Exercising Wisdom on Social Media

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Social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter can be a great blessing at times. But in some ways they have done untold damage to the art of interpersonal interaction. Not only do people generally feel more secure behind a keyboard than face to face, but also, important aspects of effective communication are easily lost. Very little of communication consists of the actual words you choose. Most of communication has to do with the inflection of your voice, facial expressions, body language, history with the listener, and the listener’s personal emotions at the moment. So we’ve come up with emojis, gif’s and other cyber-tools to simulate actual relationship. It’s good. But it’s not the same. So, effective communication on social media takes work.

Here are four suggestions from Proverbs 18 (CSB)…

  1. Choose your words wisely. (v.4) “The words of a person’s mouth are deep waters, a flowing river, a fountain of wisdom.” Since most of communication on social media will inevitably consist of the words you choose, choose them wisely. Be sure they flow from your head, not just your heart and your fingers. Read back over your words before you post them. Ask yourself, “Could someone take this differently than what I am intending?” People will assume that your words are flowing from the deep places of your life. So, be sure they communicate what you intend.
  2. Don’t try to pridefully show off what you know. (v.2) “A fool does not delight in understanding, but only wants to show off his opinions.” Do you remember that time you won an argument on Facebook? When that other man/woman finally wrote in your comments, after hours of debate, “Oh yes, you have finally convinced me; I completely recant my previous convictions and am totally convinced of your opinion.” No? You don’t remember that? Me either. It seems that no matter how much I know about a given subject, or how opinionated I am about it, those who disagree with me will disagree with me and those who agree with me will agree with me. Pridefully showing off your opinions is a foolish endeavor, especially when it is done at the expense of seeking understanding from others.
  3. Entertain both sides of an issue before you jump to conclusions. (v.13, 17) “The one who gives an answer before he listens — this is foolishness and a disgrace for him… The first to state his case seems right until another comes and cross-examines him.” In case you have not noticed, even our news media outlets are opinionated, often developing and reporting stories from predetermined platforms. When an accusation is made, do your homework before you choose to agree or disagree. Forbes did a piece on this tendency of ours not long ago. Turns out 59% of social media users will share an online article based solely on its title, without ever even opening the link (Forbes article here). This means 59% of us are not really interested in the facts; we want to give an answer before we listen. As it turns out, there really are at least two sides to every story. Be sure you’re informed before you develop an opinion and share your thoughts on it.
  4. Cool down first. Disagree later. (v.19) “An offended brother is harder to reach than a fortified city, and quarrels are like the bars of a fortress.” Sometimes the best thing you can do is shut down the computer or put your smart phone back in your pocket. We are wired to think negatively first. I can’t tell you how many times I have read something, gotten upset, then read it again later only to come to the understanding that it meant something completely different than what I originally assumed. If you must disagree with someone on social media, don’t do it in anger. Cool down first. Allow your mind some time to circumvent the issue/statement. Fortified cities have fallen faster than offended men’s opinions. Step away. Keep calm. Then you’ll be in a better state of mind to understand and address the issue.

Who would have known that Proverbs written thousands of years ago on papyrus and scrolls could be so applicable to 21st Century life on keyboards and smart phones? God’s Word is never irrelevant. It’s always right on target. “I pursue the way of your commands, for you broaden my understanding,” (Psalm 119:32).

Grace and Peace,
Tony

We’ve Never Done It This Way Before

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“We’ve never done it this way before.” The old joke is that these words are ostensibly Baptistic and are the usual evidence of an impending church decline. It is true that refusal to change our methods while the culture around us constantly shifts is a sure death sentence for the church; the message of the gospel never changes, while our methods of delivering and embodying it do. Change is hard. There is something characteristically human about refusing change in favor of the comfortable or the familiar. But the nature of the church’s mission demands that we are ever ready to step into new territory, embracing necessary, biblical change for the glory of God and for the sake of the gospel.

The Israelites faced a similar dilemma under Joshua’s leadership. As they prepared to break camp and cross the Jordan River, God’s instruction was to allow the Levites to lead the way carrying the ark of the covenant:

“After three days the officers went through the camp and commanded the people: ‘When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God carried by the Levitical priests you are to break camp and follow it. But keep a distance of about a thousand yards between yourselves and the ark. Don’t go near it, so that you can see the way to go, for you haven’t traveled this way before.’ Joshua told the people, ‘Consecrate yourselves, because the Lord will do wonders among you tomorrow.'” (Joshua 3:2-5, CSB)

“You haven’t traveled this way before.” Those words may have caused a church split in some of our contemporary congregations. But not in the Israelite camp. They trusted the Lord’s leadership and stepped into the waters of the Jordan River with faithful expectation that God would deliver on His word. They were not disappointed.

