A Mad World

When did the world get so angry? How did it happen so quickly? As we look ahead to a new year in 2018, we have some serious issues to deal with in the world of relationships - especially relationships in regard to race, religion, and politics. How did we get so full of frustration that the slightest disagreement or difference of opinion overflows to unkind words, unloving hate, and even outright violence?

Read the comment sections on any public news site or dare to scroll down the comments of someone’s controversial FaceBook post or Twitter feed­ and you’ll probably be sorry you did. It’s become painfully clear that racial, religious, and political conflicts are part of a long-simmering, decades-in-the-making anger. In a world that promotes strict tolerance, people seem to be anything but that.

We’re tired of what’s going on in our world and many, including followers of Jesus, are angry about it. What is a believer in Jesus to think in times like these? To feel when life is out of control? To do when we’re angry?

In the Old Testament of the Bible, the prophet Micah, on behalf of his people, asked the LORD a similar question (Micah 6:6-7). In times of social and political turmoil, Micah prophesied about the coming destruction of the Northern Kingdom (Israel) by the Assyrians and the later defeat of the Southern Kingdom (Judah) by the Babylonians. Micah then told the people of God how He wanted them to act, love, and live:

“Mankind, He has told each of you what is good and what it is the LORD requires of you: to act justly, to love faithfulness, and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8

This verse contains one of the most succinct and powerful expressions of the LORD’s essential requirements for godly living in a mad world. At first glance, we bristle at the thought of requirements. As people, we don’t like to be told what to do.

Micah explains the essence of spiritual reality that is not just a set of rules; he encourages much more than mere ritual worship. God wants us to obey Him because we want to (for our good), not because we have to.

In Micah 6:8, the Lord wanted each of His people (“Mankind”) to live with Him. There is a progression in these requirements from what is external to what is internal and from human relationships to our relationship with God Himself.  The verse explains, “He has told each of you.” He had already told the Israelites what would be good (beneficial) for them:

“And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you except to fear the Lord your God by walking in all His ways, to love Him, and to worship the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul… He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner, giving him food and clothing.” (Deuteronomy 10:12,18)

“Above all, fear the LORD and worship Him faithfully with all your heart; consider the great things He has done for you.” (1 Samuel 12:24)

It’s related to Jesus’ “Great Commandment” in the New Testament: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and most important command. The second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.” (Matthew 22:38-40):

A right relationship with God that results in great relationships with others requires three things: to act justly, love faithfully, and walk humbly with God.
1. God wants us to act the right way:  seek godly justice for the fair treatment of others.

Specifically, the Lord wanted them to practice justice rather than continuing to plot and practice unfairness and injustice toward one another (cf. v. 11; 2:1–2; 3:1–3). I realize that in our contemporary society, “social justice” has become a convoluted term meaning different things to different people. So let’s use the term “godly justice” that provides a biblical frame of reference that guides how we act.

The active infinitive (act justly) indicates something “to do” - to carry out or perform an action or course of action. In order for there to be justice, judgement is required in the determination of rights and the assignment of rewards or punishments. In the OT, this Hebrew word for justice (מִשְׁפָּט mišpāṭ) describes it as a rightness which is rooted in God’s character, compassion, and action. In contrast to the anger of injustice in our day (both personal and systemic), the Psalmist said, “How happy are those who uphold justice, who practice righteousness at all times” (Psalm 106:3). In other words, JUSTICE leads to JOY!

The Bible explains that wise people think of justice (Proverbs 12:5), speak of it (Psalm 37:30), seek it (Isaiah 1:17), provide it (James 1:27), and enjoy it (Proverbs 21:15), because God requires it along with a heart of love and a spirit of humility (Micah 6:8). Justice, however, isn’t self-righteous or prideful. Justice is humbly trusting and depending on Him rather than arrogantly defending or depending on our “rightness.”

Justice shows no favoritism nor is persuaded by politics, power, position, or economics. Justice requires empathy as we consider how we would feel in another’s shoes, It doesn’t give preference to the either the poor or to the wealthy (Deuteronomy 1:17). Justice doesn’t favor the citizen or to the resident alien (Leviticus 24:22). Social justice is godly justice.

