Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Spiritual Gift of a Critical Attitude

I once attended a large Christian conference with several friends from my church. The speakers were all godly men and I recall the event as a time of wonderful spiritual refreshment. However, during one of the meal breaks, a few of us sat down at a table where a conversation was already underway. Most of the people at the table were from the same church.

As we listened, it was clear this group (led by their pastor) were not fans of the last speaker. I couldn't detect any major theological disagreement. Rather, they spent the next 15 minutes picking apart the speaker's mannerisms, mocking his clothing choices, and splitting hairs over his wording choices. One exchange went like this:

Pastor: Did you hear him say "IF Jesus is God why wouldn't you give your life to him?"?

Younger man: Yes! That shocked me.

Woman: My mouth about dropped open.

Pastor: As if there is any doubt! What kind of Christian would say IF? It is a concrete fact that Jesus is God. Never trust a man who says "if".

Woman: I'm just so glad we have enough discernment to see this. I bet few others here did.

Perhaps I should have spoken up. But at that moment I choose to heed Proverbs 26:4, "Do not answer a fool according to his folly or you yourself will be just like him." My friends and I just hurriedly finished our meal and left the table. But what I found remarkable was that the rest of the people at the table, presumably all from this pastor's church, were in complete agreement with the criticism. There were many nods and verbal affirmations at this supposed "discernment".

Of course, a key problem is that we find these kinds of statements in the Bible. Elijah confronted the people of Israel, who had fallen into idol worship, and said "how long will you waiver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him. But if Baal is God, follow him" (1 Kings 18:21). In the New Testament, Paul says "if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, then make my joy complete by being of the same mind" (Phil 2:1-2a). Elijah and Paul were not introducing doubt and their if-statements clearly are meant to help people see the truth of the situation and then respond appropriately to that truth. For Elijah, he was confronting them with the incompatibility of their beliefs. They still claimed to believe in the Lord, but as he pointed out if that is actually true (which it is) then that truth demands they stop worshiping Baal. In Paul's case, since it is true that Christ gives us encouragement and the Holy Spirit has already brought us into spiritual fellowship, then those truths should put in us a heart for unity. 

That group sitting around the table really didn't have a problem over grammar or wording. The real problem was that they had allowed themselves to be consumed by pride and negative attitudes. Yet instead of repenting of their negative spirit, they had baptized that pride and renamed it "discernment". They had even nitpicked a Christian speaker's appeal for people to accept Christ as Lord. Sadly, I've encountered this same criticism many times since then. Several weeks ago I read a blog article where the writer was attacking a Christian speaker for making a similar statement and I've even had the same kind of critical nit-picking directed at me on occasion. 

Yet how often have I been guilty of the same critical attitude? Or how about you? There is no spiritual gift of a critical attitude, yet we find this attitude alive and well in our own hearts far too often. Biblical discernment is a precious gift that is very much needed (and sadly often lacking) in the local church. But if your "discernment" only manifests itself in the ability to find fault in others, you've confused a prideful and critical heart with discernment. Sadly, that means your operating out of the very sinful spirit you claim to be able to detect.

Prayer: Father, forgive us for our critical attitudes. Lead us instead towards a loving spirit and a wise & discerning mind. Amen

Friday, December 11, 2015

Dealing with False Accusations

Be not silent, O God of my praise! For wicked and deceitful mouths are opened 
against me speaking against me with lying tongues. They beset me with 
words of hate, and attack me without cause. In return for my love they accuse me, 
even as I make prayer for them. So they reward me evil for good, and hatred for my love.

(Psalms 109:1-5 RSV)

Have you ever been falsely accused? Perhaps you overheard friends speaking ill of you at a party or heard "through the grapevine" about a horrible rumor about you. Maybe you have even been confronted with an ugly accusation by someone, and despite your explanations, they refused to believe you.

Accusations are damaging and harmful. It is because of this that God condemns gossip and slander repeatedly throughout the Bible. In fact, making false accusations is considered just as great a sin as adultery or murder.

1. Respond with gentleness. The Bible says that "a soft answers turns away wrath" (Proverbs 15:1). This doesn't always solve the problem, but it opens doors for resolution on your end. Always seek to be compassionate and gentle.

2. Show tangible acts of love. Scripture tells us that "love is kind" (1 Corinthians 13:4). Kindness is a word that must be expressed if it truly exists. The idea here is that love results in kind deeds. Go out of your way to do acts of kindness for the person who is making false accusations. Invite them to dinner. Send them a birthday card. Drop off a freshly baked pie. 

3. Praise God for them. Regularly thank God for this person. True, they are currently being used by Satan to slander and accuse you, but recognize where God is working in their life. If they are gifted in a particular area, praise God for that gift. If you remember wonderful times with them in the past, thank God for those memories. Paul tells us in Philippians 4:8 to think about whatever is right, noble, true, and commendable.

4. Pray for them. Pray for this sin that is gripping their life. Yes, their sin is hurting you, but it is hurting them far worse. The only thing damaged is your reputation but they are damaging their standing before God and their effectiveness in God's Kingdom. Worse yet, they are damaging the cause of Christ. Pray for their softening, for reconciliation, and their repentance. 

5. Decide not to retaliate. Let's face it, sometimes gentleness and kindness simply don't work, which the writer of Psalm 109 understood all too well. He wrote "In return for my love they accuse me, even as I make prayer for them. So they reward me evil for good, and hatred for my love." Despite all his best efforts, they responded to his love with hatred, and his acts of kindness with further insults. Believers shouldn't be surprised when this happens, because anger is a dangerous, venomous thing. But live in such a way that it may never be said you returned evil for evil.

6. Recognize that often the accuser isn't after truth. The psalmist said his accusers had "deceitful mouths" and "lying tongues". Some years ago I remember being confronted by a fellow believer demanding to know why I had not sought out another believer who had left the church. When I explained that I had sought him out dozens of times, and continued to seek him out only to be constantly rebuffed, the brother said "I just spoke to him and he said you've never even tried to contact him." In this other person's anger he resorted to telling lies, and there was nothing I could do about it other than give it to the Lord. In my experience, gossips and slanderers almost always prefer lies over truth and distortions over clarity.

7. Live to please the Lord. A good reputation is a wonderful thing and it is terrifying to think how it can be ruined through no fault of your own. But in the end, we live to please our Lord. I remember one well-meaning brother coming to me, alarmed at what some were saying. He told me "you must put a stop to this! They will ruin your ministry." I replied that I didn't have to put a stop to anything. These other people were welcome to ruin my ministry because it was never mine to begin with. It belongs to the Lord. 

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Muslim Threat: A biblical response

Every day we turn on the news to hear some politician, and even entertainment celebrities, responding to Islam. Some, like Donald Trump and even Evangelical stalwart Franklin Graham, are calling for a temporary ban on any and all Muslim immigrants or tourists due to the widespread threat of Islamic terror. Others, like President Barach Obama and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerburg are championing solidarity with the Muslims, who they are increasingly viewing as a persecuted class.

One the one hand, fear seems to have taken hold. One the other hand, any perceived link between the terrorists (who kill in the name of Allah) with Islam is seen as pure, unadulterated racism. The divide between these two groups is only growing.

For example, recently the U.S. Attorney General, Loretta Lynch, said in response to the Islamic terrorist attacks in Paris that her "greatest fear" was retaliatory violence against Islam. Again, her greatest fear isn't that there will be more terrorists attacks, or that innocent civilians would be killed by ISIS or Al Qaeda, but that Muslims would be treated unfairly by a population living under imminent threat of Muslim terror. This fear is so great for AG Lynch that she has threatened to procescute anything her office deems as "hate speech" towards Islam. Further compounding the problem, all three of the democratic candidates for president are on record as refusing to use the term "Islamic terrorists", despite the fact that every single Islamic terrorist proclaims they are killing in obedience to their religion.

On the other hand, we are increasingly hearing politicians (and even Evangelical leaders) make statements that seem to give into fear. Current GOP froncitizens, Donald Trump, is calling for a temporary ban on all Muslims into the USA. This ban is now championed by the likes of Franklin Graham. While most of the other GOP candidates have distanced themselves from this ban, or even outright condemned it, most are supportive of stopping any Syrian refuges from entering the United States, despite the fact that hundreds of thousands of human beings are fleeing for their lives from the barbaric regime of ISIS. Mr Trump has even hinted at special identification requirements for Muslims in the US (even those who are American citizens) and spoken faborably about FDR'S WW2-era interment camps. A few days ago a nationally-known pastor and president of the largest Christianity university in the world, Jerry Falwell Jr., called upon the students at Liberty University to arm themselves in order to "take care of those Muslims" (in context he was referring to Islamic terrorists).

One response panders to political correctness and seems to deny the reality that is looking us in the face. The other response smacks of reactionary fear and is curiously devoid of anything resembling compassion.

In light of these two responses, is there a response that is biblical & Christlike? Let me suggest there are three biblical principles that should guide our response.

First, Christ commands that we love our enemies. While a true believer might not actually view anyone as his enemy, the fact is that a very large portion of the Islamic world views the West, or more technically anyone who is not Muslim, as the enemy. They hate us. The terrorists target the defenseless and seek to bring the entire world under subjection to Allah. In Matthew5:44-45 Jesus tells us to love our enemies. Going even further, we are commanded to pray for them and seek ways to actively do good to them. Whatever social or political policy we choose to affirm as Evangelicals, we must ensure that it is loving and compassionate to our Muslim neighbors.

Second, the Christan is commanded to have compassion, specifically for refugees and others who are in need. Compassion to the immigrant and refugee was a basic and foundational part of OlWhiletament law. In the New Testament, John the Baptist continued this teaching when he told the crowd that "anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same" (Luke 3:11). In the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10) Jesus teaches us to view even the most cultural despised group in society with compassion. Likewise, in Hebrews 13:12 we are commanded to show hospitality to strangers and in Matthew 25:35-39 Jesus tells us that failure to provide aid to those in need in tantamount to failing to show love to Christ himself. This does not necessarily require we bring Syrian refugees to America, but at the very least it means we seek to provide substantially for their needs and get them to safety. It also means that if our nation chooses to continue to allow in Islamic refugees Christians should be the first in line to give compassionate care.

Third, we must not fall into the trap that these first two principles somehow force us to ignore basic principles of safety and self-defense. Exodus 22:2-3 teaches us that when a thief breaks into our house in the middle of the night we are allowed to defend ourselves, even if that means killing the intruder becomes necessary. Because of this passage of Scripture, I have a concealed carry permit and regularly train in order to be able to defend my family, neighbors, and co-workers (where allowed). Certainly our nation is wise to take reasonable steps to protect its citizens. In fact, as citizens in a democratic republic, we should insist they do so.

Yet something grotesque, spiritually speaking, begins to occur when self-protection becomes the only (or even the main) emphasis when confronting the radical Muslim issue. While safety & protection are allowed in Scripture, the center of our faith isn't "the right to keep and bear arms" (as wonderful & necessary as that American right is), but rather the self-sacricing love of Christ.

While Rev. Falwell's comments on self-defense where right and true, as a believer he serves the Gospel better by allowing Christlike love, not self-protection, to be the central point of our response to the radical Muslims (or anyone else who might seek to do us harm). Likewise, Franklin Geaham would become a better advocate for the way of Christ if he focused less on the Islamic threat and more on Christ's path of peace & love towards our enemies.

On the other hand, Scripture never calls on us to deny existential threats. We do no one any good when we deny the reality that is before us. People are trying to hurt us. There is a real threat of Islamic terrorism. It is right and proper to take steps to protect ourselves from these threats, but never at the cost of compassion and love.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

WWOW? (What Would Others Want?)

"Love does not insist on its own way."
1 Corinthians 13:5

Remember the WWJD? bracelets?  While that acronym has become somewhat of a punchline nowadays, back in the day it was an honest attempt to remind ourselves to think like Jesus in all situations. I confess I owned and wore several of those bracelets and I'm still asking myself that question several times a day.

While that is a great question (in fact, one of the best questions we can ask ourselves) there are other important questions as well. One of those questions, too often neglected, is this: "What would others want?"

Imagine a man coming into his pastor's office to vent about his wife. Their annual vacation was coming up and they had gotten into several heated arguments over where to go. She wanted to visit family down South. He wanted to rent a vacation house on the beach, far from any trouble (including in-laws). For 45 minutes he laments how difficult work had been, how he needs to relax, and how his wife is being completely unwilling to reason. She is rebellious and selfish, or at least that is his perspective.

Perhaps she was being selfish (it would be hard to tell from a one-sided conversation). But what we do know was that the husband was failing to love. In fact, they probably both were to some degree. James 4:1 says "what causes fights and quarrels among you? Is it not this, that your passions quarrel within you?" In other words, whenever our personal desires become that which guides our behavior, we are automatically put onto a path towards conflict with other people. We become the god which must be appeased.

Whenever we focus on ourselves we actually practice the opposite of love.  By its very nature, the focus of love is outward, towards others. This means we become chiefly concerned with what those around us desire. Sadly, nearly all marital, relational, and church conflicts come down to one or more parties putting their own desires ahead of everyone else.

Of course, the cure is to do the opposite. Find joy in pleasing others. Let the older congregant sing some more of the hymns, or if you are the older congregant, take pleasure in allowing the younger members of your church to have their contemporary music. Seek to put your spouse, or your peer at work, above yourself.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Rude Christians?

"...love is not rude..."
1 Corinthians 13:5

A few thousand years ago there was a small but growing church in a thriving metropolis within the Roman Empire. The city of Corinth was cultural diverse, had a swelling population, and had proven itself to be a great place to make a small fortune if one had a mind for business. It was also known as a moral cesspool. Yet in the middle of all these a group of Christians gathered together to worship Jesus and learn from his word.

The problem (or at least one of the problems) was that the believers who were part of the church at Corinth didn't seem to like each other very much. They were openly critical of each other and even some of the apostles (for example, most didn't like the apostle Paul very much). Some were even openly involved in sexual sin, while others considered themselves more holy than those around them. Some, while truly saved, nevertheless hadn't grown very far in their faith and were trying to insist that everyone adhere to the Old Testament laws. Others, confident in the grace of Christ, were forcibly insisting that those "weak Christians" were just being dumb.

The conflict just wasn't during the Sunday morning service. It was destroying relationships. For example, some believers felt the freedom to eat meat that had been sacrificed to idols. After all, it was good meat and since they believed in Jesus, they could care less where the meat had come from. They also felt the freedom to drink a little wine now and again, in moderation. While this was perfectly within their rights as believers (as Paul makes very clear in 1 Corinthians 8 & 10, and Romans 14), they were also being arrogant and pushy. They started to flaunt these freedoms in front of people who were offended by them. In other words, "you must also practice my list of 'do's' for me to accept you and be nice to you."

Then there was the group who took offense to those behaviors. Instead of just quietly having their own personal opinion, they made it their personal quest to make sure everyone in the church lived according to their man-made standards: no meat, no booze...and whatever other rules they decided to come up with. This isn't to say that setting personal preferences is wrong or that choosing to forgo certain activities is legalistic. We have that freedom, too (and my wife and have said 'no' to a great many practices other believers take part in). But these believers were essentially saying "obey my list of don't's for me to accept you and be nice to you."

In 1 Corinthians 13:5 Paul tells us that one of the marks of love is that "it is not rude." The King James Version says "it does not behave unseemly." We are rude when we behave in such a way that is offensive, indecent, or dishonorable to others. It's not so much about breaking social norms and customs (i.e. wiping your feet before entering a home, calling before stopping by someone's house, etc) but more about the hurt that we cause when we neglect to show honor and decency towards someone else.

Paul was telling the Corinthians who felt they were "strong" in faith not to shove their sense of Christian freedom up the noses of those people offended by those behaviors. That's being rude and therefore isn't love. But he was also telling those offended by such behaviors not to go to war with a fellow believer on the (un)holy hill of one's own petty preferences. Jesus said something similar when he told us "you shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Mark 12:31). In other words, true biblical love values relationships and it treats others with dignity and respect. 

Some time back I was talking to a group of Christian men when another man approached us. While most of us engaged him joyfully in conversation, I noticed one man was clearly agitated by this man, even to the point of refusing to return his greeting. 

After the man walked way, I turned to the brother and said, "hey I couldn't help but notice there was a problem. And if you'll forgive my frankness, I also couldn't help but notice you seemed a little rude." 

He replied, "I have no respect for that man and I refuse to even speak to him!"

With a smile I put my hand on his shoulder and said "Let me tell you a story. A few thousand years ago there was a small but growing church in a thriving metropolis within the Roman Empire...."

Thursday, November 19, 2015

It's not about you (or me)

"...love does not boast and is not arrogant..."
1 Corinthians 13:4

I sat in the hospital waiting room, having promised a congregant I would be there praying for him and be with his family during his long surgery. The large room began filling with other people. Children were playing with toys. Men were desperately trying to find something a guy would want to read. Ladies were conversing with one another. And, of course, some were watching soap operas on the single TV.

After a while a young man walked in and, judging by the priest's collar and wedding ring, I surmised he was probably a clergyman from an Episcopal or Lutheran church. The actual denomination didn't really matter, but what did matter was the conversation I overheard for the next hour. Like me, he was there to bring comfort to the family waiting for a loved one during surgery. But over the next hour all I heard was this young man talk about himself. When the husband of the lady in surgery started to talk about how he feared he was going to lose his wife, the clergyman cut him off to tell a story about how he almost died in a car accident. When the adult daughter tried talking about how much her mother meant to her, the priest interrupted to claim he knew all about loss, only to tell a story about how his favorite dog died when he was a child. When an older woman (presumably the mother of the woman having surgery) began to weep, the priest looked over at her, then back to the husband and proceeded to tell a long and detailed account of a car he was restoring.

Telling stories about ourselves and engaging in generic conversation during times of crisis isn't necessarily wrong. In fact, sometimes it can be a great comfort and help take a grieving family's mind off the pain, even for a moment. But what I witnessed was a man who had not yet begun to understand biblical love. Paul tells us that "love does not boast and is not arrogant." In other words, the believer is not supposed to be the person who has become consumed or defined by the exhibition of self-importance. He or she isn't supposed to try to inflate their status or reputation.

The believer is supposed to be the person who cares very little about himself and very much about other people.  To be honest, as I sat and listened to that young clergyman I didn't become filled with righteous indignation. I wasn't angry or offended by his behavior. Instead I was humbled. It caused me to sit back and reflect on many of my past conversations and wonder if this is what others heard when I talked.

A good way to gauge whether or not we are becoming boastful is by looking at the subject of our conversations. Are your conversations usually about yourself or do you instead show genuine interest in others?

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Envy: the enemy of love

"...love does not envy..."
1 Corinthians 13:4

We walked into my daughter's room on her 6th birthday and woke her up to a birthday surprise. There, in the middle of her room, was a brand new bicycle. She was thrilled, screaming in delight and jumping onto the bike, pretending to ride.

But we soon noticed someone in the room wasn't happy. Her older brother was standing off to the side, silently crying. When we asked him what was wrong he said "I'm just a little jealous, OK!" We walked over and gave him a big hug and suggested he go over and open the front door of the house. At first he resisted, too consumed with his envy at his sister's bike. Eventually with enough prodding, he relented and opened the door. There, complete with bow and ribbon, stood a brand new bike just for him.

We often talk to children about the "green-eyed monster"...that envious attitude that becomes consumed with (and enraged by) what another person has. In I Corinthians 13:4 Paul tells us that "love does not envy". The actual Greek word he uses is zēloō, which elsewhere is translated zealous. That is exactly what envy is, a consuming and energy-zapping zeal for something that doesn't belong to you. It is the painful desire for another person's advantages, possessions, or achievements. Or, closely related to this, it is the bitter anger that develops when someone you're disgruntled towards seems to be rising when you feel yourself sinking lower (in finances, in relationships, in career, in reputation, etc). It's been said, correctly I believe, that "envy is the art of counting the other fellow's blessings instead of your own."

One of the evidences that we are walking with Christ is that we seek to put to death this attitude when it arises within our hearts. A spirit of envy blinds us to what God is doing in our own life and makes us unable to see the bike outside the front door. When we become envious of others, not only do we fail to love others as Christ instructed, we also fail to love and trust God who blesses us beyond measure.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Showing Kindness

"...love is kind..."
1 Corinthians 13:4

The service had just begun and I was standing in the back going over some details with one of the ushers. Just then, a young mother with children in tow hurried through the doors of the church building, obviously frazzled and frustrated. The children were crying. Items were falling out of her over-sized mom-purse. Her hair was a mess (which surely would have horrified her even further had she been aware).

As I watched her I offered up a silent prayer to the Lord: "Father, be with this young woman this morning. She is obviously having a bad morning. Give her a sense of your peace today.".

With that prayer I turned back to the usher and resumed going through the details of the morning service. As just that moment, one of the older ladies from the church rushed over to the young mother and gave her a big hug. She then scooped up one of the children and gently guided the mother into to ladies restroom. Several minutes later the young mother emerged with her hair arranged, her children calmed, and a joyous smile on her face. All because an older sister in Christ showed some kindness.

In 1 Corinthians 13:4 Paul tells us one of the attributes of love is kindness. Though it doesn't come through in English translations very well, that word in Greek is actually a verb. Literally Paul says, "love is to be kind". Kindness is not a state of mind, or an attitude, or a feeling. It is an action. It is the tender concern for another human being which results in concrete acts that bring assistance or comfort to that individual. Someone, supposedly Mark Twain, once said "kindness is the language in which the deaf can hear and the blind can see." It is that tangible express of love that can be touched, observed, and experienced.

As I reflect on that morning I don't think my action was wrong. It was right to pray for this young mother. In fact, I believe God answered my prayer by sending that older sister in Christ. And, of course, as a man I certainly couldn't give the same practical assistance that this older sister in Christ was able to provide. But that morning did teach me an important lesson. It is not enough to feel compassion for others. In order for love to be genuine and Christ-like, it must be put into kind action.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Charity suffers long

I  waited outside in the parking lot of a small rural church on a cold Monday morning. The pastor was was a friend of mine and we had planned to meet in his office to fellowship together and catch up on life and ministry.

He was late. When he finally pulled into the parking lot, it was 45 minutes after the time we agreed upon. As he stepped out of his car and began walking to the church door, I noticed his head hung low and his shoulders drooped. He didn't even wave or acknowledge that I was there. I knew something was wrong.

When we got into his office I started with general chit chat. It was like pulling teeth. He stared off into the distance and sometimes didn't even respond to my questions and conversational promptings. Finally, I leaned forward and put my hand on his shoulder to get his attention. "Brother, what's going on?"

For the next 3 hours this brother-pastor recounted the struggles in his church. People were at war with each other. A deacon had accosted him after the Sunday evening service and verbally lashed out at the pastor because the offerings were down. Some of the founding members of the church were circulating a petition for his removal. He had spent the early hours of that morning trying to help a young couple who had lost their prenatal baby during the night. On top of all this, he recently learned his rebellious teenage daughter was sexually active and unrepentant.

During that conversation he looked at me and said "I'm done! This isn't worth it." While I heard those words, I also knew the man before me. He was just discouraged. Deeply so. But I also understood that words have power, and he was in desperate need of better words.

I opened Scripture to 1 Corinthians 13:4. While there are several verses in that section which are powerful, I only read the three words: "love is patient." I actually like the way the King James Version renders that phrase: "charity suffereth long."

For the next hour we talked about God's view of love. Unlike how the world defines the word, biblical love is marked by patience. It bears, endures, and is in it for the long haul. While the KJV word "charity" is perhaps an outdated way of saying love, there is something beneficial about the word. Too often we turn the word "love" into a feeling, whereas the word "charity" implies an action. True, this pastor had no power to change his situation, but he had the power to show love. Perhaps his teenage daughter would refuse to accept his love. Perhaps his deacon would also refuse to accept it. After all, the world refused to accept Christ's supreme act of love. But he still had the power to show it.

Maybe today you feel defeated. Powerless. But if you are a believer, God has placed something in you that endures. It is the power to love for the long haul...especially when things get difficult.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Living a Philippians 4:8 Life

Winston Churchill once said "attitude is a small thing that makes a big difference."

What is amazing about that quote isn't the words themselves but when they were said. Churchill lived during a time when the world seemed at its darkest. Humanity was at war, for the second time. An Axis of Evil was spreading across the globe like a blanket. Millions were being slaughtered. Children were being gassed to death. Old men and women were used as slaves. Entire countries were turning a blind eye, or joining in the evil. Churchill's own countrymen were running from the cities, abandoning their jobs and homes believing that all hope was lost.

But for Churchill, it all came down to attitude. He knew that positive thinking was most necessary when the world was on the brink of being overcome by moral darkness. Despite the hopelessness around him, he championed a vision for hope and freedom.

We may not be facing a world war, but the war Christians fight is far more serious. Though we've been saved by Christ, we are surrounded by evil and disappointment. It crawls into our churches, our jobs, and our families. It plants the seeds of negativity in our minds, clouding out our ability to see God's marvelous working in the World. I am convinced negativity has become one of Satan's most effective tools at keeping God's people from living victoriously for the King.

Negativity is the opposite of the Gospel and is contrary to the character of God. Paul even refers to God as "the God of endurance and encouragement" (Romans 15:5). This is the same God who "works all things together for the good of those who are called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28). This is the same God that we are called to imitate (1 Thessalonians 1:6). God is the source of joy, hope, and love, and therefore one who has the presence of God in his or her life must necessarily be marked by those attributes. Why, then, do Christians continue to struggle with negative thinking? Why are we prone to becoming disillusioned, angry, complaining, bitter, and joyless?

The only answer is that we at times find ourselves convinced by the arguments of the Enemy. Satan clouds our mind with everything that is wrong and hopeless. He fills our minds with doubt and our hearts with bitter thoughts. 

The apostle Paul recognized that there is an ongoing battle for the mind of believers. Satan wants to control how we think, because then he can control how we feel and behave. As believer's, we are called to wage battle against Satan for the control of our minds. This is why Paul told the Philippian believers that "whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things" (Philippians 4:8).

In other words, Jesus wants you to call out negative thoughts and intentionally replace them with positive ones. 

Are you tempted to see what wrong with your church? Do you find your focusing increasingly on the rebellion in your teenager? Is your mind consumed with the rudeness of your employer? Perhaps you are to the point where you can no longer sit through a sermon without making a list of everything your pastor said that was wrong or how he isn't as good as the TV preacher you've come to love. Maybe you are increasingly despondent because your husband isn't living up to your expectations. However it is manifesting itself in your life, if negativity is beginning to mark your life than Satan is currently winning the battle.

Some months ago I came under deep conviction that Satan was winning the battle for my mind. I could see, accurately I think (or at least I think it is accurate) all that was wrong around me. But I didn't like the person I was becoming. But regardless of how accurate my information was, my attitude was far from that which honored the Lord, and because of this I was missing the marvelous work that God was doing around me.

Maybe you can truly see the negative. Great. But recognize there is nothing uniquely Christian about focusing on the negative. Actually, by definition, that is about a pagan as we can get. Fight the battle against the Enemy's negative attitudes, and instead replace them with every everything that is good, noble, wonderful, and praiseworthy.

  • Commit to praising God for the wonderful work he is doing in your Church.
  • Praise him for the moments of connection and laughter you have with your teenage children.
  • Thank him for the spiritual gifts and salvation he has brought to those who trouble you.
  • Be joyous for the beautiful smile of your spouse.
  • Delight in the fact that a remnant in the younger generation are growing in their faith.

There are thousands of negatives around you, but consume your mind with the positives. Fill it with the joy of God's presence and the remarkable works he are doing. He is the God of endurance and encouragement, therefore  joyously endure and be boldly encouraging.