The Airing of Grievances

“I got a lotta problems with you people, and now you’re going to hear about it!”

Frank Costanza

Hopefully you all are old enough and refined enough to remember the celebration of Festivus, the fictional secular holiday that took place on the TV show Seinfeld as an alternative to on overly-commercialized Christmas holiday. After an awkward dinner, the family gathered around to lament the ways in which they were disappointed by one another over the past year.

Speaking of grievances, the is certainly no shortage of them going around lately. Big ones, small ones, accusations, denials, apologies… you name it. Since privacy is a thing of the past, we all have a ringside seat to the public ‘airing’ of these grievances. So-and-so pens an “open letter” to such-and-such… he or she responds with an apology or retort, to which five other people respond with their own open letters or dissenting opinions. It’s truly a sight to behold.

It’s an interesting thing watching a secular culture address issues of wrongdoing, repentance, and justice. There are very real, very grievous sins that need dealing with, while other troubles would be better left out of the public eye. The world has constructed a kind of system in which it’s easy to accuse and imperative to apologize if you know whats best for you. But does this system satisfy victims? Does it lead to genuine repentance on the part of the accused?

Sin is a very serious thing, and as Christians, we should take repentance and forgiveness just as seriously, both individually and corporately. The devil has a field day though, when we get so mixed up in the emotionalism of the latest outrage that we fail to see the proverbial forest through the trees. Accusations and apologies must never be weaponized, for when they are, the beauty and freedom of what Jesus did for us is whitewashed.

The secular world has no basis for their demands other than what is popular at the time. They are a mob that rides a cresting wave of opinion that will soon change. We must not believe that the world holds more truth than scriptures. True freedom and liberation come when we address sin Gods way. I read a blog yesterday that put it this way:

“This is where the devil hijacks our repentance — on both ends of this transaction. If he can get the perpetrators to confess vague sins, he can keep sinners shackled in the ambiguity of sorrow and regret without any real confidence of forgiveness and freedom. And if he can get the victims to traffic in the vague confessions, the devil can keep victims in the ambiguity of sorrow and shame without any real confidence of resolution and freedom. And tenderhearted Christians can get sucked into this black hole because it can feel very spiritual and brokenhearted. But there is a massive difference between the broken and contrite heart that God loves and leads to true freedom, and the emotional death camp of vague guilt and shame. Another way to say all of this is that Christian repentance must be obedient to God’s Word, not merely an emotional dumpster dive. And this means that when the world around us is demanding submission to their false gods, Christian apologies must be even more careful, especially for those who would be leaders or teachers. We have an even greater responsibility.

What sticks out to me is the repetition of the word freedom. The goal, the endgame, the purpose for us in all this is for us to have freedom through what Christ has accomplished. The secular way offers no resolution, and it doesn’t want one. The enemy wants us to spin in circles in a vicious cycle of offense that never ends. So again, we don’t ignore sin, but we must be extremely careful about what the world is demanding we bow to. Throughout the Old Testament, Israelites were told to bow to false gods, and it’s no different today. Often these gods come in the form of ideas and ideologies the world demands we embrace. The waters have become muddied with false choices about race, gender roles and privilege. It’s not that we don’t owe apologies at times, it’s that we must be very careful about what we are submitting to.

Timothy warned about this: “But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife. And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will. 2 Timothy 2:23-26

The point is not that we be ‘right’ all the time. We are to point people to the truth, that they too can escape sin and its consequences. The purpose of Christian leadership is not to demonstrate how fantastically ‘in tune’ you are with the current trends or how ‘woke’ you may be to everyones offenses:

“What is the chief end of man? The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”  This isn’t a Bible verse, it’s from the Westminster Catechism, but it sums it up nicely. We are not here to bask in offense or victimhood any more than we are here to dominate or put ourselves on a pedestal showing off how compassionate we are. We forgive because we are forgiven, we confess our sins to God and to one another for the purpose of reconciliation and freedom. The “emotional death camps of vague guilt and shame” are not our dwelling place, no matter how important we may feel there. We are called to deal with sin differently, in a way that allows for true healing and freedom.

“A brother offended is harder to win than a strong city. And contentions are like the bars of a castle.” Proverbs 18:19

An offended Christian will usually turn into an offensive Christian, and we aren’t meant to carry that burden. Abiding in Jesus allows us to deal with the truth of real sin and not pick up needless offense at every turn.

