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Friday, January 26, 2018

Wisdom and Social Media


Something has been weighing on me for a while.  There seems to be a major disconnect between biblical wisdom and the way many Christians use social media.  In fact, there are times when I think that the typical Christian’s social media presence could be a great example of the fool described in various ways in the book of Proverbs.  Quick to speak.  Slow to listen.  Slanderous.  Backbiting.  Braggadocious.  Unteachable.  Lazy.   What a boon it would be to the church, particularly the younger generation, if we could unplug from social media and dive into the Biblical wisdom literature.  I’m not sure that’s ever going to happen, so I’d like to give a couple of thoughts from Proverbs for us to consider as we engage with others online.

All opinions are not equally valid or valuable.  This is assumed by the existence of the book of Proverbs.  In ch9, we read about a voice of wisdom and a voice of folly, two voices offering very different perspectives on everything.  They are not both valid.  They are not both valuable.   One leads to life, the other to death.
Our culture doesn’t think in terms of wisdom and foolishness because it tends to reject absolutes.  Rather, there is a current cultural ideal that all opinions are to be equally valued.  That itself is folly.  There is such a thing as wisdom and you don’t attain it just by being born.  Your opinion isn’t helpful just because you live on the earth and you are sincere.  You can very easily be sincerely wrong, and to the extent that your worldview is not shaped by the Scriptures, you will be.  And that opinion will be sincerely detrimental to others.
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom (Prov 9:10).  If there is such a thing as wisdom and foolishness, I should be very sober about what I throw out into the ether.  Am I pushing wisdom or foolishness?  Life or death?  My pulse does not give automatic value to whatever I have to say on social media.  Nor does the mere fact that I am a Christian.  The things I say must be true and loving in order to be valuable.
Sharing your opinion is not inherently virtuous; withholding it might be.  This follows from the first point.  Our culture seems to take it that it is incumbent upon the individual to inform the universe of his views.  This is so often adopted by professing believers that I almost feel it’s necessary to inform folks…it really is okay not to share your opinion about everything.  You don’t have to do it.  
Proverbs paints the picture of a person who can’t help but opine all the time.  It calls him a fool (Prov 18:2).  There’s a reason for this connection between constant opining and foolishness.  If you are talking all the time, you can’t listen and gain wisdom.  You are a self-perpetuating fool.  A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion (Prov. 18:2).
Being heard is an honor.  When we rush to add to the collective noise on any issue, we’re taking honor before humility.  This is the opposite of what Proverbs prescribes.  The fear of the LORD is instruction in wisdom, and humility comes before honor (Prov. 15:33, cf 18:12, 22:4).  
It’s possible that the paucity of wisdom on social media among Christians is due to the fact that those who have wisdom are too prudent to engage in online bantering, while the younger generation doesn’t have the wisdom to know how foolish they are.  In an ideal world, the frequency of one’s posting would be proportional to one’s spiritual maturity.  The youngest, who as it stands say more than anyone else, would be the quietest, and the oldest would share the most, giving wisdom to those who need it so badly.  
Seeking wisdom should be a higher priority than sharing it.  This is the flow of the river of Proverbs.  You could say that the whole book is dedicated to the search for wisdom and to warning against the pitfalls of foolishness.  The book has nothing but negative things to say about “babbling fools” (10:8, 10:10, 20:19) and positive things about those who listen well to correction and instruction (1:33, 7:24, 8:32; 12:15, 15:31, 19:20).  Read Proverbs.  Read the Puritans.  There is much to hear; not much that needs to be said.
Prudence waits.   Social media makes it way too easy to respond quickly in anger.  Don’t give in.   A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back (Prov. 29:11)If you’re not sure if you should respond, wait.  If you find yourself making a mistake time and again, consider removing yourself altogether.  There is no benefit to social media that warrants sinning against others.   You'll be better off without social media and social media will be better off without you.
The impulse to build an audience is a danger sign.  When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom (Prov. 11:2). The kingdom-building aspect of social media is a poison to humility and can destroy relationships.  Be content being unknown and un-“liked” in the pursuit of wisdom and holiness.  
Some might say, “but I just want to build a ministry.”  I’d say let that ministry come to you.  You don’t need to build it.  And if you find yourself consumed by numbers of followers and likes and posts and articles and links and link-backs, you may be getting caught in something that is counter productive spiritually.  The people I know whose ministries are most far-reaching and helpful to others did nothing to start those or cause them to expand.  It happened organically as they just ministered to people.  

