Complaining, griping and fretting. This has become the overarching theme of a nation which has been blessed in such extraordinary ways. Yet, Americans live to grumble.
We breathe in fresh air. And exhale polluted expletives.
We inhale God’s gift of life. And exhale words of death, for to hate is to kill. And there is a pandemic of hate in the hearts of Americans.
How can this be? Why have we become such an ungrateful people? Why do we feel we must make every wrong right? And why do we arrogantly believe that everyone else is wrong, and we are right?
Have we become so self-righteous that we are fooled into believing that our neighbor’s sins are greater than ours? Or worse yet, that we have no sins?
Could it be that Jesus was wrong? Is the speck in our neighbor’s eye actually bigger and worse than the log in our own? Should we fix the other guy’s eye first so we can see our own blindness better?
Is it possible that we have it all wrong? Has the enemy (Satan), that old serpent also known as the father of all lies, deceived us so greatly that we define wrong or right, by the color of one’s politics, or perhaps even their skin? In so doing, have we forgotten the truth of the passage that reminds us that “man looks on the outward appearance but God looks on the heart?”
If the heart is where God looks, should we not also look at our own hearts? Should we not continuously examine ourselves? Should the mirror not be one of our greatest allies in identifying our greatest enemy, and seeking to control and master him or her first?
As parents we do our best to give our children that which will make their lives better, in order to give them the greatest opportunity for success and happiness. Yet, if the response of our children was continuous grumbling and complaining about everything that was imperfect in their world, would we not undoubtedly feel hurt, disappointed, and even dejected by their attitudes?
Now consider God, our Heavenly Father, the model of perfection. He has given each of us so much, and yet we so often respond in such an ungrateful way. Rather than thanksgiving, we are full of grumbling about our circumstances, griping about our neighbor, complaining about our government, or boss, or culture, or anything else that is less than what our unrealistic expectations demand.
How must God feel? What must His response be? Could He grow “weary” with our thankless attitudes, despite the fact that we live in the midst of one of the greatest array of options, freedoms, and wealth in the history of mankind?
Can you imagine what the billions of other people on this globe must think about our pitiful attitudes, as they scratch out a meager existence in squalor, dirt, and mud?
What shame we should feel. If that shame were to lead to guilt, perhaps we would fall on our knees and confess our sin to our Creator, the One who has freely given us innumerable blessings, unknown to all of mankind before us.
Could you and I turn our ungratefulness into true, lasting thanksgiving? What if every time we were tempted to complain, about literally anything, we instead broke out in song? What if we simply understood that while we will undoubtedly have struggles, even in the midst of plenty, that God is still with us, that He will never forsake us, and that He is using our struggles to better refine us into the men and women He can use for His glory, and our good?
So could we change course? Could we be thankful instead of grumbling? Could we express gratitude instead of griping? And could we love in place of hate?
The answer is a resounding Yes. But it will only happen if we exchange our broken spirits with the Holy Spirit. Because to love is not natural. Only as the God who is love invades our minds and hearts, can we overcome that which is natural for us, with that which is natural for God.
So will you join me? Let’s transform our nation, beginning with the one we see each day in the mirror. After all, he is the only person I can control, and he is the only one for which I will ultimately be held accountable someday, as I stand individually before God.
“Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain.”Philippians 2:14-16
Privilege. It’s a word that has become mainstream today. But before we examine how this word is used today, let’s visit the definition, from the Webster’s Dictionary in 1828:
In its simplest definition, privilege is an “advantage, favor or benefit.” But, in a more detailed explanation, privilege is “a particular and peculiar benefit or advantage enjoyed by a person, company or society, beyond the common advantages of other citizens… Any peculiar benefit or advantage, right or immunity, not common to others of the human race. Thus we speak of national privileges, and civil and political privileges, which we enjoy above other nations.”
So “privilege” is not necessarily bad. But neither is it something that we normally bring about for ourselves. Rather, most often, privilege is something we are given by others, or inherited, or find ourselves enjoying apart from anything we have explicitly done.
For instance, I am an American, and you probably are too. Most of us never did anything explicitly to become an American. It was a privilege we were given as a result of our birth in this land. And with that birth, and nationality, come innumerable “privileges.” If you doubt this, travel outside our borders, and you will quickly understand the inherent privileges you and I enjoy as Americans.
