Living in the ‘Cone of Uncertainty’

As Hurricane Irma prepares to bash the United States, here in Charlotte we’re wondering if it will be coming our way. As we wait for the answer, I’ve been intrigued by weather reports saying our region lies in the “Cone of Uncertainty.”

While modern meteorologists probably feel clever in using this term, it’s really no different than King Solomon wrote about over 2,000 years ago:

Just as you cannot understand the path of the wind or the mystery of a tiny baby growing in its mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the activity of God, who does all things (Ecclesiastes 11:5 NLT).

Then and now, the path of the wind is highly unpredictable. Even Jesus found it important to weigh in on this great mystery:

The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes (John 3:8).

As meteorologists apply the Cone of Uncertainty idea to the difficulty of projecting Irma’s destructive route, I feel prompted to write about another  kind of Cone of Uncertainty. While the uncertainty about Irma’s path will be resolved within days, I’ve observed a bigger and more long-term issue that seems quite common today…

Some people seem to live their entire lives  in a Cone of Uncertainty!

I’m not trying to be harsh, but you’ve probably met people like this. They’re continually uncertain about their standing with God, their career, their relationships, or what their priorities should be. And if they’re anything like my good friend Ron, they’re stuck in a Cone of Uncertainty in their dating life too.

So what does the Bible say about this? Lots.

Here are just a few random principles for your consideration:

  1. God wants us to live lives of peace rather than confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33). His peace is supposed to transcend our circumstances and guide our decisions, even amid the storms of life (Philippians 4:6-7, Colossians 3:15).
  2. We must be careful not to claim certainty on subjects God hasn’t truly revealed yet. For example, Jesus made it clear that no one would be able to accurately forecast the day of His return—even though people continue to try. On one hand, He said we could observe the signs and know His return is near (Matthew 24:33). But on the other hand, He said we wouldn’t be able to know “the day and hour” (Matthew 24:36, 24:42). On this and many other issues, “we know in part and we prophesy in part” (1 Corinthians 13:9).
  3. When God allows us to experience a Cone of Uncertainty for a season, it provides an opportunity for us to trust Him. I love the statement Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego made to the king as they were being thrown into the fiery furnace. Although they were uncertain about the outcome of the trial they faced, they were absolutely certain of God’s love and faithfulness:

Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up (Daniel 3:16-18).

These three men were determined to trust the Lord, regardless of whether He delivered them and changed their difficult circumstances.

  1. There are some things we should be certain  about. In today’s postmodern world, it’s fashionable to say there are no absolutes. People seem suspicious if you say you know anything for sure. The book of First John was written toward the end of the first century, amid some similar trends of uncertainty affecting the church. A new generation was arising that wasn’t as certain or dogmatic about things as the early apostles had been. No wonder John uses the word “know” 32 times in this book! In fact, he says he wrote the book “that you may KNOW that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13).

So there’s no need to live in a Cone of Uncertainty about whether you’ve been born again and given eternal life. Nor do you ever need to doubt God’s love or His desire to bless you and meet your needs.

This issue came up recently when I was trying to encourage a friend who was going through a hard time. “Brother, the Bible says in Romans 8:31 that if God is for us, it doesn’t matter who is against us,” I reminded him.

I thought that would settle the matter, but it didn’t.

“How do I really know that God is for me, though?” he replied.

Yikes. I could tell this was going to be a much deeper conversation than I had expected. My friend was living in a Cone of Uncertainty on an issue of supreme importance.

But take a moment to apply this to your own life and ponder my friend’s question. How can we know for sure that God is FOR us?

I suppose I could write an entire book in response to this vital query, but for now this basic explanation will have to suffice:

YOU CAN KNOW FOR SURE THAT GOD IS FOR YOU,

BECAUSE HE SENT HIS SON TO DIE FOR YOU!

Shouldn’t that be enough of an answer?

But what if you’ve been living in sin, knowingly disobedient to the precepts in God’s Word? Is He STILL for you?

Once again, the answer is actually quite simple: Even if you’re living in the deepest sin imaginable, God is still for you—He’s for you to repent so He can release the fullness of His blessings in your life once again!

You see, no matter what your situation may be, your Heavenly Father is FOR you, not against you. If you are living in a pigpen, He’s FOR you to come home so He can throw you a party (Luke 15:11-32). If you’re a stuck-up religious person like the older brother in that story, He’s FOR you to humble yourself and enter into the joyous festivities He’s prepared.