2. God wants us to love the right way:  be personally committed to meeting the needs of others.

He also wanted His covenant people to love faithfully and practice loyal love (Hebrew חֶסֶד ḥesed) by carrying through their commitments to help one another, as He had with them. This Hebrew word is used 240 times in the OT to describe God’s grace, mercy, goodness, and devotion in His loving-kindness. His love is unconditional, unending, constant, eternal. God’s love is not just sentimental or emotional. It’s based upon His actions, specifically His strength to fulfill His promises to His people (Micah 7:20).

As followers of Jesus, we are to love our enemies – whoever and wherever they may be – just as He has loved us. Christ-like love gives others what they need the most when (based on attitudes, words, or behavior) they deserve it the least, at the greatest personal cost just as He loves us (Romans 12; 2 Corinthians 5:14; 1 John 4:10).

3. God wants us to live the right way:  walk humbly before God in our relationships with others.

He wanted His people to live their lives humbly trusting and depending on Him rather than arrogantly relying on themselves (cf. Micah 2:3). Pride is the enemy of justice and love. Whereas pride divides people; humility cultivates unity. Worldly Pride says, “Look what I’ve done.” Godly humility says, “Look what God’s done.”

In this mad, angry world today, the truth is that sin infects us all, and so we cannot simply divide the world into the heroes and the villains. Only by God’s Spirit will we see justice and experience it, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have a responsibility to do what’s right before God, love others as He has loved us, and remember how His justice was satisfied by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross in our place – my place – for our sin – my sin.

Every New Year’s Day, many people plan their day around watching a couple of fights between grown men. This New Year’s Day is no different. Today at 4:00pm, guys from Oklahoma will travel to the Rose Bowl in California, looking for a fight with some Bulldogs from Georgia. Later tonight, there will be another fight between some guys from Alabama taking on another group from South Carolina in New Orleans. Two football games will take place between two rivals who are enemies on the field with fans representing both in the stands.

But there will also be another group of people on the field. The referees. Their job is to be impartial. Their job is to ensure a fair game. They must be humble to make sure pride doesn’t cloud their vision. Their job is to establish the rules from a rule book given by a higher authority - the NCAA. At times, the referees/officials get yelled at from both teams on the field, both coaches, and from most fans in the stands, but they are to be just in their decisions. If the referee begins to choose sides, it results in chaos. If the referee is influenced by the fans in the stands, there is confusion on the field. But when the group of referees impartially and fairly applies the rules of the game established by NCAA, the game can be played and enjoyed on the field as intended.

In the same way, followers of Jesus are God’s referees here on the Earth as His representatives from Heaven. The LORD has told each of us what is good and what it is He requires of us: to act justly, to love faithfulness, and to walk humbly with our God.

Follow me… as I follow Jesus Christ.

 

Resolving Conflict

As we gather together this week to celebrate Thanksgiving, we begin the Holiday season that provides significant time with family and friends. For many, however, the extra time with people is not a time of celebration, but of significant stress because of unresolved conflict — maybe even many years of it.

thanksgiving-fail

The easy thing, the normal thing to do when we’re involved in a conflict is to blame the other person (write them off) and walk away (either emotionally or physically or both). For me personally, nothing wears me out or weighs me down more than unresolved conflict.

How do we resolve conflict when personal disagreements arise?carnage1jpg-f75362bb0d786a9c-2

 

What we need when sharp disagreements arise and when differences have caused serious pain is for God’s Spirit to HEAL our relationships. How? 

Humble yourself before the Lord to recognize different viewpoints.

Often when we “agree to disagree”, what we mean is, “well, I’m right and you’re wrong, and you’re too stubborn to see it.” It’s easier to be objective when you don’t have a personal emotional stake in a situation or conflict, so sometimes we need someone else with some emotional or relational distance to help us see and hear what we can’t on our own.

Humble yourselves (not defend yourselves) before the Lord, and He will exalt you….don’t criticize one another” (James 4:10-11) Humility is able to say and believe, “It’s not wrong, it’s just different” It also says, “Hey, that hurts…”

Engage in conversation before jumping to conclusions.