Thieves of Liberty

“Where is the life we have lost in living? Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?” TS Eliot

The Information Age. It’s our blessing and our curse. I often joke I was born into the wrong era because I don’t always love everything that comes with technology, but feeding at the buffet of the inter webs is a part of life as we know it now. Whether we realize it or not, our minds are soaking in ideas that change the way we think. Given enough time, these little ideas can change the way we act as well. I’m always struck by those memes that pop up everywhere that sound nice but send off alarms in my head. Sometimes I think I overreact to this stuff, but I fear bad ideas start small and grow into destructive beliefs. Exhibit A:

Ummm… ok. Like, on a silver platter? I think I deserve a Friday off of work once in awhile, but my coworkers might disagree. I know I deserve some help with the towering laundry piles in the living room, but my kids may not agree. You deserve to be (insert happy adjective), you are entitled to (insert benefits). Actually, Biblically speaking, we don’t deserve much. The “universe” can’t serve us up anything. Now, if you want to talk about what we deserved vs. what we got, look to Jesus first. He stepped in to take what we deserved, and we enjoy life and freedom because of it. This idea that things will just shake out because of karma or good intentions is not only dumb, but dangerous. What happens when they don’t? We blame God. All along, He was calling us to Himself, to know His will, His truth, and we looked past Him. We can’t have one hand reached out to Jesus and the other to the vacant “universe” and expect to have clarity. We can’t just absorb things that sound nice without thinking how they shape the way we see God.

Exhibit B:

There’s a lot happening here. Some may read it and have no feeling, some may think it’s a bit quirky. Others have a BS detector that is having a meltdown. I’m not sure what it means to “steward your destiny” exactly, but I do know we are called to be good stewards of “the grace of God” (1 Peter 4:10). That means all of Him, truth included. I’m not sure about incubating strategies, but I know better than to have someone tell me when to speak or when to be quiet. This isn’t Biblical. People are preying on our inability (or unwillingness) to seek out answers from the Word for ourselves. When we share Jesus, we point to Him. We don’t point people back to ourselves. When someone starts focusing more on a method than the person of Christ, we need to take heed.

Again…

Please standby… I’ve got to go to lunch and run some errands, but come back to instagram later for this crucial message! I joke, but this is the kind of stuff we scroll past, hit ‘like’ on, say amen to and soak in. Pretty little lies about God creeping into our heads that affect how we think about Him. Read enough of this stuff and you end up with complication where there should be simplicity, and tangled lies where there should be freeing truth.

Paul dealt with this in his letter to the Galatians when he spoke of “false brethren secretly brought in (who came in by stealth to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage), to whom we did not yield submission even for an hour, that the truth of the gospel might continue with you.” (Galatians 2:4-5)

I’m struck by that phrase, people coming to ‘spy out our liberty’. They are coming to take it away, to put us back in bondage. Whether it’s on purpose or not doesn’t really matter, a false gospel leads us back to chains. Paul tells them of people who are parading around preaching a different gospel, a distorted gospel (Galatians 1:7). He warns that even if it were an “angel from heaven” promoting these things (v. 8) we should dismiss it. That’s the problem. These things present themselves as attractive, relevant, and sensible. They are heavy on human initiative and performance and light on Jesus.

We’re being spoon-fed information on a minute to minute basis, but we’re losing our ability to sort through it. The “universe” is throwing out garbage and we are piling it up like a trash receptacle. Paul prayed that we would have both knowledge and discernment (Philippians1:9) and that we would be able to approve what is worthy of our time and hearts.

It’s almost Christmas, a good time to take a step back perhaps from the noise and recalibrate ourselves. Take a little fast perhaps from the information onslaught and enjoy some simple silence with Jesus. Clear out the cobwebs a bit of the accumulated stuff and make room for the Christ child. Find the life you may have lost in all the “living” these past few weeks. Ask for wisdom instead of information. Don’t allow anyone to come in and spy out your freedom, it’s a precious gift that came at a great price. We owe it to ourselves and each other to not fall for the pretty little lies that surround us at every turn.

Merry Christmas everyone. Enjoy this season, make some time for silence, and enjoy the gift that has been so freely given to us all.

Nothing But Cowbell

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Do you ever come up against people or arguments that are so one-sided, so determined to remain in their own four walls that you genuinely don’t know whether it’s worth it to fight or flee?

I watched a fascinating video yesterday posted on the Sheologian’s website about what happens almost weekly at an Arizona Planned Parenthood clinic between pro-life and pro-abortion protesters. There’s a pastor who shows up to talk with the abortion rights people. He asks calmly about their position and if they would please speak with him and have a conversation about what they believe. This is what happens: cowbell.

This lady stares into her smart phone and relentlessly shakes a giant cowbell in his face. She then says she doesn’t engage with crazy.

I began thinking about how much of our time is spent uselessly trying to argue against the cowbells. To be totally fair, I also considered the times I’ve spent being the one ringing that big ol’ bell.

Noise is nothing but a distraction from the truth. Truth is what leads us to freedom. If all a person can do is ring the cowbell and make more noise, there’s no getting around it and there’s certainly no hope for ever receiving any truth.

The book of Proverbs has a lot to say about foolish arguments:

“Do not answer a fool according to his folly, lest you also be like him.” (26:4)

Strangely enough, the very  next verse seems to say the exact opposite thing:

“Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.” (26:5)

 

Wait… are we supposed to engage or run? Fight or flee? I think instead of being opposed to each other, these two verses build upon one another. The first verse is warning us not to stoop to a low-level because it simply makes us into what we are standing against. It’s the whole “two wrongs don’t make a right” analogy your mom always told you when you were a kid. When someone is wrong, they only way they can draw you in is through deceit and distraction. The enemy would like nothing more than to see us all standing around shaking cowbells at one another because it distracts from what is really happening. It’s a lose/lose situation, even for the person who originally was standing on the truth.