What an incredible revelation! Either way, no matter what, God is FOR you. So why not leave the Cone of Uncertainty and join the party, already in progress?

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

Hurney and Gettleman, Grace & Truth

I’m always looking for current events that display Biblical principles for successful leadership. The decision by Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson last week to fire Dave Gettleman as the team’s general manager provides some excellent fodder for a discussion of good and bad leadership traits. After being fired in 2012, Marty Hurney was appointed as the interim general manager.

Here are just a few observations:

  1. Timing is everything. As King Solomon pointed out, “A wise heart knows the proper time and procedure” (Ecclesiastes 8:5 NASB). One of the unusual things about Richardson’s decision is that it came just eight days before the start of the Panthers’ training camp. Even Richardson had to admit that the timing was “not ideal.” An organization’s major decisions ordinarily should be planned with enough time to allow for a smooth rollout and careful communications to all the stakeholders. In this case, even Panther’s head coach Ron Rivera was apparently caught off guard by Richardson’s decision.
  2. Instead of evaluating a person’s overall track record and the long-term picture for an organization’s success, leadership often comes down to “what have you done for me lately.” By almost any measure, Gettleman’s tenure with the Panthers was extremely successful—except for last season. But despite an amazing Super Bowl run in 2015, Richardson apparently felt that the trajectory was going in the wrong direction. And, no doubt, trajectory is more important than past successes. I’ve seen numerous situations where pastors face similar scrutiny. Past success is deemed irrelevant if church attendance and finances are on a downward slide.
  3. We must resist the urge to jerk between extremes. From my perspective, Marty Hurney’s decisions as general manager tended to err on the side of GRACE—giving players big contracts and sometimes keeping them past their prime. In contrast, Dave Gettleman was a man of TRUTH—looking at a player’s current productivity and being unwilling to break the bank when a player’s performance didn’t merit a huge contract. In switching back to Hurney, I think Richardson was siding with grace and loyalty. He wanted to take care of players like Greg Olsen and Thomas Davis, who were in negotiations for new contracts. And it seems he may have been unhappy with how Gettleman parted ways with Panthers stars like Steve Smith and Josh Norman.

I would argue that both Hurney and Gettleman were successful, but partly because the Panthers benefited from the combination of grace and truth that these two general managers provided. Hurney was credited with a harmonious locker room, full of players who felt honored and appreciated. Gettleman was applauded for clearing out players who were past their prime, which greatly improved the salary cap situation.

Jesus, the greatest leader of all time, was full of BOTH grace and truth (John 1:14). He didn’t have to jerk from one extreme to another, for He perfected embodied these two qualities every successful leader must demonstrate.

In Jim Collin’s best-selling book, Good to Great, he notes that organizations thrive when they have “the right people on the bus and have them on the right seats on the bus.” That pretty much describes what a successful general manager must do in the NFL.

When it comes to the future of the Panthers, my hometown team, I hope Marty Hurney will have learned the lessons from the past—both from his own decisions and from those of Dave Gettleman. May he bring back the grace needed to recreate a harmonious team culture, where past performance is honored. But may he also have the guts to make hard decisions when a player is overpaid or should no longer be “on the bus.”

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

Escaping from Your Personal Groundhog Day

groundhog-day 3

Lately I’ve met lots of people who seem to be perpetually stuck in Groundhog Day. You’ve probably seen the classic 1993 movie starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell. Murray plays a weatherman named Phil who’s assigned to cover the annual Groundhog Day event in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. He finds himself stuck in a time loop, forcing him to reexamine his life and priorities.

Day after day, Phil wakes up to the same Groundhog Day reality, with a chance to make better choices this time. It soon becomes clear that he won’t escape until he gets things right.

When I first saw the film, I didn’t realize how significant its message was. Just another mindless comedy, it seemed to me. Yet in 2006 the movie was added to the United States National Film Registry, deemed to be “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

Now that I look back, my perspective on the movie has changed. I think it became popular because many of us can relate to the experiences faced by Bill Murray’s character. Even though we may not be caught in a time loop, we find ourselves stuck in some area of our life.

