I’ve been sitting at my computer for over an hour this afternoon. This is a hard one to write, especially as I experience the divisiveness and chaos of the United States right now. Even among those who call themselves Christian, I see vitriol and judgmental criticism rooted in politics, not Christ, rather than efforts to listen and understand each other.
So I’m just going to dig into Scripture, like I usually do, and see what the Holy Spirit reveals.
The New Testament often uses the word walk to talk about the process of living. (In fact, the NIV uses “live a life” in place of walk in Colossians 1:10.) There wasn’t space, however, to unpack walk. Today, let’s revisit those verses and consider three paths in which we walk (because in follows walk all three times). Continue reading →
I felt like I was drowning. It was a week before Christmas Eve—early Saturday morning. Our tree wasn’t up, our lights weren’t hung, and only a few gifts were wrapped. Some gifts still weren’t bought (not my usual pattern: I’m an early shopper). I had baked absolutely nothing. I hadn’t even decided what to bake. Because I felt so behind-schedule, I was short with the kids and impatient with their father. I couldn’t even enjoy a Christmas party the night before because I resented all the work it took to bring dishes for the potluck. (Brutal honesty here.)
As I sat down for my quiet time, I wrote, “Christmas is rushing toward us like a tidal wave.” A few minutes later, I opened my Bible to Matthew 11 and sought the next paragraph. (For more on how we do our quiet times, click here.) Do you know the last paragraph in Matthew 11? I literally laughed out loud when I read it.
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. -Matthew 11:28-30
I warped peace and contemplation
into pressure and obligation.
I had warped this season, which is supposed to be about peace and contemplation, into a season of pressure and obligation. I needed the kind of rest that only comes from Jesus.
Three character qualities of Jesus stand out in these verses: gentleness, humility, and restfulness. Go back and read the verses again. Do you see it? Those who tie themselves to him (the yoke) learn from him because of his gentleness and humility, but I believe even those who just happened to come near Jesus when He was on earth experienced these things as well. Isn’t that why people were so attracted to Him?
So I can learn that peaceful kind of attitude?
I don’t have time for that! Didn’t you see how behind schedule I am right now?!?
Deep breath. Let’s go a step further here. As Christ-followers (because Christian means “little Christ”), we have Jesus in us already (John 15). That means His gentleness, humility, and restfulness (among other things) are already part of our spiritual composition, already existing in us even as they continue to mature (re: Fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23).
If we are already little Christs…
If the Holy Spirit guides and empowers us (John 16:12-15)…
If our standard for living is Jesus’ example…
Then our lives should, like His, exude these character traits regardless of our circumstances. It should be that anyone around us experiences gentleness, humility, and restfulness just by being in our presence and especially by interaction with us.
I don’t use that word, “should” lightly. I really can’t stand it. But in this instance, I had an obligation to change my attitude. “Should” works.
So I made a list. I checked it twice. It had nothing to do with others being naughty or nice. Actually, I wrote it on my bathroom mirror, and I check it every time I stand in front of the sink. On my wish list and my gifting list, I have three things:
It’s a simple practice, but it’s working. It keeps me in prayer, keeps me taking a deep breath and resetting my attitude—especially about what’s decorating my house and what’s in my oven.
I want my Christmas
to be about gentleness,
humility, and restfulness.
I want my Christmas to be about gentleness, humility, and restfulness. Saturday morning before my tea got cold, I submitted my holidays to the Lord Jesus, and asked for these three things— not just for myself but as the gift of presence I will give everyone around me.
Missions mindset: that way of thinking which gears every aspect of life toward glorifying God and sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ
Election season: that period of time (every four years) when Americans choose their next Commander-in-Chief, characterized in the modern era by mud-slinging, propaganda, and overspending
I’m a big fan of that constitutional pillar we call separation of church and state. My comments today do not address the church. I speak to individuals who call themselves “Christian,” although I prefer to call myself a Christ-Follower. We have a unique opportunity in these days—one that we must not overlook in the heat of our political passions.
I’m also not asking you to give up your political views. Healthy debate is good for our country, and everyone seems to have strong political opinions this year. If you don’t, you must have spent the year in an underground bunker. (Kimmy Schmidt, anyone?) By the way, I’m quite certain that well-intentioned, sincere Christ-followers will vote for Hillary Clinton, for Donald Trump, and for whoever else remains on the ballot in November. God isn’t a Republican.
