Don’t Take This Personally


No one’s life has ever been made better by taking more things personally. 

With each gesture, each word or tone of voice that I choose to take as an affront to my worth or goodness I make myself a little more miserable and a little more insufferable.  That child who just rolled his eyes at me?  That behavior must be assaulted!  Because, after all, I don’t deserve such attitude (my thought is not that the child must be disciplined because his soul is in danger; I don’t care so much about that right now).  My spouse didn’t respond the way I’d hoped?  I can’t just overlook that!  Are you kidding me?  That’s an attack on my value and seriousness and weight as a person.  

Each and every little slight or difficulty that I opt to take personally is another handful of seeds that I’m sowing that yield awful, deadly weeds as time goes on.  Weeds that choke out contentment and gladness and good humor.  The more I take personally, the more I can expect to see personal bitterness and strained relationships in my life.  

Word to the unwise:  Take yourself a little less seriously.  Choose to overlook even real and intended insults.  And remember that according to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, you don’t deserve anyone’s respect.  Remember these things.  You’ll be happier and more pleasant to be around.  

Trust me.  I’m writing from less than 24 hours’ distance from doing this in the wrong direction.  Pride and self-importance made me a mean and hardened man for a few hours last night.  It was unpleasant.  

Take yourself less seriously.  Have less grievances.  Your blood pressure and your closest relationships will reflect the change sooner than you might think.  

A humble heart is more than ready to bear good fruit in place of bad weeds.  

How to Kill a Church

  
I love the church. Christ’s bride.  The ekklesia, God’s called out people.  He died to save her and I want to live to serve her.  And in my couple of trips around the block as a church member, church planter, church elder, there are a few poisons I’d love to see get big, skull-and-crossbones warning labels so local churches don’t accidentally ingest them.  The most beautiful, God-honoring of churches can be disintegrated if you introduce the right toxin (see Revelation 2-3).*

*Note:  Some churches also just die a natural death, by God’s good will, having done nothing obviously, overtly sinful or wrong.  No single local church lasts forever.   Churches have God-ordained lifespans.  What I’m warning against is “churchicide,” or, if you prefer, church suicide.  

Some ways to kill a church:

  • Get each person in the church to have his main concern be his role or reputation.  The church will either disband within 6 months or stay together out of spite and be insufferable for 20 years.  Each of the people who leave this church or who stays in her just to grumble will be perpetually disgruntled that they didn’t get to do or be what they wanted to do or be.  And whatever you do, don’t let any of the people’s attitude be like this:  

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. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 

Philippians 2:3-7

  • Get them away from the question “Is this true?”  Make them instead always, always, always ask “Will this work?”  And then get them to think it “worked” if their unbelieving friends and neighbors liked it.  Before you know it, they’ll go from trying to bless people because they want them to know their Maker (Christlike) to trying to get people to like them because that means whatever the church did must have “worked” (retail-like).  If you can get the church to make her decisions based solely on the world’s reactions to those decisions, you’re one or two steps away from turning the church’s leaders into a roomful of TV executives trying to figure out which type of new fall show will draw in their key demographic.  
  • Get the church to look in all the time.  Make them thoroughly and completely overwhelmed with the church structure and the internal systems and programs.  Get them to think only about the people already in the body.  No church can outlive its current members if no new members are made.  It’s simple math.  So you can kill a church by attrition if you get it to stop obeying Jesus’ commands to preach to the unbelieving and make disciples.  This method takes a little patience of course, unlike introducing outright heresy or getting a leader to fall into a massive scandal, but it’ll get you to the same end.  A church who doesn’t care about making new Christians won’t outlive her current Christians.  

Let me pull my tongue back out of my cheek, now:  Don’t let any of these things begin in your church.  And if they’ve already begun, pray and work like crazy for their removal.  

The church is a blessed thing.  And the cities and countries of our world desperately need local churches to minister to Gospel-believers and send them back out into the darkness, as well as to preach Christ’s Good News from the pulpit and the pew loud enough for all to hear.    

I’m short, love and protect the church.  

Jesus died to do the same. 

2 Thoughts On Herods

 

 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.’

When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled.