What about you? Do you currently find yourself trapped in some kind of Groundhog Day experience? Perhaps you are…

  • Having the same relationship struggles over and over.
  • Repeatedly making the same financial mistakes.
  • Dealing with recurring health problems that you’re unable to shake.
  • Battling cyclical addictions.
  • Experiencing periodic bouts of negative emotions, such as depression, loneliness, or anger.

Many people in the Bible experienced Groundhog Day of one kind or another. Jacob frequently had a problem with lying. Joseph faced recurring episodes of injustice. The Israelites spent 40 years traveling in circles in the desert. David and many of the prophets had some pretty severe mood swings at times.

Thankfully, though, the Bible provides numerous tips for escaping from Groundhog Day. Someday I’m going to write an entire book on how to get UNSTUCK…but for now I’ll just share a few brief insights. It’s interesting that many of these were eventually discovered by Bill Murray’s character in the movie.

  1. Face the truth about your present condition. Jesus promised that the truth will set us free if we’re willing to fully embrace it (John 8:32). But this means we must drop our excuses and rationalizations. You see, it’s not just a coincidence that we find ourselves dealing with the same problems again and again.
  2. Quit blaming others. We all have a tendency to blame-shift, but that’s a sure way to remain stuck. It’s time to stop saying all your failed relationships are simply because the other people are so dysfunctional. And if you’ve never been able to keep a job for more than a few months, it’s probably not the fault of all your employers.
  3. Get some help. Perhaps this means you should hire a good counselor, but that’s not necessarily what I mean here. It’s often even better to have at least one or two real friends who will love you enough to tell you the truth and hold you accountable for the needed changes.
  4. Don’t give up. When you’re stuck in Groundhog Day, it’s tempting to give up hope. You feel like simply resigning yourself to the belief that things will never  change. But take some time to let these words from the apostle Paul change your perspective: Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13). Look at what this is saying…

Now… You must have a sense of urgency if you truly want to change. Don’t procrastinate!

…the God of hope… Unless God is involved, difficult circumstances frequently look hopeless. But when you recognize that He’s with you and is available to help, there’s always hope.

…all joy and peace in believing. Your joy and peace will return as soon as you put your eyes back on the Lord and begin to believe His promises again.

…abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. You may have already tried 1,000 times to escape Groundhog Day in your own strength. But everything changes when you allow yourself to be filled with the power of God’s Spirit. The secret is “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27), and that’s the only way lasting change will come.

You don’t have to wait for me to complete my book on how to get unstuck. Today can be the day you face the truth about your circumstances and believe God’s promises for better days ahead. Then you can wake up tomorrow morning with fresh appreciation for the One who is able to make ALL things new (Revelation 21:5).

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

Can You Pass the LOVE TEST?

LoveTest 3

The Beatles weren’t far from mark when they declared, “All You Need Is Love.” The apostle Paul said practically the same thing in Romans 13:10, saying that love is the fulfillment of the law.”

So, are YOU in love? That’s an important question, and not just in the days surrounding Valentine’s Day. If you’re married, I certainly hope you can say yes to this question, but I’m referring to a love that goes even beyond that—an “in love” state of mind that every follower of Jesus is supposed to experience, whether married or single.

My curiosity about being “in love” was sparked recently when I found myself humming an old song originally introduced in the musical Brigadoon:

What a day this has been

What a rare mood I’m in

Why, it’s almost like being in love.

There’s a smile on my face

For the whole human race

Why, it’s almost like being in love.

As this song suggests, love will cause you to see “the whole human race” differently, not just the person you’re in love with. This should be a real challenge to us who claim we’re in love with Jesus. If our love for Him is genuine, there should be a smile on our face for people too.

But how can we go deeper than the world’s superficial concept of being “in love”—typically a phrase used just in the context of romantic or emotional love?

I decided to do a search on BibleGateway.com and found some fantastic “in love” passages. Here’s a small sample, including my observations about how the principles apply to our lives today:

“Walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma” (Ephesians 5:2).

  • Love is not just a feeling or even just a matter of words—it’s something we’re called to walk in and live out. When we do this, our lives will emit the sweet fragrance of Christ instead of less-appealing odors.

“God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him” (1 John 4:16).

  • Since God is love, there’s no way to maintain an intimate relationship with Him without abiding in love. And the word “abide” means that love is not meant to be a sporadic series of emotional, spiritual, or physical encounters, but rather a continual, unending connection.

