Random Thoughts for the Weekend

1.The reason “Do Not Afraid” and similar instructions are found throughout the Scriptures is fear is a denial of the present reality of God and his control over his earth. Faith/Confidence in his care as we follow his teaching is the opposite of fear.

2. Jesus does not ever seem to be in a hurry.

3. Listen, we can get upset all day about all the pictures on Ravi’s phone, but I know very few people who will refuse to watch a movie or TV show because those same kinds of images are present on the screen.

4. Isn’t it strange the word we translate as “gospel” and “good news” is not in the gospel of John?

5. There is not one teaching in the Scriptures that could lead us to believe we should listen more to a politician than to our pastors.

6. The new Jon Foreman album is worth your time.

7. A Christian culture that puts all the stress on belief, which cannot be seen, and has very little expectation of change in Christ-likeness this side of heaven, will inevitably create lots of Ravi Zachariases.

8. We do not sin just because we did not believe the gospel in one situation. It is more true that we sin because we did not believe the gospel of God’s kingdom for 10,000 situations leading up to that one situation.

9. It is true we should be concerned about the damage scandal can do to the church’s witness in the world. But not more so than the damage done to actual persons. You see, it was concern about the good he did in spreading the gospel that kept many from looking into the allegations and believing those he victimized. Being more worried about the scandal than the damage done is really being more concerned about getting caught and less about the actual wrong done. Evangelism is not more important than how we treat others. When we treat it as such, we are at odds with the Scriptures and reality itself.

10. You can actually walk with Jesus, you know? And when you do, you get a great deal of the “on earth as it is in heaven” we pray for and long for. But you really have to want it no matter the cost.

Random Thoughts for the Weekend

1. The scriptures are windows that look out into the real world. If you are not looking out of those windows, not only will you not see the real world, but you will not want to be involved in it. You will want the world of mercurial wealth and political power and plastic entertainment without the beauty of reality.

2. When you strain a friendship with another believer because of your affection for a person who does not know you exist –– politician, pundit, entertainer, preacher –– you are not living according to the dictates of reality. And that of course is not a good strategy for living.

3. Cancel culture is like dodgeball. It’s not that we don’t like dodgeball. It’s that we don’t like taking that big red rubber ball to the face. We love pegging someone else, though.

4. Money is not the security you think it is. Because the more you have, the more you want and think you need. That’s why Dylan said, “Money doesn’t talk, it swears.”

5. When we read the Gospels we are reading about the smartest person who ever lived. He understands how to move around in this world better than anyone. After all, he created it. Therefore, his commands are instructions are the smartest way to live in the world he created.

6. I think the transgender movement started with the very thing it is destroying: empowerment.

7. Once you are a follower of Jesus, being a sinner is not a very good excuse for bad behavior.

8. Marriage advice: When you get frustrated with your spouse, remember the lack of frustration in the beginning. When Bethany and I first started dating, I would have done almost anything for her without even being asked. I would have volunteered to clean her bathroom, move heavy furniture around, and paint the Empire State Building if she wanted it done. You would have done the same for your spouse, probably. When I remember this, it sure does make it easier to wash those pots and pans.

9. The reason Jesus said it is hard for a rich man to enter into the kingdom heaven is if you are covered up in money it is hard to know the value of Jesus and his kingdom. It’s not impossible but it is so hard because you can fix all your so-called problems with your own power and that tempts you to think your own kingdom is just fine, thank you very much.

10. May we never think a handshake or a hug is small thing again.

The Ugliness of Social Media

“Finally brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable—if there is any moral excellence and if there is anything praiseworthy—dwell on these things.”

A couple evenings ago, I found myself once again on Twitter, scrolling through the news and events of the day looking for something interesting to either read or think about. Like you, I often have something in mind, I am looking for and just hoping that desire will be filled. This time I was looking for something “beautiful.” Something with light at its core. Hope? (That now feels foolish and looks foolish as I reread it.)

I found what I was looking for but not in the way I expected.

What I found was a thread of tweets in which a young woman was railing against a particular theologian.

This was not beautiful. What I read was so ugly in its viciousness, I am struggling to find words for what I was saw. Here was this beautiful young woman, a believer, spewing angry, malicious bile toward another believer. The wrath was not born of a personal interaction but was because of a difference of beliefs over a number of issues.

Now you may be thinking, “Matt is thinking this way because the anger was directed at a theologian he cares for and loves.” Actually, that is not the case. The opposite is true. I do not care for this theologian’s writings at all and I have found their tone and approach combative to a fault.

Maybe it was because of what I was looking for but I was so shook by the ugliness of what I was reading, I immediately turned Twitter off and have not been back since. The Venus de Milo vomiting would not be more ugly than this.

I know your curiosity is piqued and you are dying to know who the individuals involved are. But you will most likely not find out. I do not follow either party via any social media platform and the only reason I saw all this was a person I did (but now no longer) follow “retweeted” this onto my timeline.

A number of years ago I told my wife that our culture’s free use of gross language would infect our culture and change the way we interact with other. In others words, the freedom we feel to publicly discuss what is reserved for the bathroom (and bedroom) will free us up to speak freely about everything. If what our culture has for a long time considered offensive language is now rendered fair game, we should assume our culture will be more free with personal malicious insults. I have seen this within myself.

Less than an hour later I was reading something so beautiful, nature would have had to fight hard to compete. The difference was so stark. I was glad to have found something beautiful but the contrast was unnerving for reasons I have yet to understand.

I do not know what to do with Twitter and Facebook. People are there. But I am ashamed of what I saw. I felt like I was guilty of something simply by reading the digital tirade. And that is far too often what social media is –– a digital tirade and a foul one at that. Full of the ugliest language and dispositions to others who are made in the image of God. Full of denouncements, clever and cruel. Full of brutality and ridicule. Most everyone is mad and assumes the worst of people they have never met.

And these are the people I agree with on most issues.

Is it worth it? Is it worth it to have a “faithful presence” on social media?

I don’t know.

All I know is that such ugliness left a terrible taste in my mouth and I actually hope I never recover.

Does the Church Need the Power of the Government?

Yesterday during a run, I was listening to a talk by Dallas Willard he had given at a conference back in 2012. The conference was all about living as Disciples who rely on the Spirit of God to “live the life we were meant to live in his kingdom.”

The fact is that far too many have no desire to live the life we were meant to live in the kingdom of God. They prefer the kingdoms of this world. They prefer for their power to come from places of position. They live according to the things they can see (2 Cor. 4:18). And this is true for the right and the left.

And this can be seen in all the fear and anxiety among confessing Christians. We, the people of God, given the Scriptures and the Spirit should be, more than any group in our culture, responding without fear and anxiety.

But we do respond in fear and anxiety.

And we do so because we think power and influence come from a position in the kingdoms of this world.

This is worth reflecting on at great length. I will let Dallas have the last word:

We are concerned with the life of the Spirit as it affects living in our cities and how we can bring the presence of the kingdom of God and King Jesus into our cities as a vivid and real presence. You do want to remember that that is something that has been done. It isn’t like it has never been done. It has been done repeatedly and we can do that again…

…our problem is how we understand who we are together with God where we are. If we understand that the call is to be the people of God throughout our communities in all our connections and to confront whatever there is to be confronted…

We can accomplish the kind of life we are talking about and bring it to other people. But we must intend to do it…

We have to intend to lead this kind of life in the Spirit where the obvious outcome of that is obedience. We simply do the things that Jesus said…

Now all of this depends upon the internal life of the churches. It doesn’t depend on anything outside of that. If you have individuals and groups that decide to do this, they can do it.

It doesn’t depend on the government. Pro or con.

See, that’s one of the things we want to remember about our history as a people of Christ is that the government has never been able to do anything about us one way or the other. And in fact the church has normally been at its best when it had the least support from outside and even when it had the most severe opposition from the outside.

Leading this kind of life of obedience in the Spirit does not depend on the economy.

It doesn’t depend upon the educational system or the popular culture.

And of the things that is often over done in our world today with people who are serious about their Christianity and want to do something, is to spend too much time complaining about the opposition. Let the opposition be what it is. And of course it makes a difference but it doesn’t stop the church.

The people of Christ are operating from a different kingdom. They have resources, guidance, connections that this world has nothing to do with. And learning to live in that individually and in groups and relying on that enables us to see that everything we need to do is laid out right there in the Scriptures and has repeatedly emerged in history.”

Random Thoughts for the Weekend

1. We should be constantly amazed that Jesus as King is always providing unending life to those who were his enemies. And to those who are still his enemies.

2. Most of the Scriptures are calculated to convince us God will provide and care for us even though we cannot see him. Which is why we hear the refrain over and over, “Do not be afraid.”

3. Fill yourself with songs and passages that will sustain you if you are ever imprisoned for your faith. That way, even if you are never imprisoned, you still have them when life does not go the way you think it should.

4. I keep thinking about Paul’s statement, “In him (Christ) are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” So, you want wisdom? Go to Christ in the Scriptures. You want knowledge? There are treasures of knowledge in Jesus.

5. Old music can be just as good for you as old books when it comes to help in thinking differently about the world around you.

6. I’ve been reading these missionary biographies that were written for kids – one right after the other – for a few weeks now. The stories and the books themselves are reminders that I do not need a sophisticated faith.

7. In a chaotic world, where people rarely listen, only react, “Let your reasonableness be known to everyone,” is brilliant teaching…brilliant in many ways.

8. I would like a life that does not make much sense without prayer.

9. Jesus rarely, if ever, did anything the way I would have done them.

10. It is no small thing to believe Christ is your shepherd. But small things will keep you from believing it.

(Not so) Random Thoughts for the Weekend

1. Those who place their hopes and fears in politicians will always be disappointed.

2. We should expect disagreement without insult and contempt from those who follow Jesus.

3. Dallas Willard believes love for enemies is a sure sign of discipleship.

4. For many it can be hard to imagine evaluating anything political with the kingdom of the heavens at the center.

5. Do you even want to take the time to understand why someone would think differently than you on an any given issue?

6. Jesus is not a consolation prize when your candidate loses.

7. Look, you don’t have to agree with a guy like John Piper on everything but he is one of those who shouldn’t have to die before he is given his due respect with a good thoughtful listen.

8. When we disagree on theology or politics, we need a category of, “I am not where you are on this issue but I can see why you would believe that and that is a reasonable position to take.”

9. If you are in a position in which you want the opposing candidate to make mistakes and commit sins so that it is easier for your candidate to win, you have forgotten the gospel.

10. The news stations and news websites and newspapers are in the business of making disciples also.

Random Thoughts for the Weekend

1. “Loving your (political) enemies” is an important command for us because it calls us to love those we disagree with and who wish us harm.

2. Up until about a 75 years ago, philosophy and theology were the main disciplines for understanding human behavior and getting direction for how a person should live. Now psychology dominates that field. Freud and Jung are given more ground that Aristotle and Augustine. And Jesus is a nonstarter. And this is true for many Christians.

3. If hatred and fear and contempt are how we respond to what is happening in the news then our real enemies are winning.

4. And so what should we do in this world that is becoming so at odds with our convictions? What do we do when this new left cancels those of us who name the name of Christ and believe a person cannot change their gender?

We love them. Having confidence that God will care for us because he is our shepherd and loves us, we love them with the same determined love. We do not ridicule them and look on them with contempt. We love them. We look evil in the eye, yes. But we also look into the eyes who wish us evil and we look at them with love. Of course if you have not practiced doing that now when things are easy, you will not be able to do when it is hard.

5. Faith is not opposed to knowledge. Faith is opposed to the need for sight.

6. We’re planning on building a fire in the fire pit tonight and I’m looking forward to it like your kids look forward to Disney World.

7. The hardest part of my day is lying in bed at night, trying to keep reading while also struggling to keep my eyes open.

8. “Each one hopes that if he feeds the crocodile enough, the crocodile will eat him last. All of them hope that the storm will pass before their turn comes to be devoured.” – Winston Churchill, January 20, 1940

9. Something is wrong with sports in western culture.

10. On the “right side of history” is a cross.

8 Practices of Peace For the Election Season

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. – John 14:27

“Grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning.” – Dallas Willard

I tell most of my clients the same story.

I think I was playing intramural softball while a student at Auburn. It could’ve been when I was playing in a church league while in Seminary. I can’t remember. Regardless, I was playing the position where I felt the most comfortable – shortstop. A hard hit ground-ball was hit my way and I was able to backhand it, but I ended up on my back in the dirt. Without even thinking, I threw in the direction of first base and somehow got the hitter out. I never even got the chance to look at the first baseman before throwing the ball. Someone asked me, “How did you do that?!” I just smiled and said, “No idea.” I really didn’t know at the time. But now I know.

Practice.

I had spent so much time over the years – since I was a young kid – at shortstop, practicing a throw from that part of the field to the first baseman, that it was now natural. So even in a difficult situation like the one during that game, I could naturally make that play. That doesn’t mean I always would. But the practice made it possible. Practice may not make perfect, but does it make what we need to do in a given situation more natural.

The election season is almost always crazy. But this year is something else entirely. It seems like the nation is tearing itself in two. Anger and anxiety are the order of the day. And it’s everywhere. It seems like the country has lost its collective mind.

So how do Christians stay “sane” during this time? How do we not get mixed up in the craziness of it all? How do we stay faithful despite the chaos and circumstances? How do we experience peace apart from what is happening around us?

I actually believe we as a culture have practices and habits that lend themselves toward anxiety and anger. We “practice” worry and we “practice” anger throughout our days and so they become habits we instinctively live out. They become so much a part of our lives we don’t even notice them. They are natural.

But that does not have to be the case. We can form new habits through different practices so that peace becomes far more natural than it presently is. But it will require effort and it will not be easy. You will have to want the peace that Jesus offers more than anything.

Below are 8 practices you can do that will help you have more peace during this election season (and beyond). This is not an exhaustive list. And you do not have have to do all of these to move towards peace. But these will help you practice peace. And if you stick with them enough, instead of anxiety and anger during the election season, you will find peace more natural. These practices may not make you perfect but you just might find yourself living out the peace that “surpasses all understanding” in such a way that someone asks, “How did you do that?”

1. Minimize your news intake. The more news you watch, the more you are likely to think about the election. The problem is the news is not there to help you. Unlike Jesus, Who came to announce the good news of his kingdom, the news trades in bad news. All news sources are calculated to make you angry and anxious so you will click on or turn on whatever will continue the cycle of you being angry and anxious. Paul tells us, “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” That’s good advice in the days leading up to an election that has been and most likely will continue to be uncharacteristically ugly.

2. Limit your social media intake. You may be very good at not arguing on Facebook and Twitter. But let’s face it, sometimes someone says something so ridiculous, even if you show Olympic-worthy self control and say nothing to them, your blood still boils. Sometimes it’s a friend. Sometimes it’s a family member. And sometimes it is someone you do not even know – they only follow you because years ago they thought you were a famous Christian singer. Maybe that’s just me. Regardless, spend more time away form social media. Or if you struggle to stay away, don’t feel guilty about snoozing those people for 30 days.

3. Don’t talk politics if you don’t have to. This can be hard if only because every time people get together they feel like they have to talk about the election and politics. Politics for many is religion. And for others it’s sport. But you do not have to play or attend every argument or discussion about the election. Change the subject. Go to the bathroom. Or simply tell them you need a break from politics.