Matthew 2:1-3

In a day of bombast and one-upsmanship among many at the forefront of the American vessel, I thought two things when I read this this morning.  And I think both things are supported by what the Spirit and Apostles tell us about Herod the Great and the Herodian sons who reigned after from this chapter in your New Testament all the way to Acts 12.  

Ready?

  1. A man who does not like being upstaged is a man who wants to be worshiped.  
  2. Fragile and tyrannical kings will, in the end, be threatened when their subjects worship the true God, because the true God is something they can’t mold to their own liking. 

All Herods want to be gods, and so all Herods are troubled by the real God.  No matter what lip-service they might pay to Him.  Remember, Herod Antipas liked listening to John the Baptist, but when the choice was between the prophet’s head and his own pride, the decision was made before the party wound down.  

Food for thought(s).   

Let Us Go First

  
It’s a Christian thing to listen.  It’s a Christian thing to allow someone to give his perspective, finish his sentence, share his experience while not judging him or getting overly defensive.  It’s the flesh that belittles and dismisses and refuses to ever give the person on the other side the benefit of the doubt.  It’s carnality that imputes the worst possible motives to a person you disagree with.  Where Christianity would have us speak the truth in love, pride wants a quick one-liner to shut the other guy up. 

There’s a church here in Cincinnati who is holding a prayer service in response to what happened Thursday night in Dallas.  I can’t go because I’m preaching for another pastor here locally, but if you’re in the Cincinnati area, please consider going.  It’s an ethnically diverse church devoted to the Good News of the crucified and risen Jesus Christ, and that’s about as beautiful a thing as you can find under this temporary sun in my book.  

I want to be humble about these racial matters, because I know that’s what my Savior would have me be.  We are called to have a posture of humility.  And I believe a part of humility is to allow the other person to have his say, whether you end up agreeing with all or part of what he says or not.  And so we should be the kings and queens of dialogue, us Jesus-lovers, because we of all folks have been shown that loving people and loving truth are branches on the same tree.  So let us be the first to listen, the most gracious in speech, and the least afraid of honesty and truth.  

If America is looking for a way to have a true and honest dialogue about something hard to talk about, let’s show her a way.

After all, God left us in a dark world for a reason.   

Just Be It

  
There is nothing ignoble in simply being what God has called you to be, however small or large, plain or beautiful it may seem to human sight.  “Use me as an instrument for Your salvation, Lord, however you will” is a good prayer.  It’s a freeing prayer, too. 

Spurgeon said that at the Last Supper there was a chalice for drinking wine and a basin for washing feet, and maybe you’re the chalice and he’s the basin.  But, he said, let the basin be the basin, and let the chalice be the chalice.  

You and I don’t have to sweat it out trying to earn our identity.  The blood will rinse off our pride if you and I will let it; we are free to humble ourselves and just enjoy Jesus, His church, and serving His people.  Whatever service for the Kingdom you’ve been truly called to, find a way to do it and do it.  

The Kingdom of God is an ego graveyard. 

There are no alpha males here.  After all, it’s wolves that have alphas and betas, and we’re all sheep in this economy; different heights and colors, maybe, but sheep all.  Or, to paint with a different metaphoric brush, none of us have to be the head of this body; she already has One.  

This ain’t Hollywood, brother.  Nobody has personal assistants and nobody’ll be comparing accolades.  Here, we’re all slaves and all sons, and we work from acceptance, not for it.   

You and I have been adopted to be things, all for love and for the glory of Another.  

So let’s be them. 

The Last Set of Jitters

  
Two things happened.  One was fun and good, the other personally devastating.  

The bad one first.  

Instead of finding my identity in Christ’s forgiveness of me, His giving me new life and a spiritual home and family, I often cling to and locate my worth in being respected and admired by others.  My family, my peers, even strangers.  It’s sin, it’s harmful, and I’m in a long process of repentance over it.  God has showed it to me time and again, but I’m stubborn and stupid, and so I continue to go after this thing as though it’ll make me truly happy.  
So, three times in the last two weeks He’s let me get humiliated.  Or at least each one felt like humiliation.  The nature of the breakdowns doesn’t matter, but they were painful.  Embarrassment, shame, and self-loathing crushed me for hours and hours after each one.  When you were in school, did you ever have a project to present and thought that you had one more day to go home and knock the thing out but then, as the class started, heard the teacher say, “All right let’s start the presentations with _______,” and look at you?  They were like that.  