“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love (1 John 4:18).

  • Fear and love are mortal enemies. Fear tries to undercut love, but God’s love can destroy our fears. Let’s not allow fear to hold us back from reaching out in love to others.

“May the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another” (1 Thessalonians 3:12).

  • Our love is not supposed to diminish over time—it’s supposed to “increase and abound.” Is that happening with your love?

Of course, there are many other Bible passages about love. I even noticed this verse saying that “older men” (like me!) are supposed to be in love: “…that the older men be sober, reverent, temperate, sound in faith, in love, in patience” (Titus 2:2).

So let me ask you again…

Are you in love? If you still aren’t sure how to answer, I encourage you to take the LOVE TEST in 1 Corinthians 13 (MSG paraphrase). From what we read in the book of Acts, walking “in love” doesn’t seem to have been easy for the apostle Paul. But he realized its importance nevertheless: “No matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love” (v. 3).

What an incredible statement: Without love, our lives are surely “bankrupt.”

Paul goes on to give us a very detailed description of love’s characteristics:

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.

Love never dies (vs. 4-8).

How did you do on this LOVE TEST? If you’re like me, you still fall short in many ways. But that’s another thing I like about the song from Brigadoon. Instead of saying we’ve fully mastered this thing called love, it only describes our experience as “almost” like being in love.

The LOVE TEST ends with Paul’s conclusion at the beginning of the next chapter: Go after a life of love as if your life depended on it—because it does.” So true, Paul. So true.

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

A Nation Without Discrimination (Is That What We Really Want?)

Based on recent news reports and political talk shows, I’ve concluded that a growing number of Americans want us to be a nation without discrimination. While you probably think a discrimination-free country is a very good objective, you need to be careful what you wish for.

Let me explain…

According to dictionaries, to “discriminate” means to differentiate or make a distinction. So we can reframe my original question like this: Do you really want a country where no one can differentiate or make distinctions?

The entire Bible is a book of distinctions: God vs. Satan, light vs. darkness, good vs. evil, right vs. wrong, faith vs. unbelief, and so on. In fact, the very first test given to the human family was to discriminate between two trees, one that would lead to life and the other to death (Genesis 2:16-17). Failing to discriminate properly, Adam and Eve made the wrong choice, leading to disastrous consequences.

A nation without any discrimination would be a nation of anarchy. Nothing right. Nothing wrong. Everyone setting their own moral compass without fear of contradiction, because it’s politically incorrect, or even illegal, to say otherwise.

This problem can be illustrated by my annual eye and ear checkup a few months ago. While my senses are in pretty good shape for my age, I had to come to grips with my declining ability to discriminate. When they showed me the eye chart, I could see all the letters, of course. But when the letters were too small, I couldn’t differentiate between “M’s” and “N’s,” “C’s” and “G’s.”

The same thing happened when my ears were tested. I could hear all the sounds, but sometimes I couldn’t distinguish one from another.

You see, discrimination is a great thing when you’re using it properly. It’s terrible if you can’t differentiate between letters or between sounds.

Again, the Bible warns against blurring the lines when it comes to moral absolutes: What sorrow for those who say that evil is good and good is evil, that dark is light and light is dark, that bitter is sweet and sweet is bitter” (Isaiah 5:20 NLT). Instead of bringing freedom and happiness, the result of this kind of nondiscrimination is sorrow and confusion.

None of us wants to be known as a critical, judgmental person (Matthew 7:1-5). However, a normal and extremely valuable part of life is the ability to distinguish between things bearing good fruit and things bearing evil fruit (Matthew 7:15-20).

When Discrimination Goes Wrong

Just as the Bible strongly warns that we must discriminate at times, it also makes it clear that we must NOT discriminate based on the wrong criteria.

For example, the apostle Paul writes, In Christ’s family there can be no division into Jew and non-Jew, slave and free, male and female. Among us you are all equal. That is, we are all in a common relationship with Jesus Christ” (Galatians 3:26-29 MSG). These were quite revolutionary words at the time! People were discriminating based on invalid distinctions, and Paul rebuked them for not recognizing their inherent equality in Christ.

Martin Luther King Jr. put this in perspective when he said people should be judged based on “the content of their character” rather than the color of their skin. So true. Nor should we judge people based on their gender, ethnicity, or income level.