4. Surround yourself with like-minded believers. Find a group of people who are seeking the same peace you are. Then make a pact that you will not discuss the election for a period of time. Instead, talk about what God is doing in your life or in the lives of others. Or heck, talk about football and music and food. When you read the New Testament, it’s clear those followers of Jesus had to be careful. The Empire was not really their friend. In fact, the authorities were actively working against the Church. And yet, the letters we have are almost completely silent on the goings-on of politicians. Maybe we should be too.

5. Maximize your time in the Scriptures. The Scriptures have a way of reminding us God “removes kings and sets up kings.” The Bible is a window into a world very different than the one politicians and journalists sell us. It is a world where what is unseen is more important and lasting than the seen world. It is a world where Jesus reigns, grace is real power, and forgiveness is possible. Spend more time in the Scriptures than in the news and social media, so your mind is full of the unseen realities of The King and his Kingdom.

6. Remind yourself who is King. This is going to sound crazy but it’s time for you to put your phone to good use – I want you to ask Siri (and/or Alexa) to set an hourly reminder on your phone that is simply, “We have a King and a Kingdom.” Now you have a reminder throughout the day that Jesus is King and he has made us citizens of a kingdom that is not of this world. The news anchors totally ignore this kingdom and it’s politics of love, joy, and contentment whatever the circumstances. Hang up signs in your home. Whatever you do, surround yourself with reminders that you live in a real kingdom, and unlike the kingdoms of this world, his kingdom will never end.

7. Pray for those on “the other side.” If you have a side in this election, that means there are people on “the other side.” And those people may hate you and all you stand for. They may want to “cancel” you and they may think canceling you is right and good. They may call you names and want only harm to come to you. Pray for them anyway. Jesus was pretty clear on this when he said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” This command is not easy, but Jesus, Who knows more about this world and how to live in it better than anyone, would only tell us to do this if it was the best way to live in this world he created. So we should not be surprised if when we pray for those on “the other side,” we then find ourselves less anxious and angry and more joyous. This is the surest path to loving our “enemies.”

8. Fast and pray. I honestly don’t know of anything more effective in getting my whole self focused on Jesus in the midst of difficulty than fasting. And election seasons are always fraught with difficulty. But when I fast from food (which I love with the force of a thousand armies) I am reminded of how I need to “taste and see that the LORD is good.” Every time I feel those hunger pains and the steering wheel looks like a pizza, I have to ask myself if I am confident Jesus is better than food. Through fasting and prayer I have learned in a way I would have otherwise not known, there is a sustenance in following Christ the world knows nothing about. But you don’t have to fast from food. You can fast from social media, the news, TV – really anything, that if you do without it, the difficulty will direct you toward remembering the goodness of Jesus, our King.

May the peace of God guard our hearts and minds during this crazy election season.

Random Thoughts for the Weekend

1. The American church, so drunk on politics, it can conceive of nothing other than full celebratory support or ridicule and hatred, is in complete disobedience. The call to “Honor the Emperor” and pray “for kings and all those who are in authority” is a nonstarter. “We the people” has sunk so far down into our hearts that not only do we not want the kings of England, but we now only want the King of kings as a consolation prize if things do not go well here.

2. It breaks my heart every time I read about Betsie praying for the German pilots as they are bombing Betsie and Corrie’s hometown.

3. There is no passage or Scripture in the NT where Jesus, Paul, John, or anyone else heaps guilt on anyone else for their lack of evangelism. Go look. It’s not there. But the call to discipleship and make disciples is clear. Maybe if we lived a life that actually reflected the life of Jesus as followers of him, we would have to explain our actions and ideas to those who do not understand them. And this seems to be the picture in the New Testament. So I assume that if we seek to be disciples and make disciples, then maybe the end for which we aim in evangelism would be achieved and far more.

4. I could be wrong but my guess is that mot people watch political debates only to build up their arsenal of complaints so as to justify an already formed opinion.