Be a Christ-Follower before you’re a Republican, Democrat, or Independent
What if we choose to act like Jesus through this election season? What if we “turn the other cheek” (Matthew 5:39) when someone offends our political sensibilities? What if we buy someone’s lunch even though we just learned that person supports the other candidate? What if we give someone $20 when they ask for $5 (Luke 6:29)?
What if we engage in honest conversation with those who hold different views? Jesus never rejected the Pharisees. He never refused to talk to them. He never got in a shouting match with them. Consider Nicodemus (John 3). Jesus gave up his evening, his Netflix binge, his “me-time” to speak quietly with his opponent. Sure, Nicodemus came to Him, but the example still stands. How many times did He respond to Pharisees’ questions in and around the temple? He may have been enigmatic, but He was usually patient.
It’s about love.
However you are employed, whatever “platform” you stand on, you interact with other people—either constructively (building the Kingdom) or destructively (creating barriers around the Kingdom).
A person’s eternal peace
is more important than a
paycheck or a politicial opinion.
I was thinking this past weekend about the awesome mission opportunities a tow truck driver has. (If you follow North Carolina news, you probably know why I was thinking this.) If someone needs the services of a tow truck, she (or he) is in a vulnerable, maybe even desperate situation regardless of which candidate’s stickers spot her (or his) bumper. The tow truck driver has an opportunity to meet that physical need of moving the vehicle, but he also has a chance to minister to that person’s emotional and spiritual needs. He can ask questions, listen attentively, even share portions of Truth as he drives the individual back to the garage (or wherever). He can play Christian music on his radio. He might even have a Bible in his dashboard…a well-worn Bible that shows He loves the Word of God and spends time studying it daily. The drive might take, oh say, an hour—plenty of time to pour blessings on that person, plenty of time to overlook political differences in the interest of peace. That person’s eternal peace is more important than a paycheck or a political opinion or a feeling of self-righteousness.
You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. –Matthew 5:43-45a
I hope we don’t consider political opponents to be actual enemies, but at times we may feel as though they are. How can we love them?
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. -1 Corinthians 13:4
In Luke 10:25-37, Jesus told us a parable that we usually call The Good Samaritan. In it, someone is injured and desperate for medical attention. Two men, considering themselves holy and righteous, refuse to help. Jesus shames his listeners by assigning kindness and generosity to a social pariah, to one they wouldn’t even allow into the temple. The point is not that Samaritans are kinder than Jews or that they have more spare time. The point is that we tend to get so caught up in our faith, so enraptured by our own righteousness, that we think we are right to neglect someone outside our faith community. We don’t demonstrate love.
We are all Americans. We all get to vote. (Very thankful for the 15th and 19th Amendments here!) Come November 9th, we’ll all still be here regardless of who the country…well, the electoral college…chooses for president.
What kind of Christian will you
be in this election season?
What kind of Christian will you be in this election season, which is really a season of special spiritual opportunity? Will you refuse to help those whose opinions differ from yours? Will you set yourself up against a certain community within the US (LGBT, 2nd Amendment supporters, climate change advocates, pro-choice people, Muslims, immigration defenders, liberals, conservatives, etc.)? Or will you demonstrate God’s love for all people through your kindness and generosity?
Jesus knew that being kind to those who oppose you would be hard. For that reason, He gave us special encouragement:
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. –Matthew 5:11
This doesn’t mean we should provoke persecution. It means that, if we are persecuted despite our Christlikeness, He will bless us through it.
Not that our political opponents are “wicked,” but Jesus also said,
But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. –Luke 6:35
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
I can accept “life” and “liberty” (although neither is a God-given right according to the Bible), but why did they say we have a right to “the pursuit of happiness”? And what does it mean to chase something like happiness? They didn’t say we have a right to be happy in the same way we have a right to live and be free. They just said we have a right to try to be happy. First of all, I think we forget the “pursuit of” phrase when we think about our rights as Americans. Secondly, I think we misunderstand happiness.
My modern definition of happiness:
a sense of contentment or well-being
derived from one’s external circumstances.
Maybe happiness had a different meaning back in 1776. After all, meanings do change over time. If you think you know what the Founding Fathers meant by happiness, feel free to post it in the comments. These days, happiness seems to mean comfort, convenience, even entertainment.
Look where this logic takes you: If I “need” my TV shows to make me laugh, which indicates that I’m happy, then I have a right to those TV shows. Or—*warning: I’m about to get political here*—if my lifestyle makes me feel good (i.e. makes me happy), regardless of its morality, then I have the right to live that way. Most Americans are in hot pursuit of happiness.