But today many people have missed a vital component of King’s message. He didn’t say people shouldn’t be evaluated at all. Nor was this a “different strokes for different folks” kind of message.

MLK, in stark contrast to many pundits today, was proclaiming our right to evaluate, discriminate, and judge based on the content of people’s character and the fruit of their deeds. When we’re no longer able to do that, our nation will quickly descend into an abyss of chaos and moral relativism.

One More Thing

So I would argue that the Bible gives us every right to discriminate, if our discrimination is based on the right criteria. For example, since we’re told that “bad company corrupts good character” (1 Corinthians 15:33 NIV), it’s necessary to have discernment about what “bad company” looks like.

Yet many well-meaning Bible-believers have left out an indispensable part of the equation. They excel at pointing out the bad behavior all around them, but they’ve forgotten another principle found throughout the Scriptures: “As we have opportunity, let us do good to ALL people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Galatians 6:10 NIV).

This means we have no license to be mean to those we disagree with! Quite the contrary, we are called to “do good” to EVERYONE, whenever we have an opportunity. This means showing them love and respect. It means serving them, even when we adamantly disagree with their beliefs or their lifestyle.

You don’t have to throw out your biblical beliefs or spiritual discernment in order to do this. It’s possible to walk in BOTH grace and truth, just as your Lord modeled so perfectly.

 

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

The Contentment Dilemma

It’s beautiful, but also exasperating, that the Bible often points out two seemingly opposite and contradictory sides of a subject. For example, Jesus is both God and man, a paradox that is hard, if not impossible, for us to fully grasp.

And have you ever studied the issue of “eternal security”? If so, you’ve found verses that seem to state the absolute impossibility of losing your salvation (e.g., John 10:28-29, Romans 8:31-39, Philippians 1:6), while other passages warn about the danger of falling away (Hebrews 6:4-6, Hebrews 10:26-27, 2 Timothy 2:12, 2 Peter 2:20-22). I’m sure God understands how all of this works together. But if we’re honest, sometimes it’s a bit baffling for us.

In the face of the Bible’s paradoxes, our tendency is to cite proof texts on one side of an issue or the other. In doing so, we ignore verses that show the other side, and this typically leads to heated theological arguments with sincere believers who have their own set of proof texts.

Hey, I used to be an attorney, so I’m pretty good at presenting just one side of the evidence.

Some of the Bible’s paradoxes are practical, not just theological, in nature. For example, I have a close friend who loves to quote Paul’s words about contentment: I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am” (Philippians 4:11).

Over the many years this friend has known me, he’s periodically observed my discontentment over my finances, my weight, my lack of spiritual impact, and many other things. And even after I was able to get unstuck and make progress in these areas of discontentment, he’s noticed that I always find another mountain of discontentment that I still needed to climb.

When my friend preaches to me contentment, I quote to him a passage Paul writes in the chapter right before his statement about being content: I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:12-14).

I guess I struggle with the whole contentment thing. How can we be content, when our spiritual condition or other aspects of our lives fall short of God’s best for us?

What a dilemma this is. By focusing on the importance of contentment, my friend runs the risk of settling for circumstances in his life that God wants to change. In time, he’s liable to get stuck in situations that are far less than God’s high calling for his life.

But my perspective clearly has its dangers too. By stressing a lifestyle of continually “pressing on” to ever-higher goals and objectives, I run the risk of never resting or enjoying the journey. Life tends to become just one long marathon race, never being satisfied with my current position on the GPS.

Somehow both of these scriptural principles are true. Wherever we’re currently at on our journey through life, we must learn to abide in the Lord and experience His peace (Philippians 4:6-9, John 15:1-5). Thankful that He is faithfully working out His purpose in our lives, we can unapologetically take some time to “smell the roses” along the way.

Of course, this doesn’t negate the realization that we haven’t “arrived” yet. No matter how far we’ve come so far, we are still in the process of being conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29). And rather than allowing ourselves to become stuck on some spiritual plateau, we must recognize God’s “upward call” to transform us from one degree of glory to another (2 Corinthians 3:18).

So which side of the contentment dilemma are you on today? Do you need a nudge to get unstuck and press higher, or is it time to take a deep breath, rest, and enjoy where God has brought you so far?

