viewed a bit negatively. Perhaps because many who employ it seem to do so more from a position of pride rather than  humility.

But the concept is entirely biblical.

In fact, Jesus told the questioning Nicodemus that in order to participate in the kingdom of God, he had to be born again.

Ephesians 2 tells us that apart from Christ we are spiritually dead, but in Christ we are made alive to the things of the Spirit.

The English word regeneration is the translation of palingenesia, a combination of two Greek words: palin, meaning again, and genesis, meaning birth or beginning. It simply means a new birth, a new beginning or a new order.

Regeneration is not a self-improvement program or a sin cleanup campaign. Rather, it is nothing less than the impartation of new life.

Regeneration is the renewing work of the Holy Spirit that literally makes every new believer a new person at the moment trust is placed in Christ as Savior.

It’s the only way that God can truly make us new. He has to spiritually re-birth us.

Through our newness in Christ we are able to take hold of new perspectives as well as discover new life practices.

How is this accomplished? Through the input of God’s Word as well as the prodding of God’s Spirit, we are able to begin living life under the wisdom and sovereignty of God.

Because of regeneration, we can leave behind our musty thinking and faulty practices, and take hold of life in a new and fresh way.

No wonder Jesus made the declaration found in John 10:10: “I have come that you might have life, and life more abundant!

Last thought: our regeneration takes place through process, not instantaneously.

And sometimes for every two steps forward, we seem to take one or two steps backwards.

Rest assured, God knows these things and they do not take anything away from the fact that He has better plans for our future.

May we grab hold of the promise of Paul’s words found in Philippians as we allow God to do a renovating work in our life:

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:6 ESV)