Are You Volunteering for Slavery?

Slavery has been in the news more than you might expect in recent years. My first vivid memory of slavery was as a small child, when the mini-series Roots was the most popular thing on TV and I remember people talking about it. I was only about 7 year’s old. In my education, the evils of slavery, especially as it related to the American Civil War, were taught in the classroom. Later, I read about examples of slavery around the world throughout history. Slavery is an evil that has been inflicted on many different people throughout history, but many people today choose to become slaves and it seems like more people are choosing it every day.

I’m not talking about the same kind of slavery, but a different kind that was identified by the king who was known as the wisest man of his time. King Solomon composed most of the wise sayings that are found in the Bible in the book of Proverbs. The proverb I’m talking about is this one:

“The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender.”

Proverbs 22:7 ESV

Solomon was of course, very rich. He was perhaps the most wealthy man in the world for that period of history. As the head of an incredibly rich state, it is certain that he saw the relationship between wealth and poverty, lending and debt first hand. In the culture of Israel, it was actually possible for someone to become a slave because of their debt. Regardless of whether a debtor considers themselves a slave, when we borrow money and owe someone, we enter into a type of slavehood.

A slave loses control of their freedom. They are no longer able to determine their own path, but must look to the one who controls them. This is what it is like to be in debt. Debt has a power over our present and our future. It impacts things like:

  • Our ability to be generous
  • Our freedom to respond to opportunities when they come
  • Our capability of dealing with a crisis
  • Our ability to help others in their times of need
  • Our flexibility to be involved in ministry
  • Our priorities for life and family

The lenders tend to accumulate wealth, while the borrowers end up trapped in a never-ending cycle of payments. Those who own assets that increase in value, such as property, stocks and investments grow in power and wealth, often at the expense of the masses. In America, it is estimated that the top 0.1% own more than the bottom 80% combined.

The world wants you to be a slave to those in power and wealth. Some might feel they have no choice but to give in, but the truth is the majority of the population volunteers to be a slave to those in power. Here is how you do it:

  • You get used to spending more than you earn – The greatest principle that contributes to this situation is also the simplest, if you spend less than you earn, you won’t have to use debt, but if you make it a habit to spend more than each paycheck, then you have no choice, but to become a slave.
  • See monthly payments for everything as essential – It used to be the norm that you would buy things and own things, but the preference now is to sell us access to things and services. Every month, the rich and powerful want us paying them a monthly fee, whether it is for entertainment, material possessions or access to things we consider essential. They want us paying for all of these things, just like we pay for water and electricity. Reducing our monthly payments is one way to make sure we never become a slave.
  • Get you to take out loans for things that depreciate – As stated above, those in power buy assets that make money. The debtors stay in slavery making monthly payments on things like expensive new cars, boats or cell phones that lose a significant part of their value as soon as they aren’t new. Taking out a loan for an asset that loses value like this is a special kind of slavery.
  • Borrow from the future for the present, which becomes the past. Marketing makes future payments seem like they will be painless, but it often leaves people enslaved to pay for things that they don’t even want and sometimes, don’t even have anymore. A quick way to slavery is to accumulate debt to be paid off “some day” for a passing pleasure of the moment.
  • Pay more for the same thing because of a brand – Speaking of marketing. Much of it is geared around getting us to pay more for certain products, simply because of the name on the label. We can become a slave to our pride and desire to own or be seen in certain brands. We give ourselves over to the whims of the marketing departments, allowing them to determine our happiness.
  • Accumulate credit card debt – Credit cards are the easiest way to accumulate debt for consumables and other things that will be long gone way before the debt is paid off. This category or “consumer debt” is one of the greatest slave masters in the world today.

These are some of the examples of what it means to be a slave through debt. It starts very simply for most people. They might get a credit card during University and build up a few bills that they will pay off, someday soon. When you get a new job that pays better, you might add a big new car payment right away, now that you can afford it, rather than saving for a good used car. Some get buried under a mountain of student loan debt, going to a University they can’t afford to earn a degree that will never allow them to get a job that pays enough to get out of their enslavement. Many 20 and 30 somethings are definitely feeling what it is like to be enslaved to debt these days because of these loans.

Most of us won’t ever earn enough to become what we would think of as being rich, but it is possible for everyone to find freedom from the slavery of debt. The best thing we can do is to never get into it. Do this by:

  1. Living within your means (i.e. don’t spend more than you earn)
  2. Live more simply
  3. Invest time in more people, not money in more things
  4. Save for big ticket items instead of borrowing money for them.

If you are already swimming in debt, you know what it is like to be under this bond of slavery. Don’t give up hope. There are a variety of services that exist in order to help people who are committed to being free from debt. I recommend Consumer Credit Counseling and Dave Ramsey’s free materials.

No one should desire to live in slavery. I challenge you to make a commitment to break the bonds of slavery today.

Distracted, Divided, Dependent

Someone wants you distracted.

They want you to “Netflix and chill”. They want you to “Power your dreams”. They want you to “Live in your world, play in ours.” They want you to do all of these things and a million others. Distracted people disengage from reality. Distracted people focus on themselves first. Distracted people don’t pay attention. They are too busy entertaining themselves in all of these different ways. Every spare moment filled with distraction. This is a topic addressed in Chapter 4 of my book, Seeing God and throughout God’s Word.

Someone wants you to never have a moment alone with your thoughts. They would like for you to move from one diversion to the next, never disengaging until our screen finally goes dark beside our beds late at night. In the past, authors often wrote about dystopian nightmares in which people were forced to endure a type of digital programming by restraining you in a chair and forcing your eyes to stay open. In the modern age, we volunteer to receive our programming and jack into the system willingly. This barrage keeps us permanently distracted, just as someone, might specifically desire.

God doesn’t desire for us to be distracted. God desires for us to “Be still and know that He is God.” Ps. 46:10 This requires rest, peace, an absence of distraction. Psalm 127:2 says, “It is vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.” Eating the bread of anxious toil could describe a lot of days in modern life. This isn’t what God wants for us. It isn’t God’s best.

God doesn’t want us to be programmed by distractions. He desires for us to rest our minds in the Truth. In Phil. 4:8, Paul writes, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” These thoughts don’t give us anxious toil, but a release from anxiety and toil.

