Bullying

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. ESV Philippians 2:3-4

Our youth director recently posted the viral video of 11 year old Keaton discussing bullying. We played it for our youth group last night and participated in a lively discussion about bullying. In my research on the lesson (checking the video, etc.) of course I came across the backlash circulating the internet as well. It seems that many of those who first stood up for Keaton quickly turned to bully his mother when they perceived racism and hypocrisy. What should a Christian response be to such a situation?

Perhaps our greatest guidance comes through Paul’s words in his letter to the Philippians. We should never act from selfish ambition or our own conceit. This applies to all parties. Bullies exist because they only want to advance their own standing. Some parents, bloggers, celebrities and the like are the same. Only God knows motives which is why in humility, we should count others as more significant than ourselves. In this way we should give others the benefit of the doubt. Was Keaton bullied or did he receive payback for saying nasty things? It seems best to consider him more significant than myself and assume he was bullied. Did his mom share the video to raise awareness of bullying or to make money? For the present, I’ll consider her motives generally positive. Did the celebrities and everyone who came to his aid do so to help a hurting kid or to further their careers? Again, I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. I certainly did nothing, so it hardly seems Christ-like to sit and judge the motives of others. Finally, we must look to the interests of others, not merely ourselves. This includes the interests of Keaton, his mother, his bullies, his principal, celebrities involved and those who contributed to the GoFundMe page. In each case, on some level, we have sinners moved by compassion. Micro-parsing each comment, action, or tweet is best left to God.

Finally, we conclude with the words of Jesus. Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. Regardless of the details of the Keaton’s story, there’s a lot of enemies and hatred in the world, calling us to a continual life of prayer.

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Changing Stages

And God was with the boy, and he grew up. He lived in the wilderness and became an expert with the bow. ESV Genesis 21:20

A friend yesterday shared how in years past she struggled with one son. Now he is thriving and another son is struggling. I noticed last night that one of my children is thriving spiritually. He has a heart for God, but now needs to have his passions refined. It’s a new stage of parenting. Another parent shared that his child is about to get engaged. She has thrived to this point, but now he has to give different guidance as she prepares to enter a marriage relationship. In the moment, our parenting challenges seem overwhelming and unending, but in reality, the challenges will gradually change. If we parent well, they often resolve for the better.

Abraham loved his firstborn son Ishmael. So much so that he wanted Ishmael to fulfill God’s covenant. Ishmael, however, was Hagar’s son, not Sarah’s, and God intended to fulfill His covenant with Abraham through Sarah. This created parenting challenges for Abraham, especially when Isaac came along during Ishmael’s teenage years. Sarah forced Abraham to send Ishmael and his mother Hagar away which he did. Ishmael nearly died, but as seen above, God was with him. At one point Abraham’s biggest parenting challenge was convincing God to let Ishmael fulfill the covenant. Hagar’s biggest concern was that her son would die of dehydration and starvation. God had different plans for both. He was with the boy, and he grew up. Because of His covenant to Abraham, God made Ishmael into a great nation as well (seen today in the Arab people).

Two applications arise from this story for our spiritual development. First, our children will change life stages. They grow up. The challenges faced today will change in the future. Take heart! You won’t be stuck forever. We do take these challenges seriously, because poor parenting will encourage poor results. If we make wise decisions during these seasons, we can shape our children for the better. Lest we be paralyzed with fear of poor parenting, we should also learn from this story that God is ultimately in control. He has a plan for our children’s lives, and His will ultimately prevails.. When faced with difficult parenting seasons, recommit yourself and your child to God. He will bring it to pass. Stay encouraged!

Never Give Up

You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. ESV Deuteronomy 6:7

Parenting never stops. We have to remind our children of the same things nearly every day. Many days it feels we make no progress. Whether it’s potty training, homework, internet use, friends or money management, we daily encourage our children to make wise choices and reap the benefits of those choices. We warn them of the consequences of making bad choices. We walk with them through the pain when they make poor choices and encourage them to make better choices in the future. At times we feel we are making no progress–perhaps even moving backwards. In what ways does this challenge shape our spiritual formation?

Perhaps God knew we would face this struggle. After all, He has been parenting us since creation. No sooner had He placed Adam and Eve in the garden and given them instruction than they chose to go away from Him. He then had to lay out the consequences of their decision and give them more instruction in how to live in a fallen world. Perhaps this personal experience in parenting us led God to instruct us through Moses to constantly teach His laws to our children. God commands us to teach our children when we sit in out house, when we walk, when we lie down and when we rise. In other words we teach around the dinner table, in the car, at bedtime and over breakfast. We have four opportunities each day to discuss God’s great impact on our lives. While the breakfast conversation may be a disaster, we can follow up with discussion on the way to school. If that doesn’t work, we can discuss God’s ways over dinner. If that doesn’t work, we have another opportunity at bedtime to urge our children to walk in God’s ways. We then repeat the plan the next day.

While nothing we do can guarantee our children walk with the Lord Jesus, this four-step, never-give-up approach will definitely make some impact on our children. May I encourage you to take every opportunity to discuss with your children what God has done in your life. You won’t regret it.

Job or Calling?

The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. ESV Genesis 2:15

It’s Monday. Back to work. For many, Mondays are the hardest day of the week. We enjoy our weekends, but dread our Mondays. Our jobs seem like punishment we endure until we can enjoy the weekend. However, the Bible doesn’t present our work as such. Instead of presenting work as a job, God presents work as a calling. Apparently, up until the last fifty years or so, our society understood this. We had vocations (from the Latin: “calling”) instead of jobs. How does this perspective change us?

A job is a task to complete. In one sense, all of us have tasks to do today, and collectively, these tasks compose our “job.” However, God sees our work as more than a series of tasks. Note what He did with Adam. He specifically took him and put him in the garden with a specific mission. No Adam wasn’t a missionary or pastor or church leader. In reality, he was a groundskeeper or farmer. However, this wasn’t just his job–it was his calling, his mission. He had been directed by God to work and keep the garden. Seeing our work as directed by God completely changes our perspective. We have a mission to fulfill. If you go to work today to complete a job and get a paycheck, you will more or less struggle and possibly be miserable. However, if you go to work today knowing God has called you to serve in that capacity, you will be energized with His power to accomplish what He places before you. This attitude also calls us to pray for a few minutes for His direct guidance so that we might do the things that are most profitable rather than get bogged down in minutia that so often leaves us unproductive and frustrated.

Do you see your work as a job or a calling? While you may not particularly enjoy your work, recognize God has you there for a reason, and this immediately endows your work with significance. You are called, and if called, you will be enabled to accomplish the tasks God has in mind for you. Work for His glory this week and see if it doesn’t change how your week goes. Don’t settle to work a job. Embrace your calling.

Escaping Sinful Desires

He has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. ESV 2 Peter 1:4

We all struggle with sin. Even Paul admitted he didn’t do the things he wanted to do and he found himself doing the things he didn’t want to do. I find in my own life this struggle comes and goes. Some days my sinful desires nearly overpower me. Other days they seem to disappear. Much of this comes from our master adversary who knows the most opportune time to attack. Some of it comes from my own weaknesses and strengths. All of it drives me to ask the Lord Jesus how to overcome my sinful desires.

Peter gives great insight into our spiritual formation in the verse above. First, our salvation and deliverance from sin always rides on Christ and His precious and great promises. We never overcome sin on our own. Rather, we overcome sin as we begin to live in the power of Christ Jesus’ promises to us. Secondly, we recognize that through Christ we have escaped the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. He slowly opens our eyes to the result of sinful desire. We begin to see our desires for what they are…opposed to the God who saved us. We see the path of desire that leads to sin and sin that leads to death. We are able to see this path because we have become partakers of the divine nature. Christ Jesus changes our very essence, allowing us to partake with Him in the divine nature. We don’t become divine, but we do partake with Jesus in the divine. Like Christ, we develop His perspective on things, including on sin. This divine perspective leads us to greater victories over sin.

As we slowly apply these promises, becoming more aware of the corruption of sinful desire and more comfortable partaking in the divine nature, we slowly find victory over sin. The sinful desires that controlled us for so long gradually lose their grip upon us. While we often fall back into sinful patterns, the conviction of the Holy Spirit draws us back into the participation of the divine nature. Slowly we become more like Christ, escaping our sinful desires–a change worth celebrating!

Let It Snow

He gives snow like wool… ESV Psalm 147:16

According to my favorite meteorologist, the first snow of the year is falling now, and apparently will be a decent one for us in southern Maryland. I love snow, so I’m gearing up now to fully enjoy the next 24 hours or so. As part of my snow experience, I skimmed through the Biblical teaching on snow….it’s pretty fascinating!

Law of first mention: Two instances of leprosy. First Moses as a sign and then later on Miriam as judgment. Not sure why God first chose to introduce snow in the Bible this way, but it gives me food for thought. It should be noted these are uses of snow as an adjective. The first mention of snow as a noun references Benaiah, son of Jehoiada, who went down into a pit and struck down a lion on a snowy day. That had to be an epic battle! Job references snow more than anyone else (5x), generally using it to reference personal cleansing from sin or God’s power over creation. The Psalms as well reference cleansing from sin and God’s power. Solomon used snow to teach the value of a faithful messenger, the oddity of honoring a fool, and the confidence of a Godly woman. Isaiah uses snow to teach of God’s forgiveness and his power. Finally, Daniel, Matthew and John (in Revelation) use snow to refer to the purity of Jesus Christ. In summary, snow in Scripture seems to reference God’s power–both over creation and over sin leading to purity. Jesus, as God incarnate, radiates this snow power/purity in His clothing and hair.

All of this makes me even more excited for the snow. As I watch it fall tomorrow, as I play with my kids, as we take pictures, as we eat cookies and drink hot chocolate by the fire afterwards to warm up–in all of this I can deepen my relationship with God. God sends the snow as part of my spiritual formation. By enjoying the snow and reminding myself of what snow teaches me in the Bible, God draws my heart to marvel at His power over creation (imagine the sheer number of TONS of water that will fall over so many square miles…all quietly and evenly). He also reminds me of my forgiveness in Christ…and nothing can be better than that. Let it snow!

Friendships

He who withholds kindness from a friend forsakes the fear of the Almighty. ESV Job 6:14

Job is fast becoming one of my favorite books of the Bible (Ecclesiastes stands as my favorite at the moment). I love Job not because of the trials he endured (God knows I’m generally incredibly blessed), but because of the amazing wisdom contained in Job, Elihu and God’s answers. Every time I read or listen to the book more great jewels jump out at me, and this time is no exception.

While I’m an extrovert by nature, I don’t keep many close friends. As part of my spiritual formation, God continues to impress upon me the importance of developing and keeping good friends. Part of keeping strong friendships involves showing kindness to our friends. More interesting than the call to show kindness is the warning that withholding kindness means we have forsaken the fear of the Almighty. Apparently it’s impossible to fear God and not show kindness. I love this because so often we wrestle with how to be more Godly, how to do good, how to grow spiritually. If we fear God, we will naturally respond toward others in Godly ways. If we fear God, we will naturally show kindness to our friends. I have a friend now to whom I need to show kindness. I’ve been wrestling with it, but as I think about God and His love toward me, it draws my heart toward my friend, calling me to show greater kindness.

Are you showing kindness to your friends? It may take on many different forms–a listening ear, an encouraging note, forgiveness, giving the benefit of the doubt. May we embrace the fear of the Almighty and show kindness at every opportunity.

Reality of Hell

And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’ ESV Mark 9:47-48

In our relationships with others, we don’t often think of hell. For that matter, we don’t often think of heaven. Most of us (and definitely most of our friends) only think of today and the visible earth. Life consists of work, family, free time (if we have any). Sometimes we mix in our hopes and dreams, but even those are generally always focused on this earth. Rarely do we pause to think about the afterlife, and when we do, we generally think of the positive aspects of heaven.

Jesus taught more about hell than anyone, perhaps because as creator, He understood more about hell than anyone. In reality, though, I suspect Jesus talked about hell so much because of His love for people and His concern that they never end up there. Jesus knew it was a place of unquenchable fire; a place designed to punish the devil and his angels. He knew that anyone there could see the joys of heaven afar off, but never participate. He knew that those there could only dream of a finger dipped in cool water and placed on their tongue as a small respite from the torment. He knew the flames burn forever, and those burning aren’t burned up. He knew that all who rejected His offer of free salvation either ignoring the call to repentance or trying to be righteous through their own religious works would end up in hell forever. As He looked into the eyes of each person to whom He ministered, He could see in some of them the prideful self-determination that would lead them to reject Him and end up in hell.

Perhaps if we spoke more of hell, we would all change. Those who have not considered eternity would weigh Jesus’ offer of salvation. Those of us who have embraced Jesus in faith would share our faith more passionately. After all, it does raise the urgency when I think of my friends and neighbors in hell rather than just thinking about “I need to share my faith.” May the reality of hell call us to passionate action.

Loving People

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. ESV 1 John 4:7

I’m blessed to have the opportunity to interact with a lot of people. This morning I had coffee with a dear friend whose wife suffers from Alzheimer’s. Then I met another friend who introduced me to a wonderful (but struggling) immigrant family. I left from that meeting to interact with fellow pastors about church safety and security and enjoyed fellowship with a friend on the drive to the meeting. Then I returned calls, discussing how we interpret the Bible with one friend. Got a few minutes to dash out some emails to my church family (including a plea for help with my new friends from Nepal, then went for a quick run (during which I interacted with a church family that had leads to help my new friends). Showered, went to Growth Group where I had stimulating conversation about all sorts of theological things. Returned home and skimmed emails from helpful church family, returned a few calls, and finally get a chance to sit down and jot my thoughts from the day. In short, I didn’t get any of what I planned on getting done (sermon prep and admin stuff). However, I loved every second of interacting with people.

Loving people can be exhausting, but there is something special about being with people. Every human being is a soul for whom Christ died, and whether that’s an old friend, a new friend, someone from another culture, a potential threat to your church, or your own family, each person deserves to be treated with love. After all, God loved us and sent His Son, so by loving others we reflect His love for us. It may seem love slows us down from “what we need to do,” but perhaps what we really need to do is love. While I didn’t feel that I accomplished much today, I saw the hand of God at work in so many lives. I watched a church rally around a family in need. I listened to stories of God’s redemptive power in lives.

Apparently loving others is the greatest testimony of our salvation. Yes, it’s exhausting (I become more of an introvert each year), but it’s worth it. Love costs (look at our salvation), but it also rewards. Love deeply my friends.

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