Pastor or church leader, here are a few important, applicable things to learn from this text:

  1. New does not always mean bad. Several times in Scripture, God indicated that He was doing something new: a new song in Isaiah 42:10, a new name in Isaiah 62:2, a new covenant in Jeremiah 31:31, a new heart and a new spirit in Ezekiel 11:19, a new commandment in John 13:34, a new creature in 2 Corinthians 5:17, a new Jerusalem in Revelation 21:2, and all things new in verse 5. I wonder how many times we miss what God is doing in us and around us simply because we associate new with bad. Can you imagine the painful disappointment on the scene, should the Israelites have responded to God, “No thanks, God. We’ll stay on this side of the Jordan because this is what’s familiar. We’re comfortable here.” God said, “You haven’t traveled this way before” (v.4). But what was ahead of them was infinitely more glorious than anything behind them.
  2. Wherever He leads us, God goes before us. The Israelites, at this point, had a concrete historical example of this truth from the pillars of cloud and fire which went ahead of their fathers (Exodus 13:21). Here in Joshua Chapter 3, God’s presence is again going before them as the Ark of the Covenant leads the way into uncharted territory. Whatever is new – ahead of you as a congregation – if you embrace it with faith and step into it from a heart of obedient surrender to God’s will, you’ll not find yourself alone there. God Himself has cut the path ahead and He will be with you every step of the way.
  3. Don’t get ahead of God. Necessary change is good, but often effective, biblical change takes time. The instructions were for the Israelites to keep a distance of about a thousand yards between them and the ark: “Don’t go near it, so that you can see the way to go,” (v.4). Substantive change in the church needs to be approached with care, always keeping our eyes on the Lord. Here’s some advice: if you see change ahead but you can’t see God in it, don’t go there. Or at least slow down a bit. Wait for God to give vision and clarity for the road ahead. Here’s the deal… wherever you go, the destination is not the prize; God’s presence is the prize. Church, if you can’t see God in it, slow down. Wait for God to give vision and clarity. Don’t get ahead of God.
  4. Before stepping out into the unknown, get spiritually prepared. “Consecrate yourselves,” said Joshua, “because the Lord will do wonders among you tomorrow,” (v.5). Sometimes we follow God’s lead in faith but we’re not spiritually prepared to receive what He has for us there. The church of Jesus should be stepping into every tomorrow with the expectation that “the Lord will do wonders among” us. So let’s be sure to stay prayed-up, cleansed from sin, and restored from unrighteousness (see 1 John 1:9). Don’t even think about following God into the unknown if you’re not spiritually prepared to meet with Him there.
  5. Don’t be so committed to yesterday that you miss what God has for you tomorrow. “The Lord will do wonders among you tomorrow,” Joshua reported. But while the guiding presence of the Lord was evident in the Ark’s procession, it wasn’t exactly like the pillar of cloud or smoke they knew only a generation before. And while the waters of the Jordan River stacked up for them to cross, it wasn’t exactly like the parting of the Red Sea. In fact, even Joshua himself, though being used powerfully by God, was unlike Moses in many ways. But that’s just the thing. Churches are often so committed to what God has done in their yesterdays that they completely miss Him in their tomorrows. Tomorrow will not look exactly like yesterday. The music will change. The architecture will change. The particular English translation of the biblical text with change. The outreach and in reach methods will change. No, you’ve never done it that way before. But that’s good… because God’s doing a new thing. If your expectation of tomorrow is that it will mirror the things of yesterday, you’ll never step into the Jordan River. And you’ll never step foot onto the promises that God has ahead of your church.

So, embrace the new things God’s doing in your church. New doesn’t always mean bad. God will never lead you where His presence does not go before you. Make sure you don’t get ahead of God. Be spiritually prepared, expecting every day for God to do a fresh, new work. And don’t be so committed to how God has worked in the past that you miss what He’s up to in the present and what He’s leading you toward in the future.

Grace and Peace,
Tony

The New Self

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The goal of your saving faith is that you mature – grow up – in Christ. Paul speaks plainly to the Ephesian church about this, in language that demands a change. You can come to Christ as you are… but you can’t stay there. Genuine faith in Jesus Christ will change you from the day of your new birth to the day of your final glorification. In v.24, Paul highlights the tension between the “old man,” crucified in Christ and the “new man,” resurrected with Him.

“…you are being renewed in the spirit of your minds; you put on the new self, the one created according to God’s likeness in righteousness and purity of the truth. Since you put away lying, Speak the truth, each one to his neighbor, because we are members of one another. Be angry and do not sin. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger, and don’t give the Devil an opportunity. The thief must no longer steal. Instead, he must do honest work with his own hands, so that he has something to share with anyone in need. No foul language is to come from your mouth, but only what is good for building up someone in need, so that it gives grace to those who hear. And don’t grieve God’s Holy Spirit. You were sealed by Him for the day of redemption. All bitterness, anger and wrath, shouting and slander must be removed from you, along with all malice. And be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God also forgave you in Christ.” Ephesians 4:23-32 (HCSB)

Newton’s 3rd Law of Physics states that “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” Those who have “put on the new man” must be about the business of reacting to their former way of life by changing each of those offenses toward Christlikeness. Specifically, Paul says the liar should speak the truth, the angry one should let it go, the thief should become generous, and the filthy mouthed should learn to bless instead of curse.

Then he mentions that those Christians who refuse this change “grieve God’s Holy Spirit” who indwells them. How do we “grieve God’s Holy Spirit”? Bitterness, anger, wrath, shouting, slander, and unforgiveness (vs.31-32).