1 Peter 1:13 says, “Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming.” God wants our minds to be sober and alert, not numb. Going through life disengaged from reality and distracted from meaning and purpose is not the life that God makes available to His followers. God cares more for you than the companies and advertising campaigns that are fighting to keep you distracted.

Someone wants you divided

Someone wants you angry. They want you suspicious. They want you to only see other people through categories. They want you to think of those around you as something less than a magnificent creation in the image of God. They want you to put your group ahead of others. They want you to think the worst of everyone. They don’t want you talking to people, they want you talking about people. They want you divided.

A divided people are easier to keep distracted. They are easier to control. They are easier to keep in their place. They are easier to influence. Division turns against lifelong friends, colleagues and family members. It ends family gatherings. It causes people to leave churches, community groups and clubs. It keeps you in your home. It keeps you in front of your computer, phone or TV. It makes you move away from connecting with the people in your town, city or neighborhood. It turns most personal interactions negative. It cuts off communication. It robs our interactions of joy. It raises our life’s overall levels of anger, anxiety and depression and builds walls between us that are difficult to tear down. Someone wants you divided.

God wants us in community. He desires us to live as the relational beings He created us to be. “It is not good for man to be alone…” Gen. 2:18 God desires us to:

  • Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Gal. 6:2
  • walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another” 1 John 1:7
  • encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone.” 1 Thess. 5:14
  • As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” Pro. 27:17
  • Live in harmony with one another” Rom. 12:16
  • Love each other as I have loved you” John 15:12

God wants us to practice these things and dozens more, as we come together in unity, not in division. God’s desire is for us to experience the beauty of community as we practice these things together. Most of all, He desires the greatest division to be healed, the one between God and man. “And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him.” 2 Cor. 5:18 NLT

God is about reconciliation, not division and He doesn’t desire for us to live in this world as those that pursue division, gossip, slander, jealousy, envy and other things that would create greater division and anger among us. God’s life for us and our communities is one of coming together in Him, not in tearing apart. Someone wants you to embrace division, but it isn’t God. God has given all of us His followers a ministry of reconciliation.

Someone wants you dependent

Someone wants you looking to them to meet all your needs. They want you further in debt. They want you to be unable to take care of yourself. They want you to put your hopes in them. They want you to be weak. They want to be the only answer to your problems. They want to give you just enough to keep you coming back for more. They want power. They want control over you. They want you to sacrifice your free will for their support. Someone wants you to give up. They want you to think that they provide an easier way, a better way, a way that they can provide and you can’t possibly find on your own.

Someone else wants you to put all your hope in yourself, in your own capabilities. They want you to give up on everyone else. They want you isolated. They want you at the center of everything. They want you not to trust anyone. They want you arrogant. They want you to turn your back, to head for your shelter. They want you to ignore the needs of everyone else.

God promises freedom in the Truth. Freedom through dependence on Him. Ultimate self-confidence because all of our confidence comes from God.

Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.”  John 15:4-5

Freedom in Christ means freedom from sin and death. It means freedom to live in His grace for as long as we walk this earth. It means complete independence from both the power and consequences of sin and all the destruction that brings to our life and relationships. Galatians 5:1 says, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

Who is someone?

Someone wants you burdened. They want you enslaved. They want you to give up your whole life to a life of distraction, division, and dependence. They want you living according to something much, much less than everything that God offers us. Who is someone?

And you were dead in your trespasses and sins in which you previously walked according to the ways of this world, according to the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit now working in the disobedient. We too all previously lived among them in our fleshly desires, carrying out the inclinations of our flesh and thoughts, and we were by nature children under wrath as the others were also.” Ephesians 2:1-3

Someone is the world. The world would have you worship itself. It would have you give all power to its policies and structures. It would have you give all your time to frivolities and emptiness. It would have you give everything without even thinking about it.

Someone is the “ruler of the power of the air”. It is the enemy of God, begging you to join him in a thousand different ways. He is the king of lies and deception in all its forms. He knows our weaknesses and is committed to using them against us.

Someone is the flesh. The man/woman in the mirror. The selfish instinct that lives out the worst of who we are at the expense of everyone else. It is prison that we build ourselves.

But God…

But God, who is rich in mercy, because of his great love that he had for us, made us alive with Christ even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace! He also raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavens in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might display the immeasurable riches of his grace through his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift— not from works, so that no one can boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time for us to do.” Ephesians 2:4-10

But then there is the rest of the story. Someone does want the worst for all of us, but God wants His best and we have here His perfect promise to each of us. We are:

  • Made alive
  • Saved by grace
  • Raised up to the heavens
  • Receivers of immeasurable spiritual riches of grace and kindness
  • God’s workmanship
  • Created for good works

All of life can be diverted from the truth if we aren’t careful. The world is filled with everything that would pull us away from Him. But God has provided a better way. He doesn’t promise it will be easy. He doesn’t promise an absence of all hardship or heartache, but He does promise life, salvation, grace, kindness and a plan and purpose that we can give our lives to that will rescue us from the distractions, heal the divisions and free us from deadly dependence.

Right now, you may be distracted, divided or dependent, or you may be completely focused on those who are distracting you, trying to divide you or make you dependent. Whether you know it or not this does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. If you are a believer, God has set you free from such things. Read the passage above and see who God says you really are. Abandon the path of the world, the flesh and the enemy and learn to live in the Truth of immeasurable riches of God’s grace.

Heavy Hearts Abound

The world is full of strife and anger 
Clashing spirits, sometimes danger 
We look without and find conflict brewing 
We withdraw within and begin our stewing
Former friends are now far removed 
Memories lost as reality, soothed 
We turn away and walk out of the room 
A closing door will mark our doom
Now we sit alone surrounded by a wall 
Divisions created growing ever tall 
Fuel for this separation is ever present 
Screens before us ever aid our descent 
It is not good for man to be alone… 
Is a verse for marriage, but also for home 
A house divided cannot stand 
We should join together, join the band
Can the damage be undone? 
A divided many become one? 
The world will tell you it cannot be 
The truth is, it is impossible for you and me
Our hope is not in governments, policies or the words of man 
The only hope is in Jesus, and in His truths we must stand

Doesn’t the Bible Say ‘Don’t Judge’?