Consider this a call to think biblically about how we use social media.  Are we swimming against the stream of biblical wisdom?  Are we the picture of foolishness?  Ought we not be different from the world in our deportment online?  Food for thought.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

What to do in the aftermath of a huge mess

Israel had messed up in a huge way.  Huge.  “Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations,they had said to Samuel (1 Sam 8:5).  This displeased Samuel.  It displeased the Lord even more.  God said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them” (1Sam 8:7).

God warned them what it would be like to have a king, but they wanted one anyway.  So God chose for them a king, seemingly according to outward appearance.  Saul's best quality, mentioned repeatedly, was that he was the tallest and most handsome of all the men in Israel.  In a sense, God was judging Israel by giving them what they wanted - a king after their own heart.  Saul was anything but a gift to the people.  This man looked great, but had a timid heart.  

The scene of his installation was filled with tragic irony:

 17 Now Samuel called the people together to the LORD at Mizpah.
 18 And he said to the people of Israel, "Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, 'I brought up Israel out of Egypt, and I delivered you from the hand of the Egyptians and from the hand of all the kingdoms that were oppressing you.'
 19 But today you have rejected your God, who saves you from all your calamities and your distresses, and you have said to him, 'Set a king over us.' Now therefore present yourselves before the LORD by your tribes and by your thousands."
 20 Then Samuel brought all the tribes of Israel near, and the tribe of Benjamin was taken by lot.
 21 He brought the tribe of Benjamin near by its clans, and the clan of the Matrites was taken by lot; and Saul the son of Kish was taken by lot. But when they sought him, he could not be found.
 22 So they inquired again of the LORD, "Is there a man still to come?" and the LORD said, "Behold, he has hidden himself among the baggage.”  (1 Sam. 10:17-22)

This is what happens when God gives us what we want - it is a let down.  This savior whom the people believed would fight their battles for them was too timid to even show his face at his own coronation.  

But the people eventually were led to see their error and they were crushed by it.  In 12:19, they said to Samuel, "Pray for your servants to the LORD your God, that we may not die, for we have added to all our sins this evil, to ask for ourselves a king.”  They messed up and they knew it.  

That’s a terrible feeling.  You may be able to relate.  How many of us haven’t sinned in huge ways, perhaps life-altering ways?  It’s a horrible realization.  And it is frequently followed by a temptation to despair, thinking, “I’m ruined.  This can never be redeemed.  My life is off the tracks now.  I had my chance.”  

But listen to Samuel’s exhortation to the people: "Do not be afraid; you have done all this evil. Yet do not turn aside from following the LORD, but serve the LORD with all your heart.  And do not turn aside after empty things that cannot profit or deliver, for they are empty.  For the LORD will not forsake his people, for his great name's sake, because it has pleased the LORD to make you a people for himself.…Only fear the LORD and serve him faithfully with all your heart. For consider what great things he has done for you” (1 Sam. 12:20-24).

Samuel's words are a great plan for anyone in the aftermath of a huge, self-inflicted mess:
(1) Do not be afraid.
(2) Do not turn aside from following and serving the Lord.
(3) Do not turn aside after empty things that cannot profit or deliver.
(4) Remember the character of God - He is faithful.

The worst thing we can do when we’ve sinned greatly is give up, thinking that we’ve altered things irreparably.  It is part of God’s character to remain faithful to His own in spite of their unfaithfulness to Him.  To expect Him to drop us when we fail Him is to confess we don’t really know what He’s like.  

We all know what happened later in this biblical narrative.  God was gracious and faithful.  He replaced Saul with a king after His own heart.  That God brought David to the people even after they rejected God Himself as their king is a wonderful picture of grace.  We must be reminded that His character has not changed.

Christ is in the business of making all things new (Rev 21:5).  The gospel is about all that God has done in Jesus to reverse the effects of the Fall.  This is what He does.  There are consequences to sin, but He brings beauty out of the carnage.  He is gracious.  So when we sin grievously, we must respond rightly.  That is, we must acknowledge that we have sinned grievously, repent, seek forgiveness, and then continue to love and serve Him.  And trust Him to be who He says He is…faithful.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

New Year, Old Trials

For many people, January 1 represents a reset or a new beginning.  People start over in any number of different ways or areas of life.  It can be a very hopeful time.

For others, perhaps some of us at Providence, there is less a sense of newness than there is of old trials hanging on for yet another year.  January 1 then may seem like just another day on the calendar, just the next day in a seemingly endless series of days dealing with a bad situation.  Rather than asking questions like, “what do I want to accomplish this year?” or “what resolutions do I want to put in place?”, we may be asking, “Why is this happening?  How long is this going to continue?  Why isn’t God doing anything?” 

