To Post or Not to Post?

James tells me, Be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger. For the anger of a man does not achieve the righteousness of God. Implicit in his statement is the concept that followers of God are motivated by achieving the righteousness of God. I find that a worthy goal.

How then, do I allow my daily walk to reflect that value? What things must I abandon, modify, or implement to accomplish this goal?

Perhaps we can find a hint of the answer by returning to the verse? Quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger… This, given the impulsive nature of our culture, might prove more of a challenge.

Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook are all popular methods of “instant” communication. We can all post or repost whatever catchy little phrase or meme’ that says exactly what we believe. Perhaps the shock value of the photo will tug at the hearts of others exactly as it has tugged at our own hearts. Maybe untold thousands will abandon long held beliefs and positions because of this pitiful little puppy, or an unborn baby, or picture of the latest school shooting. After all, it made me look.

Unfortunately, these don’t draw the reflective attention of those who disagree with the position. For most who hold an opposing view, it tends to cause them to dismiss, discount, or disregard the “repost”. Our friends who hold the same position might repost the statement. You won’t find someone who views the world differently stating, “I’m reposting this because I’ve never considered this in this light.”

What does it matter, what we post or don’t post? Perhaps nothing at all. But, perhaps it matters a lot. Maybe it caters to our impulsive nature, so that we say things without regard to how it might seem to others. Perhaps the posts that express our frustration with the “police” or the “police haters”, or the “gun advocate” or the “gun opponent”, or whatever other issue we want to speak about… perhaps it arises from our fears and biases.

If I don’t take the moment to reflect, “Will this achieve the righteousness of God?” I may be speaking too rashly. I might be correct in my position, but closing the doors for meaningful conversations.

Before the next Twitter post, ask yourself, “Will this come across in such a way as to draw together or to push apart?” If it incites strong emotion in you, reflect on how it might be seen by those who disagree. After all, the goal is not to take a side, the goal is to be like God.

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Do Good, Keep Doing Good

I like to help people. I like to help those who are struggling with their walk in the Christ. I like to help those who are entangled in sin. I like to help those who are trapped by what they see as normal and need to be exposed to other ways of doing things. Helping others has become a natural form of interaction for me.

Jesus is described as one who went about doing good, healing those who were oppressed by the devil. That is a pretty good pattern to follow. I may not be able to heal physical illness, but if I can do good and thwart the devil a bit, I will have made an impact.

I’d like to think that somewhere, off in a spiritual realm, that the devil and his minions are having a conversation from time to time about how I, working alongside and at the direction of Jesus, am a real irritation to them. If I am going to vex someone, I’d like to think it could be the devil.

Doing good is fundamental to the Christian walk. Paul reminds us not to grow weary in doing good in Galatians 6 and 2 Thessalonians 3. If we are going to put our backs into something, let it be in doing good.

Romans 2:7 reminds us that by patiently doing good, we become recipients of eternal life. While in Titus 3, he gives what could well be the challenge for each of us. “Let our people also learn to continue doing good works to meet urgent needs, that they might not be unproductive.”

It might help us to take the focus off of our task being “going to heaven”, and shift toward bringing the kingdom of God into the lives of those around us. Effective kingdom living is not sitting back talking about platitudes and attitudes, it is being in the trenches of life with those who struggle and bringing good to them.

Make no mistake, doing good, doing the right thing in the face of evil does not result in smiles and being patted on the back. Resisting evil and instilling good, results in rebellion in others, rejection by some, and avoidance with others. You will be misunderstood, misrepresented, and underappreciated. Scheming, slander and jeering might all be things that you face. Your motives will be questioned, you will be labeled as gullible, misguided and naive.

Do good anyway. It is the high calling of God, and if you stick to it, some will begin to see that you look like Jesus

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Us or Them?

So, how can I keep silence in the face of injustice, or turn a blind eye to the abuse of others?

Now before you think I am going to post one of the memes that you’ve seen in Facebook of little children separated from parents, or not separated from parents. Or a meme that wraps itself in a mantle of righteousness espousing one political agenda over another, you are going to be disappointed – if that is your expectation.

There is enough corruption in the camps of any political camp that I will not align myself with any, as well as some well documented truths that cause me to momentarily gasp, just  to see a bit of hope.

I so love people on both sides of every issue that I want to support their movement toward a loving God rather than question their sense, integrity, and loyalty by blindly lumping them into disposable categories and pushing them aside.