Emotions can move us to action, but as they intensify, reasoning diminishes.  If we slow down, calm down, are able to listen, and be controlled by the Holy Spirit (rather than our emotions) we can begin to see the issue from the other side. And if we’re honest, we’ll have to admit that the conflict is really a matter of personal perspective (viewpoint) rather than who’s right and who’s wrong. If the other person has valid viewpoints, what is it that I don’t see or understand? Sometimes the picture is not as black or white as we want to see it. What we personally observe or intelligently perceive isn’t enough. We have to listen to God’s Word and His Spirit, then listen to others.

“My dearly loved brothers, understand this: Everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger, for man’s anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness.” (James 1:19–20)

Recently, I was feeling unfairly criticized by a friend. I felt like they were being somewhat condescending in our conversations, and I was hurt, upset. God’s Spirit prodded me to talk to this person. So, I asked, “How are we doing? I’ve noticed…. And felt… Is there something I’ve said or done?” They were shocked and surprised. It led to a good conversation and resolved a conflict that I was feeling.

Ask for forgiveness for what you are personally responsible.

You are 100% responsible for your attitudes, words, and actions.  Most of us give lousy confessions… if we confess at all. Most of us are pretty sorry at saying, “I’m sorry.” When we do something wrong or hurt someone personally, our typical responses are to conceal it, deny it, excuse it or blame it on others. (Gen. 3:12-13). Here is some relational wisdom and key components of asking forgiveness from Ken Sande:

7 A’s of Asking Forgiveness:

  1. Address everyone involved. (All those whom you affected)
  2. Avoid if, but, and maybe, (Don’t try to excuse your wrongs)
  3. Admit specifically, (Both attitudes and actions)
  4. Acknowledge the hurt, (Express sorrow for hurting someone)
  5. Accept the consequences, (Such as broken trust, restitution, etc)
  6. Alter your behavior, (Change your attitudes and actions)
  7. Ask for forgiveness. (Say the words, “I’m sorry, will you please forgive me?”)

Therefore, God’s chosen ones, holy and loved, put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, accepting one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a complaint against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive. Above all, put on love—the perfect bond of unity.” (Col. 3:12–14)

Perhaps the greatest, most notable difference between a believer in Christ and an unbeliever is the ability to seek and extend forgiveness. It’s when we forgive, as Christ has forgiven, that we are most like Him.

Look for ways to compromise more than seeking to be proven right.

When the conflict persists, care enough to work it out. Don’t run from it, gossip about it, rally support for your viewpoint, or stuff it. Don’t quit your job, your church, or your marriage because of disagreements. In Christ-like love, look for common ground and creative solutions. DeeDee: “When given the choice between being right and being kind, always choose kindness.”

St. Augustine prayed, “O Lord, deliver me from this lust of always vindicating myself.” Truly loving others and forgiving others requires the power of Christ who loves and forgives us even while we were still sinning against Him.

How do we resolve conflict when personal disagreements arise? HEAL: Humble yourself, Engage in conversation, Ask for forgiveness, Look for compromise.

Conflict between friends and, especially, family is inevitable. Unresolved conflict is a choice.

As you prepare to celebrate the Holiday season maybe the best gift you could give to loved ones is initiating some healing in your relationships because reconciliation is the best celebration.

People are celebrating Thanksgiving day

We don’t know how or when, but we find evidence that Paul and Barnabas and John Mark (Acts 15:36-40) were reconciled and celebrated their friendship and partnership in the Gospel.

  • (1 Corinthians 9:5–6) “Don’t we have the right to be accompanied by a Christian wife like the other apostles, the Lord’s brothers, and Cephas? Or do Barnabas and I alone have no right to refrain from working?
  • (Colossians 4:10–11) “Aristarchus, my fellow prisoner, greets you, as does Mark, Barnabas’s cousin (concerning whom you have received instructions: if he comes to you, welcome him), and so does Jesus who is called Justus. These alone of the circumcision are my coworkers for the kingdom of God, and they have been a comfort to me.”
  • (Philemon 23–24) “Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, greets you, and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my coworkers.”
  • (2 Timothy 4:11) “Only Luke is with me. Bring Mark with you, for he is useful to me in the ministry.”