 

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

Keeping Up Appearances

If you’re like me, you have a love-hate relationship with Facebook. Yes, it provides a convenient way to keep up with my friends and let them know what I’m up to. And occasionally someone posts an interesting video clip or news item that I find profitable.

However, I’ve concluded that for many people, Facebook is all about “keeping up appearances.” If you spend all your time in the unreality world of Facebook, you’ve probably concluded that every one of your friends is living the perfect life. Awesome spouse. Incredible kids. Fantastic vacations. One fun experience after another.

In the world of Facebook friends, there is seemingly no pain…loneliness…or depression. No one posts anything about marriage struggles or rebellious children or trouble with their boss. In fact, people seem to feel obliged to write a post on their anniversary that says something like, “Thirty years ago I married my soul mate, and we’ve had one glorious year after another ever since.”

The problem is, there’s quite a difference between the digital lives of my Facebook friends and the actual lives of the friends I know in the real world. Maybe I’ve been hanging out with too many losers, but some of my friends have been divorced…have lost jobs…have gone bankrupt…have had bouts with depression…or have gone through agonizing situations with their children.

Of course, I would never have known any of these things about my friends through their Facebook posts. No, I had to spend time with them, face to face, looking them squarely in the eyes. And I had to share my own struggles, so they could trust me enough to share their struggles.

The tendency for people to “keep up appearances” is certainly not a new phenomenon. The Bible is filled with descriptions about the common human tendency to fall into “play acting” or “hypocrisy,” especially for us religious folks.

Amazingly, Jesus was compassionate toward prostitutes and drunkards, yet very severe to people who played religious games for the sake of keeping up their appearance:

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness (Matthew 23:27-28).

If I had nothing better to do, I think I should start a Facebook alternative for people who want to be honest about their lives. Maybe I could call it Heartbook, or something like that. It would be the no-spin zone of social media sites.

The theme verse of my new Heartbook initiative would be 1 Samuel 16:7: “People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” There would be a strict policy against sharing your selfies unless you also shared the condition of your heart.

You see, 1 John 1:7 says the only way we can have true friendship and fellowship is to “walk in the light.” In other words, transparency and openness are prerequisites for genuine relationships.

That’s why I frankly don’t care how many Facebook friends you have. Heartbook will trump the Facebook any day. (Watch out, Mark Zuckerberg!)

So the real question isn’t your number of Facebook friends, but whether you have any friends you can be real with. You need people who see beyond your appearance to your heart…people who love you unconditionally, no matter how you are doing or what you are going through.

A true friend is worth thousands of people whose goal in life is to keep up their appearance. Don’t settle for anything less.

 

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

It’s Time for the Church to Put ‘Boots on the Ground’

If you’re like me and watch too much TV news, you are probably getting quite tired of the phrase “boots on the ground.” In nearly every speech the past few months, President Obama mentions this. He takes pains to assure the American people and the world that he has no intention of committing “boots on the ground” to fight the horrific ISIS terrorists who’ve taken over large portions of Syria and Iraq.

Instead of boots on the ground, the President has decided to simply “degrade” the ISIS forces through a bombing campaign. His calculation is that a war-weary nation would much rather send stealth bombers and cruise missiles into the conflict than risk American troops in another ground war.

I’m certainly not a big fan of sending ground troops either, but it’s interesting that practically every former military general and strategic analyst says ISIS will never be defeated through bombing alone. Although their rapid advance may be slowed, these military experts say ISIS will never be fully uprooted without ground troops—yes, “boots on the ground.”

All of this holds some powerful applications for the church today:

  1. We are in a war. Although President Obama and his advisers have been downplaying the global Islamic threat for years, the recent slaughter of Christians and beheading of journalists has finally blown the lid off of this naiveté or cover-up. In the same way, many pastors and churches have chosen to ignore our unseen spiritual war and our increasingly alarming cultural war. It’s time to get our heads out of the sand and face the facts.
  2. Staying aloof is not an option. Like the bombers sent to engage ISIS from thousands of feet in the air, the church has preferred to remain detached from where the real battles are taking place. We huddle together in our Sunday church services, while the world is quickly going to hell. It’s said that the Emperor Nero “fiddled while Rome burned,” but perhaps the American church has been guilty of gleefully singing our praise choruses while ignoring the fact that our nation is going up in smoke.
  3. Political correctness is a prescription for defeat. President Obama has repeatedly said, “The United States is not, and will never be, at war with Islam.” Well, that sounds very noble of him, doesn’t it? However, it is becoming increasingly obvious that much of Islam is at war with us. In the same way, many church leaders have opted for the world’s “coexist” philosophy—the notion that all faiths are relatively equal and we should all “go along to get along.” How foolish! When the church is no longer willing to confront sin, injustice, and false beliefs, we are choosing the pathway of impotence and eventual extinction.
  4. From the beginning, God created the church for “boots on the ground.” Chinese Bible teacher Watchman Nee explained this well in his book Sit, Walk, Stand, pointing out that the book of Ephesians can be broken up into three distinct sections. In the first few chapters, Paul focuses on our heavenly position, seated with Christ in the heavenly realms, far above all earthly or demonic powers or authorities (1:3, 1:15-23). But in Ephesians 4:1 the focus dramatically shifts, and Paul begins a new section on how to “walk” worthy of our calling as believers. Notice the difference: From the “heavenly places” you can engage in a detached bombing campaign, but “walking” means you are putting your feet on the ground. This includes such things as learning to love your fellow Christians, being a good witness to the watching world, and displaying Christ-like character in your family.

The final section of Ephesians focuses even more directly on the military metaphor of “boots on the ground”: “Take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand (6:13). You see, the church wasn’t designed just for the heavenly realms or for a happy life on earth. No, we were also designed for combat.

However, there’s usually little combat with the enemy when we’re content to stay secluded in our “stained-glass ghettos” of church and family life. The fierce warfare doesn’t break out until we truly put our boots on the ground and start taking back territory from the devil.

With ISIS, if we don’t defeat them now, we will have to defeat them later, in even larger form. The same is true of the church. It’s time to put on our spiritual boots and engage in the moral issues of our day.

 

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

Hater or Truth-Teller? 6 Ways to Tell the Difference

How can we tell the difference between a hater and a truth-teller? It’s not always easy. But our ability to discern the difference will be crucial to our future growth and success.

If we give too much credence to haters and naysayers, we will end up discouraged or confused as they tear down our identity and undercut our mission.

If we reject the input of genuine truth-tellers, we’re likely to end up full of pride, with dangerous blind spots as to our true condition.

Although it sure would be easier if the haters wore black hats and the truth-tellers wore white hats, it’s seldom so clear. I’ve never met a hater who doesn’t claim to simply be “telling the truth.”

Haters are on the rise today, and we want to make sure we aren’t among them. At the same time, truth-tellers seem to be increasingly rare, because the truth  is not politically correct or socially acceptable these days. Today’s culture considers being tolerant and non-judgmental to be the paramount human virtues, and this is problematic for truth-telling. Anyone who has a strong opinion is considered a hater, whether they are one or not.

So how do we distinguish between speaking the truth and being a hater? Here are six telltale differences:

1. Truth-tellers are interested in dialogue and relationship, but haters typically “fire bomb” their opponents in hit-and-run style.

2. Truth-tellers have an ultimate objective of help and healing, but haters want to silence and destroy their adversaries.

3. Truth-tellers have hope that people will acknowledge the truth and repent, but haters are convinced people will never change.

4. Truth-tellers are humble enough to admit they’re not always right about things, but haters have a smug, know-it-all attitude.

5. Truth-tellers have a track record of making positive contributions, but haters leave a trail of devastation wherever they go.

6. Truth-tellers demonstrate an ability to find the good in things whenever possible (Philippians 4:8), but haters typically are negative about everything.

One day King David was approached by a hater named Shimei (2 Samuel 16:5-13). This bitter man from Saul’s clan cursed at David, threw stones at him, and called him names like “murderer,” “scoundrel,” and “worthless man.” David’s men were outraged, and they wanted to cut off Shimei’s head. To their shock, David said to let Shimei alone, for perhaps the Lord had told him  to say those things!

David’s humility enabled him to realize a vital truth: Just because a person is a hater, that doesn’t mean they’re not also speaking the truth at times. However, rather than following Shimei’s example, Ephesians 4:15 says we’re to speak the truth in love.