One of the most popular and well known passages in the Bible is the section of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew 7:1-5:

 “Do not judge, so that you won’t be judged. 2 For you will be judged by the same standard with which you judge others, and you will be measured by the same measure you use. 3 Why do you look at the splinter in your brother’s eye but don’t notice the beam of wood in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the splinter out of your eye,’ and look, there’s a beam of wood in your own eye? 5 Hypocrite! First take the beam of wood out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to take the splinter out of your brother’s eye.

Matthew 7:1-5 CSB

People love to pull out anecdotes from this passage: “Don’t judge!” “Don’t be a hypocrite!” “Take the log out of your own eye!” The reason for the popularity of these verses and others like them is none of us likes to feel like we are being judged. Whether we have done something wrong or not, the feeling of standing under judgement is distasteful for us all. The naughty kid isn’t sorry he misbehaved, but sorry he was caught. The lawbreaker often would have been perfectly happy if no one had noticed that they broke the law. Even in our personal relationships at home, church and work, no one likes it when it is pointed out that we have spoken or acted in an unkind manner. To be judged is to be told you are at fault and that you are “wrong”. This is something no one enjoys.

Because of this, it is human nature to desire freedom from rules, laws and accountability, at least where our own life is concerned. The irony is we don’t want that personal freedom to interfere with our own lives when it is expressed by others. If we were honest with ourselves, we would have to admit that we all have a bit of a hypocrite in us and would prefer a world where we have the freedom to judge others while they were forbidden from judging us. I’m not going to enter into the greater discussion about the laws of the land and judgement on a larger, national scale, but instead look at what role judgement should play on a smaller scale, especially in the local church.

Should Christians “judge” one another? Judge is an interesting word and I guess it depends on what definition you are using. Paul seemed to “judge” some of the churches and people in the churches in his letters. The letters to the seven churches in the book of Revelation have a degree of judgement as to the character of some of the churches. Throughout the Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments, we see people held accountable for sinful, wrongful actions and there being consequences for those actions. When you read the language used in the New Testament, the word judge doesn’t seem to fit what is being described. Here are a few examples:

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

Galatians 6:1-2 ESV

This is a clear situation, someone is guilty, and they have been caught, but this doesn’t sound very much like judgement. Those who are spiritual is most likely referring to spiritually mature believers in the person’s church. They go to the guilty party and restore them with a spirit of gentleness, being careful not to be tempted towards sin on their own. This is all a part of fulfilling the command to bear one another’s burdens. Guilt over wrong doing is a burden and we help those who have committed the transgression to bear it. Bearing this burden doesn’t mean dismissing the transgression as being insignificant, but rather emphasizing that the person who sinned is more important than their transgression and the first priority is their restoration.

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

Matthew 18:15-17 ESV

This passage is often used as a manual for dealing with sin in the church. This is a very relational process, you are going to the person who has sinned, not with the goal of condemnation, but with the goal of the person’s wellbeing and keeping your relationship with them and their relationship with the church intact. The passage ends with clear judgement, a professing Christian who is unrepentant in their sin, is essentially no longer seen as a part of the church community. This is commonly called today, church discipline.

My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

James 5:19-20 ESV

James holds up the example of someone who actively reaches out and lovingly helps someone to get back on track. This seems to be talking about someone who was a part of the church and then fell into sin. James would have been familiar with Jesus’ teaching in Matthew, so perhaps he is talking about the restoration of an unrepentant sinner, though he doesn’t spell that out.

Be on your guard. If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and comes back to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”

Luke 17:3-4 CSB

This last example passage comes from Jesus and the emphasis is on forgiveness, not judgement. Again, sin is not dismissed, but rebuked. It is never loving to ignore sin. Here the sinner is willing to repent when called to account and it is our responsibility to repeatedly forgive the person who repents. Repentant sin is always forgiven. That is what Christ models for us and it is a standard for our own behavior.

In these passages, we don’t really see judgement in the way that it would traditionally be defined, but we definitely see a process for holding people accountable when they enter into sinful behavior. So, what principles can we apply in our own attempts to remove both the planks and specks out of each other’s eyes?

  1. Community is Key. In the Matthew 7 passage, Jesus was speaking to a large crowd of people. This is similar to a post you might make on social media or an article like this one. When we are speaking to people who we are not close with, not in a local covenant relationship with, it’s best to take the advice of the Sermon on the Mount and avoid judging all together. As I wrote in a previous article, Distance is Dangerous. The further away from a problem we are, the simpler the solution appears to be. When we look at someone’s situation from a relational distance, we don’t know the details of the situation and we often will be hearing/seeing a distorted view of reality. In the other passages shared above, one very important common denominator is community. Jesus, Paul and James direct these comments to someone who is dealing with a brother (or sister), meaning someone who is a fellow believer who you are closely walking beside. We are given the responsibility to deal with the sins of those who are a part of our local family of God. It is a part of the one another commands to all followers of Christ. We take care of one another and part of that is dealing with our sins together as a local church community.
  2. Caution is Common. Spiritual maturity means knowing our own sinful hearts and temptations and the passage from Jesus in Matthew 7 is about being very careful about that issue. All of the passages recognize that dealing with sin can be a difficult thing and it is best to exercise extreme caution. We never ignore the sin, but first we deal with our own hearts and make sure we are right with God before we move forward to confront sin in someone’s life.
  3. Caring is Compulsory. The importance of this happening in community is for many reasons, but one of the most important is the bond of love that exists in a local community of faith. Confrontation over sin occurs within the bonds of relationship and caring. When people know how much you love them and know you have their best interests at heart, this type of correction is much more likely to both be received and be effective.
  4. Sometimes, we have to recognize that just as only God can save people from their sins, only God can call someone who is unrepentant in their sins back to Himself and to the church. There is a time when church discipline must take place and all we can do is pray. We shouldn’t desire this or move in this direction lightly, but it is foolish to both ignore sin and false repentance. If someone continues to live their lives in this way, the loving thing is to bring them under church discipline.

If you are here on social media just for the speck and log hunting, then Matthew 7 is definitely for you. Despite what social media says, we aren’t in true community with each other and being a ‘friend’ here is not the same things as being a brother or sister. Get back into true community, invite real living people into your lives and open the door to them being the kind of brother and sister who will practice both grace and truth towards you. That is a better life and that is real living.

The Church – a Hospital for Sinners?

“The church is not a museum for saints, it is a hospital for sinners.”

