Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Doing What’s Right

Doing what is right instead of what is popular is not easy. Two names come to mind of people who had a hard time in this area. They are Lot, Abraham’s nephew, and Aaron, Moses’ brother. Lot seemed to make most of his decisions based on what people thought of him and how beneficial it would be to his comfort, rather than on biblical principles. He chose the well-watered plains of Jordan because they were beautiful. Lot’s ability to make critical decisions would continue to weaken over time until, in a major crisis for his life and family, he would choose what people wanted rather than what was right.

Aaron is a classic example of this pattern of behavior. It was the first time Aaron had been left in charge of the people while his brother Moses was up on the mountain. The people came to him demanding he make them gods to worship: "Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don't know what has happened to him" (Exodus 31:1). Aaron found himself intimidated and unwilling to take an unpopular stand, so he chose what the people wanted.

Anytime and anywhere someone pressures us to do the wrong thing, we must do what is right regardless of what they think of us. This is a major challenge for teenagers and even college-age students who often please the crowd more than they do God. Whenever we choose an agenda that compromises our convictions and corrupts our morals, we are caught in a web of deceit. Today, one of the major compromises for Christian young people is whether or not they will remain virgins until they are married. The popular thing is to be sexually active—to not be is to be weird. This lie is very prevalent today, but it’s not new. Whenever we put our self-centered interests or our desire to be popular over principle, we sin. We always lose more than we gain in the bargain. Aaron’s and Lot’s decisions were disastrous, and they not only brought shame and disgrace on themselves and their families, but they also failed to give God the glory in their decisions.

On the other hand, Daniel and Joseph are examples of men who did what was right even if it was unpopular. Daniel’s entire life represents an uncompromising stand for what is right even if it meant he might have to suffer. Joseph overcame sexual temptation, thereby showing all young people it can be done. You don’t have to be a slave to your biological drives or a puppet in the hands of your peers. You can choose to do what is right even if it is very unpopular.

You ask how a person makes good decisions like Joseph and Daniel. It begins with developing a faithful commitment to God. This is a commitment to trust God in all situations, enabling you to make tough decisions that from the outside look as if you are the loser. However, on the inside you know God will not abandon you, and therefore you will not abandon your principles. Never has there ever been a day when we needed men and women who are willing to do the right thing, even if it is unpopular, more than we do today.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A Better Way to Live

Laura Hillenbrand, in a fine book entitled Unbroken, writes about forgiveness.  Louie Zamperini and Phil Phillips endured 47 days on a rubber raft in the Pacific Ocean. They barely survived the crash of their bomber plane, the strafing of Japanese machine gun fire, and deadly shark attacks. The rubber raft was disintegrating from the salt water, and their bodies could hardly take another day in the brutal sun. Then they spotted land, but it turned out to be an island occupied by the Japanese. Louie and Phil were immediately dragged to a POW camp. Being in a Japanese prisoner of war camp was the worst place on the face of the earth in World War II. There was one Japanese soldier called the Bird who took sadistic delight in beating Louie. He would beat him with a belt almost every day. Surviving in this place of torment was a daily challenge. The day of liberation finally came, but unfortunately the Bird escaped and made his way back to Japan. Louie went back home, but the war continued to rage inside him. He couldn’t stop hating the Bird, and his desire to seek revenge grew with each day. He turned to alcohol and became a terrible husband.

One day Louie was overcome by a strange, inexplicable feeling that suddenly the war was all around him and in him. In random moments he felt like lice and flies were crawling over his skin, even though there was nothing there. It only made him drink harder. One day he opened a newspaper and saw a story that riveted his attention. A former Pacific POW had walked into a store and saw one of his wartime captors. The POW called the police who then arrested the war criminal. As Louie read the story, all the fury within him converged. He saw himself finding the Bird, overpowering him, his fists pounding his face, and then his hands locking about his neck. In his fantasy he killed the Bird—slowly savoring the suffering he caused. If he could get back to Japan, he would hunt him down. 

Louie finally found himself at a Billy Graham crusade where he received Christ as his savior.  That night the sense of shame and powerlessness that had driven his need to hate the Bird suddenly vanished. The Bird was no longer his monster, but only a man. Louie felt something he had never felt before for his captor. With a shiver of amazement, he realized it was compassion. At that moment something shifted sweetly inside him. It was forgiveness—beautiful, effortless, and complete. For Louie Zamperini, at long last the war was over.”[1]

Every person feels the urge to get even sometime, maybe with the reckless driver on the highway or with the mean co-worker. No matter what the offense, forgiveness is always the better choice. The benefits of forgiveness are greater than those of being an unforgiving person because they have a positive effect on our lives.

First, forgiveness heals the heart. Forgiving a person for doing you wrong is like applying healing salve to your broken heart. When you say you’re sorry to another person, it heals the wound. However, refusing to forgive is like a spreading infection that inhibits the healing process.