This idea—that we have the right to happiness—leads us to believe that we are entitled to entertainment. Why is the cost of cable/satellite television listed under ‘necessities’ in our budgets? Why do people take out loans to go on vacation? Why do many families subscribe to Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime on top of their existing television bills? Why do our children play video games at the dinner table and have game systems in their rooms? Why do those same children complain when the DVD player in the minivan doesn’t work?
Entertainment has become
the preeminent priority
of the American populous.
Before I go on, let me clarify. There’s nothing wrong with being happy. I like it when everyone in my home is happy, and everyone else likes it when I’m happy: “When Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy!” Also, I watch TV, go the movies, attend concerts, and all that sort of stuff. There’s nothing inherently sinful in these activities (although, of course, we all need to guard what we see and hear). The issue on my mind for the last few months is this: the relentless pursuit of happiness through entertainment, as if it were the goal of life, the preeminent priority of the American populous.
A recent television commercial suggests that we should have access to our television, movies, and/or music even while we rock climb or horseback ride. I know they are using exaggeration to make a point, but it still makes me uneasy. Is constant access to entertainment really going to improve our lives? It feels like we’re entertaining ourselves into idiocy and social ostracism. Tony Reinke, posting at Desiring God, observes, “This is sloth at its deadly best: trying to preserve personal comforts through the candy of endless amusements.” And like the sugar in candy, entertainment is addictive. We have the freedom to eat as much candy as we want (Watch out, Halloween, here I come!), but we aren’t entitled to candy (at Halloween or any other time), and it certainly isn’t good for us to eat candy until our stomachs ache. The same is true of entertainment, which is why no one has to explain the new term, “binge-watching.” It reminds me of this.
Many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. -Philippians 3:18b-19
Consider these six things we may lose when our minds are set on the earthly “pursuit of happiness.”
Loss of Rest
Entertainment is not rest or leisure. Our minds need rest just as much as our bodies. If we sit down to rest for a minute but we feel compelled to flick on the TV or scroll through Facebook, we’re not really resting. It’s a false high, like a caffeine buzz. Sitting on the porch, just watching the sunset, is restful. Watching TV is not restful for our minds. A long, face-to-face conversation with a friend, a brother or sister in Christ, is restful. Trolling Facebook, where you have 500 “friends” is not restful. Paul Maxwell said it well: “Don’t stop and collapse into mindless inactivity. That’s a cycle of laziness — fake, shallow rest — not rest.”
Loss of Logic
When we fill all of our ‘down time’—even the thirty seconds we wait at a traffic light—with diversions, we lose the ability to carry thoughts to their logical conclusions. It takes time to work through a problem, and our minds don’t always operate on an 8-to-5 timetable. I don’t know about you, but I get some of my best ideas in the bathroom. I may be wasting water in the shower, but I’m solving the world’s problems (or so I tell my husband)! Even right now, I’m tempted to “take a break” from this difficult writing and go check Twitter. Sometimes our problems feel like mental weightlifting, but if we drop the weights in the middle of the set, we’ll never get any stronger.
Loss of Empathy
In a recent interview on NPR’s Weekend Edition, Professor Sherry Turkle (author of Reclaiming Conversation: The power of Talk in a Digital Age) bemoans the loss of casual social interaction. She says, “Face to face conversation is the most human and humanizing thing that we do; it’s where we learn to put ourselves in the place of the other.” Authentic conversation is the incubator for empathy; it’s how we learn to express it and to seek it.
Authentic conversation is
the incubator for empathy.
As Turkle points out, if everyone is privately occupied, we will not converse, which means we will not learn to communicate our pain or share another’s pain. I wonder, is this why I cry over books and movies so much more than my children? Are they lacking empathy? (Not to mention how frequent portrayals of violence and death cause our children–and us–to become jaded to the real thing!)
Loss of Creativity
By constantly indulging in entertainment, we also lose creativity. Mind-wandering, and even a little boredom at times, fosters creativity and innovative thinking. Back in 2012, Irish TV writer/director Graham Linehan said, “The creative process requires a period of boredom, of being stuck. That’s actually a very uncomfortable period that a lot of people mistake for writer’s block, but it’s actually just part one of a long process. The internet has made it very difficult to experience that.” (Here’s an article about the link between boredom and creativity, if you’re interested. I found the Linehan quote there.)