– Saint Augustine

This quote makes it around the internet, usually attributed to Saint Augustine, but sometimes to other sources like Dear Abby, Abigail Van Buren, and George Craig Stewart. No one, that I can find, was able to place this quote or a similar quote in an original source for St. Augustine, so we will just place the quote in the place of “general wisdom” that the following quote also belongs to:

“Don’t believe everything you read on the Internet.”

— A. Lincoln

Seriously though, this is one of those non-Biblical truths that resonates with people across the ages. If you were to post this quote on social media, you would get many “likes” including from people who are not a part of a local church. This is because the sides of the quote represent 2 sides of modern church life, one that is despised and the other longed for. First, let’s take a picture of the ugly side of the church, the one that shouldn’t exist, but does in place to place.

The Church as a Museum for Saints

The picture of a Museum is one that highlights things that are significant or important in some notable ways. For the most part, the things you find in museums are dead. They are exemplary models of both common and uncommon forms. When we go to a museum, we go to see what is not often encountered in real life. If the church is a museum for saints than we have a real problem, because for most of us that would put the ideal Christian life not as something to be strived for and obtained, but to be admired from a distance. It stinks of a works-based theology that is designed to leave the majority of us feeling like we aren’t good enough. This might be seen as the kind of church that the Pharisees would try to create. For many of them, even the law of Moses wasn’t enough, they had to add on many additional laws to raise the bar on entering into the status of “right with God”. Jesus described this behavior in the following ways:

46 “Beware of the scribes, who want to go around in long robes and who love greetings in the marketplaces, the best seats in the synagogues, and the places of honor at banquets. 47 They devour widows’ houses and say long prayers just for show. These will receive harsher judgment.”

Luke 20:46-47 (CSB)

27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of the bones of the dead and every kind of impurity. 28 In the same way, on the outside you seem righteous to people, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

Matthew 23:27-28 (CSB)

The first passage is a warning to the people, who shouldn’t admire the scribes just because of their appearance of having a right relationship with God. The second passage is Jesus’ direct condemnation of their behavior. This is a part of a longer passage that includes many different accusations, which can be summed up in these 2 verses. You can find the entire passage in Matthew 23:1-36. Time and distance from 1st century culture may cloud our ability to see our own corrupted heart attitudes in the “impure, hypocritical, and lawless” attitudes of the Pharisees, but if we look closely we might recognize the following in our own lives:

  • Treating people differently based on their income or socio-economic status
  • Keeping a separate life between our “church-life” and “normal-life”
  • Harshly judging and gossiping about someone else’s sins
  • Hypocritical – do as I do and not as I say – behavior
  • Putting on a show that everything is “fine” the moment we step into the church or encounter a Christian friend
  • Worrying more about what other people think than what is right according to Scripture
  • Making big, showy public proclamations of faith and commitment that don’t match your personal life
  • Only being generous when it can be done in public or in a way that benefits you

All this behavior is designed to move towards the “being honored saints in a museum” model. When we focus on this path, it is a path to human acclaim, more than right relationship with God. This doesn’t just damage the people who fall into this trap, but is discouraging to everyone and rather than drawing people towards God, turns people away from the church in distaste. One negative impact was described by John this way: 42 Nevertheless, many did believe in him even among the rulers, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, so that they would not be banned from the synagogue. 43 For they loved human praise more than praise from God. (John 12:42-43:CSB) The root of this problem, is this love of human praise above a love for God. This leads to a church where it is more about performance than heart attitudes. May that never be our church.

The Church as a Hospital for Sinners

If there is a church that our soul longs for, even if we sometimes don’t want to admit it, it is this picture of the church as a hospital for sinners. Everyone, in their heart of hearts knows “the dark night of the soul”. Even the most positive person struggles with personal sin, darkness and depression sometimes. We are all sinners and we all struggle with that sin. The Bible is clear about this: Romans 3:23. So, if God is honest about this, why can’t we be honest as well? Jesus addressed this when He was confronted with hanging out with the wrong crowd:

29 Then Levi hosted a grand banquet for him at his house. Now there was a large crowd of tax collectors and others who were reclining at the table with them. 30 But the Pharisees and their scribes were complaining to his disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” 31 Jesus replied to them, “It is not those who are healthy who need a doctor, but those who are sick. 32 I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

Luke 5:29-32 (CSB)

The Bible tells the story of the human race and it doesn’t pull any punches. We are all sinners. It also doesn’t hide the imperfections of those who followed God in the Bible. The men and women that God used for His glory in the Old Testament could make up a list of “every kind of impurity”. In the New Testament, we see the followers of Jesus losing their temper, arguing with one another, being jealous of one another, and in general demonstrating all of the human frailties that we find in our local church. When we expand it to the NT letters, we see a complete list of sins and problems that Paul and others dealt with as they attempted to lead people to follow Jesus. They don’t hide these problems, they address them openly and as is seen over and over again, the church was a part of the solution for helping the people.

If sin is the problem (sickness) and the church is a part of the solution (hospital) then why is there such a stigma about talking about personal sin in our local churches? Almost all churches that teach the Bible talk about sin generally. We love the story of the repentant sinner whose sins are all behind them, but that isn’t the picture we find in the Bible. In the Bible, people are in the church and they are still sinning. That isn’t to say that the sin is accepted and dismissed, but the place for Christians to deal with sin is in the church where we are called to:

6 If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. 8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

1 John 1:6-9 (NIV)

13 Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

James 5:13-16

This is the picture of the church hospital. It is a place where people come together to care for one another. We don’t hide our sin or sinful nature, but instead we support each other and pray for one another. Sin is not celebrated, but it is treated. We hold up the Biblical ideals and standards and we admit that none of us are able to meet them on our own. We acknowledge our need for God’s grace in its various forms and when one of us messes up, our fellow believers/church members are the first ones to come alongside and help us to get back headed in the right direction. The church is a place of community and humility where no one considers himself better than any other. This is the model of grace and truth that Jesus was the perfect balance of.

Truth is coming right to the chase and acknowledging sin and the damage that it brings about to both that person and sometimes to many others in their lives. Grace is the love to desire nothing else than what Jesus desires, repentance and a better path. It is the celebration of the Prodigal who has returned home. It is the love of Christ that is our only hope as sinners and that is the hope that we share with all who come into our churches, seeking a respite from the harshness, hatred and weariness of the world.