So, after at least one of these rough moments I felt crippling shame.  I felt lifeless.  I wanted to crawl into a hole.  

What you worship is the thing that, if taken from you, you’d fee like you couldn’t go on.  

Okay, so now the good thing that happened.  

We moved.  We bought our first house.  I’ve never lived in one place more than three years, and now I have a real “permanent address” to put on all those forms for the very first time.  So I sat on the front porch of our rented house in the morning sun last Saturday, waiting on the U-Haul and my friends and family, and I thought about how my kids probably won’t ever have the moving day jitters.  When I was growing up, we moved every couple of years, and I remember that nervous happiness of getting to start over somewhere.   There was a fun, hopeful anticipation of a new neighborhood, and a new home.

So as I waited for the moving day help, that good thing helped to drown the bad one.  I started to feel my shame and self-loathing get a little duller, like when a toothache or a pinched nerve or a migraine starts to slip after you’ve taken a painkiller.  And thankfully I was either too tired or too blessed to fight it.  The moving jitters, maybe the last set I’d ever have, reminded me of something good and true:  Those of us who love Christ are going home.  For real home.  

There will be a day of great anticipation and seriousness and excitement and goodness that will be much brighter and better than that sunlit morning when I was waiting to show my kids their new crib.  A day is approaching where the King will remake the earth and her stars, and then put His people in her brightest city, lit to the high heavens by Him.  We’ll love each other and be loved by each other, love Jesus and be loved by Jesus.  We’ll sing and we’ll pray and we’ll serve and we’ll be served, and every last cause for shame and guilt and fear will be thrown out into the darkness.  

That home is coming.  

Where there is no sin, there is no shame. Where there are no false gods, there is no fear.  

Our Jesus is coming to give us and be for us all we could ever possibly need, and everything we should want.  

I’ll wrestle with my embarrassment tonight, but I wanted to remind myself of that, and remind you, too.  

For those of us who have trusted in Jesus, home is around the corner.  

Why Christians Should Not Admire Donald Trump

  
Pray for?  Sure.  Vote for?  You decide.  But admire?  That’s the only thing I’m interested in challenging.  If you trust and treasure Jesus Christ, I do not think you should be affectionately drawn to, or even respect, the way Mr. Trump has chosen to conduct himself.  

I’ll be fast, because I have three little kids, so my time is always short:

  • An obsession with self-exaltation, self-justification, and self-preservation are decidedly unchristian.  When Mr. Trump constantly crows about his wealth, his poll numbers, or his crowds, he is demonstrating a heart Christians should not want to emulate.  True Christians set their hope on God.  They trust Him to be their righteousness and rescue, their identity.  
  • A man who repeatedly mocks others for being “weak” is not sharing the Christian’s awe for a Creator who took the form of a slave to rescue His people.  You can’t idolize human strength and understand the Cross at the same time.  Christians should know, and should love, that their Savior was made weak for them, and that in turn their weakened selves are made strong solely through Him.  
  • Christians should not have loud or consuming cravings for wealth, and so we should not admire those who do.  We should mourn for them, and pray that they would receive a far more lasting treasure.  
  • We are a people who have joyfully bent our knees to the King.  We shouldn’t be enamored with people who glory in their pride, and don’t seem to bend their knees to anyone but themselves.*  We are told by our God to submit to governing authorities, church elders/pastors, and each other.  A man who would balk at submitting to anyone doesn’t deserve our praise; he deserves our pity.  

There you go.  I said I’d be fast.  I’m not angry with the man.  I’m going to pray for his soul and his heart tonight, since I wrote this tonight.  But he has won the applause of many of the people who live with me in this day and place, so I wanted to take a second to advise Christians not to clap along with them, and explain why. 

I’ll close with some 1 Timothy

From chapter 6:

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.

And from chapter 5:

Give proper recognition to those widows who are really in need… The widow who is really in need and left all alone puts her hope in God and continues night and day to pray and to ask God for help.

*I say “seem to,” because to be in sin and away from Christ is to be bending your knees to Satan, whether you know it or not.  Everyone is a slave to someone.