There are many voices out there right now giving their expert opinions, talking about if our country is falling apart and divided, Hillary vs Trump, racism, the state of the public school system in this country, the economy, terrorism, and if I should download the Pokemon GO... And the list could keep going.
I am very hesitant to add my un-expert opinions to the sea of opinions—you know what they say about opinions, even expert opinions.
So I won't add mine.
Instead, I want to share three things that are helping me navigate all the political chaos, the racial and social upheaval, and other happenings going on in this country and globally.
Pray Continually... Morning. Noon. Night.
This is something I've been practicing for years, but within the last few years it's finally becoming somewhat natural to me. There are a couple of verses that I have continually churning in my mind to help me remember to pray...
"do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer, and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God." —Philippians 4:6
"Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." —1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
I have found, especially during times like now, a conversation with the Lord helps me calm down and focus. It helps bring clarity to my thinking and helps me discern the many voices trying to speak into my heart, mind, and soul. Clear thinking and discernment help you know the Shepherd's voice from the Wolf's howl. Without clarity and discernment, the two voices can sometimes sound the same. And that's the things about evil, rarely does it sound like evil or take the appearance of evil. Prayer helps you distinguish between the two and helps you react appropriately.
When evil rears it's ugly head, it is easy to lose focus and react in fear or anger. For many of us, our initial instinct is to react through these two emotions first because they're tangible, decisive, and immediate. Prayer is also tangible, decisive, and immediate. Although often times we don't think so, because we are wanting God to answer OUR prayers our way and not his way. And the thing about prayer, is it's about seeking God's will and not our own. It's about knowing what to do in God's way and in his timetable. Prayer informs our soul that God is in charge and not us. We see that nothing gets by God—nothing fools him. Prayer has a way of bringing humility to our hearts and helps us know our limitations, and our utter dependency on God.
One last things about prayer—praying once a day, like only in the morning, doesn't cut it. If I only talk to my wife once a day, do you think we will have a healthy, solid, and intimate relationship? Will I know her heart and will she know mine? No. It's the same with praying to God! Prayer is about spending time with God so we can get to know his heart and we get to share ours with him. Also, in the passages I previously mentioned about prayer, the Apostle Paul tells us to, "but in everything by prayer..." and to "pray without ceasing..." So don't cheapen your relationship with God by talking with him once in awhile. It's not hard to talk with God all the time—there is no magic formula, right words, or special places... You talk to with God just as you are, in your owns words, in any place and at any time.
Yep. You love people, and I don't mean just the people you like or the people who share you political opinions, or people who look like you. You know, the people who are easy for you to love. Jesus wants us to love all people, even our enemies. Read Matthew 5:43-48.
Let me say right here and right now—loving your enemies doesn't mean you have to like them, agree with them, hangout with them, or even tolerate them.
To love everyone or as Jesus put it, "To love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 22:34-40) means you wish them know the love that God has for them. You wish they would know of God's redeeming love and his heart for them to be reconciled to him—to have a relationship with him. It also means that you leave ultimate judgment and justice to God. After all, don't we all deserve God's judgment and justice—getting what we truly deserve, but because of Jesus Christ, I am now free from condemnation, judgment, and wrath.
"...that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us." —2 Corinthians 5:19-20
God wants to use you to be ambassadors of reconciliation, not guilt or shame—guilt and shame come from the destroyer, Satan. Something to know about being an ambassador of reconciliation. It is not your job to convict, convince, change or chose the people you share the message with. God does that. He just ask's you to be available. This means you get to love people the best way YOU know how. If you are a good cook, make them something to eat. Speak kind and encouraging words to them. If you have a nice smile, don't hide it—give them a smile. If you are handy with tools, fix something for them. If you can wave, then wave at them. You know what you can do, and if you don't then ask the Lord to show you how to love them. Love them like you want to be loved. I have found loving people I disagree with the most brings a greater peace to my heart than the people it is easy for me to love.
Like my friend Brian Mavis says,
"Love Jesus and love like him."
This one I have found to be a little harder for me to do than the other two. It's not that I am not a thankful person—I am thankful for a lot of things, my wife, my kids, my church family, being a pastor, my friends—I could keep going. I am thankful! It's just I am not thankful for everything. Especially for the difficulties in my life. Like many, I sometimes fall for the lie that life is supposed to be comfortable. Life should go my way. Life should be easy, yeah there are difficulties, but these difficulties shouldn't occupy space in my life—they have no right to be there. Life should be fair or at least the way I think fair should be. It should be free from trouble, trials, and tribulation. After all followers of Jesus have been delivered from these things—right? Jesus gave us victory over these right? There is teaching out there that if you are a Christian, you will know if God's blessing is upon you if you are free from sickness, disease, poverty, and pain (every type of pain—physical, emotional, and spiritual). These lies come straight from the father of all lies, Satan. In fact Jesus said the opposite—just read the whole New Testament (I ain't got time or space to list all of the passages).
The reality is we are participants in this fallen and broken world. And because of this fact, we will experience the affects of a decaying and dying world—all of humanity suffers from it; some more than others. Is it unfair—yes it is! This is not God's plan or desire for you and for me—it was never how he intended things to be! Interesting thing about pain and suffering, Through these I have learned about God's heart for me and for those who are distant from him. I have learned to appreciate the good things in life and not take those moments or things for granted. I have learned to stop doing destructive and hurtful things to myself and to those around me. I have learned to empathize with those who are hurting, suffering, and in need love. I have learned that there is a better and greater way to this life. I have learned to love Jesus and love like him. I have learned to be thankful in everything and in all circumstances (Philippians 4:6 & 1 Thessalonians 5:18). Especially when life is difficult.
Do I do this perfectly? No. But I am thankful for God's renewed mercies everyday!
"The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness." —Lamentations 3:22-23
With each new day and new mercies I get to know God even better and even closer than I did the day before—he gives me a second chance. For that I am thankful!
What have these three things things done for me? They have helped me know deep within my soul that Jesus is my hope and salvation. This world is only temporary, there is no man, woman, or government that can provide either of these to its fullest or truest extend. Fear, hate, and injustice have no room in God's economy. God's people are to flee evil and run towards righteousness. We are to have hearts of grace, mercy, peace, and forgiveness. We are to act justly, love kindness, be people of humility (Micah 6:8); despite what's going on around us—no matter the outcome of elections, verdicts, or the latest tweet. And I know the greatest force in the universe is God's love for me, in me, and through me which he demonstrated through the person of Jesus Christ.
And no, I won't download the Pokemon GO app. All I need is another distraction.