Loss of Spiritual Intimacy
“If you’re constantly stimulated by being called away to the buzzing and the excitement of what’s on your phone, solitude seems kind of scary,” according to Professor Turkle in that same interview on Weekend Edition. I think we’re afraid that, if we have time to actually look inside ourselves, we won’t like what we see. We’ll be forced to pay attention to whatever difficult thing we don’t want to acknowledge or the change God has been asking us to make, so we pursue inauthentic happiness through the diversion of entertainment.
Consider this situation from my Bible study, Dwell: Mary, Martha & Lazarus (yet to be published). It comes from Luke 10:38-42, where Martha prepares a meal while Mary sits at Jesus’ feet. I was writing about how we let ourselves be distracted.
Just for a minute, put yourself in Mary’s place: completely absorbed in Jesus’ words and thoughts, even in His facial expressions. Maybe you (not Mary—you, yourself) have been making excuses for a long time. Maybe you’re just scared to honestly look into the face of Jesus. Maybe the distractions are your distancing technique so that you don’t have to be real with God. If there were no distractions…nothing else to do…would you be comfortable sitting at the feet of Jesus?
Loss of Engagement
Have you ever had a fascinating conversation with a complete stranger on a bus or while waiting at the doctor’s office? Although I’m an introvert, I still remember several really interesting conversations with people I never saw before or since. But not since I got a smart phone. Professor Turkle says that we’re actually losing the ability to carry on a conversation.
Not only do we no longer have those pleasant, serendipitous conversations, but we’ve also forfeited God-orchestrated opportunities to share Truth. When our son started practicing sports, I thought it would be a great chance to get to know some parents and share Truth as the Holy Spirit provided openings. Instead, every parent sits on the bleachers absorbed in his or her phone or tablet. No one talks. 1 Peter 3:15 says, Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. They aren’t going to ask me anything–they aren’t even going to know about my Hope–if I look busy on my phone or if they prefer the ease of social media over the potential awkwardness of new social interaction. Sure, you might show a Christian YouTube video to your neighbor, and God might use it in your neighbor’s life, but can it replace an authentic relationship with that neighbor? I don’t think so.
So, Founding Fathers, what did you mean by “the pursuit of happiness”?
Somehow, I don’t think it was the mindless entertainment and deluge of distractions that we’ve established as the path to personal satisfaction in the 21st century. Entertainment is like mental junk food. It fills us up, but it doesn’t satisfy. When our mindset (back to Phil 3:19 again) revolves around self-indulgence through constant distractions or entertainment, we lose so much of what connects us to each other and to God. This vain pursuit of ill-defined happiness may just set the course for our destruction.
For a long time, I’ve been puzzled by this idea of us (adults) becoming like little children. Just look at these quotes from Jesus:
“I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.” –Matthew 11:25
“Let the little children come to me…for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” –Mark 10:14
“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” –Matthew 18:3-4
When I think of little children, my first descriptive term is “innocent”—not a term that describes me well. My past has too many sins attached to it. Of course, I have been declared innocent in the judicial sense because Jesus took my guilt, and I live in that assurance every day, but experientially? Well, too much has gone in through these eyes and ears; too many bad things have passed out through this mouth and these hands. In many ways, I don’t even want the return of that childlike naiveté because my experiences (the good, the bad, and the ugly) hammered me into the Christ-follower that I have become. So there must be more to this concept of “childlike” than innocence . . .
At least I’m in good company, puzzling over things Jesus said. Nicodemus asked Jesus, “How can someone be born when they are old?” (John 3:4). Like me, he had questions. So I do what Nicodemus did: I take my questions to Jesus. Here’s what I discovered in reading through the Gospels.
Children occupy a low position in society.
Perhaps more in Jesus’ day than in ours, children just weren’t that important. They didn’t sit at the heads of tables. They did the household jobs that adults didn’t want to do. They didn’t interrupt conversations. Remember that old saying, “Children should be seen and not heard”? Maybe it started there in Israel. This is why Jesus’ pointed to a child for a contrasting example when the disciples argued over who was more important (Mark 9:33-37; I just wrote about that from a parenting perspective *here*). This is why He praised those who would make the effort to give a child a cup of water rather than tell the child to get it himself (Matthew 10:42).
When we Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above [our]selves (Philippians 2:3), we position ourselves like children in society. Jesus modeled this attitude when He washed the disciples’ feet (John 13:1-16), and in Luke 22:26, He says, The greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. Who are “the youngest” but the children?
Children are guileless.
Don’t ask a little kid what he thinks unless you really want to know. They haven’t learned to couch the truth in the “little white lies” that we call kindness. I think (just me here, I can’t confirm this with Scripture) this is one of the reasons Jesus liked children. They liked Him, too. As I was studying to write this post, I came upon this short conflict in the temple just before Jesus’ arrest. Look:
But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple courts, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they were indignant.
