In the early church, there was a lot of rejection and relational conflict going on as believers began to transition into the newly forming sub-culture we now know as Christianity. Ethnic and familiar allegiances were taking second place to a new found devotion to the person of Christ and to the local church. This was especially true of the church in Rome. At that time, the climate in the Roman community of believers was often marked by discord and strife and therefore proved to be a fertile breeding ground for the delving out of many overly harsh judgments. Those who not so long ago were considered friends and family, now were viewed as opposing factions. In the midst of all the mud slinging, Paul challenges the young church to “Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God” (Rom 11:22)
If we’re honest, most of us are much more in touch with God’s sternness (some translations “severity”) than we are his kindness. Of course there are many reasons why we might have this kind of imbalanced perspective, but none more suspect than the abundance of legalistic doctrine that has been allowed to freely flow from so many of our pulpits. And to make matters worse, we’ve unknowingly heaped condemnation on ourselves and others for not adhering to all the dogmatic BS we’ve been subjected to. As a result, many of us have been led to believe that God is somehow fundamentally disappointed in us. This is just plain sad. What we believe about the nature of our Heavenly Father will drastically affect the quality of our life. If we believe that God is usually mad at us, or that our performance is always falling short of what’s expected, then it will be tough for us to enjoy even the best parts of our life. On the other hand, when we are hanging on to the revelation that God’s unconditional love and acceptance is based solely on our relationship to his Son, then even our difficulties can be seen to have redeeming eternal purpose.
Receiving and relying on the grace of God is both simple and profoundly necessary. Considering the kindness of God begins with a decision to believe that he is gracious and kind by nature, and not the divine drill sargent that we’ve been led to believe. Of course, like any good father he has to be stern with his children at times. He will never wink at our disobedience as if it were cute. But this is precisely why we must “See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” (Heb 12:15) Can you see the principle here? If we somehow “miss” God’s grace, then we will become bitter… toward him, others, and even ourselves. Have you ever felt that God was just waiting for you to fail so that he could smack you back into line? Trust me on this my friend, maybe your earthly father gave you that impression, or maybe some other authority figure in your life operated that way, but that is not the way God is! Malice is just not a part of his make-up.
When we struggle with bitterness, it is because we need a deeper revelation of God’s love for us. If we receive his grace, then we have it to give to ourselves and others. If we often feel like he’s angry at us, or disappointed in us, then we’ll just as readily pass that negative emotion on to those around us. If we allow a “bitter root to grow up” within us, it will invariably “cause trouble” for us and in turn “defile many.” Again, we’re only able to give what we’ve already received. But that blade cuts both ways. When we begin to truly rely on the kindness and grace of the Lord, then we’ll have an abundance of it to give away.
Let’s face it, our flesh is always going to be prone to weakness. “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.” (Ro 7:18) But keep in mind that all that human frailty is there by design. If you’re spending much time wrestling with feelings of anger, or you know someone who can’t seem to get over their bitterness, it’s time to apply some grace. Receive the Father’s forgiveness and then release that forgiveness in every possible direction. Whether we’re feeling the shame of someone else’s unrighteous judgment, or we’re the one passing it out, the application of this truth is the same. “See to it that no one misses the grace of God.” Why? Because we all need it desperately. No exceptions. “Mercy triumphs over judgment!” (Jas 2:13)
Lord, you know we need help with this one. Please grant us a deeper revelation of how much you love us. Forgive us for our harsh judgments toward ourselves and others. Forgive us for believing that you’re mad and disappointed with us. You are a loving Heavenly Father and want nothing more than to bless us and to grant us favor in all that we do. You are good and kind and so faithful to us. Thank you for being such a great Dad. We love you.
Christian blogs and Christian articles are rapidly becoming the preferred source of spiritual sustenance for many modern believers. With the advent of the internet, our information gathering habits have changed dramatically. The dependency we once had on our local family bookstore has diminished as we have learned to surf the waves of the web for various forms of heart and mind nourishment. Rather than buying a hard cover book for twenty five bucks that we only read once and then end up using as a shelf decoration, we now can visit any number of Christian blogs and find quality Christian articles with the tap of a touch pad.
Although many of us still find some kind of visceral pleasure in feeling the texture of the paper as we turn the page, I’m not convinced that this kind of biblio-nostalgia will have a significant impact on the rate at which we are converting to the splendors of the e-universe. I for one am seriously considering getting rid of at least some of the hundreds of books we’ve acquired over the years. My friends all cringe when they find out we’re moving again. They know the pain of schlepping Uncle Bumpy’s countless book boxes from point A to point B. My seminary texts alone are cause for a hernia blow out. Like me, you may be an old dog that often has trouble learning new technology, not to worry. If I can figure out how to create a word press post, you can learn to track down your favorite speaker or author’s private cache of Christian blogs and Christian articles.
However, we must never forget that we were created to function as a vital part of a much larger organism. The internet is not a viable substitute for genuine, face to face, relationship. Though many churches still closely adhere to the “talking head standing in front of a room full of heads” paradigm, there is a notable resurgence of relationship oriented gatherings. Many believers have wearied of the spectator mentality and have opted for the deeper level of personal interaction provided by more intimate venues. House churches and ministries with the core value of community building are making a come back. Personal manna gleaning is one thing, being “rightly joined and fitted together” (Eph 4:16) is another.
Now is the time to master the many nuances of Google. The research tools available and the opportunities to disseminate Christian truth are truly astounding in their scope. A few months ago I had no clue what link building, keywords, or SEO had to do with anything. But with the help and patience of my techno-geek friends, bump on a blog was born. For the time being, Christian articles have become my primary means of seed sowing. My hope and prayer is that those with a heart to write Christian blogs and Christian articles would be encouraged to give it a try. The movie Julie and Julia was inspirational to me. Julie was a blogger, Julia Childs wrote the quintessential cookbook for the 1950s housewife. They lived in two very different worlds, very different times, and used their own unique means of communicating the same content. Great movie if you’re thinking about blogging. Lord bless our Christian blogs.