If you’re a leader, you need to be careful how you handle haters and truth-tellers. Beware of the tendency to surround yourself with people who flatter you as if you can do no wrong. Make sure you have some people in your life who love you enough to tell you the truth—even when it hurts.

When you are criticized, don’t automatically conclude that the person is a hater. Take their critique to the Lord and ask Him to show you if any part of it is true.

When Nathan the prophet confronted David about his sin with Bathsheba and Uriah (2 Samuel 12), can you imagine what would have happened if David had branded Nathan as a hater and rejected his input? We need to make sure we love the truth  enough to find and embrace the truth-tellers around us.

What about you? Have you been too concerned about what the haters and naysayers think about you? Do you have a few faithful friends who can tell you the truth when you’ve been too blind to see it?

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

Keeping It Real?

Why all the fascination with “Duck Dynasty” these days? Is it just another example of mindless cultural fluff, or is a profound spiritual message somehow involved?

       The A&E Network’s unlikely hit series is the second most watched original series on a cable channel. As you probably know by now, the show chronicles the Robertson clan, the rags-to-riches family that has turned making duck calls into a lucrative company called Duck Commander.

On a recent media blitz in New York City, the bearded stars were asked by Matt Lauer on “The Today Show” whether “Duck Dynasty” episodes were “real” or scripted. Family patriarch Phil Robertson replied, “Most of the time we ad-lib. Think about it: Some TV producer out of L.A. is fixin’ to put words into our mouth? Gimme a break.”

Jase, one of the Robertson sons, described the culture shock between the TV producers and the fiercely independent Louisianans: “They come up with ideas, and we just get to be ourselves in the situation.”

Is that the secret to the amazing success of the Robertsons, after all—the fact that they “just get to be themselves”?

In various other interviews, the Robertsons have discussed how crucial it is for them to “keep it real,” even in the face of constant pressure to compromise their faith and values. Success has its own temptations, but it would be deadly to the show’s success if the family tried to fit into some mold set by TV gurus.

But I’ve admitted to some friends lately that I don’t always like “reality.” Yes, the truth will set us free (John 8:32), but first it often brings pain and dismay. I can see why some people prefer to live their whole life in a fantasy world.

And have you ever wondered what people would see if YOUR life was a TV reality show? Would it be the most boring program ever, because you never do anything heroic or adventurous? Would you be embarrassed if hidden cameras caught a behind-the-scenes look at what’s really going on in your family or career?

Perhaps the reality show cameras would reveal that your public persona is far different from who you truly are. As Jesus described the Pharisees, maybe you’re a hypocrite…a play actor…wearing a religious mask or “happy face” to hide your inner reality.

Jesus once told a Samaritan woman who had bounced from one immoral relationship to another, “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth  (John 4:24). There’s an important message here about whether we’re living lives that are authentic or phony.

The Greek word translated “truth” is alētheia.  In addition to meaning “truth” in terms of what is right and wrong (e.g., the truth of Scripture), alētheia  has a much broader meaning. It can be translated as “reality,” and one Bible dictionary defines it as “candor of mind which is free from pretense, simulation, falsehood, or deceit.”

Many people today are yearning for reality. Perhaps they’ve never classified themselves as a “seeker of truth,” but they’re tired of the phony, the fabricated, and the hyped.

Yet, sadly, not everyone is ready to face the truth. Jack Nicholson’s character in “A Few Good Men” may have been right when he famously said, “You can’t HANDLE the truth!”

Let’s be honest: At the same time as we applaud the “reality” of a program like “Duck Dynasty,” millions are also watching the un-reality  of “Keeping Up with the Kardashians.”

Do we even have a clue as to what is “real” anymore? Do we even care?

As you’ve probably guessed, my concern isn’t whether the Robertsons or the Kardashians are living in reality or phoniness. My concern is for you and me.

I pray you have some true friends who are helping you “keep it real”—people who refuse to allow you to drift into unreality and self-deception. Even though it’s unlikely you’ll ever be offered your own TV program, may the reality of Christ  be evident in your life. Although people will be impacted little by what you PROFESS, they can be impacted greatly by the reality of what you POSSESS.

While the Robertson clan has made a mark on the world through manufacturing duck calls, you probably won’t be attracting any ducks through your sincere walk with Jesus. But I predict you surely will  succeed as a fisher of men (Matthew 4:19).

 

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter