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Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Dear Christian, Stop Saying That!

You've seen the memes all over social media.  They are memes intended to encourage Christians to not give up.  They are meant to lift one another up.  The details may vary, but the bottom line is that they are all trying to say this:

God will not put you in circumstances you cannot bear

It seems well and good.  It feels well and good.  And perhaps the intentions are good.  But there is a very big problem with these meme's and this statement: 

It simply is not true.

I get it.  We know that "with God" we can endure anything, and I realize that is probably the intent behind the memes.  However, when we say it like that, we are being dangerously misleading.  Nowhere in the Bible does God teach us that we will never experience circumstances that we cannot endure or bear.  In fact, the Bible teaches us exactly the opposite of that.  Consider this statement made by the Apostle Paul concerning his own circumstances:

As Christians, we need to understand what Paul is saying here and know how to apply these truths to our lives.

First. Paul's circumstances were bad.  Really bad.  Listen to what he said later in 2 Corinthians 11:25-27.

25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.

By his own admission, Paul's circumstances were such that he was "burdened beyond [his] strength".  Paul's circumstances and his testimony are evidence to us that we also need to be prepared to handle circumstances that burden us beyond our strength.  When we claim we will never see such circumstances, and then they come, it blind sides us and can cause us to falter - which brings me to the second point.

Second.  Paul despaired of life as a result. Do not misunderstand what that means.  Paul's circumstances were so terrible that he wanted to die.  Suicide is a major cultural problem, but it is not a new one.  How terrible it is for us as believers to make the claim that God will never give us anything we cannot endure when all around us people - yes, even Christians - and yes, even pastors (have you read the news lately) - are committing suicide.  Do not get me wrong.  Mental health issues are *very* real.  It is highly likely that you will face circumstances that cause you to despair of life, and there are many Christians who will seriously contemplate suicide as a viable option to their pain and suffering.  You may know one contemplating it right now.  You may be contemplating it yourself.  How horribly insensitive for us to say God will never give us circumstances we cannot bear when so many are facing those circumstances every day.  When we believe God will never allow us to face these circumstances, and then we do face those circumstances, it rocks our faith to the core and actually makes us *more* susceptible to suicidal thoughts.  Suicide is *never* the answer to these circumstances.  Which brings me to the last point from that passage.

Third. Paul was put in those impossible circumstances so that he would trust in God.  In his words, "to make us rely not on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead."   Do you get that?  He wanted to die, but through faith in God, God raised him up from that pit of despair and for all practical purposes raised him from the dead as well. 

When we say that God will never give us anything we cannot bear, we are saying that we are strong enough to deal with anything.  We are saying we can rely on our own strength.  We are saying we can deal with everything by ourselves.  We are saying we do not need God.  That kind of thinking is not mature thinking.  Rather, it is more like the three year old child who defiantly proclaims "I can do it myself!"

We are not meant to do it ourselves.  Trust me, I cannot deal with the things life has thrown at me  - at least not without God.  The reason God allows us to face such dire and unbearable circumstances is so that we will trust wholly and completely on Him.  Be sure, these are not the actions of a narcissistic, megalomaniac god.  Rather, this is a Good, Good, Father who cares enough for his children to do what is best for them and grow them in their faith.  We were created to live in fellowship and dependence upon Him and these circumstances grow us in our ability to do both of those things.   By nature, we really are the rebellious, three year old child who ignorantly believes in her own independence, and these memes just reinforce that childish mentality.  If you really want to make sure you survive those unbearable circumstances, then consider one of the most well-known Proverbs.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.  Proverbs 3:5-6

Maybe someone should create this meme...

You will face difficult circumstances.  You might not be able to bear it.  You may even despair of life.  But take heart.  Trust in God who raises the dead.  He will carry you through it.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

A House Divided

Note: Biblical references are listed at the bottom of this article.

Our fragile society is about to shatter, but the good news is that it can be fixed and YOU can be the one to fix it.  What makes our society so fragile is the paradox of political correctness, which sounds good in principle, but is really just a house of cards ready to fall under its own weight. The ultimate end-game of political correctness is that everyone is offended, and when that happens, we become divided and our society shatters.  We are so close to that today that it is frightening.  Our forefathers said it rightly – United we Stand; Divided we Fall.  By the way, that is biblical.  Jesus once told his disciples that a house divided against itself must fall.  That is the direction we are headed.