But all Americans are not equally privileged. My last name isn’t Gates, or Bezos; nor is it Rockefeller, Bush, or Obama. But on the other end of the spectrum, neither was I born to a single mom, living on government subsidies, and my father wasn’t AWOL in my life either.
I’m grateful for my family, my upbringing, and the “privileges” that have been afforded to me, through little doing of my own.
I also recognize that my skin color may advantage me in some ways over other skin colors, at least in this present era. But again, I had nothing directly to do with that reality. Of course, neither did you choose your skin pigmentation. Rather, God, in His perfect wisdom, decided our skin color before the foundations of the world. And He knew the privileges we would enjoy, or lack, stemming from our skin color.
So privilege is real. But it is also subjective to some extent. But what do I mean by subjective? As I said earlier, many, or most, privileges are things we enjoy in spite of our own doing: our nationality, skin color, the family we are born into, etc. But how we perceive privilege is often through our own subjective responses.
In this present era, privilege is frequently used to shame and even punish folks. The most common use of the word, that has grown in popularity in our nation, is “white privilege.” This phrase is regularly used as a hammer to beat those whose skin is white, to make them feel ashamed for certain realities in our nation, and privileges they might enjoy.
Those realities exist. And they may “advantage” certain folks over others. Of course we should seek to level playing fields, as much as possible. But employing shame as one’s preferred strategy is not likely to convince reasonable people of the need for change. Sometimes forests need to be cleared. But using a dull ax is a very poor way to tackle the job, both for the tree, and the one swinging the ax.
No Political Solutions
So what is the solution?
Whenever I look at societal problems, my immediate response is to discount the solutions being proposed by politicians, or activists, or the media. This is because most societal struggles flow from spiritual realities. And there are no political solutions to spiritual problems.
So because of this truth, I choose to look to God, and His strategies, to solve what man cannot.
Responses to Privilege
When we see someone else enjoying a privilege we don’t enjoy, what is our first response? Do we envy them? Do we shout “unfair?” Do we demand those same privileges? Do we attempt to shame others for benefiting in ways we wish we could? Or do we at least stop and look at the privileges we enjoy, compared to others who don’t enjoy what we do?
We all know folks who enjoy privileges that vastly exceed the ones we do. But if we are honest with ourselves, we too have received privileges that exceed those of others as well, no matter who we are. Do we ever ask ourselves what will we do with the privileges we have been given, through no merit of our own?
As I read God’s Word, there are many responses a follower of Jesus should have when thinking about the reality of privileges others enjoy and we don’t, or privileges we enjoy and others don’t. Here are a few to consider:
Contentment. As a Roman citizen, the Apostle Paul theoretically enjoyed the privileges of that citizenship. But he was routinely deprived of those privileges, in the most brutal and inhumane ways. However, Paul’s response in Philippians 4:11 is a classic lesson for those who claim “Christian” as their identity: “For I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content.”
Don’t show favoritism ourselves. It’s easy to see the sin in others, while we are often blind to our own sin, or rationalize it away. So if we are upset about privileges offered to others, do we do the same ourselves? Note what we read in James 2:3-4, 9: “If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.”
Don’t envy others. The Bible is full of verses that warn against envy. While many privileges are unjust, if our hearts are envious over privileges that others enjoy (because we don’t) then we have sinned. Note what Titus 3:3 says: “For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, …spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another.”
Don’t hold grudges but rather forgive those who might mistreat you, or grant advantages to others over you. In one of the greatest examples of forgiveness ever, Jesus cried out to his abusers and murderers, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” But, in our human frailty, we might look at Jesus as “super-human” since he was both God and man. So let’s consider the response of Stephen, just a short time after the ascension of Jesus. This man had been called upon by the early church leaders to assist in settling some claims by the early believers that certain widows were being discriminated against (in essence other widows had greater privileges). The relevant part of Stephen’s story though is that he was falsely accused by unbelievers. As he was being stoned to death, his last words were “Lord do not hold this sin against them.” What amazing forgiveness, even while being mistreated and martyred.
Don’t be a rabble rouser. Followers of Jesus should never be known as people who create dissension, seek retribution, or gripe and grumble. The Apostle Paul again reminds us: “Do everything without grumbling or arguing…” (Philippians 2:14). Also, in Titus 3:2 we read: “They must not slander anyone and must avoid quarreling. Instead, they should be gentle and show true humility to everyone.” Finally, James 3:18 says this: “And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness.”