A Guarantee for a Better Marriage

28 years ago, I started my studies for a Master’s degree in Marriage and Family Counseling, a degree that would take 3 years to finish. 27 years ago, in the midst of those studies, my wife Deanna and I were married. Very quickly the academic studies became practical realities. Over the last 27 years, Deanna and I have read marriage books, went to marriage conferences and retreats and intentionally done a great deal to invest in our marriage. Some of those things were quite helpful, and our marriage has continued to get better with time, but none of the things we have heard in all of that time is the perfect silver bullet that is guaranteed to give us the perfect marriage. Part of that is there is no one thing that you can do that will permanently check the box marked “good marriage”. Instead, there are things we can learn, that when practiced daily with intentionality, can keep our marriages on the right track over a lifetime. One of the most important of which is what I’m writing about today.

One of the first marriage books I read was His Needs, Her Needs. Overall it is a pretty good book, but the most helpful concept I took away from that book was the idea that we have a “love tank” and every interaction you have with your spouse is either pouring into that tank or taking out of it. The more full the tank is, the more your marriage operates in love and grace and the less any one negative withdrawal impacts your marriage. There are many ways that we make deposits and withdrawals and another book that has some helpful concepts about ways we demonstrate our love in ways that are most meaningful to our spouse is The Five Love Languages. If you want to improve your marriage over time, learning to make these deposits is essential.

Recently, I was reading a more recent study about what is perhaps the most frequent way that we make deposits and withdrawals in all of our loved ones tanks, our words. Dr. John Gottman and Robert Levenson began studying couples in order to see if they could identify key differences between unhappy and happy couples. They asked couples to solve a conflict in their relationship in 15 minutes and then sat back and watched. They then followed these couples over the course of 9 years and in the end, based on what they had learned, they were able to predict which couples would stay together and which couples would divorce with over 90% accuracy.

What was their predictor? Something they called the “magic ratio”. Of course, it isn’t actually magic, but the power it has in a marriage is magical. The greatest predictor they found was the amount of positive and negative interactions during a conflict. The magic ratio was 5 to 1. That means that for every one negative interaction during a time of conflict, a healthy, happy marriage has at least 5 positive interactions. “When the masters of marriage are talking about something important,” Dr. Gottman says, “they may be arguing, but they are also laughing and teasing and there are signs of affection because they have made emotional connections.” By contrast, the closer a couple is to more of a 1 to 1 ratio, the higher the prediction of a looming divorce grows.

Examples of Negative interactions:

  • Criticism
  • Cutting sarcasm
  • Eye Rolling
  • Contempt
  • Dismissive of ideas or emotions

These are often unique to each marriage and part of being a couple is learning what things impact your spouse in the most powerful ways, both positively and negatively.

Examples of Positive Interactions:

  • Affection through touch or words
  • Appreciation for positives in your marriage or spouse
  • Showing empathy and understanding
  • Showing interest verbally or non-verbally
  • Playful teasing or joking
  • Remembering things that are important/valued by your spouse
  • Accepting their perspective as valid, even if you don’t agree
  • Looking for a middle ground that you can both agree on
  • Apologizing for any offense

Again, which of these are most meaningful to your spouse is something that you learn in time as you grow closer together. In a healthy relationship, we learn our spouse and love them more effectively because of the things that we have learned. In a destructive relationship, it is possible to learn all the wrong buttons to press to more easily add to the list of negative interactions. As we learn to pay attention to our interactions, it becomes easier to see where our ratio might be out of balance and start to make conscious decisions to move towards the kind of marriage that we should all want to have.

Once you start to look at a study like this, we shouldn’t be surprised that the truths that they have uncovered are very well represented in the truth from God’s Word. The Bible has a great deal to say about the subject of speech and the tongue. Here are just a few of the examples:

Death and life are in the power of the tongue, And those who love it will eat its fruit.

Proverbs 18:21 NIV

Death and life are a very good parallel for negative and positive interactions. Another way to describe it would be interactions that give life and interactions that give death. Positive interactions give life to your marriage, they help fill your spouse’s love tank and they move your marriage in the direction of the beautiful picture of oneness that God has in mind. Anyone who has experienced this “life” will love to “eat its fruit.”

Pleasant words are a honeycomb, Sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.

Proverbs 16:24 NIV

This Proverb is a wonderful model for positive interactions. We want to give our spouse what is sweet to their soul and healing to their bones. That is a picture of what “life-giving” means.

All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. 

James 3:7-10 NIV

And this stern warning is of the other side of the coin, the dangerous power of a tongue unleashed without caution. James give the impression that the default state of our speech is poison, but in reality he is submitting his tongue to his God, knowing that it is only within the power of God to tame the tongue. This is the real hope for a lasting marriage and the only true guarantee. While the research shows that if you follow the ratio of positive and negative you will have over a 90% chance of a happy marriage, if two people move beyond that and pursue a marriage that is not based on their own abilities to treat each other well, but instead on the power of Christ and the Holy Spirit working through them, they will have a much more valuable guarantee.

With all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Ephesians 4:2-3

So as you mind the ratio of your positive and negative, don’t forget the standards given to us here and other places, where the ratio is not 5 to 1, but instead all humility, all gentleness, patience, and bearing with one another in love. That is a ratio that will never fail and put your marriage on a path with Christ and His eternal power, not with your own weaknesses.

Don’t Be That Guy (or Girl)

I’ve survived more than my share of church business meetings. Churches exist for many Biblical purposes, gathered together for purposes of worship, Gospel proclamation, mutual encouragement, training in righteousness and ministering to their communities, but one of the areas that you might find the church gathered together in which they are most likely to depart from these Biblical mandates is the church business meeting. This is not to say that church’s shouldn’t manage their affairs well, but this kind of gathering is one of the most revealing of the hearts of the participants. Many people gather together to encourage and challenge one another to be more involved in the ministry opportunities of the church, but there are some who seem determined to speak and act against others in these situations, often over issues that are far more personal than spiritual. I was reminded of these situations when reading in 1 Timothy 6 this morning.

