Saying Terrible Things

Back in March, shortly after the Facebook privacy scandal, the NY Times ran a piece asking “Can Social Media Be Saved?” suggesting that perhaps the populace had finally grown tired of the incessant bickering, the character assassination, the bullying, the vulnerability. That was before Roseanne Barr’s disastrous tweet. That was before news of Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn’s pedophile jokes on Twitter (which were a decade old). That was before discovery of Milwaukee Brewers’ pitcher Josh Hader’s racist and homophobic tweets (which occurred 7 years ago, Hader was 17 at the time). That was before the phony “we don’t tip terrorist” receipt went viral on Facebook. And in the past few days, the American couple that has received the most press as of late – SNL comic Pete Davidson, and fiancé, pop star Ariana Grande – both announced that they were leaving Instagram and Twitter due to backlash over posts and speculation about their relationship. Davidson commented:

I just don’t wanna be on Instagram anymore. Or on any social media platform. The internet is an evil place and it doesn’t make me feel good.

Not to repeat myself, but Americans have painted themselves into this brutal corner.  We adamantly defend our “First Amendment right” to speak our mind and then we get completely offended when we hear someone else speaking theirs. Social media hasn’t created this problem. The internet isn’t evil. What social media did do, however, is pave a massive intersection in the downtown of public dialogue, where everyone on the planet now has access to virtually everything someone has ever said in public. And since everything today is now being constantly video recorded, chronicled, and archived for public consumption, what chance does any human stand to not eventually be exposed in the worst possible light?

Just imagine someone recording and filing every single thing you said and did when you were 17-years-old. Now imagine an employer interviewing you for a company position at 30-years-old, and evaluating you not merely on the basis of your resume and interview, but on whatever Google might find from the past thirty years. By our own society’s standards, virtually no one is employable anymore.

Ironically, despite the previously accepted moral relativism of postmodernism, we are now finding EVERYONE to be guilty of fireable offense. And if you honestly think you somehow make it through the judgment unscathed – that you have never said something even the slightest bit sexist, racist, ageist, or religiously discriminatory – you’re as ripe for slipping as anyone. I promise you that anyone who spends any significant time with you will be able to come up with something you’ve said at one point that they considered highly offensive.

This is now officially an epidemic. Go to the front page of YAHOO! today, tomorrow, or a month from now, and I guarantee you that several of the leading stories are someone being removed from a prominent position because of something they said that was perceived as highly offensive.

This social media crisis alerts me to two things Christians are going to need to lead the way on if public dialogue is ever going to improve:

1) Guard Your Words

Children are taught to disregard unkind words, because they cannot break bones like sticks and stones. It’s a clever diddy from a naive mind. Words have tremendous power and can reach into the human psyche in ways that a stick or a stone can’t. They cause significantly greater damage.

I don’t care what the parameters of the First Amendment allow for, if you’re a Christian, your speech is not free. It’s not even yours. It was redeemed by Jesus Christ, along with the rest of your life. Consequently, your opinions, your takes, your comments, your tweets, your pics, and your posts were all paid for by his blood and therefore, in some way, should have the intention of bringing glory to Him.

It is possible, despite what your overwhelming feelings might tell you, to NOT say something. When Jesus stood trial before Pilate and was asked about the ridiculous charges being brought against him, we’re told twice in row that he didn’t comment.

When he was accused by the chief priests and the elders, he gave no answer. Then Pilate asked him, “Don’t you hear the testimony they are bringing against you?” But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge—to the great amazement of the governor. (Matt. 27:12-14)

It’s not wrong to defend the truth. But it’s also highly unproductive to engage in the world’s lunacy. And it’s never good to misrepresent Christ. So if you can’t go on social media without sinning, or tempting others, or being overwhelmingly tempted by others, then delete all of your accounts. Cut it off (Matt. 5:29-30). It’s not worth it. Christians should be the first ones ready to get out of the pool.

2) Forgive Their Words

The clever two-step that Satan has done with our society has been to 1) convince us there is no such thing as universal right/wrong, and that we are free to speak our minds (i.e. moral relativism), and 2) allow us to get deeply offended by one another’s comments, because deep down we know there is, in fact, such a thing as justice, inappropriate speech, and moral code.

Why is this so brilliant? Because if there’s nothing technically wrong, then there’s nothing to forgive. In other words, forgiveness only needs to take place in the presence of wrong. But if moral relativism says wrong doesn’t exist, then forgiveness doesn’t need to exist either. And if the biblical concept of forgiveness carries the idea of “letting something go,” then if we lose forgiveness, we’ve lost the ability to drop hurt and bitterness. We’re doomed to carrying baggage forever. Without forgiveness, we must be angry, divided, polarized.

