ARE WE TOO CONTENT?

The Father loves his Son and has put everything into his hands. And anyone who believes in God’s Son has eternal life. Anyone who doesn’t obey the Son will never experience eternal life but remains under God’s angry judgment. [John 3:35-36 (NLT)]

For, there is one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus. He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone. [1 Timothy 2:5-6a (NLT)]

leopard lacewing butterflyYesterday, when writing about discontent, I realized there is one area in our lives about which Christians are too content. It appears that we’re quite content to keep our salvation and God’s grace to ourselves and allow others to miss that grace and experience eternity in Hell.

Malala Yousafzai is the Pakistani girl who, because of her outspoken passion for girls’ education, was shot in the head by the Taliban in 2012. Last month, when reading her autobiography, I am Malala, I couldn’t help but compare the author’s dedication to her cause with Christian complacency. This courageous young woman began her campaign at the age of eleven and, in spite of death threats, continues today. At the age of sixteen, just nine months after being attacked, she addressed the United Nations and urged world leaders to take action against illiteracy, poverty, and terrorism. The following year, because of her crusade for all children’s right to an education and her fight against the suppression of children and young people, Malala became the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace prize. As I read her story, I was continually impressed by this Muslim girl’s faith, courage and dedication to her cause. I couldn’t help but feel guilty about my lackadaisical attitude about evangelism. For the most part, we Christians seem quite content to leave Jesus’s message unheard. Would that we all were as passionate about salvation as Malala is about education!

When Jesus gave us what’s known as “The Great Commission,” He was commanding, not suggesting. He expects our faith to take action. If a young girl, living in a restrictive society, has courage enough to speak out and defy terrorists, we should be able to speak about Jesus in our free nation. We don’t have to stand on street corners handing out tracts or go half-way around the world on a mission trip. We just need to open our eyes to the opportunities around us and speak with people, one on one, as Jesus did with people like Nicodemus and the woman at the well. As content as we might be with our circle of Christian friends, perhaps it’s time to take a few steps out of that circle. We could start by walking across the street and inviting a neighbor to church. A personal invitation from someone they knew is the most frequent reason given for a first-time visitor at a church.

Not resting on her laurels, Malala continues to raise her voice on behalf of the millions of girls who are denied the right to an education. If we truly believe that salvation is in Christ alone and not in our own goodness, works, rites, crystals or anything else, why do we remain silent when there are many who will be denied eternal life through Christ? Let us never forget that Jesus is not an option, an accessory, or an alternative. Not one of the ways, He is the only way. Are we content to keep Him to ourselves and go to heaven alone?

Don’t go to heaven alone Take someone that you know;
Friends and neighbors in sin Are you trying to win?
Your home is in heaven ’tis true But heaven was made for them too;
So don’t go to heaven alone Take somebody with you.
[“Don’t Go to Heaven Alone (Take Somebody with You)” (Gorden Jensen)]

Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” [Matthew 28:18-20 (NLT)]

And then he told them, “Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone. Anyone who believes and is baptized will be saved. But anyone who refuses to believe will be condemned. [Mark 16:15-16 NLT)]

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DISCONTENT

Keep a sharp eye out for weeds of bitter discontent. A thistle or two gone to seed can ruin a whole garden in no time. Watch out for the Esau syndrome: trading away God’s lifelong gift in order to satisfy a short-term appetite. You well know how Esau later regretted that impulsive act and wanted God’s blessing—but by then it was too late, tears or no tears. [Hebrews 12:15-17 (MSG)]

Discontent is the first necessity of progress. [Thomas A. Edison]

snowy egretA certain amount of discontent seems to be built into us, which isn’t all bad. It can be creative and the source of change and improvement. Dissatisfaction with the harpsichord’s inability to vary the intensity of its sound led Bartolomeo Cristofori to invent the piano around 1708. Benjamin Franklin’s annoyance at having to switch between two pairs of glasses led to his invention of bifocals and it probably was his discontent with a cold house that led to his invention of the metal-lined Franklin stove. Discontent with the traditional wheelbarrow is what led James Dyson to reinvent it as a Ballbarrow using a rust-proof plastic bin and a ball-shaped shock-absorbing wheel that wouldn’t sink into soft soil or sand!

Discontent with harsh taxes and lack of representation in Parliament is what led to the Revolutionary War and the formation of our nation. The abolitionist, women’s suffrage, environmental, anti-apartheid, and civil rights movements were the result of social discontent. Jesus certainly was discontent with much He found in Judah and He made His feelings known to the Pharisees and scribes. God wants us to be dissatisfied with sin, injustice, inequity, intolerance, discrimination, malice, and evil. Constructive discontent is far better than self-righteous satisfaction.

