Being On the Internet Doesn’t Give You Permission To Be A Jerk

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I’ve noticed a strange, somewhat disturbing phenomenon in recent years. I honestly don’t quite understand it. What is that phenomenon?

Christians treating other people in the most hateful, angry, unloving ways.

Recently, due to circumstances I still can’t quite figure out, my name ended up on a particular blog. That, in and of itself, is not particularly surprising. I’ve got a blog. I do the whole Twitter and Facebook thing. Some people are going to disagree with the things I say. I’ve got no problem with that.

What did surprise me was the things other Christians said about me in the comments section. These people, who don’t know me, don’t know my family, and will probably never meet me, resorted very quickly to straight out name calling. I’m not talking, “I disagree with Stephen,” type stuff. I’m talking, “Stephen is a complete and total idiot,” kind of stuff. I was also called a brainwashed kid, which, if you know anything about me, is pretty hilarious. I digress.

Now, call me crazy, but I thought one of the distinguishing marks of Christians is the way we treat one another. In John 13:35, Jesus said:

By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

You don’t need to be a biblical scholar to understand this passage. The world will know we are Christians if we have love for one another. One of the primary things that sets Christians apart from the rest of the world is the way we treat one another. When the world sees the love we have for one another, they’ll know that something is different about us. When the world see the words we speak to one another, and the way we serve one another, and the way we care for one another, they will know that something is dramatically different about us.

If an unbeliever hopped onto various Christian websites, and started scrolling through the comments section, would he notice a distinct difference from any other website? Other than an absence of profanity, I don’t think he would. And that is really, really jacked up.

If we’re going to call ourselves Christians, it’s time to start acting like Christians. It’s fine to disagree with another Christian. It’s fine to point out erroneous teaching. But every action, online and offline, must be ruled by love. The command to treat others as we want to be treated, applies just as much to our online interactions as it does to our real-world interactions.

Before we post something online, we would be wise to ask:

  • Would I want someone to say the same thing about me?
  • If I were having coffee with this person tomorrow, would I say these words about them today?
  • Do these words pass the Ephesians 4:29 test? (No corrupting talk, gives grace to those who hear).
  • Am I using the phrase, “Speaking the truth in love,” as simply an excuse to gossip and slander?
  • Am I, under the guise of “protecting the sheep”, simply being mean or angry?

The Internet is already loaded to the gills with meanness. As Christians, let’s not add to the noise.

Don’t Get Drunk on Power

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Power is intoxicating. This is just a fancy way of saying it makes us lose our heads. We gain power and we get stupid. It gets into our blood stream and affects our thinking and our actions.

Likely you don’t think you have power. Think again. If you are parent you are a concentrated force of power. Teachers, coaches, and managers all wield significant power. Anyone in a position of authority does, but so too does anyone who is respected or looked up to. The salesman who can talk a negotiation into his favor and the pretty lady who can get her way with a bat of the eye lashes are both powerful. If you are richer, smarter, or more disciplined than others you have power. Really, only infants and the desperately poor lack any sort of notable power.

As Ben Parker once said, “With great power comes great responsibility.” He was right, but he missed something significant: with any power comes great temptation. As sinful people we constantly look to gain the approval of some at the expense of others. We look to climb over those we can to gain higher heights just to make ourselves feel better. We abuse the power we have.

We threaten our kids and yell at our kids to get them to obey. We intimidate and coerce those in our influence. We manipulate those we see as weaker. We treat people weaker than us in ways we would never dream of treating our equals. Basically we do things we wouldn’t ever do if we were in our right minds. Kind of like a drunk person.

We need to know our limits. How much power can we handle without getting tipsy? When over-do it, what kind of dumb choices are we prone to? It won’t be streaking, a regrettable tattoo, or bowing to the porcelain god with a wicked hangover. More likely it will mean someone is hurt badly. Power intoxication doesn’t leave cars wrapped around phone poles, but it will leave relationships in burning ruins.

We can’t always help what power we have, but we can handle it responsibly. We must know ourselves enough to know when to walk away or back down. Intoxication comes from abuse, from over-doing it. Know your limits. Be willing to say no thanks, even (especially) if it is just to yourself. The damage of power-drunkness is incalculable.

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Come On, Be Reasonable And Do It My Way!