The older I get, the more I appreciate seclusion and solitude. So much so that I really don’t want to live anywhere near a big city anymore if I can help it. Even subdivisions make me feel like I have to fight to take in a deep breath. What happened to me? I used to love being right in the middle of things. For years we lived and worked in Chicago and all the hustle and bustle never seemed to phase me. In fact, at that time I felt like the more people and activity I could be around the better. For heaven’s sake, I was the consummate extravert for most of my life. How is it that I now live out in the country on the edge of a thousand acres of woods at the end of a quarter mile gravel driveway and absolutely love it? The short answer to that question is this; I’ve learned the value of guarding my eye gates and ear gates.
I find it interesting that there are over 300 references to gates in Scripture. In biblical times, the safety and security of any city of size was determined by the height and thickness of its walls and the strength of its gates. To hold or take a city it was said that you must “possess the gates.” In Judges 16:3 Samson mocked the might of the Philistines by tearing the main gate of their city off its hinges and carrying it away on his back. Gates were the primary access point for either good or evil to enter, so making sure that they were well guarded was accepted by all as a top priority. At one point, Nehemiah commissioned the Levites to guard the gates of Jerusalem. But this time the concern was not their foreign enemies, but rather the hoard of godless merchants who were trying to get the Israelites to buy goods from them on the Sabbath.
When evening shadows fell on the gates of Jerusalem before the Sabbath, I ordered the doors to be shut and not opened until the Sabbath was over. I stationed some of my own men at the gates so that no load could be brought in on the Sabbath day. Once or twice the merchants and sellers of all kinds of goods spent the night outside Jerusalem. But I warned them and said, “Why do you spend the night by the wall? If you do this again, I will lay hands on you.” From that time on they no longer came on the Sabbath. Then I commanded the Levites to purify themselves and go and guard the gates in order to keep the Sabbath day holy. (Neh 13:19-22)
You can put a religious white wash on this account if you want to, but basically “I will lay hands on you” meant, “If you losers come back and try this again, I will personally come down there and kick your ass!” Apparently they took Nehemiah seriously because it says, “From that time on they no longer came on the Sabbath.”
In much the same way, if we don’t get a little aggressive about guarding our eye gates, ear gates, the gates of our mind, heart, and homes, we can lose our place of rest (Sabbath) and quickly become corrupted by the offerings of our increasingly godless environment.
Our eyes and ears are the primary gates to our inner man. But due to our constant over-exposure to evil, we have become numb and thus largely unaware of the assault that is raging against our ability to maintain a soul at rest. Because of the rapid advancement of our technology, and the pervasiveness of our media consuming devices, we have been subjected to witnessing far more evil and vile human behavior than we were created to handle. Now, only the most shocking and repulsive of images causes us to turn away in disgust. Over time, we have developed an unhealthy tolerance of what used to make us cringe.
Guarding the gates is about being intentionally mindful of what we allow ourselves to see, and hear. Jesus said, “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness! (Mat 6:22-23) If we allow a free flowing stream of worldliness into our eye gate, then we must prepare ourselves for the inevitable. We will become like that which we behold. But this does not have to be our destiny. Like Nehemiah, we can choose to rise above our passivity and go on the offensive.
Guarding our eye gates simply means watching what we watch. Even a 30 second commercial can defile our mind and cause our thoughts to be misdirected. I believe it was Bill Gothard who said that “TV is the toleration of great evil in order to attain a little good.” At the very least, we can choose to screen that which streams into our homes. God help those of us who are parents to get serious about monitoring our kid’s access to the internet.
Being aware of what we allow in our ear gate is an equally needful discipline. One crucial strategy is to learn how to be comfortable with silence. More often than not, the Lord likes to use his still small voice. Hearing from the Lord will bring peace and rest to our souls quicker than anything else. If our surroundings are constantly filled with sounds (radio, noisy neighbors, a droning chorus of leaf blowers and lawn mowers) than our environmentally in-bread A.D.D. will often squash any chance of finding genuine rest for our soul. We are thoroughly over-stimulated and thus largely unfulfilled. Just getting somewhere truly quiet on a regular basis can radically alter the level at which we enjoy our lives. Again, I’ve learned to love things like deer hunting and taking a slow walk through the woods for this very reason. Inner peace truly is attainable, but it may require us to sacrifice some of the lifestyle choices we’ve grown accustomed to. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil 4:7)
Lastly, we must remember that it is a short trip from our mouth to our ears. By watching what comes out of our mouth, we can guard our heart. Whatever we say will, in turn, reinforce what we’re already thinking, be it good or bad. If we’re prone to speak negatively about ourselves, our situation, or others, then it won’t be long before we reap what our mouth has sown. I used to laugh at the naivety of the “positive confession” camp until I realized that, for the most part, they we’re living better than I was. They were happier, healthier, wealthier… say what you will, the principle works! There is unfathomable power in the spoken word to build up or tear down. Like the head of a hammer, we choose which side to use. Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life. Put away perversity from your mouth; keep corrupt talk far from your lips. (Prov 4:23)
Our eye gate, ear gate, and mouth gate are the key access points to our minds and hearts. Our enemy understands this fact and therefore has mounted a relentless assault against them. We must decide to transcend our culture’s norms and learn to live above their corrupting influence. Our homes should be a place of rest and peace. Our very bodies are God’s dwelling place, and He never leaves the house. It is our responsibility to become vigilant in guarding the gates for ourselves and our families. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is … to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (James 1:27)