Are You Authentic or Just Whiny?

There’s a fine line between between being transparent and being whiny. Complaining is easy, particularly on Facebook and Twitter. In fact, people even reward us for grumbling online.

Don’t believe me? Which of these posts is more likely to elicit likes and comments:

“Great day! My kids were sweet and joyful and they cleaned their room! Who else had an awesome and blessed day? #awesomeblessedday”

OR

“AARGH! My 3-year-old broke my phone, punched his sister, and bit me in a very sensitive place. :( :( :( Does this happen to anybody else? #terribleangryawfulchildren”

If you’re like me, the first post would actually make you roll your eyes — what a braggart. The second post would come across as “real,” and “gritty.” You’d chuckle to yourself, hit the Like button, and  make a comment about how kids are little demons. You might even appreciate the authenticity and honesty of you and your friends.

Don’t get me wrong — both posts have major problems. It’s just that we only notice the problems with the braggy post. We ignore the fact that the second post is also blatantly disobedient to God’s Word.

“Do everything without grumbling or arguing” (Philippians 2:14). I quote that to my kids all the time — you might do that also. But do you ever quote it to yourself?

“So,” you ask, ” should we just pretend everything is OK? Should I ever share my burdens and weaknesses and complaints with others?”

The answer is yes, under certain circumstances and in certain ways. Ask yourself this: “Why am I sharing this here, at this time and in this way?”

If we’re honest with ourselves, the answer is often that we are looking for validation or sympathy. The ugly part of our souls, the prideful part, wants to be noticed. Playing the martyr is a quick way to get attention. Sharing complaints on social media accelerates and increases that attention. These days, it’s not just our family members and friends who hear our griping; it’s everybody we’ve ever known!

Authenticity means we’re not afraid to share our weaknesses and strengths, but we’re also don’t broadcast them to get attention. Allow me to suggest three good reasons for sharing our life’s problems with other people:

(1) We need prayer.

(2) We need help or assistance.

(3) We can encourage another person with his struggles by sharing our own. (Although this is rare).

Most of the time — not always, but most of the time — none of those functions require broadcasting our complaints to everybody on the internet. There are exceptions to the general rule. For example, I’ve joined several groups specifically designed so that I can pray for friends with sick children or cancer or other serious concerns. I’ve also seen some helpful posts about physical needs — somebody needs financial help or assistance fixing something.

However, the majority of our complaints (mine included) are simply whining. Whining happens when we talk about how hard our lives are, not so that people can pray or help, but so they’ll notice us. 

So let’s try something new: Before posting a problem on Facebook, pray about it. Then call a friend or family member and ask for prayer. Talk to a pastor or counselor if necessary. Then, evaluate whether the broader world can pray or help in some specific way. If not, let’s stick with posting funny cat pictures or silly stories.

There’s a good reason Paul encourages us to do everything without grumbling or arguing. It’s so that we can “shine like stars” in the midst of a “warped and crooked generation” (Phil 2:15). Do our words shine the light of Jesus Christ, or are they just whiny? Let’s pray for the grace to shine like stars, so the world can see the joy and grace of our Savior.

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Are We Helpless Victims of Brokenness?

It’s quite common these days for preachers to tell us we are “broken.” The reason we sin, the reason we are separated from God, is because we are broken and in need of repair. Our brokenness began with Adam in the Garden, and we have been victims of that brokenness since then.

There’s certainly biblical support for the concept of brokenness and inherited sin. We see it in Romans 5 in particular. Adam’s sin was passed along to you and to me, and as a result we stand guilty before God. We sin because we are sinners.

But we’re more than just broken. We’re sinful. We’re guilty of our own sin, regardless of the brokenness we’ve inherited from Adam.

This is more than theological hair-splitting. If we do not own our behavior, we can never change. Every pastor or counselor regularly talks with people who see themselves as helpless victims of forces beyond their control. Their sin is never their fault — it’s the fault of their spouse, or their parents, or society, or the Internet. Maybe it’s even God’s fault for letting temptation into the world.

While it’s true that our background and our sin nature and our genetic composition can make holiness difficult, we are still responsible for our behavior. Every person eventually faces a choice to either grow up and accept the responsibility that comes with adulthood, or to remain a perpetual victim of the past. In many cases, counseling can help a person understand and overcome their past. Counseling can help us process how our parents or our society make obedience more difficult. But any counselor who says you are a helpless victim of brokenness isn’t worth the money. You might be a victim, but in Jesus you are far from helpless.

Hear me clearly: If you know Jesus, your past experiences cannot make you do anything. Your parents, your friends, and your spouse cannot force you to sin. In fact, if the Spirit of God lives in you, then sin isn’t your boss anymore (Romans 6:11-14). You’re not required to obey it, and you’re not required to give into your brokenness.

In other words, all of us are broken, but God offers free repairs. The process is often painful and it takes a lifetime and then some. But none of us are simply victims.

In order to find victory over sin, we each need to first admit that we are grown-ups, responsible for what we do. When we accept that reality, then we are open to the changes God wants to make. As long as we believe nothing is our own responsibility, we’ll cling to the idea that we’re helpless and hopeless.

Instead, let’s approach each moment with an open heart and mind. Let’s ask the Lord, “Where do I need to change? What do you want to do in my life?” Then accept responsibility for your actions and ask God to change you through His Spirit’s power.

Because His Spirit is so much stronger than our brokenness and His grace is so much greater than our sin. We aren’t simply broken; we’re forgiven, redeemed, and empowered to represent the God who raised Jesus from the dead.

