Don’t Give Your Attacker Ammunition

How strange would this be? Some cops and robbers are having a shootout from opposite ends of a warehouse like portrayed in hundreds of TV shows and movies. Suddenly there is the sound of clicking and one robber yells to the other he is out of bullets. The other robber replies that he has fired his last shot. A police officer yells, “Here you go!” and slides a box of bullets down to the robbers. Foolish, yes? Yet Christians can sometimes give the enemies of Christ ammunition with which to attack.

Expect persecution

The Bible tells Christians to expect persecution. Jesus experienced it, warned His apostles it was coming, and they warned Christians who followed the truth to anticipate opposition and be amazed if it is not present.

  • John 15:18-25 – Jesus told the apostles the the world hated Him before it hated them because He told the truth and exposed its sin. The world would hate the apostles for their association with Him.
  • Matthew 5:11-16 – The Sermon on the Mount includes an admonition that believers are blessed when they are maligned and persecuted for teaching the truth and they share the fate of the prophets before them. Despite this, they should reflect God’s light and be salt and some would glorify God for this display of holiness.
  • Luke 21:12 – The apostles would be persecuted by governments and individuals.
  • 2 Timothy 3:10-13 – Christians will be persecuted
  • 1 Peter 4:12-19 – Those who suffer as Christians should not be ashamed of persecution but none should suffer for sinful actions.

Jesus, the apostles, and early Christians demonstrated grace and strength under the harsh hand of oppressors who ignorantly and hatefully opposed Jesus and those who followed His teaching.

  • Isaiah 53:1-9 – Prophetic anticipation of the persecution of Jesus
  • Matthew 27:13-14 – Pilate was amazed that Jesus did not revile His accusers.
  • 1 Thessalonians 2:1-4 – Paul and his companions preached despite conflict.
  • 1 Corinthians 4:9-13 – Apostles endured abuse and demonstrated how believers should respond to such treatment.
  • Matthew 5:44 – Jesus taught His followers to pray for their persecutors
  • Romans 12:12-14 – Be patient in tribulation and return blessing for persecution.
  • As previous passages taught, we must endure patiently and demonstrate trust in God and love for our enemies.

It is natural that Christians who imperfectly reflect Christ in a dark world, pursue holiness in a defiled society, and teach the truth in the midst of a web of lies and ambiguous beliefs will be persecuted. As Jesus said, we are not of this world. Though some will join with us, most will pity us, consider us a curiosity, while others will revile us and violently oppose us. Instead of retaliation, we must respond in love so that our enemies might see their dark hatred and perhaps glorify God. As Peter said, “keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation,” 1 Peter 2:12.

Arming our attackers

However, Christians can be guilty of supplying weapons to their enemies and hardening their hearts, not by brightly reflecting the light of Jesus but by practicing a worldly version of Christianity that does not reflect the self-sacrifice and holiness of Jesus and approaches the practice of faith, worship, and Christian community with political maneuvering, pettiness, and works of the flesh (anger, rivalries, dissension… of Galatians 5). Such actions confirm the cynicism of the unbeliever, reinforce their reasons for repudiating the faith, and increase their resentment of the interference of hypocritical Christians into their lives. Unbelievers can cite these encounters as reasons Christianity should be rejected.

On a flight from Tacoma to Dallas, there was a couple behind me talking to a friend. They were from a denomination and were talking about the political wrangling in their church and some related churches, disparaging the pastor, describing power struggles within the choir (?), and wondering where the young people were going (I had an answer!). These believers also pontificated on how some Old Testament accounts were obviously not accurate because “God is love” and some of the sayings of Jesus weren’t really accurate. I was glad the lady beside me who was obviously very worldly (her shirt indicated behaviors clearly condemned by Jesus) had her headphones in and slept the whole trip. I imagine if she heard such trash it would reinforce her desire to find fulfillment in the sensual passions of this world since, from this discussion, she could conclude that Christians are obviously political backbiters who don’t even believe everything in the Bible. Such ignorance about the scriptures and worldliness in the denomination would reinforce an unbelievers perception that Christians have nothing different to offer and they are a bunch of worldly hypocrites preaching from a book they discredit themselves.

Dirty LaundryLikewise, I’ve lost count of the times that Christians have spoken ill about other Christians on social media to be supported by unbelievers who demonstrate, by their comments, that such behavior represents their cynical dismissive view of believers. We will not help people wear robes of white when we air our dirty laundry.

