Ephesians 4:29-31 “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace for those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
Wow... there is a lot going on in the world. It's easy to feel vexed when turning on the news or reading social media. Or to feel sad. Or anxious. Or fearful.
The human population having significant problems is not a new thing. The list of truly awful historical world events is vast, but our temptation is to treat the troubles of this earth as if we have some control over how things go, even if history tells us otherwise. We agonize, we post, we study, we worry, we post, we read, we fear, we post, we listen, we become angry, we post....
Strong emotions push us to make a difference in the lives of people. God created us with a tremendous capacity for love, empathy, kindness, grace, sacrifice and endurance. We are built in the image of God, and that comes with a pretty incredible skill set. There is so much man is capable of, and still so much we lack. I'm not sovereign and I did not create the earth, and thus I cannot command the world or the people in it. I cannot control others, BUT, I can quite possibly influence them.
Thinking I can make the world itself change implies I have control over the outcome. I don't. The end is decided. Ownership of this world is not up for grabs. We do not own any country or land or animal or person here. God has granted temporary and relative custody of this planet to mankind. Temporary because current custody has a time stamp. Relative meaning God is requiring something of us and we have boundaries (Matt. 7:21-23; Rev. 3:16).
"What does that mean?", you ask. (Or maybe you don't ask. Maybe this is when you hang my picture on a wall and start throwing darts).
I'm gonna say something that may at first appear very agreeable, but after careful examination may cause some angst - so get the pic and darts ready.
You already have a Savior. You DO NOT NEED nor will you ever get ANOTHER ONE. There, I said it.
"Debbie, why on earth do you think this particular statement is 'angsty'? I mean, seriously, that statement is a no brain-er for a believer," you (probably) think.
Well, because ...
Our lives here are not meant to be comfortable. God calls us to stand out as different. To love others so much, we would choose to give our riches and rights away to save a life rather than keep our wealth for ourselves and live in luxury with our physical freedoms (John 12:25; Matt.19:16-30, 1 John 2:16). Our love for others is something we do because the Savior of this world chose to live as a servant, without the respect of his countrymen, so that none may perish but all have eternal life (2 Pt. 3:9). Jesus spent very little time confronting civic government. Jesus did, however, spend quite a bit of time confronting religious leaders such as the Pharisees and Sadducee's - the "Conservatives" (Luke 11; Matt. 22 & 23). Yep, I said it. Start throwing darts.
Conservative isn't bad, but it's not inherently good either. Liberal isn't bad, but it isn't inherently good either. Jesus came to both keep an old covenant and bring about a new one. Jesus didn't come to abolish the old law, but he did come to fulfill it in an exceptionally different way (Matt. 5:17-20). That means things changed, and religious conservatives of the Bible did not like change.
Still others went to the opposite extreme and took the "new way" as a license to run amuck and use Jesus' sacrifice as a daily get out of jail free card. But the grace Jesus provides is not for us to squander, as Paul explains in his letters to the Corinthians where he graciously reminds the church that God is always GOD and his law matters (Romans 6:1-4; 1 Cor.1:18-20).
There is a tension in the human person between things God calls us to personally change and those things we want to have stay the same. There is naturally tension the other way, too - between what we want to be different and what God says will remain. Only one man walked in that tension between change and sameness perfectly. You and I, however, often do not walk that line well. Our problem, MY problem, is the same now as when the disciples were walking this earth with Jesus; God is requiring me to look in the mirror and place Jesus as the change-maker of my heart (Phil.1:6; Psalm 139:23-24; Prov.26:12; James 4:10) but I don't always keep my Savior in first place above all things. Sometimes I put another person, thing or desire in the place only my Savior ought to reside. This is the angst.
A Christian response to the world is first and foremost a thorough examination of my own selfishness and self-righteousness (Matt. 7:5; James 4:6; Gal. 6:3). My heart matters to my Creator - and my responses to people (even those who anger me) reflect how highly I value others made by the same God who created me. The world is still gonna be the world, and God owns it and has his own methods for saving people in it.
I'm NOT saying our temporary custody means we ignore federal government, or cease to participate in local community organizations or state-wide governance. I'm NOT saying avoid participation in schools or neighborhood committees. This is not a "God's got this, therefore do nothing" argument. We absolutely engage in our community at various levels because it matters in our ministry to people around us. If we are complacent about how our community is fairing, we run the risk of losing interest in the people who make up the place in which we live. And we are supposed to care about others. Deeply.
However, preoccupation with the world can quite possibly turn into a slippery slope of epic proportions. We can care so much about how the world is not working the way we are certain God wants it to, that we become obsessed with its future demise. We focus on the horror show around us and our methods of engagement become more about self-gratification than Godly edification. Our rhetoric, obsessions, personal grievances, anger - all one big mess of a slippery slope.
When we worry and obsess about things outside of our control, things we do not own, it takes us away from the things we DO own. The pieces of my life that are absolutely my responsibility and uniquely mine to nurture. I am a daughter to my mom, a wife to my husband, a sister to my siblings, a mother to my children, a friend to my friends, a member of my community and a member of my church. There is no one else to take my unique place in my family, in my church, or in my community. This is where God has me at this moment in time to fulfill his mission and care for other God-created human beings. We must guard our minds by gatekeeping our time and preoccupations.
Practically speaking, it means maybe it's time to take stock of personal distractions, focus on things in my control, and learn to respond well to the people and places within my sphere of influence. My care and concern for others is part of a growing, deepening walk with God. How I engage with the world around me matters because it is a reflection of my love for God's children. There are people close to us who need us. Our families, our friends, our church, our community. I pray we can be present where we are.
Here on Noisy Narratives, we are going to spend the next few weeks on our blog and podcast talking about how to minister to the people closest to us, so we are able to influence lives in rich and meaningful ways. Because that is what God grants us - influence. Not control. Not ownership. INFLUENCE.
Psalm 24:1 "The earth is the Lord's, and all it contains; The world, and those who dwell in it."
We begin our Influence series with how to respond well to the littlest among us. Sonshine Academy Preschool Director Ann Marie Lindig joins us to discuss how to respond in our parenting and not react from fear or anger. We discuss preschoolers but the practical tips work well for all ages. LISTEN to MORE HERE!