While God wants us to be discontent with the wrongs in our world, He doesn’t want us to be people of discontent. Focusing on the petty frustrations or material things of life leads us to the land of “if only:” if only we had a larger house, a prettier wife, a richer husband, brighter children, a better body, nicer in-laws or more money, power, or influence. The grass always seems greener in the land of “if only.”

Why is it so difficult to be content with God’s blessings? Eve was in a paradise and yet, in spite of all she had in Eden, she wanted something more. Discontent is what led Esau to trade his birthright for stew, David to desire Bathsheba, Sarah to give Hagar to Abraham, the prodigal to ask for his inheritance, the Israelites to complain incessantly to Moses, the angels to rebel against God, Miriam and Aaron to criticize Moses, and Korah to protest the leadership of Moses and Aaron. Things didn’t end well for any of them!

Discontent is the enemy’s voice telling us we deserve more and better. Like a slap in God’s face, our discontent tells God He made a mistake and His mercies and gifts aren’t enough. It makes us think we know better than God and that our plan makes more sense than His.

When in elementary school, I remember the teacher’s admonition to keep our eyes on our own papers. That remains good advice today only, instead, of our schoolwork, we need to keep our eyes on the gifts God has given us rather than what He may have given to others. There always will be someone who has more or better and some place where the grass looks greener. Looking at others’ papers during a test was cheating but looking at others’ lives can lead to discontent and envy (and that’s sinning!)

Satan loves to fish in the troubled waters of a discontented heart. [Thomas Watson]

You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought. … You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world. [Matthew 5:5,8 (MSG)]

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IT CONTINUES [THE HOLY WAR – Part 2]

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. [John 10:10 (RSV)]

Lucerne - city wallMankind falls within the first few pages of Genesis as does Mansoul within the first few pages of John Bunyan’s allegory The Holy War. Resembling real life, Bunyan’s King Shaddai sends his son, Prince Emmanuel, to rescue the fallen city. Under Diabolus and his minions Lord Will-be-will and Misters Lustings, Forget-good, No-truth and Unbelief, Mansoul refuses to listen to Shaddai’s captains. The gates to the city are double-locked and Mr. Prejudice and his band of Deafmen guard Ear-gate (the most likely place the King’s forces will try to enter). Nevertheless, Prince Emmanuel delivers Mansoul from the tyranny of Diabolus, Mansoul repents, and Emmanuel forgives. The story, however, is far from over because Diabolus is not done with Mansoul.

Just as the Israelites failed to rid the land of Canaanites and idolatry, Mansoul failed to rid the city of the many Diabolonians who remained in strongholds after Emmanuel’s victory. Lords Blasphemy, Adultery, and Mischief along with Misters Profane and Deceit plot Mansoul’s destruction. Mr. Self-secure misleads Mansoul into thinking it is strong and invincible, beyond the reach of any foe, and not dependent on Emmanuel. Diabolus returns with his army of Doubters and assaults Ear-Gate with incessant drumming. Captains Brimstone and Sepulcher are placed at Nose-Gate; the grim faced Past-Hope at Eye-Gate; and Captains Cruel, Torment, and No-Ease at Feel-gate. Diabolus seeks to fill Mouth-gate, the voice of prayer, with dirt. The town resists but its gates are weak. Diabolus and his Doubters again take possession of the city; this time, however, they cannot take the castle, the heart of Mansoul. On the third day, Emmanuel returns to them and Diabolus and his Doubters are routed from the town. The city again seeks to rid itself of any remaining Diabolonians such a Misters Mistrust, Flesh, Sloth, Legal-life, and Self-love. Mister Unbelief, however, is far too nimble to be caught and Carnal-sense escapes from prison.

Bunyan’s allegory is more than a story of man’s fall and redemption; it tells of the continuing conflict between good and evil for the possession of man’s soul. Starting with innocence, followed by temptation, sin, and repentance, the story doesn’t end there. Sadly, there is more temptation and sin followed by more repentance. With Unbelief and Carnal-sense still at large, the reader is left to believe that will not be the last time temptation and sin rear their ugly heads.

In Emmanuel’s final commission to Mansoul, he warns them not to live by their senses but by his Word. When explaining why Diabolonians are allowed to exist, he says, “It is to keep you awake, to test your love, to make you watchful… My design is that they should drive you, not further off, but nearer to my Father, to teach you war, to make petitioning desirable to you, and to make you little in your own eyes.” He adds, “Love me against temptation, and I will love you notwithstanding your infirmities … I have taught you to watch, to fight, to pray, and to make war against my foes, so now I command you to believe that my love is constant to you.”

