YES, BUT HOW?

I was taken back last week by a comment on Facebook in response to an article someone else had posted. Giving his view as a Christian, he suggested we should “attack culture.” I noted “attack” was probably not the best choice of words and he blasted me making it clear culture wasn’t the only thing he was interested in attacking. How should we as Christians relate and speak to culture (or what we usually call “the world”)?

I’m pretty sure “attacking” will not do much to open doors or gain a hearing. I can’t imagine that the tactics of Westboro Baptist Church have resulted in welcoming many unbelievers into the body of Christ. Nor do I have a sense that protesting abortion by screaming “baby killer” leads to much reasoned discussion. Attacking and shouting the Gospel may make those who do it feel like they have stood up for Jesus, but I doubt the response is interest in hearing more about Him.

But to say we should not attack is not to imply we should remain silent. Christians are not called to just fit in and blur the distinction we have as followers of Jesus. Neither are we called to withdraw from the world. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus affirmed His followers were to be “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world.” In order to be salt and light we must be in our culture.

Our commitment to the Lord shows up in our words, actions, outlooks, and attitude. It’s this matter of attitude that got my attention last week. Through the years I have been embarrassed as a Christian by the attacking attitude expressed by some believers. But more than that, I am convinced they have done more harm than good for the cause. And I must confess that too many times in my life I have been guilty of displaying the wrong attitude to both unbelievers as well as believers.

I return often to a passage giving instruction about how we should talk with others about the Lord and our faith. In I Peter 3:15 the challenge is given to be ready to give an answer when given the opportunity to talk about our hope. Then the verse concludes, “But do this with gentleness and respect” (NIV). The NLT renders it “in a respectful way” and the Message phrases it “with the utmost courtesy.” And the audience to whom I Peter was first written was to Christians living in a hostile environment.

I love the title and content of a book by Dallas Willard put together after his death by his daughter from his notes and lectures. The main title is powerful enough, “The Allure of Gentleness.” But the sub-title closes the deal for me: “Defending the Faith in the Manner of Jesus.” Remember Jesus said, “Learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart” (Matthew 11:29).

Feel free to share this and/or leave a comment below.

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/55497864@N00/2437697855″>Puissant</a&gt; via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

CHRISTIANS AND THE BIBLE

John Stott has been one of my favorite authors for more than 45 years. Although he is now deceased, I am still instructed and encouraged by reading his books. I recently read a revised edition of one of his books originally published in 1970. And I was struck by the simple and straightforward challenge he gives to Christians about the Bible.

“First, it is not enough to possess a Bible.” You probably have a Bible. I just counted and I have 17! We sometimes are superstitious thinking just having a Bible makes a difference in our homes and our lives. For Christians it’s not about having a Bible, we need to read our Bibles.

Stott goes on, “Next, it is not enough to read the Bible.” Just reading the Bible or hearing it read is not an end in itself. It is great literature, but that is not its purpose. God speaks to us through the Bible and we are introduced to Jesus through the Bible. For Christians it’s not about just reading our Bible, we need to study it.

“Third, it is not enough to study the Bible.” Different people mean different things by this idea of studying the Bible. One aspect of study is considering what was intended by the writer when it was first written. But we cannot stop there. One of the potential dangers of academic study of the Bible is never allowing it to speak to us today. Real Bible study goes on to apply the Bible to life today. For Christians it’s not just about studying the Bible, we need to put it into practice.

“What is required is that we obey the Bible.” God wants us as His people to do what it says. We can never be satisfied by just learning about the Bible and its content. God gave us the Bible so that it would make a difference in our lives. And that happens as we get to know Him and His Son Jesus whom we follow as our Savior and Lord. It’s an old book for sure, but it’s also up to date.

If you currently don’t have a Bible reading plan and want to begin let me suggest you begin with Psalm 119. Set aside a time and place and take a few days to read and consider this longest chapter in the Bible (176 verses) that is a tribute to the Word of God. And while you are doing that look and ask around about Bible reading plans until you find something that works for you.

Let me know (below in comments or by email) if you will join me in reading Psalm 119 these next few days.

(Quotes from Christ and Conflict: Lessons from Jesus and His Controversies by John Stott, IVP, 2013, pp. 95 and 96.)

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/15543596@N05/2502195721″>Bible at home to family</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

WHERE’S THE JOY?