Verse 5 is the different side to the same coin. It tells us to answer these arguments “lest he be wise in his own eyes”.  A right word at the right time can change everything. The point is not to shame someone and hammer them for being wrong, but to expose untruth and folly so we are not wise in our own ways.

What strikes me most in this story of the pastor is that he isn’t obsessing over winning or being right, he’s just desiring truth to get out there. Whether it’s accepted or not isn’t really his issue. He speaks it, but doesn’t get sucked down the rabbit hole of hostile and foolish arguments. God’s path to victory is often via a humble and low-road. The great thing about truth is that it doesn’t really need us to defend it. It just is. We stand up for it and speak it, but the fight isn’t really ours to take on.

Two strangers confronting one another on the street is one thing, but take this now and apply it to your actual life with family and friends. My eyebrows raise and my teeth clinch a little just writing that. Sometimes there are cowbells ringing all over the place, from the ones we love the most. At times it’s us holding up a giant noisemaker refusing to budge or hear any truth. Satan would like nothing more than to keep us clanging and shaking bells in each others’ faces. I love this passage from Lisa-Jo Baker:

“We are never in more dangerous territory than when we’ve been wounded by someone, and as we lie there bleeding and hurt, Satan tries to poke and prod and torture us into a reaction that is wildly out of proportion to the original wounding.” 

Wildly out of proportion. This is his trap, believers. The desire to be heard leads us down an irrational and ungodly path where truth gets tossed aside and our winning becomes the most important thing. We have to ask ourselves which we care most about, doing right or being right? I’m a huge believer in the notion that when we continue to do what is right in God’s eyes, according to His word, He will lift us up.

The noise of foolish arguments is designed to keep us distracted, spinning our wheels, angry, and obsessed with the wrong things. Cowbells are everywhere. I thank God every day that there is so much to be found in His Word to guide us around all this noise. If you’re holding up a big bell, consider setting it down and listening to the person in front of you, above all, consider listening to God. If you’re faced with someone ringing relentlessly in your face, ask for wisdom about how to engage. Or disengage. That’s the beauty of walking with Jesus. His truth is our most powerful weapon. Far better than a giant noisemaker.

The Word and the World

“We must base our thinking on the rugged facts of life according to God’s book, and not according to the finesse of modern civilization. Let us not be so careful as to how we offend or please human ears, but let us never offend God’s ears.” Oswald Chambers

Let’s face it, being a Christian these days (a Bible-believing Christian that is) is offensive and divisive. Not because we embrace those things, but because the message of Christ is a stumbling block for many. The message of the cross is foolishness to most people (I Corinthians 1:18) and it is completely at odds with what our culture values. The gap between what the world preaches and what Jesus says grows wider by the day. It’s easy to find ourselves in a kind of spiritual no-man’s land between the two. Do we make the Word of God try and fit into the world? Or do we try and influence our world with the Word?

Our culture tries to dictate to us what we should believe.  I read on a blog just today a comment to the writer that said, “I just LOVE your version of God! Your version makes more sense!”  Of course we want God to make sense, but creating our own versions of Him to fit into today’s culture isn’t a winning strategy. This writer has a cult-like following. People call her ‘brave’ for making Jesus fit into today’s culture.  Do you know what I think is brave? Standing by the authentic, Biblical Jesus and holding fast to what He said. Deliberate, thoughtful reading of God’s Word is a huge part of that. Without it, we form our own ideas, our own versions of the truth that never work. The more powerless we feel, the more we build up our own ideas to explain away why things aren’t working.

“having a form of godliness, but denying it’s power…” 2 Timothy 3:5

 “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they  will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.” 2 Timothy 4:3

People who desire the applause of other people will say what others want to hear. There’s much dialogue to be had with no real solutions.  In our efforts to revamp Jesus, we’ve totally lost Him. He doesn’t need a PR firm, He just needs us to proclaim what He has already done.

“Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season.” 2 Timothy 4:2

“Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.”  Colossians 4:4

“Whatever I tell you in the dark, speak in the light; and what you hear in the ear, preach on the housetops.” Matthew 10:27

“They went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs.” Acts 16:20

When we just share  the “rugged facts” as God gave them – not our own watered-down versions or what we think people want to hear – the randomness and powerlessness stops. In it’s place we find freedom, and answers that translate over into our every day lives. Relationships are mended. Sicknesses are healed. Strongholds are broken. That’s what happens when we apply God’s Word, because there is a person behind those words backing them up. The bravest choice we can make is to value God’s opinion over man’s. That’s being a disciple. Accepting that it means what is says and says what it means.

Be clear. Be bold. Love the truth and speak it in love. That’s how disciples are made and lives changed. Honor God by putting what He says above all else.