5. Jesus offers a joy and a peace that cannot be touched by whatever it is you fear about politicians and their agendas.

6. I miss teaching and preaching.

7. Classical music forces you to listen differently than popular modern music. And I think that difference causes you to listen more actively . You hear patterns and ideas and sometimes whole stories in the music. Whereas in popular modern music those are handed to you ready-made.

8. My parents got married in a neighbor’s living room before my dad headed back to Germany. It was not instagramable and very little money was spent. And yet I have yet to know of a better and more beautiful marriage then theirs. So not much work on the wedding but a lot of work on the marriage would be a revolution I could get behind.

9. I keep seeing people say, “If you don’t vote, you can’t complain.” Paul says to “do everything without complaining and arguing.” I would assume that includes voting.

10. Memorization changes the furniture of your mind. And what you have memorized is what your thoughts will use to make sense of the world. So if you memorize the lines of movies and TV shows, that is the furniture of your mind. And if you memorize passages of Scripture, that will be the furniture of you mind. If will also help you make sense of what is real and unreal. What is meaningful and not. What is truly powerful and not.

Random Thoughts for the Weekend

1. One of the reasons we follow Jesus is he loved us with a love like no other. One of the ways we follow Jesus is to love others with a love like no other.

2. Just as discouragement takes on many forms and comes at us in many ways, the “cure” can be just as varied. Sometimes I need a hike. Sometimes I need extended times of prayer. At other times, time with my kids. Sometimes, time away from them! A sandwich, a cup of coffee, or a good nap can also help. I need this reminder – in his goodness God lavishes upon us many good things.

3. The reason we are so shocked about the news of Ravi Zacharias is our expectations for discipleship are so low.

4. Repentance, by logic, demands a desire for change. So if all of life is repentance as Luther said, then all of life should be a desire for change.

5. When I was in High School, I discovered punk rock music. The Ramones. The Clash. Man, once I heard The Clash, I thought I had discovered a sound I had been listening to all my life. I loved that raw sound and the palpable energy. I understood their frustrations and their way of looking at the absurdities of life. My parents were afraid. And I understood it then and even more now why. Music is powerful. And it can be dangerous. And this music was dangerous because it pushed against the conventional wisdom of the day. But there was not much for Robert and Wanda to fear. Even then as a kid I thought punk rock suited the message of Jesus more than Sandi Patty. Now as I approach the age of 49, more than ever, I still do. Jesus stands against the conventional ways of thinking and living these days. The world says put all your trust on the seen things: your 401K, your looks, elections, etc. Jesus says to trust in the unseen and pursue the unseen Kingdom of the heavens. Of course, punk thrived on anger and now anger is the status quo. So, maybe the most “punk rock” thing we can do these days is love our neighbor and be kind to them the same way Jesus did. Maybe the most “punk rock” thing we can do these days is obey him without fear of what the world thinks of us and what we lose in the following.

6. I teach a class (via zoom) through Dallas Willard’s Divine Conspiracy and I am seeing a theme I have never noticed in all my other readings: letting go of control and giving it to God. Whatever it is. Think about it. So much anger and anxiety and distrust and fighting and contempt come from an inability to trust God and let go of outcomes. this is true all way from parenting and marriage to elections and geopolitics.

7. A truncated gospel of only forgiveness of sins will inevitable lead to a church full of those who look for life in sports and politics. And those two will inevitably bleed over into each other.

8. Don’t you want a peace, a contentment, and a joy that is real and lived despite your circumstances?

9. Kindness is one of those few things enjoyed in the giving and in the receiving. And the more this is done, the more plentiful it becomes. But it is still often rare.

10. “What would you live like if you had died/And been reborn with a second chance to live?/Would you loose your fear of being dead/And be afraid of something else instead?” – Jon Foreman

I think about these lyrics all the time and I am pretty sure Jon is thinking about Colossians 3:3, which says, “For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” I cannot stop thinking about that.