Christians know things the world often doesn’t know

Christians are not perfect. We’ve all known the “holier-than-thou” believer who is quick to judge and slow to recognize their pride. But most Christians I have met are well acquainted with their faults and strive towards perfection in Christ. Until we are glorified we will be imperfect in our decisions and how we handle situations. For a people to teach and embrace grace, we need to show a lot more grace towards fellow believers. You will be hurt by others, not because they are Christians but because we are human. Christ tells us to try to work it out amongst ourselves. In 1 Corinthians 6, Paul points out the shame that believers were taking other believers to court because of the impression it gave unbelievers and would prefer to suffer wrongdoing than to demonstrate such behavior before the world: “…but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers? To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?”

Not all who claim to be Christians will be saved.  The parable of the dragnet and the wheat and tares in Matthew 13 teach that the kingdom will be filled with wrongdoers who will be separated out in the judgment for their punishment. Some will be surprised in judgment that despite their actions that appeared righteous, Jesus will dismiss them saying He didn’t know them, concluding that not all who call Him “Lord” will enter the kingdom of heaven, Matthew 7:21. Unbelievers often think that all Christians, regardless of their beliefs, are the same. We have to shine as lights even against those who claim to be Christians but whose lives do not reflect godliness. We should not give unbelievers another reason to dismiss Christ but provide a stark contrast between those who profess Christ and those who practice Christianity.

This world is not our home. When we seek to advance our cause through the political system and turn our local church into a place of power struggles, palace intrigue, and the satisfaction of worldly appetites we indicate more allegiance to this world and its ways than with our heavenly citizenship. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t vote but regardless of the laws about bathrooms and marriage, we can still follow the teachings of Jesus and teach others to do so as well. It is bad enough that local churches have power struggles but it is worse when they are shared in the local community. In our Christian fellowship, let us heed the words of Paul in Philippians 2: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus…” Such behavior allows drives politics from the church building and pride and selfishness from the Christian’s heart.

Our brethren do much good despite their faults. This is the greatest tragedy of airing dirty laundry among brethren before the world: we don’t praise the great qualities of self-sacrifice, holiness, and loving service that characterize so many brethren. Remember, the unbelievers lump us together and will just discount such behavior as the rare deluded believer or the hypocrite who hides their duplicity very well. How often do you see people post on Facebook or mention in conversation about people who came afterwards to confess their wrongdoing, apologize for an insensitive remark or action, or declare that they misjudged their fellow believers? People see the sensational and miss the retractions or corrections, if they are even mentioned at all.

An appeal

Our relationship with Christ will incur the derision of unbelievers who do not care to investigate the truth or have been turned away either by its brightness or stumble having been offended by those who claim to be believers but do not live the word. We will not convince them as they are like those in the parable whom the truth has been snatched and it will not take root. But there is still hope for those who might consider the truth if they saw it in action.

Let us be sincerely devoted to the truth and holy in our lives (Titus 2:11-14). When there is conflict, let us take up the matter privately with our brethren our up the chain to the church (Mt. 18:15-17) but not into the public in plain site of unbelievers. When we highlight the failings of fellow Christians we do not draw them to Jesus, but provide more reason for their resistance to Him. We know that some who claim to be Christians will be lost but the world does not know this. We will be persecuted and attacked by unbelievers but let’s quit giving them ammunition.

Proverbs 18:17: One Side of the Story

“The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.” Proverbs 18:17 (ESV)

Cross-examination is a key element of our justice system. A lawyer can craft a compelling story, peppered with supporting evidence, that appears to reveal the hidden motive of the defendant and their role in perpetrating a crime such that the jury is ready to drag the accused to jail themselves. This certainty often fades when the defense attorney rises and tells an equally compelling but different story, disputes the prosecution’s use of the evidence and perhaps reminding the jury of evidence that casts doubt on the prosecution’s case, and presenting another interpretation of the defendant’s life that either justifies their action or disputes their involvement. The jury mentally puts down the torches and pitchforks and cautiously considers what the truth could be.

The American adversarial judicial system prevents the problem highlighted in the proverb. Our passions can be ignited by one side of the story leading to regrettable actions because we neglected important facts. What seems like an obvious course of action built on logic leads to serious and expensive tactical mistakes. It is easy, but lazy, to defer to a confident and knowledgeable person when we should react with skepticism and due diligence. The person may be correct but they should be proved correct.

Sales presentations

People make poor decisions in their personal finances and business by falling for well-designed sales presentations and advertisements. Many people have timeshares and other “investments” (Beanie Babies) that they cannot unload because they succumbed to the logic and appeal of an inspiring presentation, time pressure (“this deal ends today”), trusted a salesperson and organization they didn’t really know, and they didn’t read the agreement. The best salespeople and sales organizations are trained in psychology and use this knowledge to design the pitch. I’m not criticizing the approach but reminding you to be aware that the car salesperson and telemarketer has been trained with many crafted scripts to address our concerns, questions, and rejections. They have an answer for everything that will appeal to your pride, anxiety, and insecurity. I’ve been through sales training where you are taught to create and then solve FUD: fear, uncertainty, and doubt.

I am not anti-sales. On the contrary, sales is what drives the economy and starts commerce. Through sales we learn of products that we really need that we didn’t know existed, medications that can help us with serious issues, and solutions to problems we want solved. However, in most cases there are multiple solutions or products that can fulfill our need  and we do not need to “buy now.” Buying from the first pitch without considering what another vendor has to offer or listening to another expert who highlights potential issues with the initial offer is foolish. More information will help clarify your needs, evaluate what is really offered, and provide insight on alternative products and solutions that may be a better fit or help you negotiate a better deal.

Personal relationships

The wisdom of the proverb will also help us with conflict in the workplace and our private lives. A manager or friend will be approached by a person who is having problems with another person. They will weave a tale of unfair treatment and unkind words and explain situations that have caused this person distress. Being the good friend or manager you confront the other individual about their accidental or intentional injustice. You may be surprised and embarrassed when you find the person is offended and insulted by your accusations and tells a compelling story that counters the first person’s account, supplies important information the other person neglected to mention, and even has witnesses that supports their view of events. Far from solving a problem, you created a bigger problem that existed before and now you have a starring role in the drama.

Although we want to be a good leader or loyal friend, we must remember that one side of the story is always imperfect. It is usually foolish to get involved in another person’s disagreement though we can provide godly counsel to help them resolve the conflict. The other person may see the same situation differently. Our view is colored by many things: experience, worldview, age, gender, personality, and many more characteristics. We filter our view through these things and respond accordingly. If you must intervene because you are a manager, make sure you get lots of information, ask follow up questions, look for evidence or information that provides some clarity, then act in the way that seems appropriate to the situation. But don’t react to one side of the story.

Success myths

Many business titans and successful people in many fields have a success myth. It comes out in interviews, is the subject of articles and books, and the person may even cite the one or two things that made them a success. Author Ryan Holiday begins his book “Ego is the Enemy” by telling his own success story then promptly reveals the important information left out that also contributed to his success and things that made him successful in one area that led to failures in another. He concludes by warning readers of CEO biographies and business success books that these stories, based in reality, are still myth. Important elements are missing. For every billionaire founder who skipped college and followed their passion to create a powerful company there are hundreds or thousands who followed the same path to poverty. We hear about the success stories but failures do not make headlines.

Glean what wisdom you can from success stories but realized that there are important nuances and situational differences that also contributed to the outcome. Perhaps they developed a product that hit at the right time, hired key individuals that contributed more to the success that is recognized, and had more luck than they are willing to acknowledge. You will not be able to mimic their success by doing everything they say they did. Someone can point out how they wrongly assessed the reason for their success, succeeded despite what they did, or how what led them to success in the past could lead to failure for them, or you, in the future.

The world is very complex though we desperately want it to be simple and will reach for simple solutions or obvious answers. But to be personally and professionally successful we must give kind attention to what we hear, but turn an investigative and skeptical eye to see what we are missing and what more we need to know. The story may be good, but wait to hear the other side of the story.

I Don’t Know What I Want To Be When I Grow Up!

In a world of seemingly limitless opportunities, bright young people can be frustrated trying to narrow down what career to pursue. Most don’t have enough work experience to know the great variety of jobs available. Others have aspirations but don’t know how they can make a living pursuing their passion or interests. They search the Internet, talk with parents and guidance counselors, and perhaps talk with friends but cannot discern the path they should take to a fulfilling career.

I wrote an article previously with general advice for young people on choosing a career that is satisfactory and allows them to glorify God in that vocation. In it I provide advice on handling adult criticism or worry about non-traditional career paths (social media manager, artist, trades) and how to use the career to support godly service. However, they may feel like they are trapped in a room full of doors wondering which one to choose. If this is you, I hope the advice below provides some important considerations and ideas for selecting a door to open.

You will probably have several careers

In contrast to my parent’s generation who generally stayed with one company for most of their career, you will probably work for several companies throughout your career. On the job you will likely start in detail-oriented production work until you become an expert who manages, jobs, projects, and/or people. As your skills develop you may discover new ways to maximize your joy and increase your income by pivoting from your initial career path to something you find more challenging or fulfilling. This may happen within one company but will more likely be a couple of moves within one company and moves within other companies as well. You may even be freelancing, that is, doing several projects or jobs (possibly quite diverse) for multiple companies while working for yourself.