Resolving personal conflicts is a work of God’s Spirit controlling the spirit of a believer in Christ. We can talk about God’s grace, sing about His love, preach the Gospel, and share its message, but it’s in resolving conflict, sharp disputes that we prove its worth and work.

In the same way God personally reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, we have been commanded (biblically) to reconcile with each other. Only God can HEAL the wounds and reconcile relationships when sharp disagreements come up, be we can’t ignore our part in His healing work in our hearts and in our relationships.

Follow me…as I follow Jesus Christ.
Happy Thanksgiving! And Merry Christmas!

Raising Kids

“Train up a child in the way he should go and even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6

parentingThis verse about parenting, like many of the Proverbs, is a general principle, not a guaranteed promise. Raising kids, like any relationship, can’t be reduced to a rigid recipe. It requires grace.

Training children to become thriving adults requires constant exposure to the truth of God’s Word (loving boundaries) and consistent experiences of His grace (unconditional acceptance). And for better or worse, kids learn more from what they see in our actions than what they hear from our mouths.

The Hebrew word for “train” (noun, hanukkah) means “to dedicate.”  It carries the idea of “dedicate a child to God,” “prepare a child for future responsibilities,” or “equip a child for being an adult.” In the context of Proverbs, the verse encourages parents to direct a child in the way of wisdom to live in the fear of the LORD (trusting, worshiping, serving, obeying) and then trust the results to Him.

For our kids (and someday, future grandkids), I pray my words and actions will encourage them to follow me, as I follow Jesus Christ.

You’re a piece of work!

“Well, you’re a piece of work.” Has anyone ever said that to you? It’s a sarcastic way of saying, “you’re messed up – there’s something wrong with you.”  It’s normally used of someone who is difficult to get along with on an every day basis. Perhaps, it originates from the “What a Piece of Work is Man” monologue from Hamlet – an ironic reflection of how little most people achieve despite being endowed with relatively enormous powers to act and reason.

Well, in some sense that’s true of all of us. We are a piece of work in the derogatory sense.  Left to ourselves, we’re not much more than dirt, not much more than dust. And our Heavenly Father knows that, too. “As a father has compassion on His children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him. For He knows what we are made of, remembering that we are dust.” (Psalm 103:13-14).

DustGod knows that on our own we’re dead in our sins – dust.  The world, the Devil, and our flesh all remind us regularly that we’re nothing. “But God, who is abundant in mercy, because of His great love that He had for us, made us alive with the Messiah even though we were dead in trespasses (Ephesians 2:4–5). He not only made us alive, but He raised us up and seated us in a position of power and prestige next to Christ in heaven. God did all this on His own, with no help from us! He made something beautiful out of the dust – out of us.

Often, I’ve find myself singing and meditating on the song, “Beautiful Things” by Michael Gungor that reflects both the reality of our death and the resurrection power of God.

All this pain…
I wonder if I’ll ever find my way.
I wonder if my life could really change, at all.
All this earth…
Could all that is lost ever be found?
Could a garden come up from this ground, at all?

You make beautiful things,
You make beautiful things out of dust.
You make beautiful things,
You make beautiful things out of us.

All around, hope is springing up from this old ground.
Out of chaos, life is being found in You.

You make me new, You are making me new.
You make me new, You are making me new.

In Ephesians 2:10, Paul says that in Christ you are His workmanship, His creation.  “Workmanship” from the Greek word poieme has resulted in our English word “poem.” It means a work of art, a Masterpiece. If you are a born-again believer, rescued from death by grace through the death of Christ Jesus, you are a masterpiece of God. When we think of the raw materials He has to work with – dust – His achievement is all the more remarkable.

Indeed, this masterpiece is nothing less than a new creation through union with Christ, for “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Cor. 5:17). In Christ, you are His priceless work of art – raised from the dust of death’s decay to be made alive to reflect His beauty and glory. You’re not just a piece of work – you are God’s Masterpiece!

May your life and mine be more than just a piece of work. You and I are the priceless work of art, the beautiful love song, the reflective poem that brings recognition and worship to the Creator of all things – the One who made something beautiful out of the dust, something beautiful out of us.