Monday, March 11, 2019

Lent Day 5 - Fools and Their Anger

My dear brothers, take note of this:  Everyone should be quick to
listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry, for man's anger does not 
bring about the righteous life that God desires. 
James 1:19-20

A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps 
himself under control. 
Proverbs 29:11

We all have triggers, don't we? It's only human. Some of us by nature are reactive types. It doesn't take much to light us up and send us spinning out into the cosmos in a wicked fury. Others are more naturally reflective and slower to get fired up. 

The problem comes when we let that feeling - that anger - take control of our words and actions. It's a concern, because we have never been in a more trigger-rich society than we are now. Because of social media and instant news, we are more exposed than ever to everything happening around us. It's like a lot of technological or medical advances - they happen faster than we can adjust to them and develop appropriate protocols for addressing them. 

We step into the river of social media with the best of intentions, never realizing how swift the current is, or how many hazards are rushing through the water, heading for us. Before we know it, we're being sucked under and battered by debris, and we're furious. 

Anger is often a secondary emotion, meaning that often the underlying emotion is fear or hurt. Those two emotions - fear and hurt - make us feel vulnerable and weak, so the safer, more powerful emotion to feel is anger. It feels strong and powerful. And it is. It can also be destructive and devastating if it is let loose with no boundaries. 

James says our anger doesn't bring about the life of righteousness God desires. Why? Because for one thing, that anger can easily be read as hate. Think about protests you've seen on TV. You may agree with those protesting or not, and that's fine. The problem is, when anger controls us, that fine line between an issue and a person becomes blurred. When that happens, we lose our ability to interact with anyone who disagrees with us, and when that happens, we lose our ability to communicate, and we have lost the battle. All of us. 

We've also lost the ability to show the love of God to those who need it, which is all of us. 

It's not wrong to talk about our positions on issues, in fact, we need to do it. How can we solve problems if we don't talk to one another? That's the problem, though, isn't it? We don't talk TO one another so much as we talk AT one another. We are very slow to listen with the intent to really hear the heart and story of the other person. 

There is a time and a place to discuss hot topics. I'm not sure social media - for many reasons - is that place. It's just a thought, and something I continue to pray about and use scriptures like those above to meditate on. 

During this season of Lent, let's commit to a deeper dig on this with God. We want to be part of solutions, not fuel to a fire. 

One other word: responding to trolls on social media is just...can I say it here? Stupid. Don't get reeled in. Ignore them and walk - or scroll - away.  What is the saying... ah, yes...

Never argue with stupid people, they will drag you down to
their level and then beat you with experience. 
- Mark Twain

It ain't holy writ, but it's pretty smart. 

Prayer for the day - 

Jesus we know you are a passionate Lord, and you care deeply about the issues that affect us.  We also know you are in control of the chaos, and never stop working out your plan for the world. Let that assurance comfort the fear and soothe the hurt that so often leads us to lash out in anger. Give us your passion for people, and show us how to respond in your Name and with love. Forgive us when we see issues instead of people, and when we seek to be heard and understood without offering the same to others. Help us become teachable and give us a humble spirit - one that can acknowledge that we might not always be right. Help us to be a safe space for people, even those who disagree with us, just as you are our safe place. Mostly, let us be filled with compassion and never forget to love. We love you so much. 

Sunday, March 10, 2019

1st Sunday - Celebrate with Praise and Thanksgiving

Praise the Lord, O my soul;
all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, O my soul,
and forget not his benefits - 
who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
so that your youth is renewed like the eagles.
         Psalm 103:1-5

Take time today to thank God for everything he is doing in you, and then be sure to share that with someone, because they may need to hear it. 

"Therefore, encourage each other with these words."
    1 Thessalonians 4:18

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Lent Day 4 - Which Side Do I Choose?

If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives
generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. 
But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts
is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think 
he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable
in all he does.        James 1:5-8

If there's one thing we know how to do, it's choose up sides, and arm ourselves for battle. Our country is in the middle of more moral and ethical crises than we can keep up with, and addressing them appropriately is so much more than just choosing a side, and taking shots at those who disagree. The truth is, in most matters, there are good, moral people on all sides of an issue. We each have a perspective based on our upbringing, education, experience, convictions, and world views. 

Those differences of perspectives can work for us, if we will allow it to happen. Sometimes we all really want the same thing, and just disagree on how to achieve that end. Sometimes we actually disagree on the right course of action and the desired result. Healthy debate is good and productive, and keeps us from developing tunnel vision. It stretches us and forces us to dig deeper into why we believe what we believe, and why we choose the positions we take. 

Hopefully, it also takes us deeper into God's word as we search for answers. I'm not talking about finding a verse or two to support your opinion and using those to batter anyone who may disagree with you. I'm talking about having as our center, the WHOLE Word of God, which includes how we are to interact with one another. 

I'm talking about remembering that only one thing sends us to hell, and that is not our political party or our position on any issue. It is rejecting Jesus. That's it. 

It also means that we face spiritual warfare daily, but we need to remember who the enemy is. Read this: 
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the
authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil
in the heavenly realms. Ephesians 6:12

We cannot do battle on two fronts. If we are fighting with one another we have lost sight of the true enemy and the field of battle. 

The true enemy is Satan, and the battlefield is the heavenly realms. Our greatest, most powerful weapon is prayer. 

You may know exactly what position you take on some issues, but struggle with others. You're not alone. The promise in James is that God gives wisdom to those who ask and believe. As you pray, though, don't just ask for a pro or con choice. Ask God for wisdom and discernment to understand the problem more completely. Most issues are very complex and solutions are not as simple as passing a law or writing a check. Also, we can never forget that people, who are God's crowning creation, are at the center of these issues. We must never carelessly or flippantly toss out solutions without understanding the fullness of the problem or the potential harm of a thoughtless "solution."

Matthew 10:16 is Jesus talking to his disciples and he says this:  "I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore, be as wise as serpents and as harmless as doves." 

Be wise and harmless. I fear we are often neither of those things in our zeal to set the world right. 

Should we speak out on issues of the day? Absolutely, but not until we have spoken to God about them first, and never until we are ready to deal with one another in love. Read 1 Corinthians 13 - the Love Chapter. We can be right all day long. Our party can win election after election. We can always be on the "winning" side, but if we don't have love and compassion for everyone, it all means nothing. And it certainly doesn't please God. 

Prayer for the Day - 

Jesus forgive us for the times we put being right ahead of showing love. Sometimes it feels like all we do is fight with people who don't know or care about you, and sometimes they even hate and despise you, so we hate and despise them back, and relegate them to hell for their audacity. Please change our hearts. Our country needs us, every Christian, to be grounded in you. We are the gatekeepers and the lighthouses. There are solutions to every problem we face. Open our eyes to see them. Give us grace and humility to step back and be silent when we need to. Give us the words to say when it is time to speak. Show us where we are calloused and arrogant, and break our hearts with the things that break yours. Forgive us for treating people like chess pieces and objects and even weapons against those we oppose. Give us eyes to see the true enemy. Expose him to us and unite us in your Spirit to stand against him. We claim your promise to give us wisdom and ask for it today. Everything we need, we find in you. We love you, Lord, our Strength, our Rock, our Fortress, and our Deliverer. 

Friday, March 8, 2019

Lent Day 3 - Watch Yourselves

At that time the disciples came to see Jesus and asked, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom 
of heaven?" He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: 
"I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will
never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child
is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my 
name welcomes me. But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned 
in the depths of the sea."   Matthew 18:1-6

I'm a preacher's kid, so I've been in church since my first Sunday on the Cradle Roll (yes, I know that dates me). I've seen beauty and love there, and I've seen ugly. One Wednesday night, after a particularly hateful business meeting, I left the sanctuary and swore I would never set foot in church again. Life was hard enough without that kind of drama, and frankly, it was worse in church than it was at work or school. I was done with church and Christians, and though I wasn't done with God, I was mad at him for letting that kind of ugliness go on. I'd been a Christian for almost 20 years at that time and it still sent me into a time of spiritual struggle that included, at one point, me actually asking God to take "those people" on out. Just get rid of 'em. Yes I did. And no, he didn't. I'd like to think I would handle it differently now if I had to. I'm a more mature Christian now, but it would still be a battle for me. 

Have you ever heard someone say, "If that's what a Christian is like, I don't want any part of it?" 

Hate, bitterness, anger, a critical spirit, those things are not from God, and if we are out in the world as Christians, representing Jesus, they better not be in us, either. We are to be in the world as lights in the darkness, giving hope and drawing people to Jesus because his people love people in his name. Instead, we are sometimes out there like a toxic gas cloud and the only choice people have is to run from it. 

If we struggle with this as believers, imagine what we must look like to those who don't know Jesus. How are we any different from the rest of the world? And why are these people who are preaching the love of God, not showing it? 

God loves us like little children, not childISH and spoiled and selfish, but childLIKE: open-hearted, trusting, joyful in little things and living in the moment, not worried about tomorrow or how the rent will get paid, accepting of others because we haven't learned to discriminate and judge, just happy to have someone to play with and talk to. Little children are forgiving when their friends make mistakes or get it wrong. They don't spend a lot of time rehashing things, because there are frogs to catch and butterflies to chase, and puppies to play with. When a friend cries, they give a good hug and pat tears from plump little cheeks and share their cookies. When they are scared or hurt, they run to a parent for comfort and safety because they trust. 

It's hard to walk a line between being a mature Christian and being childlike, isn't it? The two sometimes seem mutually exclusive. We so badly need to get this right. Someone could die and go to hell because of our attitude and behavior. It's that serious. I don't want that on my conscience, do you? 

We may not be worried about who is greatest in heaven, but we may be on a mission to get people to see things the "right way", i.e. my way. We may be so convinced that our beliefs and convictions are the right ones, that we have no patience for those who see things differently, and so, we judge them as somehow less than ourselves. It comes across in our words, and in our Facebook posts, and comments, and in Tweets, and every other form of expression. 

We forget that the person holding those other beliefs is a precious soul whom God loves with his whole heart. Just like me. Just like you. God doesn't wait for them to "get it right" before he loves them, or us, and we need to be eternally grateful for that. We are all in this together, at different places and stages, but no one is less than, just because they are different. 

The more people seem godless and profane, the more broken they are, and the more they need to feel the love of Jesus from us, not our condemnation or proclamation that they are going to hell. That is rarely said without the implied satisfaction that they are "getting what they deserve". Jesus died to save us ALL from that. 

Today, ask God in your prayers to show you anything that might turn someone away from him. Ask for forgiveness and a way to make it right. Let him shine a light into every little corner of your life. 

Prayer for today-

Jesus, I am so thankful that you love me just the way I am. I hope I show that to everyone around me every day, but if I don't, please help me to see myself honestly, as you do. Help me to let your Spirit be so free in me that I act and react in ways that make people know I know you. Let me love like it's the most important thing, and make my heart soft for people who are so broken and without you that they mock you and say hateful things about you. Love is the greatest thing, you said so. Let your love be so strong in me, that it breaks down the hate in others. Let me be a safe place for people who are hurting. I don't want anyone to turn away from you because of me. Help me learn to love you more today. You are my best friend. 

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Lent Day 2 - Now it's Getting Personal

"Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and
thankful...Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with
salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone."
Colossians 4:2, 5-6

When will we get to the praying for the country part? Well, since we're in the process of praying for our country's citizens, we're already there. As Christians, we are held accountable for every spoken, written, posted word that comes out of our mouths, or off the ends of our fingertips. We are not to speak carelessly or flippantly, and certainly not without thought for the impact our words have on others. It's hard to tell people Jesus loves them, when we are wounding them on a daily basis with our words. We've all been around long enough to know that things don't always come across in an email, text, or post the way we intend, which is problematic for many reasons. If you've ever followed a comment trail on an emotionally charged post, you know the rapid descent into chaos that occurs until the comments no longer address the original subject, but are only about making a point and lashing out. 

We use scriptures as weapons to make others feel shame or to drive home our own opinions as if they were holy writ. The command to let our conversations be ALWAYS full of grace leaves no wiggle room. There is no exception for Facebook posts, or Tweets, even for politics and hot topics. Sorry. It's just not there. And yes, we have now gone to meddling. The bottom line is this, the way we talk to and about someone is a picture of how we consider them as a person, and that says more about us than it does about them. 

Anyone else saying 'ouch' yet? 

If our attitudes and words turn someone away from Jesus, well, I don't want that on my conscience or my soul, do you? 

The only way we can manage this type of self-control, honestly, is by devoting ourselves to prayer. We certainly can't do it in our own power. We earn the right to speak into someone's life when we show them love, and can believe that they are of infinite worth to God. Souls are more precious than political parties and policies. Those things will fall away one day, but a soul is forever. 

Prayer for today:

Good morning, Lord-
Help me to be wise today, in the way I deal with others. Show me how I justify unloving words in the name of freedom of speech. Stop me before I say or write something that would be hurtful, and give me wisdom to refrain from useless debates and arguments. Let everything I say reflect your Spirit alive and well in me, and let it draw others to the Light and Peace of you. The world is full of anger and bitterness and hurt. Don't let me add to that today. Help me to be watchful and thankful and constantly with you in prayer today. Thank you for grace and forgiveness when I get it wrong. Help me to please you today, because I love you so much. 

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Lent Day 1 - Where the Battle Begins

"Search me, O God, and know my heart; 
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me, and 
lead me in the way everlasting."  Psalm 139:23-24

Welcome to the season of Lent. It's a time for prayer, fasting, abstinence, and penitence, and I'm not sure we've ever needed it more. We've indulged in an excess of news reports and social media posts and private conversations about our country's predicaments and perils, and wondered if we'll make it. We've retained some leaders, and sent some packing. We passed laws-some good, some bad, and some that scare us and make us feel defeated and hopeless. We've not been shy about saying what we think about individuals in various offices, and by some of our rhetoric, we've encouraged the vitriolic comments to continue. I don't know about you, but I'm ready for a break from all that for a while. 

This is not a political post. None of them will be. This is not about politics. This is about all God's children laying that aside and choosing, for a few days, to come together in prayer for our country. 

While you may think we'd naturally start at the top, we're actually not starting with any leader or issue at all. We're starting with YOU. And ME. Remember the verse about the speck in our brother's eye, and the plank in our own? That's why we're starting here. 

Take time today, and through this whole season, to begin with yourself. Use the verse above, and honestly ask God to search out your own heart. What might he show you? Are you not praying for our country at all? Are your words and comments laced with anger and hatred? Do you see some politicians as the enemy instead of someone in need of God's love and forgiveness? Do you find it more important to make your point than to listen to others, even when you disagree? Have you decided that you can't be friends with someone unless you agree on everything? Have you decided the whole world is going to hell in a hand basket so why bother? 

Are you brave enough to accept the challenge and pray these verses over your self? What will you put aside for this time of Lent? The wonder of God is that he never asks us to give up anything that he doesn't replace with something so much better. 

Prayer for today:

Good morning, Lord-
Today I give you permission to search every corner of my heart for anything that does not please you. I know when I treat someone with disrespect and with anger, it grieves you. Please forgive me for not seeing others for the precious treasures they are to you. Remind me that you do not take sides; you are here for every one of us. When Lent is over, and we celebrate your resurrection at Easter, I want to be more like you than I am at this moment. Help me not to be afraid of what you will show me, because you are a kind and gracious Father, and you love me beyond measure. You know my anxious thoughts for my country. Replace them with your peace. Show me anything in me that offends you, and help me to let go of it. Lead me in your way, and give me the courage to follow you. I love you.