I commonly find this dynamic at work in people I counsel. I’ll ask them if they’ve forgiven a person who, perhaps even indirectly, contributed to their present hurt. Sometimes they look at me as though I’m offering them foreign cuisine. Now, if the people I counsel are not even thinking to forgive a parent, or an ex, or a minister, or someone else fairly obvious, I can guarantee forgiveness is not the first impulse people are experiencing on their social media accounts.

Again, Jesus teaches us a better way. As onlookers taunted and soldiers tortured in his crucifixion, Jesus said,

“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)

His grace caused him to let go of every stupid thing they said and did, to such an extent, that his primary concern at that point was that his Heavenly Father would have mercy on them for their stupidity. And his grace extended to our stupidity too.

If people could speak harshly to a perfect man, they can and will speak harshly to you too. But if that perfect man could forgive you, then you can forgive others too. And you’ll be much healthier when you do. Don’t seek justice. In your anger, seek Him, and let him sort out the justice.

In Conclusion

When historians look back on this era of history, social media, and its stream of unfiltered comments, from our president on down, will be an important and embarrassing chapter. Every bit as addictive and harmful as the tobacco tar by which our country unwittingly stained its lungs 60 years ago, we’re just as naively breathing vitriol, gossip, and slander into the cultural ethos. And someday, maybe soon, we’ll be stuck with a societal cancer, our grandchildren wondering what people were thinking back in 2018.

We can’t control what the world around us says, does, thinks, or feels. But we can incarnate the Spirit of Christ, who was “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” (James 1:19)

Guard yourself. Forgive others. Lead the way.

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Winners with Unmet Victory

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The men’s group at my church is currently working its way through a series of lessons on Leadership Skills for Men. The opening lesson was a study on “VISION.” Great leaders are supposed to have it. But very few instinctively know how to develop this quality, which is why an abundance of materials ranging from self-help books to an entire genre of podcast is dedicated to vision in leadership.

In this particular lesson from our men’s group, the fresh thought for me was the idea that David, despite being a man after the Lord’s heart (Acts 13:22), never actually received in this lifetime the thing he arguably desired the most – a dwelling place for God. An explanation given for why David would not build a temple for God was that, as a man of war, he had too much blood on his hands (1 Chron. 22:8).

So God, instead, would have David’s son, Solomon, be the one to construct the temple.

“And you, my son Solomon, acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind…Consider now, for the Lord has chosen you to build a house as the sanctuary. Be strong and do the work.” (1 Chron. 28:9-10)

As I was considering this idea that David, mighty David, giant-slaying, world-beating, empire-expanding, psalm-writing DAVID never actually experienced in his life the thing that he desperately longed for most, it further struck me that the other heroes of faith had a nearly identical experience.

Moses longed to experience the culmination of his life’s work. And while he had a moment to survey the territory, he’d never truly dwell in the Promised Land.

But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.” (Numbers 20:12)

Likewise, Abraham was promised a family that would turn into a great nation (and a Savior who would come through that nation). While he was given a son, he never created anything that amounted to a nation, nor experienced blessing all nations, in his lifetime.

“I will make you into a great nation,
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.” (Gen. 12:2-3)

In summary, the three guys that first come to mind as “successes” amongst God’s people in the Old Testament Scriptures never actually experienced their deepest desire in this lifetime.

David didn’t get the Temple. Moses didn’t get the Promised Land. Abraham didn’t get the Nation.

THAT was a helpful revelation.

I’m sure they must have felt somewhat incomplete, dissatisfied, maybe even a little like failures.

What Does This Mean?

In all honesty, after ten years in public ministry, I’d be lying to you if I told you that I only sometimes feel like I’m spinning my wheels. The reality is that most days are spent feeling like the needle has not moved in any perceptible way. Every pastor gets into ministry wishing he’ll experience something as glamorous as the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2. And there are indeed moments. But it always cracks me up that in that Pentecost account, the Apostle Peter defends the disciples’ speaking in tongues by saying, “These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning!” (Acts 2:15) It’s amusing to me because I would very much like to be able to eventually say the same. Instead, I more often find myself concluding, “Nope. This guy asking for a handout is not speaking in tongues. He’s just drunk (or high). And yes, it’s only 9:00am in the morning.”

In this, my 250th post, I feel comfortable declaring that ministry is fairly unglamorous and shockingly non-triumphant in the immediate experience. By design. What’s easy to forget in a cursory reading of the Bible is that the flip of a page often constitutes days, or even years. Those who want Pentecost must realize that the disciples experienced nine rather non-miraculous days from Jesus’ Ascension till the Spirit came down. Why wouldn’t he just come down five minutes after Jesus ascends? Or why does Paul, after Jesus converts him, have to spend three years studying in Arabia (Gal. 1:17-18)? If he has this profound experience and spiritual gifting, why the need for time-consuming education? Again, design. The nature of seed sowing is a “trusting of the process,” a phrase that has popularly reentered the cultural vernacular because it speaks to our intuitive discordance with American instant gratification.