This is the perfect time to take a break and answer those questions.  We probably know the answers, but we need to hear the answers repeatedly so that we think biblically in the midst of difficulty.  God knows us well (Psa 139).  He knows that we tend to forget and we are easily distracted by the world, the flesh, and the devil.  Blessedly, God is good, so He gives us answers over and over, both in the Scriptures and by putting people in our lives to remind us of the truth.  It may be the case that some of us need nothing more right now than to hear answers we already know. 

Why is this happening?  “This” is going to be unique to everyone of us, but assuming that we are believers, the answer will always be the same.  This is happening because God loves us so dearly.  Yes, this painful circumstance is a mark of God’s great love for us.  Hebrews 12:6a reads, For the Lord disciplines the one he loves…  When we see the word discipline, we may tend to think exclusively of punishment or correction.  But the Greek word underlying the text refers to childrearing through instruction, training, and correction.  The following verse seems to confirm that correction alone is not in view, but any kind of trial: It is for discipline that you have to endure (Heb 12:7a).  The whole passage compares God to a loving father who trains his children for adulthood.  Our earthly fathers trained us and we respected them; we ought to respect God much more (v9).

But we may want to know what this has to do with God’s love?  How is it loving for Him to allow us to endure trials?  What is the outcome?  The writer of Hebrews anticipates the question and answers it: he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness (Heb 12:10).  The good that God wants for us is that we would be like Christ – loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled (Gal 5:22-23). 

That may sound nice in a Sunday School sort of way, but in the heat of a difficult trial, we may wonder, “what is the practical benefit of that?  I need relief!”  The author of Hebrews anticipates this as well: For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it (Heb 12:11).  Get that – the fruit of righteousness that comes from enduring trials is peaceful.  Let’s put it another way: Christlikeness is relief.  Imagine if you were like Him in all the ways listed above.  There would be no trial that could be thrown at you that would affect your joy or your peace.  What an amazing way to live!  This is what God wants for those who belong to Him.  And it is what He is working in us through these various trials (James 1:2-4) 

How long is this going to continue?  This question is rather simple to answer in light of the above.  It will continue until God accomplishes His purpose for it.  But here is a wonderful thing to consider: He never fails to accomplish His purposes.  Isaiah 46:9b-10 reads, “I am God, and there is none like me…saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.’”  It is a part of the very character of God to always succeed.  Paul describes Him in Eph 1:11 as the God who “works all things according to the counsel of His will.”  This means that for the believer there is no such thing as meaningless suffering or a wasted trial.  With every difficulty, He moves us closer to conformity to the image of Jesus (Rom 8:28-30). 

Why isn’t God doing anything?  Isn’t this a silly question in light of all that the Bible says about God?  This is a tireless God, always at work, One who never sleeps nor slumbers (Psa 121:4).  It’s a silly question and yet we ask it, don’t we?  Perhaps a more honest question would be, “why isn’t God doing what I want?”  The answer is that He knows better than we do.  How many times in the Scriptures did God bring far greater eventual good than the immediate lesser good desired by one of His own? 

Consider just one example.  Joseph was sold into slavery in Egypt through no fault of his own (Gen 37).  After doing the right thing in Potiphar’s house, he ended up in prison (Gen 39).  He had the occasion to correctly interpret the dreams of Pharaoh’s baker and cupbearer.  His only request to them was, “please do me the kindness to mention me to Pharaoh, and so get me out of this [prison].”  But Joseph was not remembered and remained in prison (Gen 40).  This is where so many of us would have asked the question above, “why isn’t God doing anything?”  But the story bears out the answer, “God knows better.”  As you know, at the right time, Joseph not only got out of prison, but became second only to Pharaoh in all of Egypt.  This alone seems magnificent, but God’s ultimate aim was to preserve the seed of Abraham and so keep the promises He made to the patriarchs and the promise He made in Eden (Gen 3:15), ultimately fulfilled in Christ.  God used Joseph’s pain “that many people should be kept alive” (Gen 50:20).  

God knows better.  He is always working.  The good that He has for us is always better than the good we desire for ourselves.  The Scriptures testify to this repeatedly.  We must meditate on these things.

In all this, there may be nothing you’ve never heard before.  Praise the Lord.  May the repetition of things you already know have His intended affect.  New year, old trials, old truths, renewed faith.

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