If we refuse the Christlike change that God’s Spirit desires to bring to our lives, we’re not only stunting our own spiritual growth; we’re also grieving the Holy Spirit of God. What areas of your life look a whole lot more like the “old man” than the “new man”? How might your thoughts, words, and actions be grieving God?

Those who are truly reborn into Christ have a prevailing desire to grow up in the faith. They long to please God, not grieve Him. Determine, today, to put off the “old man” and put on the “new man.” Refuse bitterness, envy, anger, wrath, slander, and unforgiveness. Live for God’s glory, not your own. And watch how He’ll begin to shape and mold your life into the man or woman He created you to be.

Grace and Peace, Tony.

 

Living in Babylon

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Some mornings I wake up and silently ask myself, “Where am I?” The country I knew in my childhood is, in many ways, only a shadow of a memory. Racial bigotry, moral demise, political unrest, economic upheaval, and religious syncretism have become standard. Normal. Some of this change can be attributed to a widening perspective that comes with age, I admit. But there is no doubt that the world in which I live today is much different from the world I remember of my yesterdays. What is the follower of Jesus to do, when he finds himself thrust into a culture that is so far from God–a stranger in his own land?

The prophet Jeremiah records God’s instructions to Jewish exiles deported from their homes and thrust into the godless Babylonian culture at the hand of King Nebuchadnezzar in the early 6th Century B.C. While this Word is uniquely directed to a specific group of people in a specific time period, it teaches us something about the heart of God and about His expectations toward His children who find themselves living in a godless culture.

“This is what the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel, says to all the exiles I deported from Jerusalem to Babylon: ‘Build houses and live in them. Plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters. Take wives for your sons and give your daughters to men in marriage so that they may bear sons and daughters. Multiply there; do not decrease. Seek the welfare of the city I have deported you to. Pray to the Lord on its behalf, for when it has prosperity, you will prosper.’ For this is what the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel, says: ‘Don’t let your prophets who are among you and your diviners deceive you, and don’t listen to the dreams you elicit from them, for they are prophesying falsely to you in My name. I have not sent them.’ This is the Lord’s declaration.” (Jeremiah 29:4-9, HCSB)

How are we, God’s children, to live in Babylon?

  1. Live life among the people (vs.4-6). Don’t freak out. Don’t hunker down. Don’t isolate yourself from reality. Go about normal daily activities and trust the Lord’s design through it all. God’s people are not to be isolated from the culture in which they live; but they are to be different from the culture in which they live. When godly people reproduce godly people (evangelism & discipleship) in a godless culture, they are being light in darkness, salt in tastelessness. Do life with the people of the culture in which God has placed you. Influence them with God’s truth, for God’s glory, because this always works out for their good.
  2. Seek the welfare of your city (v.7). Pray. Work. Influence for righteousness. The presence of God’s people should influence a city for God’s glory. God holds the monopoly on justice, righteousness, economic abundance, and social welfare. When godly Christian principles and practices take root in the workplace, at the school, in the booster club meetings, and in the sports organizations of your city, the people will come to know the supremacy of life God’s way over life their own way. And as the city prospers under the blessings of God, so will you. How is your Christian presence affecting the social, spiritual, economic, and moral climate of your city?
  3. Be discerning about – and committed to – God’s revealed Word (vs.8-9). Amos prophesied that during the exile (the Intertestamental Period) there would be a “famine… [from] hearing the words of the Lord… People… will seek the word of the Lord, but they will not find it,” (Amos 8:11-12, HCSB). The question would then come to those in exile, “Are the Words of God that I have enough?” Often in a wandering (or wilderness/exile) period of our lives, we ask the same question. Is God’s revealed Word trustworthy? Is it enough to get me through this? Or should I search for something more? God’s children who find themselves stranded in godless contexts should always hold fast to God’s revealed Word. No other word from God is needed. What you have is enough. When we start selling our itching ears to pseudo-spiritual gypsies, we become deceived dreamers, questioning God’s infinite goodness in light of our present wanderings. So, Christian in Babylon, know God’s revealed Word and be committed to it.

Godly people do not long to buy a condo in Babylon. But despite their best efforts, they often find themselves thrust into a Babylonian culture where conditions are not necessarily favorable for godly living. But take heart, Christian:

  • In Babylon, Hananiah’s, Mishael’s, and Azariah’s display to kings and peasants the benefits of living God’s way over man’s way.
  • In Babylon, Daniel’s prove that daily, personal intimacy with God shuts the mouths of lions and opens doors for godly influence.
  • In Babylon, Mordecai’s challenge Esthers to live with selfless abandonment to God’s plan.
  • In Babylon, Nehemiah’s, stirred with passion for God’s glory, lead the way in unprecedented spiritual awakening.
  • In Babylon, God stirs the ground in preparation for the deliverance of His people.
  • In Babylon, God’s children come to know His faithfulness and His vast strength in desperate ways.

Living in Babylon? Fear not, Christian. No matter who sits on the throne, “Your God reigns,” (Isaiah 52:7).

Grace and Peace, Tony.