“Let your reasonableness be known to all.” That command is in the Bible, though you wouldn’t know it if you were surveying the American church today. We have forgotten it completely, and I don’t mean “forgotten” as in “rationalized away.” I mean legitimately wiped from church memory.

If you were to choose labels for what you see in Christianity today “reasonableness” would be nowhere near the top of the list. Outrage, bombast, extremism, polarity, partisan, sectarian, reactive, over-reactive, accusatory, judgmental, defensive, insulting, ignorant, fearful, hypocritical and others would likely come to mind first. If you wanted to find a more positive description you might go with well-intentioned, determined, or industrious. Of course no one of those terms, negative or positive, accurately sums up the church, but they would be higher on the list than “reasonable.”

Somewhere along the line — you can blame the Enlightenment if you’d like — we decided reasons equaled reasonableness. If we could defend an idea or an action then it was reasonable (even if the reasons were poor). Our hope, and much of our identity, rests in argumentation. And ironically this is often at the expense of being reasonable. Our arguments are loud, long, and aggressive. We “win” them with shows of force and pointed slogans. And we do make them known to everyone.

Real reasonableness is a blend of conviction and patience blended with some empathy and a willingness to engage multiple perspectives. “Engaging” doesn’t mean fighting; it means interacting with graciously. To be reasonable one must be able to stand firm and be gentle at the same time, to know what you believe but communicate it without any of the ad hominem or straw man foolishness so prevalent today. A reasonable person observes much, listens much, then processes and responds. He doesn’t react.

Underpinning all true reasonableness is a constant acknowledgment that God is God. Nobody who is trying to play God in any part of life can be reasonable. Instead we ought to have a confidence in God, in his sovereignty. Sometimes this looks like gritted teeth and a bitten tongue and other times it’s as smooth as butter and as sweet as honey. But no matter what, only by remembering that God is God can we love the unlovable, even our enemies (another forgotten command). If we rest in the reality that God is sovereign we are able to set aside our reasons and actually become reasonable.

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Stop Thinking Big. Think Small. Very Small.

In 1952, New Testament scholar J.B. Philips wrote a book called Your God is Too Small. I’ve never read the book, but I love the title. So many problems in our lives come from cramped, confined notions about God. We construct a mental image of a God who is mostly like us, only with higher scores in the “Strength” or “Wisdom” or “Love” categories. We fall victim to the same error God rebukes in Psalm 50:21: “You thought I was altogether like you.” In our views and thoughts of God, bigger is better. But there’s one area of the Christian life where bigger is not better, where a large and grandiose vision will not serve us but instead hinder us: our sanctification. Let me explain.

If I were to ask you how you need to change to be more like Jesus, you would probably have a ready answer – or several! I need to be more loving. I need to become less impatient with my kids. I need to grow in purity on the internet. We pray for those things: God, make me more loving. Make me more patient. But then when we struggle with impatience or lack of love or impurity, we become discouraged. It’s not working. I guess I’m not praying hard enough…or maybe I’m never going to get over this sin. At that point we either become discouraged at our lack of growth, or we gradually begin to tolerate the sin. Neither of those results will actually help us grow more like Jesus. So what’s the problem?

The problem is we’re thinking too big. Our mental picture of sanctification is something like a series of switches that are either “On” or “Off.” When God makes us more holy, he turns the “Impatience” switch off and turns the “Patience” switch on. But it doesn’t work that way. Instead, the battle for holiness is won or lost in the mundane. As author David Powlison says, holiness is bite-sized. Here’s how it works.

I struggle with pride. Always have. For a long time, I thought the battle with pride would go something like this: January 1: Dear Diary. Struggled with pride today. I am such a sinner! February 1: Dear Diary. I beat it! I’m no longer proud! I can’t believe how humble I am now!

Okay, I’m exaggerating. But not completely. I prayed that God would make me humble, and I expected that would mean one day there’d be a change and I’d feel no desire for praise after a sermon, no jealousy if someone did better than me, no defensiveness when criticized. (It hasn’t happened yet.) I’m slowly learning to think smaller. Growth in humility means instead of praying God, help me not to be proud today, I ask in the moment God, I feel defensive at that criticism. Help me to respond humbly right now. Putting to death sin and putting on the fruit of the Spirit takes place one very small moment at a time. We need to think small.