Many pursue a course of work for a decade or two then change to something quite different that uses their knowledge and experience in different ways. The marketer becomes an inventor. The accountant becomes a consultant helping other businesses with financial decisions instead of detail money tracking. The successful businessman becomes a preacher. The stay-at-home mom becomes a nurse or teacher when the kids leave home. What you choose today may suit you for a period of your life until you choose something else to pursue.

Start with the tasks not with the title

Much of the frustration I had, and shared by some of my children, is not knowing what job “title” to pursue. We are accustomed to a person with a job title doing a particular job and our challenge is to uncover the one that is suited for us. I want to suggest a better path that will produce less anxiety: focus on what you want to do instead of what the job is called.

Choice Of Career OrientationThink about what you want to do in a job, not its title, who hires for that work, or will it pay enough to support you. Think about what kind of tasks you want to do every day (understanding that every job has some tasks that are unpleasant but necessary) or accomplishments you want to achieve. List those tasks and/or accomplishments and think about what skills you will need to do that work. You can search the Internet for the tasks or objectives (i.e., writing, computer programming, welding, building houses, helping people recover from illness…) to determine what skills are needed and perhaps read about individuals who are successful in this work. I would suggest being broad in your thinking and have similar overlapping options of the things you want to do. For example, if you are interested in gardening, consider skills in landscaping, food cultivating, and hydroponics as they are distinct but related.

Next, search to see how you can develop those skills today. There are many things you can study online, watch YouTube videos, read books, or learn how to use specific tools, whether the tool is a complex machine or computer software. You can also discover what trade schools, colleges, or apprenticeship programs teach those skills. An important boost to your career is finding hobbies that use the skills for personal enjoyment. Use this knowledge to determine how you can start learning the skills now, even if it just learning the fundamental principles until you can go to a college or trade school. Think of ways you can use the skills now as a volunteer (help in a hospital or nursing home) or experiment on personal projects  (i.e., building web sites, apps, animations, furniture, rebuilding an engine…) to gain practical experience you can demonstrate to employers. Following this path, some jobs and employers may find you!

As your knowledge grows and your skills improve the career options and  perhaps people or companies that will help you pursue your passion will start to appear. In fact, I don’t think some job titles or career paths will become evident until after you have started the journey following your interests and have accumulated knowledge and skills. So explore what interests you, what brings you joy or excites you, the things you can get lost in and truly enjoy doing, or the things you have enjoyed doing since you were a kid. Chances are, if you take a broad interest approach as described above, you will eventually discover what you cannot see by anxious seeking.

 

 

Connecting Three Bible Trees

How are The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, the Tree of Life, and the cross of Jesus connected?

Genesis opens the Bible with two prominent trees: the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The first allowed continued existence and the second an opportunity to exercise free will in rebellion against God. Adam and Eve ate of the second tree and lost access to the first. They came to know good and evil and also came to know separation from a unique fellowship with God and the pain of death.

Revelation closes the Bible with access to the Tree of Life restored, its life giving fruit, and a unique fellowship between God and man .

What connects these scenes of rebellion and peace, restraint and restoration? The cross of Jesus where the Savior was hanged upon a tree, cursed to redeem us from a curse (Galatians 3:13).

The cross became a Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil for it informs us of the great evil that could crucify the Son of God, the exceedingly high price of sin, and the cost to redeem man. We also are taught of the exceeding love, mercy, and goodness  of God who would make such a sacrifice to redeem us (1 John 5:20). We come to know God in a special way through the cross.

The cross is also a Tree of Life through which the death of Jesus brought righteousness and life (Romans 5). The cross lifted Jesus so that even those who look to Him today can find salvation and eternal life (John 3:14-15).

Engaging Videos on the Life of Christ

Appian Media has made freely available a series on the Life of Christ filmed in the places where the events unfolded.

Appian Media has created an engaging and educational video series “Following the Messiah” that traces the life of Christ through the places where he lived and worked. Hosted by Barry Britnell, who regularly leads tours to these places, and Jeremy Dehut, an enthusiastic preacher of the gospel, they bring the history and meaning of the scripture alive as you look at the places where these events unfolded.

It is a series of short videos that would be useful for evangelistic studies of the life of Christ and Bible studies for all ages at home or in Bible classes. You can watch the videos for free on the Appian Media web site.

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