My question is some pondering for myself. What is it in me that allows me to keep silence in the face of injustice? I grew up in the 1960s-70s, used language of bigotry, and acted as though the circumstances of the inner city blacks in Detroit was the result of their own choices. After all, they chose to live in marginal areas of town. They dressed differently, drove different vehicles, ate different foods and were all about “Soul” this and “Soul” that.

We, on the other hand, were not like them. We left areas when they began to become run down, moving further into the suburbs. We preferred to shop in our own area of town, eat in our own restaurants, and enjoy our own entertainment. We just did normal things, typical things, things like everyone else who were like us.

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Secret Money

One of the faith building things that happens in my life takes place when we put out an appeal for a particular project. They don’t necessarily happen every week, but usually I have the experience monthly.

Someone will come up to me quietly and say, “I can help with that.” Sometimes some cash is pressed into my hand, other times perhaps a check. I’ve had people contact me over Facebook, who have listened to me mention something in a sermon, then send money to help. I’ve had others bring items, household goods, and clothing, whatever is needed. Once in a while I will get the question, “How’s your freezer space?” Someone has some beef that they want used for Monday lunches, or families in need in the community.

I make sure that the shepherds know of the generosity, often at the request of the benefactor, anonymously. I made it a policy many decades ago to never handle cash without accountability to leadership. But what I’ve noticed, what I’ve been blessed to notice, is how often people are incredibly generous without any desire for others to know about it. Sometimes it might only be 20$, but sometimes it has been thousands of dollars.

Get it done. Let me help. Can you get this to that situation? I want to be a part of that. Those are common expressions. I walk away humbled and offering praise to God for such hearts.

Because I am at times a “point person,” these experiences come about. Tom and I have often shared stories of people in different situations who have used us to funnel funds to accomplish things that glorify God, ease suffering, create opportunity, and lift burdens.

I’ve been surprised by some who have been very cautious over the years. Jaded by televangelists who expect followers to buy them jet planes, they slowly become some of the most generous in trying to help local efforts. This happens when they see the results of the generosity of others. Those are acts of faith planting seeds of faith.

You might not see as many of these things, but I want you to know about it. I want you to understand that “without letting the left hand know what the right hand is doing,” people of faith do incredible things. From widow’s mite to a banker’s millions, people of faith have a heart of generosity.

Today, we will do a very “routine” Sunday assembly. Singing, praying, teaching, the Lord’s Supper, and an offering.  The offering might seem like “paying dues,” but it is far more than that. It is a discipline to instill generosity in us, so that faith might grow in others.

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How Do I Deepen my Relationship?

When Janet and I first met, she was about to turn 16 and I was approaching 18; we lived across Denver from each other. I was spending lots of time in a school of preaching while she was a junior in high school. We didn’t have the chance to see each other more than 2-3 times per week, often at church.

To begin to develop our relationship, much to the chagrin of her parents, we spoke on the phone. We could talk endlessly. The conversations were about the most menial things, the point was… we were talking. I wrote some letters, cards, that kind of thing. We just wanted to communicate. If we had been a generation with cell phones, we would have been constantly texting.

She was restricted on dating, so we didn’t go out much. I was restricted on income, so we didn’t go to fancy places. The point was, time together. Driving in the mountains, movies, fast food meals, and youth events, we made the most of every opportunity together. We created the time because we wanted a deeper relationship.

I’ve been studying how to help other disciples deepen their relationship with God. I use a number of “spiritual disciplines”: prayer, meditation, solitude, journaling, and study. I find them helpful. I interject others from time to time, but these five are my primary things. So how do I communicate these to others?

First, I am not sure that the “what” is quite that important. To decide between journaling (one’s record of gratitude, confession, submission and sacrifice) or prayer is not that important. All of the disciplines are pointed or directed toward God. The key is the focus, the intentionality, the purpose of being with God. Perhaps it is like distinguishing between the superiority of Instagram or Snapchat to communicate a message?

Second, to grow in a relationship with God requires communication and reflecting on God. It is something that must be a priority for us. So, there must be an allocation of time. For Janet, it is her travel time back and forth to work. She has that uninterrupted 2 hours per day. I use my morning meditation period; time I don’t answer the phone, deal with email, or have distractions around.