Teach these things, Timothy, and encourage everyone to obey them. Some people may contradict our teaching, but these are the wholesome teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. These teachings promote a godly life. Anyone who teaches something different is arrogant and lacks understanding. Such a person has an unhealthy desire to quibble over the meaning of words. This stirs up arguments ending in jealousy, division, slander, and evil suspicions. These people always cause trouble. Their minds are corrupt, and they have turned their backs on the truth. To them, a show of godliness is just a way to become wealthy.

1 Timothy 5:2b-5 NLT

Timothy was a young pastor/church leader. He had been trained under Paul and was now doing his best to serve the church at Ephesus that Paul had begun. There are many pastors like Timothy, out there trying to continue to serve the Lord and the people of God by teaching the truth of God’s Word and leading those people in obedience to it. It can be a difficult job. It can lead to a great deal of heartache and frustration. From this passage, here are a few “guys” that we should strive not to be as we function as a part of our local body of faith and as we participate in our communities both in person and online as representatives of our local church and our Lord Jesus Christ.

  • Don’t be arrogant – Our confidence is in Christ and in the truth of God’s Word, not in our own opinions and intelligence. Humility, rather than arrogance is the ecosystem of church interaction. The Bible encourages over and over again humble ourselves (1 Peter 5:6, James 4:10, Philippians 2:3) and promises honor, wisdom and grace for the humble (Proverbs 15:33, 11:2, James 4:6).
  • Don’t lack understanding, with an unhealthy desire to quibble over the meaning of words – I put these two together because they are connected. It is not bad to understand the meaning of words. We need to have well defined language. That is the basis of truth and what brings understanding. The negative is this quibbling that Paul is talking about. Looking at what your brother and sister in Christ has said and either assuming the worst or picking apart what they said, trying to find fault. This is about going to them in private and making sure you understood what was said, but actually creating misunderstanding by the way you interpret their speech.
  • Don’t stir up arguments and trouble – This is representative of a divisive spirit (Galatians 5:15, Proverbs 16:28). There are ways to disagree and discuss that don’t stir up arguments and there are other ways that either intentionally or unintentionally throw gasoline on the smallest of spark. We are not to be like this, stirring up trouble that leads to…
  • Jealousy, division, slander and evil suspicions. All of these things are very destructive to a community of faith. This represents human sins expressed in ways that are destructive to your believing community. You may be unfortunate enough to remember a specific instance where someone you know stirred up this kind of trouble and created division among believers. Many verses in Scripture speak out against this kind of behavior. Some examples are Romans 12:16, Galatians 5:26, Romans 12:18.
  • Don’t let your mind be corrupted, but keep it immersed in the truth – we all consume a variety of information every day. This can be from God’s Word, social media, the news, entertainment or people we interact with. What we consume has a great power to influence the way we think. The only way to avoid a corrupt mind is to avoid turning our backs on the truth. Spending time each day in the truth is a great way to keep our hearts and minds tuned to Christ Jesus. (Psalm 119)
  • Don’t make the church about money – Money is important. Generally, more money allows the church to do more things, but it is a terribly dangerous tool that can be used to divide and corrupt believers. Paul talks more about this later in this same passage. We should be careful not to let money control our lives or the life of our church. We are called to be good stewards (1 Peter 4:10), but we are not to allow our lives to be driven and controlled by money (Hebrews 13:5)

Even if you never go to a church business meeting, I hope you will find this guidance as helpful for all of your interactions with fellow believers, both in person and on-line. God has given us to one another to be a great blessing as we walk together in faith. When we follow Him in obedience, we are better together and the church will aid us in our pursuit of Christ, not a be a detriment or a discouragement. Make sure that is true of you in all your “meetings” with the Body of Christ.

What Happened to Lazarus?

What happened to Lazarus? He is the center figure (other than Jesus), in one of the most significant, well-known stories in the Bible. The events take place in a way that is designed so there would be no doubts that Lazarus was dead and then he was alive again. From the Gospels, we learn that Lazarus was a dear friend of Jesus, who fell terribly ill. By this time, Jesus was well known for his healings and given that, the family did the obvious thing in their time of need. They wanted Jesus to know about Lazarus’ illness. Jesus’ response is fascinating:

When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days, and then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”

John 11:4-7 NIV

By this time, the disciples had already seen many unexpected things and when Jesus said this, I’m sure they thought that Lazarus would get better. After all, Jesus loved Lazarus, He loved this family and Jesus obviously is able to heal people, so it is only logical that if Jesus needed to heal Lazarus, he would have headed to Bethany right away. Instead, he waits 2 more days. The disciples aren’t happy about the decision to go back to Judea. The last time they were in that area, the Jewish leaders were ready to stone him. They argue with Jesus, thinking that Lazarus will be okay. In the end, Jesus has to speak very directly to them:

So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” Then Thomas (also known as Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

John 11:14-16 NIV

The two statements Jesus made before the resurrection are very telling as well. “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” and “for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe.”

I won’t recount the resurrection story here, but you should check it out in John 11. Jesus allowed the events to take place in a way that Lazarus would not only die, but that he would be dead long enough so that there was no doubt that he was really dead. He had died and he had been prepared for burial and left in what would turn out to be only the first tomb of Lazarus. In Church history, Lazarus was considered a saint and some would even call him, “Lazarus the Four Days Dead”. Many of events of Jesus’ ministry were down in more isolated places, even the large gatherings were outside of the city centers. By the time this event happened, Jesus had already developed a considerable following and there had been several events with the religious leaders that had them looking for ways to come after Jesus. Jesus was their target, but interestingly enough after this event, Lazarus was as well. We read about this in the next chapter:

“But the chief priests had decided to kill Lazarus also, because he was the reason many of the Jews were deserting them and believing in Jesus.”

John 12:10-11 CSB

The resurrection of Lazarus had many witnesses. After it happened, everyone in the region heard about it, including the religious leaders in Jerusalem.  The chief priests were not disputing the miracle of Lazarus, but instead, they were determined to reverse it. They hated Jesus so much, they were plotting to kill Lazarus. They knew they were losing political and religious power and Lazarus was evidence, walking around, that Jesus was greater than they were.

It is important to remember that Lazarus was still going to die and ultimately, Scripture doesn’t record that event. Church history and tradition tell us he would later go on to be a church leader on the island of Cyprus, but according to that same tradition, he would die a second time and there is a tomb there that marks his grave. Lazarus is significant to the story because of Jesus. The priests wanted to kill him because of Jesus, not because of anything that Lazarus had done. 

