Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Making God Happy

Today I found something interesting in I Corinthians 10, where Paul is writing warnings to the Corinthian church against several sins for which God destroyed the Israelites in their wanderings in the wilderness after leaving Egypt on their way to the Promised Land. Included among these are the usual suspects of lust, idolatry, sexual immorality and provoking God--and grumbling. It was striking to me that Paul, and God, seem to give the same weight to complaining that they give to the traditionally more "serious" sins, so I decided to look into it.

Of course, the principle force behind complaining is ingratitude, which is rooted in pride, the original sin. But all that is just academic until we see the effect that ingratitude has on God's heart. Even a quick scan of the verses in Nave's Topical Bible under ingratitude give a heart-wrenching picture of God's anguish over Israel's forgetfulness and rejection of Him, in spite of all His miracles and all His blessing on their behalf. Can you hear it in His words in Hosea 11:1-4 below?

When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. But the more I called Israel, the further they went from me. They sacrificed to the Baals and they burned incense to images. It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms; but they did not realize it was I who healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love; I lifted the yoke from their neck and bent down to feed them.

Then in Hosea 13:6 the Lord sums it up tersely:

When I fed them, they were satisfied; when they were satisfied, they became proud; then they forgot me.
It's easy to wonder how the Israelites could have been so foolish and obtuse to grieve the Lord in that way after all the stunning miracles He performed on their behalf. Yet the miracle of the new heart and changed life that He has given each of us as believers is so much greater! The fact that He changes us into His image from glory to glory is astounding. And what about the way He orders our lives and brings His purposes to pass in and through us with wisdom that absolutely confounds us? Think of the big miracles of provision we've all experienced at times, or the small, intimate ways He lets us know that we are on His mind. Consider the fact the most of us have never had to worry whether there would be food to eat or a roof over our heads tomorrow. Is there anyone reading this who, if in dire trouble or need, does not have someone he or she could call on for help?

We Americans are probably the most blessed people in the world, and yet often the least grateful. Taking time to consider all these things, and other blessings that come to mind, will cure ingratitude and grumbling. I, for one, do not want to grieve God's heart by being ungrateful, complaining, proud, or self-sufficient--sins as ugly as idolatry or immorality. I want to begin and end every day by thanking and praising God for all He's done in my life, remembering always that "every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the father of heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows" (James 1:17). In so doing, I want to bring Him joy instead of grief. What else could I do for a God who has done so much for me?

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

A Call to a Higher Political Plane

Nobody loves a good political argument more than I do, but one of the things that troubles me most in our society these days is the crassness and incivility of our public discourse. You hear it on the airwaves at every turn, especially on talk radio. It comes from the Right and the Left. It even comes from Christians in the public arena. When in this country did it become necessary to ruthlessly attack an opponent's character, motives and even physical appearance to get one's own opinion across? What happened to the art of entreaty, of wooing others to our point of view instead of bludgeoning them with it? When did those of differing philosophies and opinions become unworthy of personal respect? When did we lose so much self-respect that we have to build ourselves up by belittling others? At the same time, when did we become so proud that we think we, and those who agree with us, are the only ones entitled to express an opinion? When did gentlemanliness and honor fall from favor?

On the political Left, all this expresses itself in the intolerance of political correctness, which in its extremes boils down to little more than censorship. On the Right, it comes out in things like radio talk show hosts labeling opposing callers "idiots", or referring to presidential candidates of the other party as "fags." From all sides, accusations fly. Everywhere emotion overrules logic. Why is it not enough to simply say, "I disagree with you, and here is why. . . ?"

Every time we engage in this kind of destructive behavior, I believe we receive another tear in our national fabric and a little bit of our soul dies. How much better it would be if we would win others to our way of thinking through clarity and solid logic (the old-fashioned way) and passion for our principles. If we stopped seeing and treating those with different viewpoints as enemies instead of fellow citizens with, well, different viewpoints, we might remember that opposing views help focus and sharpen our ideas. In so doing, we could rebuild trust and credibility with each other. Instead of the instant wall of defense that now flys up the second our opponent speaks, we could create a fresh atmosphere in which ears at least can and might listen.

Now more than ever we are engaged in a battle of ideas and we do need to speak Truth in the marketplace. As Lady Margaret Thatcher once said, "This is no time to go wobbly." In today's cultural climate, Christians have to defend even the notion of truth. Truth will always offend and bring fierce opposition; however, let's be sure it's Truth bringing the the offense and not the way we deliver that Truth. Ephesians 4:29-32 describes what our heart attitude should be as we speak:

"Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you."

Our motive must be to build up, not to destroy. Righteous anger will always be directed against "the spiritual forces of evil" (Ephesians 6:12), not against our political opponents and fellow citizens. Extending respect and courtesy to those we vehemently disagree with is a sign of strength, not weakness. All people of good will who love this country, should choose today to rise above the lowest common denominator in public debate and live and speak as men and women of honor. If we do, we can raise the standard and change the climate of hate, disdain and distrust in American politics and beyond.