Think On These Things

It’s Sunday night and I check Twitter one more time before bed. I see someone has posted something about a social issue but did so in a way that I don’t think gives proper historical context to the situation. Feeling full of wisdom (or is it pride?), I decide that I need to reply to their tweet to offer up my expert insights and ensure that the record is correct. 

The alarm on my phone buzzes at me at 6:15 on Monday morning. Bleary eyed I reach for the phone and silence the alarm. Time to check on all of my usual habit websites: Facebook, the news, hobby websites, Twitter…Oh there seems to be a lot of notifications on Twitter. Turns out that the author of that original tweet responded to my tweet. The author of that tweet also happens to be the creator of a popular animated Christian tv series for children and many of his followers felt the need to join the conversation. I should be getting ready for work, reading my Bible, praying….really anything other than responding to people on Twitter but there I was. And that set the tone for my entire day. I could have started my day differently. I could try and form better habits with my use of time. 

How often do we create these situations for ourselves? How often do we get into political disagreements online? Or even if we aren’t participating, just simply consuming all the world has to offer via the internet or our televisions. All day every day, a staggering array of voices from various sources compete for our attention and try to push us to feel one way or another about other people in society. There’s always someone trying to sell us something and most often, especially with politics or social issues, what someone is trying to sell us is fear. 2 Timothy 1:7 tells us that God doesn’t give us a spirit of fear. The purveyors of fear are not of God. Politicians and their associates are some of the guiltiest parties in this regard. If candidate A gets elected, your rights on issue X will be lost! If candidate B gets elected, then our country will be lost!…fear. I’m speaking from an American point of view here and I apologize to our international readers if these experiences are not relatable in your local context. 

 I think about Philippians 4:8 a lot. 

 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.

I don’t know about the rest of you but for myself, there’s not much on social media or the news, or TV that resembles anything like what Paul tells us to think about in Philippians 4:8. What are we spending our time thinking about? Is it true and noble? Is it right and pure? Lovely? Admirable? Praiseworthy? 

There was recently a #CancelNetflix campaign circulating around social media that was sparked by a movie Netflix purchased and distributed that many felt was sexualizing young girls. I haven’t seen it but the descriptions and movie poster seemed pretty despicable. However, when the #CancelNetflix tag was gaining steam, I couldn’t help but wonder if we were all just going to pretend like this is the first morally questionable content Netflix has released. Millions of Christians subscribe to Netflix and consume any number of morally bankrupt tv shows and movies on that service. Is this really the first objectionable thing you’ve seen on Netflix that makes you think that maybe financially supporting them isn’t being a good steward of the money God has given you? Is there much of anything true and pure about that service?

When I see the anger, outrage, broken relationships, and broken people lashing out on social media or posting attention seeking photos just for some validation of who they are as a person, I can’t help but think that so many of us have forgotten to think on what is lovely and admirable. To seek things that are excellent and praiseworthy. I write this article pointing a finger directly at myself and how I choose to use my time and the media I consume. We are called to be salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16) and for most of the history of the world people not only used salt as a flavoring but it was also a primary means of preserving food before the invention of refrigeration. Salt is a preserving agent that slows the decay of food. How can you be a preserving agent in the world? This phrase has been used a lot by many different people but maybe part of the answer is to consume less and create more. And if we are thinking about things that are true and noble and right and pure and lovely and admirable and praiseworthy, then maybe what we create will have a bit of that preserving nature of salt in it. Maybe we can create little slices of lovely content in a world intent on consuming messages of fear.

Do You Want to Be Well?

There you sit by the pool. Another day of waiting and hoping. For 38 years you’ve been unable to walk, and, for some time now, you’ve been by this pool of water that is said to heal the sick when the waters are stirred and the first person enters it. But because of your disability, you’ve never made it into the pool in time and further, no one is interested in helping. Today is different though. A man takes notice of you. You avert your eyes from his gaze but then he speaks to you. “Do you want to be well?” 

“Do I want to be well?! Of course I do,” you think. Long years of depending on the charity of others has conditioned you to respond more meekly than that though. You explain to the stranger that you can’t get into the pool by yourself, and no one will help you. And then something amazing happens! He tells you to take up your mat and walk and in that instant you are healed! 

If you are familiar with the Bible, then you know that I just described the scene in John chapter 5. This man whose name we never learn was looking for healing from somewhere it would never come. Did the pool at Bethesda actually heal people when the waters were stirred? It seems unlikely just based on the number of sick and lame people who were still gathered around it when Jesus arrived. Also, the description of the man’s situation and being unable to reach the water in time seems like it would be out of character for God. 