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A Father’s Prayer

Dear God,

You are a perfect Father. The longer I parent my own children, the more stunning I find the reality of Your perfection. Your love is infinite, Your righteousness is perfect, and Your grace is always present. You always seek the best for Your own children, and You provide all that we need and more.

You know that I am far from a perfect Father. Sometimes I permit what I should prohibit, and I prohibit what I should permit. I’m too easily angered, and at times I’m just plain lazy. Some days I prioritize my own desires more than the needs of my kids. Forgive me.

And help me.

Teach me not to view my children as an inconvenience. They’re noisy. They’re needy. Sometimes they break things that I’ve worked hard to purchase or build. I suppose I do the same things to You sometimes. Please help me to share myself with them. Remind me that my time and possessions belong to You. Remind me that they aren’t an inconvenience, but a stewardship.

Help me remember that my kids aren’t created to make me look good. That request highlights an ugly part of my soul. How many times have I tried to control those little ones because I feel embarrassed? If I’m honest, I’m often frustrated when I feel like their childishness makes me look bad. Make me more concerned with their inward character than I am with their outward displays of virtue.

Remind me to pause and enjoy them. I always feel busy. There never seem to be enough hours to accomplish everything I would like to do. But they need a father who is present and engaged more than they need one who is well-accomplished. I need the courage to trust You for tomorrow. Tonight, I want to laugh, play trucks, tickle, and listen. I want to put away my phone, my computer, and my book, and just enjoy them for a little while.

Give me strength to model Your character for them. They seem to be watching and listening, even when I’d rather they wouldn’t. I don’t want to simply preach about integrity without modeling it. Help me to honor You even when I don’t think they’re watching or listening.

Give me strength to train their hearts to trust You. I’m such an imperfect father, and I know they need a better One. I know that one day they’ll realize I’m just a man. I’m doing my best, I’m trying to follow You, but I still fall so short. So please fill the gaps for all of us. When I’m distant, please be close. When I’m unforgiving, be their Grace. When I can’t protect them, do it for me. All I can do is reflect You. But like all men, I’m a tarnished mirror. Let them know the God who shines so perfectly.

Wrap them in Your grace. Fill their hearts with the Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead. Enthrall them with the One who lives to reconcile them to You, their Heavenly Father. And let them be conduits of Your grace to a world that needs You so badly.

And one day, when they are parents, let them reflect and trust You, despite the weaknesses and failures of the man they call Dad. And for Your sake and theirs, make me a better mirror, to reflect a perfect Father.

Amen.

Will God Heal Our Land If We Just Repent?

How many times, while talking about our country’s moral, political, or financial challenges, have you heard somebody use this verse from 2 Chronicles 7:14:

If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.

People usually quote this verse to say that if the citizens of the United States would “return” to God and pray, He would be glad to forgive all of our national sins and “heal” the land. The implication is that issues like government shutdowns, rampant pornography and sexual sin, and even a bad economy are punishments upon a wayward Christian nation. If we return to God, he will do away with these problems and make us prosperous, righteous, and successful again.

The problem, of course, is that 2 Chronicles 7:14 isn’t remotely talking about the United States. Let’s examine for a moment the context of this much-quoted verse:

“,if” – the first thing to notice is that verse 14 starts right in the middle of a sentence! It’s not a complete thought on its own. The preceding verse talks about how God will withhold rain, send locusts, or allow pestilence to come upon the nation of Israel.

“my people, who are called by my name” – Who are these people? These people are not Americans, actually. They are Israelites. The nation of Israel had a unique arrangement with God. If they obeyed the Law of Moses, God would literally bless the land and allow them to stay on it (see Deuteronomy 28-30). When He disciplined them for their disobedience, repentance would restore them to a life of blessing and prosperity in the Promised Land.

I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land” – Again, in the context God is making a promise to honor the provisions of the Law of Moses. A generation of Israelites that obeyed the Law would be blessed. Those who disobeyed would be cursed.

There are two major problems with using this verse to refer to the United States. First, we aren’t God’s chosen people. The United States is not Israel, and we don’t have the same national covenant with God as Israel had. Second, the Law of Moses is no longer operative for those who believe in Jesus. 

The second problem, in my opinion, is the most troublesome one. We often believe that obedience to a certain set of laws or moral codes will earn us God’s favor. Yet Christ died to free us from that system of Law. He now gives us His favor for free!

We are called to obey the Law of the Spirit, but not so we can receive some sort of national blessing. We obey the Spirit so that Jesus will be worshipped and known throughout the world. We obey the Spirit so that we can have intimacy and communion with God. But we don’t obey because we believe that doing so will fix our country or provide us with some sort of special national arrangement with God. There’s no guarantee that praying and being moral enough will make our nation strong and wealthy.

In fact, one major point of the book of Galatians is that the gospel doesn’t confine itself to national boundaries (Gal 3:28). The idea is that Jesus Christ has broken down the barrier between Jew and Gentile. Every nation now has equal access to the blessings of God through Jesus Christ. Eternal life, communion with God, and the Holy Spirit are not gifts confined to the nation of Israel — or to the United States — but are instead given to anybody in any nation who trusts in Jesus.

So pray for our country. Ask that the gospel will be clearly presented to everybody, so that everybody has a chance to know and trust Christ. But don’t expect, on the basis of a verse in 2 Chronicles, to see the United States ascend to global dominance and financial prosperity if we’re just good enough. Instead, rejoice in the present and future blessings promised by grace through faith alone to those who trust Jesus.

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