For though we live in the world we are not carrying on a worldly war, for the weapons of our warfare are not worldly but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle to the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete. [2 Corinthians 10:3-6 (RSV)]

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GUARD YOUR GATES [THE HOLY WAR – Part 1]

He burned down the Temple of the Lord, the royal palace, and all the houses of Jerusalem. He destroyed all the important buildings in the city. Then he supervised the entire Babylonian army as they tore down the walls of Jerusalem on every side. [2 Kings 25:9-10 (NLT)]

Schoonhoven - city gate

Jerusalem was heavily fortified and completely protected by walls over thirty-nine feet high and eight feet thick. In 586 BC, the Babylonian forces of King Nebuchadnezzar breached those seemingly impregnable walls and Jerusalem was burned, the city’s walls torn down, and the people taken captive. The city’s walls were rebuilt by Nehemiah 141 years later but they were again breached in 70 AD by the Romans who destroyed the city, demolished the second Temple, and massacred much of the population.

Published in 1682, John Bunyan’s allegory The Holy War tells of another fortified city’s fall. Bunyan’s walled city of Mansoul had five gates: Eye-gate, Ear-gate, Mouth-gate, Nose-gate and Feel-gate. Rather than Babylonians or Romans, Mansoul’s enemy was Diabolus. Unlike Jerusalem’s, Mansoul’s gates could not be breached or opened from the outside. They could only be forced if someone within the city allowed it. In short, sin could only enter if someone permitted its entrance. Diabolus and his then invisible army sat down in front of Ear-gate and assaulted it with fraud, guile, and hypocrisy. With the deaths of Captain Resistance and Lord Innocence, the townspeople looked at the tree of forbidden fruit, tasted it, forgot their good King Shaddai, opened both Ear and Eye-gate, and Mansoul came under the rule of Diabolus.

The Holy War is a none too subtle allegory that makes its point: walled cities can fall and city gates can be breached, if not from the outside, then from within. Like the city of Mansoul, sin will tempt and try to seduce us but it can’t force its way into our lives; it only enters by invitation. We alone are the ones who determine what we look at, hear, touch, feel, smell, say and do. Satan didn’t force Eve to eat that fruit, Cain to kill Abel, Jacob to deceive his father, the Israelites to worship a golden calf, Samson to dally with Delilah, David to take Bathsheba, Jonah to run away from Nineveh, King Ahaz to sacrifice his son, Herod to decapitate John, Judas to betray Jesus, or Peter to deny Him. These people freely opened their gates to temptation and allowed sin entrance into their lives.

An inevitable part of life, temptation is not a sin; it is a trial of faith. Mansoul’s sin was not in hearing the lies of Diabolous—it lay in believing and acting upon them. Sin happens when we drop our guard, open our gates, and allow it into our lives. God has given us a conscience, self-discipline, His word, and the Holy Spirit to defend our gates; whether or not we open ourselves to sin always remains our choice. Let us be cautious as to who and what enters our gates!

Temptation is the devil looking through the keyhole. Yielding is opening the door and inviting him in. [Billy Sunday]

But let us who live in the light be clearheaded, protected by the armor of faith and love, and wearing as our helmet the confidence of our salvation. [1 Thessalonians 5:8 (NLT)]

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BEWARE THE GNATCATCHERS!

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. [Philippians 4:6-7 (NLT)]

red-shouldered hawkSeeing a red-shouldered hawk perched up in a nearby tree, I focused in on it only to see him suddenly duck his head to avoid being attacked by small bird and then drop again as another tiny bird swept down at him. Those two gnatcatchers boldly harassed the hawk as it kept bobbing and weaving to dodge them. Fiercely territorial, gnatcatchers are unafraid to confront predators and, apparently, the hawk was infringing on their territory. Eventually, the hawk admitted defeat and flew off to another tree. I later asked one of the Audubon docents why the large hawk didn’t fight back against the tiny birds and was told that the hawk knows it can’t win. Being so small, the fast and agile gnatcatcher easily can out maneuver the bigger bird. For the hawk, the energy spent trying to catch the gnatcatcher isn’t worth it; fleeing makes more sense than staying. After settling in another tree not far away, the hawk spotted a crayfish. After sweeping down to catch it, he returned to his new perch and enjoyed a peaceful breakfast (without any annoying gnatcatchers).