This is a story of Jesus physically healing a man but what struck me in this passage was that he had been an invalid for 38 years, and I couldn’t help but feel in that moment that I have been a spiritual invalid for most of my 38 years. Without Christ, all of us are. None can come to the Father but through him. Just as that man was seeking physical healing from somewhere it would never come, so often we seek to be made spiritually whole through earthly means that ultimately cannot bring us into communion with God. Being a spiritual invalid could mean that a person has never known Christ. It could also mean that even though we have experienced the saving grace of of Jesus, that our day to day lives are not often reflective of that.

Whether it is our careers, hobbies. family, or even just wasting time with the TV and internet to avoid confronting the dark parts of our hearts, we all do it in various ways, and so long as we turn to anything but Jesus we can’t be made well spiritually. That is what Christ is offering us. A simple question, “Do you want to be well?” Salvation, which cost Him so much, is offered to us freely. It was that phrase that Jesus spoke that stuck with me this past week during church. Me, a spiritual invalid of 38 years, and Jesus through his death and resurrection has offered to make we well.

Prepare Yourself for the Work of Christ

We have a cliche in our culture that when men are lost, they will refuse to ask for directions. Preferring instead to forge ahead, relying on our gut instinct to guide us down the highways of America toward our intended destination. For sure there is at least some truth in the stereotype but does it extend beyond navigational concerns while behind the wheel of a vehicle? 

I originally intended to title this article, “Prepare Yourself for the Work Christ has Called You To.” But Christ has called us all to the same thing. The same mission, given to us by Jesus after his resurrection. 

Matthew 28:19-20 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. 

There it is. That is the calling of every Christian. How do we prepare ourselves for that great work? Well, much of that preparation comes from reading God’s word, the Bible. To quote a song from the 90’s Christian ska band, The O.C. Supertones, “How can you stand if you don’t understand? Fight like a man, scriptures in hand.” We need to read and study the Bible to better understand the character of God and His love for His people, we must read the words that He inspired men to write thousands of years ago. I say that as someone who is a constant failure at forming good scripture reading habits. 

Proverbs 3:5-6 tells us to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;  in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” When we don’t know God’s word, when we don’t seek God’s wisdom, we end up leaning on our own understanding to interpret all the things that this broken world throws up in front of us. If you are a new Christian, then now is the time to pick up a Bible. If you are an older Christian who has spent your life in a church pew but never read the Bible for yourself, now is the time to pick up a Bible.

My son once asked me who he was supposed to believe, me or his Sunday school teacher. I don’t recall what the question was specifically about but my answer to him was that he needed to believe the Bible first and foremost. Men and women are fallible, God’s word is true and steadfast. I don’t mean that we shouldn’t seek wise counsel from other Christians. There are times when our own understanding and grasp of God’s word is lacking and we seek wisdom from God through prayer and through other Christians. But whatever a fellow believer tells us must be able to be tested against the Word of God. 

Many years ago, my wife and I kept a horse in a borrowed pasture that we shared with the farmer who was gracious enough to split time with us between his horse and ours. One snowy night our horse ran through the wire fence. I had no choice but to go out in the dark, in the snow and fix that fence. The break was nearly half a mile from the house and I trudged out there in the dark with only the moon as my light. I found the severed section of electric fence wire and slowly began to untangle it from the weeds. As it became less entangled I started to feel a little jolt of electricity through my gloves. Uh oh, I thought. I didn’t unplug the fence. But the gloves seemed to be protecting me from the worst of it and it was a really long walk back to where the fence was plugged in and I did not like the idea of heading back to unplug it. So I kept working and the more I got it loose from the weeds the more pronounced the shock became through my gloves. And then it happened. The wire touched an exposed section of skin on the inside of my wrist in between my glove and my coat. WHAM! It felt like someone had kicked me in the wrist. I have touched electric fences before but that was definitely the worst I’ve ever gotten shocked. 

And that’s when I decided to walk back and unplug the fence. You see, I didn’t prepare for the job I needed to do and even when warning signs appeared, like getting shocked through the gloves, I kept pushing forward. I was foolishly leaning on my own understanding of the situation because I thought I knew what I was doing. That’s what it is like when we go through life as a Christian who doesn’t know the Christ of the Bible. In this life we will always face struggles and temptations but if we are ill-prepared then struggles more easily become stumbling blocks and temptations can be invited in more readily. 

I don’t mean to minimize prayer or seeking knowledge and counsel from more mature believers. Both are invaluable but do not neglect to read your Bible. God speaks to us through his Word. After all, as the Supertones said, “How can you stand, if you don’t understand?”

Friday Web Snacks for April 10th, 2020

Today marks the start of a new feature here on titled Friday Web Snacks. These are posts which will include a handful of links to articles on other websites that are relevant to the church. This first installment just happens to be on Good Friday and also in the midst of the global coronavirus pandemic and so I thought it would be a good idea to stick close to both of those topics this week.