Despite what social media may indicate, the problem in our society today is not the fact that everyone is a racist, homophobic, xenophobe. The problem is that we can no longer live with differences of opinion and allow others the freedom of those differences of opinion.  Furthermore, we presume everything that is said has some form of prejudicial undertone and so rather than giving the benefit of the doubt and even forgiving unintended grievances, we get offended – and I want us to see how sinful that really is.

This is going to offend you, but biblically speaking, you have no right or basis for being offended.  Do I have your attention yet or are you too busy developing your argument for why it is your right to not be offended and that I have infringed upon that right?  Actually, even according to our US Constitution, your right to not be offended is not protected, but I’m not talking about the Constitution, I am talking about the Bible.  But even now you are thinking a “Good Christian” would not want to offend me.  Maybe, but we are not talking about a “Good Christian” or even a bad Christian, we are talking about the fact that YOU have been offended and you have no right to be.  More specifically, we are talking about the social uproar caused because of your offense and the insistence that the rest of the world conform to your ideal of living in “safety” – whatever that may mean.  Let us be clear.  As a professing following of Jesus Christ, I have no desire to offend you or anyone else.  In fact, I strive to live my life in such a way as to NOT offend.  But the world has gotten so sensitive lately that the “least common denominator” of all the things that could potentially offend has gotten so large that the vast majority of us are living in slavery to the tyranny of the offended.  And let’s be honest about this.  If Rudolf, Charlie Brown, and “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” offend you, you might be a snowflake (and yes, I know the term “snowflake” is offensive).  And today even Veggies Tales is offensive.  Come on people, it’s Veggie Tales.

What is clear from the teaching of Jesus Christ and others in scripture is that we are to live in consideration of others more than ourselves.  Jesus teaches us to turn the other cheek and to forgive grievances because God has forgiven us.  Paul teaches us to consider others as being more important than ourselves and to look out for their interests more than our own.  Christianity is about denying one’s self, taking up our cross, and following Jesus.  And of course, we know that one of the biggest no-nos in scripture is hypocrisy – that is, saying one thing and doing the opposite.

By definition, being offended violates every principle of Christianity.  It puts one’s own emotional state above the other person.  It certainly doesn’t turn the cheek. Making a big deal about what offends you defies the very notion of forgiveness.  And since being offended is all about your feelings, it is founded in selfishness and concern about one’s own good at the expense of the other person.  For years, physchologists have told us how important our self-image needs to be.  As a result, we have become obsessed with eradicating anything that may be a threat to that fragile image.  Rather than considering what is best for the other person, when you get offended, you have demanded what you desire at the expense of the other person.  Maybe the other person really intended to be offensive, and that is terrible. It is more likely, however, that no offense was intended at all.  More than likely, you inferred offense where none existed because of some presumed underlying social bent or a sense of over protection on your self image.  By definition, that is prejudice – pre-judging the other person – and that is hypocrisy on your part.  In other words, the very nature of being offended is Anti-Christ at its core.

So what does this mean?  Are we to ignore social injustice?  Certainly they exist and need to be addressed.  This is true.  There are many social injustices that indeed need to be addressed, but the real social injustices cannot be properly differentiated from the sound and fury that simply has no merit.  And here is the beauty of the whole situation.  There is a way to fix this and it can start with you.

We can fix society with just a few shifts in our own thinking. As you read them, each gets harder to swallow than the one before because each requires a greater and greater level of self-denial.  By the time you get to the last one, you may even decide I don’t know what I am talking about.  However, at the very core of these is the gospel.  Grace and forgiveness – and faith in Jesus that he has all things in hand. I pray that you will consider all of them, because we truly can fix society if we consider these – but even if you can’t go all the way, if you would just adopt one or two of them, our world will be a better place.