This is what it means to have a true and relevant testimony for Christ. When we proclaim the Truth about Jesus, some will reject it, some will accept it and some might want to persecute or kill us because of Jesus. Our role is to be like Lazarus. We are all those who once were dead in our sins, but now are alive in Christ. Our testimony is not our own. It is not significant what we have done, but the miraculous work that Jesus has done in our lives. Both by providing salvation and by transforming us daily into His image. This good work of God doesn’t make us acceptable to all men. In fact, it is promised that many will reject us and some will want to do us harm. Life in Christ makes it worth it all.

So ultimately, what happened to Lazarus after the resurrection wasn’t that important. According to church history, the chief priests’ plot to kill Lazarus was not successful. Instead, he was able to live out the rest of his life continuing to accomplish his greatest purpose, which was proclaimed by Jesus before Lazarus’ resurrection: bringing glory to God and to God’s Son. That is our purpose as well. We testify that we were once dead in our sins, but now have been resurrected in Christ. In our own way, we are all dead people, resurrected and walking around, proclaiming the Truth of our resurrection on this earth until we, like Lazarus, will face physical death and pass into eternity with Christ. That is our greatest purpose as followers of Him and every day we can choose to serve that purpose in order to bring Him glory by our testimony of His’ Truth.

We Need and Have a Better Hope

Hope is an important word, with an important meaning behind it. When I was in counselor training, one of the worst problems you would ever find was a lack of hope. When people have lost hope, then it impacts their capability to deal with all their problems, no matter the severity. Hope allows us to come back from terrible tragedies. It allows sport’s teams to pull off incredible upsets. Hope can provide a path out of some very dark places.

By contrast, when someone loses their hope, it can lead to depression, despair and the unwillingness to even try for a better outcome. If you or one of your friends have ever been in that place, you might be able to understand what I’m talking about. It is very difficult to get out of that place, and some might say it takes a miracle. What it really takes is something better to put our hope in.

People place their hope in lots of people and things. It is very common to believe that “more” of something that you have will make your life better. This is most frequently money, but it could be more freedom, more possessions, more power, a better position, better friends or a better place to live in a better community. In this scenario, the problem is only one of access. Other people have better access to what I need and that is why I’m not happy. It is a belief that the answers to our problems are concrete and real, but slightly out of reach.

This kind of hope is tantalizing. It is also the main kind of hope the world is selling to us. Politicians love to sell this kind of hope, because they can always promise to do better and to give you more of what you want the next time. Employers use this as motivation to drive us on to work harder, longer and with more commitment. Advertisements are centered around the hope of a better life through the products and services that they sell you. Whatever your problem or desire, someone is out there trying to sell you something that will give you what you want, need or require. What they are selling is hope, and it is a very cheap, usually false hope that cannot give us what we ultimately need.

In the 12 step program made famous by Alcoholics Anonymous, many of the steps focus on this need for a sense of hope. Few things can destroy a life so thoroughly as substance abuse and the creators of the program recognize that human effort is not enough to give people hope when they are in the spiral of despair caused by addiction. All of those offers of hope from the world are powerless to save someone who has lost hope, for that we need something better. Step 2 calls on the addict to believe that there is something greater than themselves that can give them the power to “restore themselves to sanity”.

The actions that follow involve familiar faith themes of committing our lives to God’s care, confession, repentance, prayer, and the community of accountability with other strugglers. The Bible talks about this as a better hope. This is a hope that is not based on religious ritual or human effort, but on the power of God.

“So the previous command is annulled because it was weak and unprofitable (for the law perfected nothing), but a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God.”

‭‭Hebrews‬ ‭7:18-19‬ ‭CSB‬‬

God annuls the old covenant. Man has proven that “the law perfected nothing.” All the religious efforts or systems of following religious rules did not give true hope. In their own way, they are similar to other false hopes, such as money or power. In this new hope, there is no dependence on man, but only a drawing near to God, so that we might more fully rely on Him in everything. This is the better hope that is offered to all of us, a hope in Jesus Christ. This is clarified later in this passage:

Because of this oath, Jesus has also become the guarantee of a better covenant. Now many have become Levitical priests, since they are prevented by death from remaining in office. But because He remains forever, He holds his priesthood permanently. Therefore, He is able to save completely those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to intercede for them.

Hebrews 7:22-25 CSB

When we search the promises of God, we find many good things promised to us in His Word, but this is the promise of that better hope, the one that will see us through the challenges and trials that life brings. This is our only place to put our hope in which Jesus is the one who guarantees it. In the advertising world, people will often promise a “lifetime guarantee”, but this is Jesus’ forever guarantee. “He is able to save completely those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to intercede for them.” That is something to be truly hopeful for. It is a hope, not just for tomorrow, but for eternity.

The Danger of Distance

We live in a world that is both bigger and smaller than previous generations. Technology and the internet have brought the far away close to us. It is not unusual for people to regularly interact with people on the other side of the world for business or common interests. This has fundamentally changed the way people think about distance. Some have called this the “flattening” of the world. This is meant to convey that the distance from one point on the globe to another is no longer defined in the same way. People in one part of the world are often heavily involved in decisions that impact another part of the world. People provide services from one country to another and whole countries’ economies are built based on the idea that they will serve the needs of people they will never meet in person.

This is an amazing reality to live in and it does have its advantages. We have access to a global economy and a connection to people, places and things that our ancestors would have never dreamed of. Want to learn a foreign language? You don’t need to depend on what is offered at your local school or university, you can actually have personal classes from a native speaker without leaving your home. Need a very obscure or rare part for your car or computer? You can probably have it shipped to your house within a few days. Need to know how to do something or fix something? A video or step by step instructions are a quick search away. People today and the generation being raised today believe in access. Information and gratification are available to all and most of it without delay. Everything is instant, but that doesn’t always make it true and even access to truth in some form doesn’t provide the wisdom needed to properly apply the information gained. There is a problem with distance in a giant world that has become as small as the neighborhood you grew up in. There is a real danger in the environment that creates.

What is the danger? Let’s call it the complexity of humanity. Every one of us has lived through this, whether you would identify it as such or not. This situation occurs whenever someone makes any decision that impacts you that has little to do with the specifics of your situation. Whenever a general rule or a general assumption is applied the amount of distance between the rule and the situation has a dramatic impact on validity. If we were to make a “general rule” about this issue of distance in human complexity, we might say that, generally, the closer to the problem, the more helpful the solution. It might be helpful to look at a few situations to explain this better.