“Do you hear what these children are saying?” they asked him.
“Yes,” replied Jesus, “have you never read, “‘From the lips of children and infants you, Lord, have called forth your praise’?” -Matthew 21:15-16
Those kids didn’t know that you weren’t supposed to say things like that in the temple, in front of the priests and teachers! They just spoke truth. (I bet their parents were mortified!)
Confession and repentance are necessary in initiating and maintaining a relationship with Jesus. As adults, we try to excuse, justify, de-emphasize, or just plain ignore our sin. But entering the Kingdom requires brutal honesty on our part: “Yep. I did it even though I knew better.” This one is a real challenge for me to just open my heart up to Jesus like a little kid who runs around naked, completely unaware of the impropriety.
Children act like those they admire.
They play house; they go to work; they sit with a book on their laps and look serious when they can’t actually read. Children pick up the habits and even the speech patterns of their parents.
Paul encouraged the Ephesians, Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children, and walk in the way of love (Ephesians 5:1). As we emulate Jesus in our attitudes and actions, we become more like Him. What begins intentionally evolves into habit…even nature.
Children trust absolutely.
A Father says, “Come on Baby, jump! I’ll catch you.” and the little girl never doubts for a second that He will do it. That kind of confidence isn’t built on logic or experience. It’s built on love. The child who declares, “My dad can whup your dad!” hasn’t considered the size or fighting experience of either father. He just knows his dad is unstoppable. Oswald Chambers said, “The spiritual life is the life of a child. We are not uncertain of God, just uncertain of what He is going to do next” (MUHH 4/30).
And that’s what Jesus asks us to do. Come to Him. Jump—before you have all the answers, before you’ve considered every alternative and repercussion. This kind of trust says, “I don’t see any possible way for this to work, but I know You, Jesus, are leading me to do it, so here goes!”
A couple of days ago, I sat down at the kitchen table early in the morning and lifted a hot cup of coffee to my lips. As I waited for the steam to evaporate off my glasses (an almost daily occurrence), I prayed, “Lord, give me something fresh today . . . something from You, but new to me.” We’ve been strolling through Mark, taking a few verses at a time (see *this post* for more on having a quiet time), so this particular morning, I picked up at Mark 8:34.
Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
How many times have you read that verse? How many times have you heard it preached? How could I possibly see anything new here?
I could have kept going, but the Holy Spirit drew me toward the verbs.
Becoming an authentic Christ-follower (a.k.a. disciple) means:
Deny – We refuse the right to act on our own opinions or seek our own comfort. We do not pursue our own advancement. We release all rights to His purpose and glory.
Pick up – We “own” the gifts and burdens that glorify Him. This entails responsibilities as well as spiritual gifts, but it also relates to our identification with Him. Yes, this is who I am: a Christ-follower.
Follow – We submit to His will and go where He goes, but this is also an active pursuit because we want to engage Him, enjoy Him, and learn to emulate Him. (Ooohhh—that’ll preach!)
I thought on the images these verbs create, and He gave me an analogy.
The Christ-life is a treacherous mountain trail, but we have the perfect guide. If you undertake a major, multi-day hike in unfamiliar terrain, you are wise to hire a guide.
You don’t and can’t know the right path to take or how many miles you need to cover today before you make camp. You must trust your guide. That means denying yourself—your opinions, your comfort, your rights. You can’t trust yourself even when you think you know best because you have no real understanding of the situation.
You need to bring/carry exactly what He tells you to. Nothing more; nothing less. Obedience in this area will literally save your life. He says you don’t need it? Then you don’t pack it. He says to wear two pairs of socks, you pull on more socks. That’s taking up your cross.
You must stay behind the guide. Go where He goes; step where He steps; eat what He eats. When He speaks, you listen because He has the keys of the kingdom (Matthew 16:19). The more you get to know Him, the more you will want to be like him. You try to stay close to Him not just so you’ll be safe, but so you can hear his stories and learn from his experience. That’s following Him.
So sorry, all you fans of Disney’sCars.
The closing song in that very-fun movie says, “Life is a highway,” but it’s not. It’s a narrow, treacherous, sometimes indiscernible trail across a wide range of mountains. There are peaks and valleys, rests beside streams of cool water and arduous treks across arid plateaus, gorgeous sunsets and torrential downpours, but in every environment and every weather condition, we have the perfect Guide.