Over the past few weeks I have noted a common theme in some things I have read. Three were blog posts and one was a promotion for a new book. The blog titles all asked questions: Is Your Joy Real or an Imposter? Why Are So Many Christians Unhappy? And, Are You a Negaholic? The final blog title continued: 5 Ways Pessimism Is Ruining Your Life. With those blog titles fresh in my mind I almost bought the advertised book, The Happy Christian: Ten Ways to Be a Joyful Believer in a Gloomy World.

I think these writers are scratching where a lot of people are itching right now. If you watch the news and listen to people talk it isn’t hard to be discouraged and concerned. There is a lot going on in the world, our country, our families, and our individual lives. And while we may not be miserably unhappy, our joy may be in retreat.

Technically, there is a difference between happiness and joy. Happiness is more about external circumstances and joy is more about an internal mindset. When it comes to the children of God and followers of Jesus, the Bible has a lot to say about joy. Christians are to be people of joy.

The keynote of the Apostle Paul’s New Testament letter to the Philippians is joy. In four chapters he mentions rejoice and joy 17 times. Several years ago I preached a message from this letter titled “Maintaining the Joy.” What I find particularly interesting is Paul’s instruction in 2:14 to “Do everything without complaining and arguing” (NLT). Those familiar with the Old Testament will remember the constant complaining and grumbling of the children of Israel in Exodus and Numbers after they left Egypt. It reminds me of the blog title asking if you are a negaholic.

With the possible exception of love, I’m not sure anything is more important in the Christian life than attitude. And to me, constant complaining indicates a bad attitude. The challenge for us is to minimize complaining, focus on the positive, and cultivate gratitude. And I am not suggesting we somehow blind ourselves to the reality of life. Everything in life is not good. I am suggesting we take I Thessalonians 5:18 seriously, “Be thankful in all circumstances.” The instruction is not give thanks for all circumstances, but in all circumstances.

Where is the joy? It is in the Lord and in our hearts because of our relationship with Him. We certainly won’t be happy all the time, but we can be thankful and maintain our joy whatever our external circumstances. (And I still may order the book The Happy Christian.)

Feel free to share this post if you think others would appreciate it and I welcome comments below.

Photo courtesy of her mother.

HOW IMPORTANT IS CRITICISM?

I’m fairly confident you’re like me in that you would much rather be affirmed than criticized. Am I right? And yet the truth is both affirmation and criticism are important. All of us are criticized and all of us criticize. How we receive it and how we give are important.

I recently wrote a book using letters I received during my 44 years of pastoral ministry and included a chapter of “Troublesome Letters.” Those letters, some signed and many unsigned, were all critical. In the book I include my responses to the signed ones and my comments on the unsigned ones. (The title is A Pastor and the People: An inside Look through Letters and is available at amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com.)

Appropriately receiving criticism was something I had to learn to do. One suggestion I often heard that never made sense to me was that I shouldn’t take it personally. How else could I take it? What did help me was pushing the pause button to consider the source. I came to appreciate the truth that who it was doing the criticizing was as important as the criticism itself. I gradually put less stock in chronic complainers who seemed unhappy about everything. But I would carefully consider observations from those who were committed to the church and genuinely interested in making things better.

The bottom line in receiving criticism is to assess its validity. Does the person offering the criticism have a valid point? It requires humility to accept it, but the uncomfortable truth is they may be right. I am not ready to call critics a gift as some do, but I do recognize their value.

In giving criticism I think it is helpful to keep in mind our thoughts and feeling when we are criticized. Jesus’ challenge in Luke 6:31 applies when we criticize just as it does when we affirm, “Do to others as you would like them to do to you” (NLT). How we criticize (tone), why we criticize (purpose), and when we criticize (timing) are all important.

The most helpful verse in the Bible on this matter is Proverbs 27:6, “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses” (NIV). It speaks to both receiving as well as giving criticism. When we criticize or are criticized it is a wounding. But when done by a friend it can be trusted. The implication is that the pain is for a person’s own good. Our enemy won’t criticize us for our own good, but may butter us up with the hope of getting something.

I sent my last post to a friend who knows a lot about writing and asked him for feedback. And to his credit he made some observations that stung. This is what I wrote back: “I need this constructive criticism to write better. I will be asking for more in the future. Thanks for a good example for my next blog post: How Important is Criticism?”

Feel free to share this with others and I welcome your comments.

All photos on StockSnap fall under the Creative Commons CC0 license.