Third, evaluate from time to time. Is it becoming drudgery? Yes, at times, training yourself to be more spiritual is tiring. But we must press through. A shift in how you interact with God can often be helpful. Spend a day jotting notes of gratitude for his provision, for example.

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Sometimes a Man’s Gotta Do What a Man’s Gotta Do

Today, I trimmed my beard. I am not sure why today instead of yesterday, but today was the day. I looked in the mirror and thought, “That is too long, it needs a trim.”

I looked in the same mirror yesterday, but did not feel the compulsion. Do you suppose my beard grew enough overnight that suddenly it reached this point of no return? I don’t think so.

I remember looking in the mirror after a shower when I washed my hair and beard and seeing ringlets in my beard, but that was earlier in the week and didn’t prompt my looking for the trimmer. We trimmed trees from the fence and yard, hauling off a few trailers of limbs, hot dirty work, but I never thought, “Thin the beard.”

There is a point, a tipping point, when we decide enough is enough and are prompted to act. It is that moment of introspection, a gaze into the reflection of ourselves when we determine to see something different in the future.

Spiritually we are like that as well. We move along, perfunctory prayer life; meals… bedtime… with an occasional emergency prayer, but nothing deep and meaningful, no true interaction at the feet of God. One day, looking at the reflection of the man in the mirror, we say… “Not enough.” We reset, refocus, and repent before God.

Our time with meditation is no different. The same can be said of our reflection on God’s word, or his creation.

But why “Today?” Do we look that much more spiritually haggard? Are we that different than the day before?

Scripture addresses this to the people of God repetitively. Today, while it is still called today… Now is the time to act. The Hebrew writer’s point was that sin was deceitful, its impact is a hardened heart.

Resets are amazing things. The turn arounds that offer us refreshing and rekindling of the spirit can breathe new life into old bones. Prayers become new. Determination becomes solidified. Hope springs anew.

How do we reset? By gazing at that reflection in the mirror and truly seeing ourselves. Not harshly critical, but as our own best friend. “Buddy, you can do better than this.”  Then acting to assist in the change.

Today, if you harden not your hearts….

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Graduations and Milestones

As many are acknowledging milestones in their lives at this time of the year, I’ve been reflecting on some of them.

There are those who are experiencing milestones in their educational progression. Some are experiencing a first transition as kindergarten ends and they announce that they are ready to step off into the next 12 years of schooling. They can recite their letters, count to 100 or beyond and color in the lines. All things that are groundwork for the next great endeavor.

Others are completing high school, looking back with a nostalgic eye at friendships made, team work skills refined and a focus toward the future beginning to narrow. College, trade school, the work force – each begin to become weightier words as reality bears down.

For some, college ends with letters like AA, BA, MA, PhD being formed on diplomas that will decorate office walls after the tassels turn and the celebrations fade.

Not all milestones are academic, but still reflect determination and commitment. Some are forming families, acknowledging before friends and families a determination to join together to face life’s journey. Acknowledgment of history together, anticipation of pleasures and excitement that lay ahead, “I do’s” are exchanged, embraces are photographed and licenses are signed as another milestone is reached.

Sometimes the milestones are anniversaries, of birthdays, weddings, retirements, or deaths. Each in its own way becomes a marker on life’s journey.

Spiritually we see these markers in perhaps a different manner. A first prayer being formed at bedtime or a meal. Faith acknowledged as new birth is begun. An embracing of ancient traditions of communion, both with God and his people across time and in one’s immediate surroundings.

In all the acknowledgements of milestones, at least two components exist. The first is reflective in nature, while one stands at this point, behind them are individual after individual who shared the journey and offered support. The second is anticipatory, peering into a future, unsure of what lies ahead but longing to embrace it. A bit of fear mitigated by life experiences that have laid the groundwork for success.

Standing on the foundation of the past, leaning into the anticipation of the future, lives change. Not just the graduating class, the couple or new Christian, but the lives of all of those who have contributed their part to the journey.

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Spring is in the Air

Spring is here. I can no longer deny it. I’ve mowed a couple of times. The Kentucky Derby has been run. There have been a few tornado warnings around the state. These are all reminders to me that it is that time of the year.

Yet, when I sit on the porch with a cup of coffee, other things remind me. The chirping of the birds in the morning air can be overwhelming as each seeks out its mate, longing for new life and new beginnings. For me, Spring is that time, a time of new beginnings.