So here’s my suggestion to you. Take that area of growth in your life and break it down into very small pieces. If you don’t listen well to your wife, don’t just pray, God, help me to be a better listener. Instead pray, God, when I ask my wife how her day went this afternoon, help me to listen through her entire response without thinking about what I want to say when she finishes. It’s those mundane moments where sanctification takes place. So think small. Very small. And watch as God transforms you into the image of Christ one degree at a time.

2 Corinthians 3:18: And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.

Photo by Ruocaled.

The Secret To Adding Real Punch To Your Words

Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. 1 Timothy 4:12

Paul told Timothy to preach the word. But he had to do something else to add real punch to his words.

Timothy was a young guy – I’ve heard he may have been as young as 16 when Paul took him under his wing. Folks may have been tempted to despise him because he was young. Who is this young punk trying tell me how to live?

The secret to adding real punch to our words is to back up those words with a godly life.  It’s not just for an outward show.  God motivates and encourages us through others’ example as well as words.

Others are observing us. First they listen to our words. Then they check to see if our lives match up. They check to see if we love others.  If we’re humble. If we trust God in the fiery furnace. They watch how we act outside of church.

Nothing does more damage to the gospel than when our lives don’t match up with our words. If we tell others  Jesus changes people, it confuses them if they see no change in us. If we preach we should love one another yet slander and gossip about others, who’s going to follow us?

Paul often urged others to imitate him:

For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, 2 Thessalonians 3:7

What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me-practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4:9

Pastors, lead your churches by example.

Try to be the biggest servant in the church.  Seek to be the most joyful, thankful, gentle, humble person in your church. Set an example in sharing weaknesses. Show your fellow believers how to face trials with faith, prayer, and perseverance. Show them how to be teachable and approachable.

Parents, lead your children by example.

Husbands, let your children see you love your wife sacrificially. Parents, ask Jesus to help you be joyful and thankful. Show your children how to forgive and speak kindly of those who offend you.  Let them see your commitment to regular Bible intake and prayer, as well as your devotion to your local church. Demonstrates expressive, wholehearted singing to God and devotion to the preached Word every Sunday.

Young men and women – set an example for older believers and younger believers

Set an example of radical zeal for God, serving and looking to the interests of others. Set an example for others in purity and holiness. Show us how to honor your mother and father.  Be different than many young people in your humility and teachableness.

No matter what age you are, married or single, you can set an example for others.  By God’s grace, let’s all seek to give others something to imitate.

photo by Generationbass.com

An Unexpected Letter From Jesus

Dear Bill,

I’m glad you’ve been reading the letter I wrote to you.  I hope you’re seeing more and more what I’m like in the Bible and all I have done for you.

This week I’m sending you another letter to show you what I’m like.  It’s a living, breathing letter.

It’s your co-worker Chuck.

He’s a letter from me to you.  Check him out.  Observe him.  See what he’s like when the boss isn’t around. See if he works hard. See if he’s faithful. Watch him when others are slandering someone or telling a dirty joke.  See if he joins in.  See how he responds to criticism. When you see what he’s like, you’ll know what I’m like.

I’ll send you more living, breathing letters.  Study them.  Test them out. See how they treat their families. See what they do when people wrong them.  Watch how they treat those who are weak or slow to change. See how they treat those who tend to irritate other people.  See what they do when they go through trials and hardship.  See what they do and say then.  See if they’re cheerful.

I’m not saying my living letters are flawless.  They have their quirks and faults.  But watch them over time.  If you have a chance to observe them for years they’ll look more and more like me.  After you’ve read my letters, write me back.  Tell me you believe in me and want me to rescue you and make you too a living letter of mine.

Watch for my letters….

Love,

Jesus

You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all.  And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. (2 Corinthians 3:2-3)

“Men judge by what is visible, and so they think of God by his servants…. Men are apt to think of God by his worshipers, and by the people that profess themselves near and dear to him; therefore it concerns us to walk so that our lives may honour him.” — Thomas Manton

photo by annstanley59

How Will I Discover What God Wants Me To Do?

With upright heart he shepherded them and guided them with his skillful hand.  (PS 78.72)

“Here we see the combination of competence and character.  David led his people with a heart of integrity (character) and skillful hands (competence).  These qualities should always go hand in hand in the life of a leader.” – Dave Kraft, Leaders Who Last

When I was younger I told a wise older Christian man that I didn’t know how God wanted me to serve him.  How would I discover my gifts?  He gave me this great advice:

“Take care of the depth of your character and the Lord will take care of the breadth of your ministry.”