“Surely, there’s a devotion of some kind in this!” I thought. Seeing those tiny birds harass the hawk (who was more than 100 times their weight) seemed like a David versus Goliath moment. The more I thought about it, however, I thought the hawk was the innocent party. He hadn’t provoked the birds; he was just minding his own business and looking for breakfast when those birds started pestering him. What the gnatcatchers were doing is called “mobbing.” When birds mob, they make a distress call that attracts other birds (even different species) to join in the harassment. If the hawk hadn’t moved, chances are more birds soon would have joined in hounding and harassing him.

Since another word for harassing is “worrying,” I wondered if those gnatcatchers might be like the worries that seem to come at us from out of nowhere to vex, torment, and distress us. Like mobbing birds, worry calls its pals anxiety, fear, and apprehension to join in troubling us. The gnatcatchers kept the hawk from doing his work (finding breakfast) and worry keeps us from moving ahead, as well. Realizing those birds were not going to disappear, the hawk wisely moved away from them. Often, we’re not that smart; we remain smack dab in the middle of worry and allow it to continue attacking and pecking at us. While the hawk only needed to fly to a nearby tree, we need fly to God, thank Him for His goodness, ask Him for help, and leave our concerns with Him. “You can pick what you ponder,” says Max Lucado. We can perch ourselves in the midst of worry or we can perch ourselves in the promises of God.

Whether or not we worry, our problems will remain. Worry, however, accomplishes nothing. We may not have a lot of power over our problems, but we do have power over our thoughts. Like the hawk, we need to stop perching in the worry zone and get on with our lives, whether that involves catching crayfish in the swamp or giving our concerns to God and working at finding a solution to our problems!

Your problem is not your problem; it is the way you think about it. [Max Lucado]

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you. [Philippians 4:8-9 (NLT)]

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THE BEST WE CAN

Post this at all the intersections, dear friends: Lead with your ears, follow up with your tongue, and let anger straggle along in the rear. God’s righteousness doesn’t grow from human anger. So throw all spoiled virtue and cancerous evil in the garbage. In simple humility, let our gardener, God, landscape you with the Word, making a salvation-garden of your life. [James 1:19-21 (MSG)]

Thompson's gazelleAs a teen and young adult, it was easy to be critical of my parents and their parenting. Vowing I’d never say or do some of the things they did, I was sure I’d never make any of their mistakes. Once I became a mother, however, I became far more forgiving and sympathetic. I understood that, all things considered, my parents had done the best they could. Granted, they didn’t always make the right decisions but I believe they thought they were the correct ones at the time. Parents want to keep their children from heartbreak, disappointment and harm; they want more and better for their children than they had. As a result, in spite of their best intentions, they can be over-protective, judgmental, enabling, dictatorial or stubborn. And, yes, I made some of the same mistakes my parents did (and plenty more of my own). Yet, looking at the finished products, I did just fine! Now, as parents, my children have the opportunity to make their own share of mistakes.

The vast majority of people don’t wake each morning intending to be unforgiving, unsympathetic, intractable, or indifferent. We don’t plan on being selfish, temperamental, hypercritical or rude. Rather, most of us probably wake up wanting to be kind and loving people. Unfortunately, we’re not always good at doing that! None of us are perfect; being human, we all make plenty of mistakes. People hurt us and we hurt others, but rarely do we or they do it on purpose. I never started the day planning to yell at my children or lose my temper, yet I often did. I certainly never begin the day intending to be impatient, inconsiderate, or negative, but that happens far too often. My prayer each morning is simply to be a better person that day than the one I was the day before and, through the power of the Holy Spirit, that is slowly happening.

When we remember that sometimes our best efforts are not nearly good enough, it becomes much easier to forgive others for their failings. Forgiveness doesn’t mean those actions are right or good; it doesn’t mean we approve of them or accept them. It simply means we forgive them. While we’re forgiving others, we should forgive ourselves for our shortcomings as well. Let’s release our regrets; we all could have done better, but what’s done is done. If God can forgive us, we ought to be able to do so, too.

Father, lift any hidden resentment and regret from our hearts and replace them with love and forgiveness. Help us accept that flaws, both ours and those of others, are part of being human. Show us how to learn from our mistakes and the mistakes of others. Fill us with your Holy Spirit so that we can be better people today than we were yesterday, and even better ones tomorrow.

Some days, doing “the best we can” may still fall short of what we would like to be able to do, but life isn’t perfect – on any front – and doing what we can with what we have is the most we should expect of ourselves or anyone else. [Fred Rogers]

I was wrong before. I’m smarter now. [Chris Bohjalian]

Most of all, love each other as if your life depended on it. Love makes up for practically anything. [1 Peter 4:8 (MSG)]

If you, God, kept records on wrongdoings, who would stand a chance? As it turns out, forgiveness is your habit, and that’s why you’re worshiped. [Psalm 130:3-4 (MSG)] 

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