I’ve always suspicioned that God likes Spring as well. For if nothing else, we know our God is the God of new beginnings. Patient, tolerant, merciful, and kind, our God has offered to his people throughout all generations the opportunity to start again.

Cast from the garden, Adam and his family had the opportunity for new beginnings. Noah and his family after the Flood, were given the chance to start the world all over again. Abraham has a fresh start as he follows God to the new land of promise. Israel leaves Egypt with God in the forefront with a pillar of cloud and of fire. Once again a new beginning. Joshua leads them into the Promised Land, across the Jordan River, a new place to start.

We could talk of the Kings, restart after restart in the nation of Judah. Each of the prophets appeals to the nation, begin again with God. Captivity, then the return… a chance to begin again.

Finally, or perhaps at last, God calls it the fullness of time, Jesus comes to put God in the flesh and the process in motion. From crowds on the hillside, multitudes on the plains, crowded beaches, tiny synagogues, expansive temples, and ending in whispers on a cross, new beginnings are offered, seized, and sometimes ignored. Over and over, time after time, the occasions are presented to start fresh, once again.

As the new grass launches itself into the air, as flowers bud, then burst into bloom, remember the imagery. Catch a glimpse of the message of nature that echoes the voice of God: This is the time for new beginnings. Shrug aside the old, ineffective habits, open yourself to a walk that is in step with our God. Today, even the birds sing the New Song, if you have the ears to hear.

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God’s Intent

A question that I have been pondering during this last year was prompted by the story in 2 Samuel 14, about the widow from Tekoa who is sent to David by Joab to facilitate Absalom’s return to Jerusalem. Her statement is, “…the king does not bring back his banished son”, indicating the ‘appropriate behavior’ based on the statement, “This is not what God desires, he devises ways so that a banished person does not remain banished from him.”

This is the rationale for David bringing Absalom back to Jerusalem, but was it good counsel, God’s counsel, or simply Joab’s manipulation?

It should be noticed that Joab often had his own motives for things, making behind the scenes moves to push the kingdom in directions he desired. So, the source of the statement comes overlaid with some less than pristine motives.

That being acknowledged, God has on numerous occasions used ‘shady characters’ to deliver spiritual truths.

My question is, if God did bring this into being, what does it tell me about the character of God? Is it consistent with what I learn in other places about God to make the statement that God doesn’t want those who are “banished” banished forever?

The principle which can be affirmed about God is that he is a ‘restorer’, a fixer. From the chaos as creation began, he brought order and structure. From a fallen humanity, through the second Adam, he brought redemption. He is patient, longsuffering, and hopeful toward his creation, always moving, shaping, and planning for a full restoration of all things.

Since God seems to be on the edge of his seat, ready to act in support of our efforts to return. Since he has historically acted ‘while we were yet sinners’, initiating our process to regain our earlier status, I find it consistent with what I know of the nature of our God to say that he does not want those who are banished, banished forever.

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Greater, More Important Commands

There raged a debate in Jesus’ day among those who enjoyed discussing Scripture. One day, as we might have guessed, someone asked the question of him. His answer is something that should school and inform our understanding of God.

Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law? Jesus said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all of your heart, and with all of your soul, and with all of your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Jesus answers and sets the matter to rest. However, he follows this statement with one that illuminates all of Scripture. On these two commandments hang all of the Law and the Prophets.

That is a new statement, and in it we discover the hermeneutic (process for interpreting Scripture) that Jesus used. There were many who believed that one command was just as important as another. But that is not the case according to Jesus, and we see it applied throughout Scripture.

Keeping the Sabbath was a command that many used to their own hurt. As Jesus preached throughout his ministry and healed different ones, some laid in wait wondering if he would do good on the Sabbath. Work was forbidden, so people who were ill would just have to suffer, would they not?

Jesus describes the intent of the Law, man was not made to observe the Sabbath, rather the Sabbath was made to benefit man. It was easy, once you saw the purpose. It is God honoring to assist one made in God’s image by acting in kindness toward them. Loving them by caring for them, healing them, was in perfect accord with all of the Law and the Prophets.

Arguing about what could be done, how much was too much, or how far the sun was down on the mountain was missing the point of all that God had revealed about himself. It isn’t hard to see when one has the vision of God’s intent.

Mindless enforcement of commandments, moving away from God’s intent, or worse yet, blocking God’s intention becomes sinful. Feeding the hungry, clothing the poor, or aiding the sick is not contrary to God’s law, even on the Sabbath.

 

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