Now, seed sowing is certainly the nature of gospel ministry, but the analogy works across life – at least for anything that means anything. The monotony of feeding or changing a child has almost zero instant payoff.  Attending meeting after meeting in pursuit of kicking an addiction carries little glory. Lending an ear to a broken person with the express intent of simply commiserating with them doesn’t make you feel better. Just the opposite. This is all often painful, generally slow, subjectively empty labor. But this simply reaffirms the idea that a kingdom is built one tedious brick at a time.

In a broadband world, the idea of walking by faith and trusting the process is increasingly difficult. Not unlike Abraham, or Moses, or David, a Christian must come to accept that the greatest fruit of their labors will not be realized within this lifetime.

The ultimate example of that, of course, is our Lord himself. Jesus came into the world for the specific purpose of saving us (John 12:47). And yet, since that required his death, then his life’s pursuit, by definition, could not technically take place within his original life on earth. His heart’s deepest desire and his life’s work could only come to fruition after he died.

What this means is that we should fully anticipate that all of the grinding, all of our feelings of failure, and all of the minutiae of our daily attempts at obedience and worship will one day be revealed as essential movements in the construction of an eternal dynasty.

The gospel means that real life always comes on the far side of death. And real success can only come after this apparent ineffectiveness.

The monotony continues to matter. Press on.

Lebron and the Choices of Life

Lebron James, the premiere player in professional basketball, and arguably the most dominant, influential professional athlete in recent memory, after signing a contract with the LA Lakers, has again changed teams, for the fourth time in his 15-year career. That kind of superstar movement was unthinkable when I was growing up.

In the days of Jordan, Bird, Magic Johnson, Isaiah Thomas, there existed faces so iconic of the franchise that the idea that they would either grow disenfranchised with their team or that the hometown would want to part ways with “their guy” never seemed like a possibility.

But the NBA and professional sports have changed. More accurately, life has changed. In the 21st century, being unnecessarily tethered, i.e. a lack of options, is considered nearly criminal. I mean, we all DESERVE to be able to pursue the deepest desires of our hearts, right? (Or something somewhat narcissistic, humanistic, and individualistic like that.)

Irrespective of what we say, few of us have any higher pursuits than our own personal comfort, pleasure, and happiness. Gone is duty, or loyalty, or fidelity. Why wouldn’t a professional athlete bounce to a different location if that team offered a marginally better chance at winning a championship? For that matter, why would I stay with a company that doesn’t offer me max salary, max corporate trajectory, max days off, and the chance to win immediately? Why would I stay with a wife who, three children later, can’t physically compete with that girl at the office 8 years younger? Why would I stay with a small, quaint church that is full of people whose lives look even more messed up than mine? Why would I stay with a God who isn’t delivering the goods on demand? What’s the point? Isn’t there a different team that will help me feel like a winner now?

In all of the articles and talk radio shows I’ve run across over the past few days discussing Lebron’s move, one thing that struck me is that not a single person (well, maybe a few homers in Cleveland) question Lebron’s decision to move to Los Angeles from a loyalty perspective. Some question it from a basketball perspective – whether or not it improves his odds of winning a championship. But virtually no commentators question the validity of him switching teams – i.e. whether or not a player has some sort of obligation to a fanbase that has embraced them warmly. No one questions this because we all know what it’s like to make decisions by effortlessly pushing the options through the filter of “Is this best FOR ME? Is this what I WANT?”

I’m really not sure even Lebron James is going to shift the balance of power in the NBA with his move. But he is exposing something sad about the state of this generation.

The following are a few related lessons about humanity Lebron has taught us:

1) Choices are Demonstrating the Worst in Us

In 1982 Buckminster Fuller coined something called the “Knowledge Doubling Curve”; he noticed that until 1900 human knowledge doubled approximately every century. By the end of World War II knowledge was doubling every 25 years. Today, as the world has splintered into more specialized fields, it’s increasingly difficult to measure, but on average, human knowledge is doubling every 13 months. According to an IBM report several years ago, universal internet availability will eventually cause the doubling of knowledge every 12 hours.

Too much information, too fast, means life is uncontrollably unpredictable. This fact leaves us feeling vulnerable. So humans today generally possesses a well-developed tentativeness. We’re afraid to make commitments, because we know we could never possibly have all the facts necessary to make the best decision.

This, to some extent anyways, explains the contemporary changing of college majors, careers, and spouses,…as well as professional athletes changing teams continuously. “How can I ever know if a choice is in MY best interest? Well, I guess I’d better try that option over there.”

When humans are given options, go figure, they opt. Furthermore, when we feel threatened or insecure, we’re more inclined to opt that much more selfishly. The availability and accessibility of options themselves don’t make us wicked, but they expose what’s deep inside.

So we’ve created a world with literally thousands of options at the coffee shop, fine-tuned to my personal taste buds, and then we perceive it as injustice if we don’t get things exactly the way we want in the rest of the coffee shop of life. Modern humans are remarkably disloyal, precisely because we’ve given ourselves the option to be “unfaithful” without deep consequence.

Dear Christian, the world is NOT your oyster. You and all the world’s oysters were redeemed by Jesus. Consequently every decision you make does not need to be run through the “Does this make me happy?” filter, but though the “Does this glorify the God who owns me?” filter.

Please notice that none of this, by the way, means that opting for something different is always wrong. Sometimes it’s totally necessary and right. But selfishness is always wrong no matter how it works out. And for sinful creatures, options can multiply temptations. The fallen nature hates patience, perseverance, and faithfulness and will always be tempted to opt out.

2) We Now Know Money is Not Enough

Shockingly, the Lebron James signing is arguably not the biggest story coming out of NBA free agency this summer. Rather, that would be the story of perennial All-Star Demarcus “Boogie” Cousins joining the Golden State Warriors on a 1-year, $5.3 million contract, which conforms to the NBA’s salary cap rules to create competitive parity in the league. The Warriors have won the NBA championship 3 of the last 4 years and were already primed to win several more over the next few seasons. The addition of Cousins, who is considered by many to be perhaps one of the best dozen or so players in the league, seems unfair to many who follow the NBA.

The head-scratching question to most is, “Why would Cousins sign such a small deal?”

Now, $5 million dollars is more money than many of us may ever see, but I want you to keep in mind that he apparently turned down an offer from his home team (New Orleans Pelicans) for $40 million over 2 years. When the NBA devised the current salary cap, rest assured they never dreamed superstars would consider playing for minimal contracts.

Some have suggested that perhaps Cousins took a smaller one-year contract thinking if he can perform well next season, he can prove he’s fully recovered from his injury last season, at which point he can command a higher offer. But that makes little sense, because his numbers are likely to be lower this coming year playing on such a talented team, where he’s not the go-to guy. It has to be something different.

And that difference very well could be the difference other veteran players accepted when they joined the Golden State Warriors – that they would make less money, play less, and receive less acclaim, but would be part of a proven winner. We already knew that once people hit $75,000 in annual income, they feel no significant shift in happiness with increases. But what Cousins’ signing, and Lebron’s bouncing around suggests is that money, in fact, doesn’t buy satisfaction. Humans want much more.

Which leads me to my final point…

3) We Long To Be Part of Something Powerfully Bigger Than Us

As selfish and me-first as fallen human nature is, due to the fact that we have an innate sense that we were created for something more than ourselves, we know deep down, ironically, that our greatest happiness cannot be found in our supremacy. There’s a bigger superstar than me, and there’s a team of “us” that we long for. Our only fear is the ego of a true superstar. Disproportionately talented humans almost invariably use their gifts for selfish gain, which hurts others.

And that’s one of the many reasons why the gospel of Jesus is so remarkable. The Apostle Paul writes:

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. (Eph. 2:19-22)

The teaching here is that a single building block is terribly unimpressive, because it was never meant to sit there alone. In fact, if it does remain alone, it accomplishes nothing – it can’t stand on its own, it can’t offer shelter, it benefits no one. Once fitted together on a firm foundation, guided by a perfect cornerstone, however, each building block becomes relevant by accomplishing what they were cut out to be.

Jesus, our cornerstone, is a superstar who doesn’t hog the spotlight, but who walks into darkness, alone, so that you can have the light. He won’t leave you for a better opportunity. In fact, he nailed himself to you. And now he invites you to be part of his team. Because of his resurrection, all who believe are guaranteed to end up on the winning side of history.

At some point you become tired of trying to make something of yourself, and the idea of simply being part of the winning team sounds wonderful. That’s what we were made for.

The talented players on the Golden State Warriors’ bench, who could all likely start on other teams, seem to understand this. But part of the essence of being a Christian is to really get this concept. “He must become greater; I must become less.” (John 3:30) Whatever gift we’re given, whatever role we play, we’d humbly carry it out because we’re just overjoyed that our brother would invite us to be part of his eternally winning team, no matter how difficult this season of life.

Only when we lose ourselves in Him and in his Church will we find the selves we were cut out to be.