Secondly, forgiveness enables a person to turn loose of grudges. The self-pity, the nagging thoughts that cause you to remember the hurt, leaves you as you forgive. You are no longer restricted and bound to the same old fiendish feelings and desires of settling the score. To the contrary, an unforgiving person declines any opportunity to let go of grudges. When people harbor resentment, they find themselves controlled by the bitterness as it saps their physical and emotional energy.

Thirdly, forgiveness removes the desire to retaliate. Given enough time, a hurt becomes a wound, a wound becomes a grudge, and inevitably, a grudge calls for retaliation. But, forgiveness eradicates the reason to retaliate. An unforgiving person demands a day of reckoning and a chance to get even. Forgiveness clearly gives a person a better way of dealing with the hurts that come his way. Forgiveness sets a person free from the past and hands him a brand new future. Forgiveness is the better way to live.

[1] Laura Hillenbrand, Unbroken, A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, Random House, NY, 2010.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Consecrated Talent

One thing I have enjoyed doing all through my ministry as a pastor is encouraging people to recognize their gifts and talents and consecrate them to God. We all have been given gifts with no exceptions, but not all believers utilize their gifts for God’s glory.

The book of Exodus describes two men who were given extraordinary gifts to do artistic work, "See, I have chosen Bezalel …and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts” (Exodus 31:1-3). God gave creative abilities to Bezalel and Oholiab to create things of beauty for his tabernacle.

Art has the power to influence our culture. What is happening in the arts today is indicative of what will happen in our world tomorrow. So when Christians abandon artistic pursuits, we lose an important opportunity to share the gospel in our culture. From the pictures we paint, to the music we listen to, to the clothes we wear— they are all designed by artists. They are all vehicles to express our world view and to glorify God.

Bezalel was the craftsman and Oholiab was his skilled assistant. It is interesting that God chose and equipped these men for this job. Their names underscore their dependence on God. Bezalel means "in the shadow of God." The meaning of Oholiab's name is: "my tent is the Father-God."

I can imagine these men as they began working on this important and holy project for Moses. They knew this was to be done for God’s glory, so they put their heart and soul into their work. Whether they were building, sewing, casting, stonecutting, or engraving, they did it with great care.

One of the reasons we see such a scarcity of good art and design in areas of our lives is because Christians have not pursued many artistic areas of life. We have left them to non-believers whose art often does not reflect a redemptive view of humanity.

If we have been given a talent, we should dedicate it to God and use it for his glory. Not only does this give us purpose, but it also is our expression of our love for God. Our work can praise God and point people to his goodness. Johann Sebastian Bach was famous for signing his works with the letters "sDg," meaning soli Deo gloria - to God alone be the glory. In the same way, every artist whose talents are consecrated to Christ will pro­duce art for God's glory.[i]

Paul wrote the Colossians these words: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men,” (Colossians 3:23). This is the correct attitude for everything we do in life. If our talent is consecrated to God, then our work will be for God’s glory regardless of what company we work for.

[i] Philip Graham Ryken, Exodus, Crossway Books, Wheaton, IL 2005, PP. 947-954.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Learning to Control Anger

As a counselor I deal with people on a regular basis who have trouble controlling their anger. I hear all kinds of reasons why they are angry, with the majority of people blaming someone else for their problem. Most of the time people are angry because they are self-centered and they haven’t learned to delay gratification. Who hasn’t seen a two-year-old get angry and begin sulking because he doesn’t get his way? Really, when you see an adult with an explosive anger problem, you are looking at an adult with a two-year-old capacity for self-control.

Most of the time people use their anger to control other people. Anger is an effective tool, albeit dysfunctional. That is it works as long as the other person is willing to respond to the anger. Solomon said, “A hot-tempered man must pay the penalty; if you rescue him, you will have to do it again” (Proverbs 19:19). Every time we respond by doing or not doing what some angry person wants from us, we are enabling their anger problem. We are coming to their rescue each time, the same way we do for a small child.

When a person is angry at someone for not responding the way they want them to, they are showing they have no self-control. That’s why we often refer to angry people as people who “lose it.” The person who is angry is the person with the problem. The challenge comes when you choose to allow the anger to stay in the other person and not to allow it to make you angry. As long as we allow the other person’s anger to control us, we will remain in bondage to them. Anger is so often a cue for us to do something. We feel the need to get the angry person’s approval or to defend ourselves with responding anger. However, neither of these approaches will help either person. When we respond appropriately by speaking the truth in love and with the right attitude, we are obligating the other person to choose how they will respond to us.[i]

Sometimes that means we will say something like “I’m not going to allow you to yell at me. When you calm down and want to talk, I will listen.” Such a response often times helps the angry person learn self-control. They will at least learn that their angry rages won’t work on you anymore, and they will choose another method of communication. Most importantly, they will learn you cannot be controlled as you demonstrate you don’t have to respond in anger to anger.

There are always consequences to these kinds of choices. Perhaps the person decides not to talk you at all or to cut you off. You risk that consequence if you want freedom from another person’s dysfunctional anger. There is great freedom in learning self-control.

[i] Henry Cloud & John Townsend, Boundaries, Zondervan, Nashville, TN 1992, PP. 248-249.