In other words, don’t worry about your ministry.  Pursue the Lord; obey him and seek to become like him in character; serve others in whatever way you can and he will take care of your “ministry.”

Steve Jobs Wanted His Children To Know Him

This deepens my sadness about Steve Jobs. Walter Isaacson explains why Steve Jobs allowed a biography to be written about him:

Steve Jobs, in pain and too weak to climb stairs a few weeks before his death, wanted his children to understand why he wasn’t always there for them, according to the author of his highly anticipated biography.

“I wanted my kids to know me,” Jobs was quoted as saying by Pulitzer Prize nominee Walter Isaacson, when he asked the Apple Inc. co-founder why he authorized a tell-all biography after living a private, almost ascetic life.

“I wasn’t always there for them, and I wanted them to know why and to understand what I did,” Jobs told Isaacson in their final interview at Jobs’ home in Palo Alto, Calif.

Isaacson said he visited Jobs for the last time a few weeks ago and found him curled up in some pain in a downstairs bedroom. Jobs had moved there because he was too weak to go up and down stairs, “but his mind was still sharp and his humor vibrant,” Isaacson wrote in an essay on Time.com that will be published in the magazine’s Oct. 17 edition…

(HT: Denny Burk)

What Would Billy Joel Say About You?

These lyrics from the song “Pressure” by Billy Joel have always provoked me:

Now here you are with your faith
And your Peter Pan advice
You have no scars on your face
And you cannot handle pressure

He seems to be dismissing someone who claims to have faith and doles out simplistic “Peter Pan advice” yet has no deep experience of suffering – scars on their face – and can’t handle stress.

What does the way you handle pressure say about your faith?

If Billy Joel knew you, what would he say to others about the way you handle heavy situations? Would he say you seem to rely on God and that despite your pain you are at peace?  Would he say that you have scars on your face from many afflictions yet you seem to have a deep joy?

When we’ve gone through fire and flood and experienced the comfort and strength of Jesus, we can comfort others with the comfort we’ve received.  We can give them much more than Peter Pan advice.  We can share our faith.

At a recent funeral of a young man I was able to share with the family how my own brother had committed suicide years ago, so in some faint way I could relate to the pain they were going through.  I shared what an elderly woman had told me to do, “Lean on Jesus, just lean on Jesus.” Though words can’t begin to touch the family’s pain, one of them told me that it was meaningful that I had been through something like they were.

Take your pressure to Jesus.  Cast your cares on him, for he cares for you.  He might not remove it right away for he might be shaping you to be a witness to his sustaining power.  You will get some scars on your face along the way.  But those scars will say a lot, if in the Lord’s strength you can handle pressure.

Don’t Worry About Your “Ministry”

Over the years, I’ve occasionally had first-time visitors inform me within minutes of meeting them, that they had a teaching “ministry.”

When I hear this I think, “We have a ministry of setting up chairs that has a spot just for you.”

I’ve heard people encouraged to “find their ministry.”  There are “spiritual gift assessments” so that you can figure out your particular gifts and potential ministry.

Here’s my advice: Forget trying to figure out your ministry.  Pursue Jesus and start serving wherever you can.

As a young believer I was concerned because I didn’t know what God was calling me to in life.  A wise man told me: “Take care of the depth of your character and the Lord will take care of the breadth of your ministry.”

Have you ever considered that David was 30 when he was installed as king?  What was he doing till then?  Building his character in obscurity.  For many years he faithfully served his father by watching sheep – not exactly a glamorous calling.  Then he spent a long time on the back side of a desert fleeing from Saul, cultivating qualities like trusting God, patience, and faithfulness.

Before God used Moses to deliver Israel from Egypt he spent 40 years in the desert, also tending sheep.  Little did Moses suspect that his “ministry” would be to lead God’s flock for 40 years in the desert.

Do you feel like God has somehow “set you aside?”  Do you feel like you’re not being very “useful” or “successful” in the kingdom?  Don’t focus on your success, usefulness, or ministry.  Focus on Christ.  Pursue him.  Serve wherever and whenever you can, no matter how insignificant the service.  God saved you for his glory – he’ll make sure he fulfills his purpose for you.

photo by Reza Vaziri