1.     Don’t be on the lookout for an offense.  Some people see offense in everything.  This is because they are looking for offense.  Trust me.  If you want to be offended, you can find something offensive anywhere you look.  This is because words are powerful and can be twisted to mean almost anything you want them to mean.   If I say “white is my favorite color and I don’t like brown” I’m pretty sure you can find offense in that statement – if you are looking for it.  But if you are not looking for an offense, you might see a greater context where I really was just talking about colors.  If you are looking for an offense, you are a hypocrite, because you have already prejudged in your heart that an offense will happen.  Don’t be that way.  By the way, my favorite color is actually blue.  Don’t tell the grass. They might get offended.
2.     Give one another the benefit of the doubt.  Not everything that sounds racially motivated or politically or socially offensive was meant to be that way. Sometimes, it is just the result of a threshold associated with a change in social norm that some have crossed and others have not.  My grandmother was a great example of this.  She was a godly woman and there was not an ill-intended cell in her body, but I will never forget being shocked by her casual use of the n-word.  At 90+ years of age, you couldn’t tell her that using that word was socially unacceptable, but I can assure you she meant no offense in her use of it.  To her, it was the same as saying “African American”.  By the way, social norms do change over time. As I was growing up, the n-word was beginning to be considered politically incorrect, but was still used regularly. Over time, we learned to say “black” but now even that is considered offensive by some.  At some point, “African American” may become offensive.  Social norms change. We need to give each other the benefit of the doubt. Not everything is meant to be demeaning.
3.     Give Grace.  This is the epitome of considering others more important than yourself.  Sometimes things are said that truly are offensive, but were not said with intended malice.  It can’t be avoided at times because we live in a fallen, broken world.  We do have our own perspectives and backgrounds.  Most of us are not trying to be offensive, even when (at least in your opinion) we are.  The same is true of you and God.  If you really knew how much of what you do offends a Holy God, you would fall on your knees in terror and sorrow.  But the ocean of God’s grace is so deep that we will never find its bottom.  He fills our lives with His grace – let us spill that out to others.
4.     Allow for Differences in Opinion.  We are very good at allowing differences in religion, race, and lifestyle, but we are terrible at allowing difference in thought and opinion.  We demand tolerance, but we don’t see the very irony that very statement creates.  The moment we no longer allow people to think differently is the moment we have become hypocrites. Our insistence on tolerance is, by definition, intolerant.  Desiring tolerance is admirable.  Demanding it is becoming intolerant yourself.  Yes, that person may be a racist, homophobic, xenophobe, but he has every right to be that way – just as you have every right to think, live, and believe as you do.  Some beliefs are held very deeply and they may be in conflict with how you are living your life, but my belief about how you live your life does not automatically mean I hate you as a person.  It would be wrong for me to impose my beliefs on you, but it is equally wrong for you to impose yours on me.  So let us agree to disagree, and let’s talk about it civilly. Maybe I can convince you… or maybe you can convince me.  That is how our forefathers did it.
5.     Forgive. Ok, maybe there really was a bit of malice intended. We do live in a fallen world and we are all sinful.  But we are called to forgive.  In fact, we are told if we will not forgive, we ourselves cannot be forgiven.  Jesus even told us to pray “forgive our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  It is not easy, but it is biblical.  In fact, Jesus essentially told his disciples that their forgiveness towards others should be without limits.  Paul even tells us that Love “keeps no record of wrong”.  It is true that if I forgive, the other person may never change, but you never know – maybe she will.  However, if I bow my back and make her an enemy, it is certain that she will never change.
6.     Choose to Love.  The bible tells us that love covers over a multitude of sin.  Love is the heart of what it means to be a Christian. Love seeks out the best in people rather than the worst. It works towards reconciliation. In fact, the more you understand love, the less offended you will become.  Yes, it is hard to love those that do not love you back, but to do so is to behave as God has behaved.  He loved you when you were his enemy.  He sought out your reconciliation. He took action… For God so loved the world, he gave his only begotten son…
7.     Turn the other cheek. This may be the most difficult of all.  To turn the other cheek when we have been intentionally smitten goes beyond our basic human instincts. But violence only breeds violence.  The bible teaches us that we earn eternal rewards for suffering unjustly.  It does not tell us that we will be rewarded for returning evil for evil.  At the end of the day, it was an act of love – not an act of violence – that made salvation possible.  We have offended an Almighty God through our sinfulness, but he gave his only son to reconcile us. 

These 7 steps may not seem rational, but if we do not begin a grass-roots movement to heal our land through grace and forgiveness and the benefit of the doubt, our society will shatter.  We are a house divided against itself right now - and that house will fall if it is not healed.

For those interested in digging deeper, here are some scriptures referenced in this article.
Mark 3:25
Matthew 5:39
Matthew 6:12,14-15
Philippians 2:3-4
Luke 9:23
Matthew 7:5
1 Corinthians 13
John 3:16
Matthew 5:11-12