  • This could be called “there is an exception for every rule“. Growing up, most likely the adults in your life gave you rules. You had rules for your household, rules for your school and maybe rules for other groups you were a part of. We have all lived under some kind of structure like this. Usually, the person putting these rules in place is doing what they think is best for the group over which they have responsibility over. The rule may make sense, generally, and it is possible that it is indeed a good basic rule, but the larger the group (the more individual humans) you are applying the rule to, the more likely that general rule is not a good and fair rule in every circumstance. The amount of “distance” between those who established the rules and those governed by the rules and those living by the rules increases the complexity of creating good and fair rules or laws. Not only does it impact it on this level, but it has an extreme impact on the adjudication of those laws. The rule keepers gradually lose the capability of fair judgement the less they actually know the people whom they are holding accountable. Instead of dealing with them as people, whose circumstances may require allowances for the specific situation, they are just another number, who is forced to comply by the letter of the law.
  • Another situation might be called the “grass roots example”. You have probably seen a situation where a problem, challenge or tragedy has impacted the community and that specific community has risen up to deal with the problem in a unique way. This change happens for 2 main reasons. First, those who are most impacted by the problem are highly engaged and committed to finding a solution. They have lived out the situation and know firsthand the impact it had on their lives and the lives of family, friends and neighbors. Because of this, they have a strong internal commitment to persevering through difficulties in order to see the problem solved. Secondly, their firsthand knowledge of the situation allows them to understand it at a level that isn’t possible for an outsider. That doesn’t mean that they can’t benefit from outside information or advice, but ultimately, they have information that may not be apparent to even the most well educated outsider. The combination of these 2 factors give a movement good potential for enacting tangible change which improves the situation. By contrast, when you introduce distance into the equation, it is easy to see that the further away from the problem you get, the less helpful discussion and potential solutions can become. Distance also impacts the commitment to work towards a solution. Someone who doesn’t have any skin in the game is more likely to bail before the work is done or to not being committed to doing their part of the work.
  • Related to this, might be called the “national conversation” problem. The information age has left most of us with just enough information about many things to be dangerous. Especially with social media, it is easy to see how a groundswell of this type of distance emotion can spread, even if it is based on almost no true knowledge and understanding of the specifics. We rely on others to relay a soundbite/bullet point synopsis of whatever is going on in our country and the world and then before you know it, we are making memes, forwarding posts and even getting in arguments with people about something that it might not even be possible for us to have a truly informed opinion about. The cost of admission to enter this national conversation may seem free, but it is possible it costs us our integrity. The more distance between us and the situation on the ground, the more careful we should be about jumping into this conversation with our opinion. Neighborhoods and cities have been changed by the force of will of groups who have never lived in those places and whose passing interest will move on much more quickly than the collateral damage left behind can be repaired.
  • One more example might be called “posturing for effect“. In 2021, as is common in most years, nations from around the world met on Earth Day to talk about improving the environment. The environment is one of those big issues that governments especially like to weigh in on. The White House made a commitment to “reduce US emissions by 50% from 2005 levels by 2030; commitment is symbolic but nonbinding”. This was pulled from a first summary paragraph in a major news publication. That last phrase perfectly summarizes this problem: “symbolic, but nonbinding“. This is how you get environmental leaders flying around the world in private jets and taking limousines to environmental meetings. The distance between the life they live and the problem they are addressing is extreme. When you have decision makers and leaders who are put in charge of things, but who are making a decision that will not impact them personally or their own personal behavior, you get bad decisions and hypocrisy. Being good stewards of the environment is something we should all take seriously, but the problem is best addressed by looking at what is in front of us and working to make that better. If we are not addressing the problem that is right in front of us, it is difficult to make sound decisions for others in encouraging or requiring them to address the problems in front of them. The more distance between the problem and the person trying to solve it, the less sound the decision. Public figures who are elite and/or wealthy of all types are often guilty of this posturing.

If you are still with me, you may be wondering, what is the main point or why are you talking about these things on a blog about Seeing God? The point is this, there are many movements in this world that are pushing towards taking problems and putting the solutions in the hands of people who have nothing to do with the problem. Humans, as I said earlier, are complex and the further away you get from the individuals the more it is impossible to deal with this complexity. When you have one leader who is trying to make decisions about what is best for millions, the only way to deal with that complexity is to ignore many of the people or simplify their needs and desires down to vague representations of their reality. We are not only complex, but we are human. We desire community. We need to be known by others. We don’t want to just be a number in a spreadsheet, but a real person, with a real story behind our life. A story that matters to us and which we hope matters to other people.

God has designed us this way. Jesus was God made flesh among us (John 1:14), so that He who is God would not just be a sovereign God in Heaven above, but a real, living savior, who closed every bit of distance between God and man and became the perfect mediator for us (1 Timothy 2:5). Jesus was the perfect embodiment of firsthand human experience. “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.” Hebrews 4:15. God solved our greatest problem by sending His son to live this sinless life on the earth and to reconcile us to God through His sacrificial death. Because of this, we are no longer distant from God, but we have had all that separates us from Him removed. “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” James 4:8

By the same principle, we don’t solve the problems in our community by expending all of our thoughts and energy focused on someone else’s community. We have limited capability to have an impact on a problem we read about or watch a video about on the internet, but the impact we have on our own community is limited only by our willingness to get off our computer and go out into that community. Whether it is through individual love and care, volunteering, banding together with others to work towards reasonable solutions or even by spending time in prayer, we can change our communities. Our hearts and our first actions for overcoming the problems of our world must start with the people we are surrounded by. Wherever you live, your community needs Jesus and they need those who love and follow Jesus to be His hands and feet to them.

Finally, I hope you will realize the true danger in putting the solutions to your problems in the hands of those who are the most distant from you and your community. When we turn to people like this to solve our problems, we should realize we have no right to complain about the sub-par results we will get. It is the nature of the situation. The closer to the problem, the more helpful the solution. The farther away from the problem, ignorance, lack of commitment and engagement and misinformation make any helpful solution unlikely.

When it comes to your community, close the distance. When it comes to telling other people how to solve the problems in their communities, keep your distance!