Consider the needs of others before your own (because Jesus did). This is a hard thing to do. We all have needs of our own. But Paul reminds us of this in Philippians 2:3-4, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” And again in Titus 3:14 we read this: “Our people must learn to do good by meeting the urgent needs of others; then they will not be unproductive.”
Seek Justice by doing what you can in your own “world” to level things. You may not be able to rectify the injustices of the world, your nation, or society, but you can examine your own heart and actions to see where you might be able to offer justice to those you personally touch. The Apostle Paul once again reminds us of this principle in 1 Timothy 6:17-18, “Teach those who are rich in this world not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which is so unreliable. Their trust should be in God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment. Tell them to use their money to do good. They should be rich in good works and generous to those in need, always being ready to share with others.” Regardless of the relative value of our portfolio, we can all be “rich in good works” to those whose privileges are fewer and who might have been victims of injustice.
Don’t flaunt the privileges you might enjoy. In a world that elevates “self” and thrives on selfies, and boastful achievements, it’s easy to fall under the spirit of pride. Yet, God reminds us over and over that He puts down the proud and elevates the humble. If God, in His sovereign ways, extended privileges to us that exceed that of others, we should be careful to remain humble, and make every effort to share the blessings that come from those privileges.
The Perfect Judge. God is aware of every injustice that exists, and as the Perfect Judge, He will meet out the perfect response, in His own perfect time. “Don’t grumble about each other, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. For look—the Judge is standing at the door!” (James 5:9) If you possess privileges that exceed that of the average person, realize you will be judged by God in how you invested those privileges. “To whom much is given much will be required.”
A Privileged People
In the Bible, the Jewish people were known as a “privileged” people when God, for His unique reasons, chose them, a small, insignificant people, and made of them a great nation. Through them God chose to bring forth His Son two thousand years ago. While we are told God does not show favoritism, we do know that He singled out Israel for some very unique blessings and purposes. But God also extended innumerable blessings to the rest of mankind, through the unique relationship He forged with Israel.
Privilege is something that has existed from the beginning of time. We all will never enjoy equal privileges. But if we are followers of God, we are called to “act justly, show mercy, and walk humbly with our God.” (Micah 6:8)
As we think through God’s role in privileges, and how we are called to respond, I pray that the above thoughts will not provoke anyone to anger. Rather, I trust we will consider how God expects us to live in the face of privileges that we don’t enjoy, while considering those we do. May we always seek the good of others above our own. May we humble ourselves in the way Jesus did as He left His heavenly privileges behind. And may we extend mercy to those undeserving, knowing that we ourselves could not take our next breath without God’s infinite, undeserved, mercy extended to us.
The Call of a follower of Jesus does NOT include obsessing with everything around us that seems to counter the way we would like the world to go. If you are there, you’ve lost the joy and peace of your call from the God of the universe, as my poem below attempts to remind us: _______
If we fall For what we see We’ve lost the call That is ours to be
“Pick up your cross” Were His words to us. Not look around To gripe and fuss
A simple call “…and follow Me.” But hard it is When obsessed are we
So take your eyes Off all that’s wrong And turn your mind To what’s unseen
When life is lived As Jesus did What gripes you now Will soon be rid
Our minds will seek The Call of Life The Way of Truth Away from strife.
So focus our minds On what’s unseen Priorities will shift From now to then
What lasts will call Not fleeting things Eternal will rise Over temporal flings
Our neighbors’ needs Will waken our thoughts As their souls cry out We’ll connect the dots
So trust and obey This is our call No matter if It’s big or small
“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:18
When our minds are focused on the unseen, our priorities will shift to eternal over temporal; lasting over fleeting. And that which lasts forever, the souls of our fellow man, will be our priority, versus those things that merely satisfy (or anger) for a moment or two.
As I watched some excerpts from Trump’s second Impeachment Trial, it seemed to me that the voices expressed in the Senate Chamber merely echo the millions of voices outside that chamber. One side is convinced they are righteous and the other side is evil. While the other side is convinced it is righteous and the other side is actually the evil one.
This is not merely about right and wrong. Although at its core right and wrong hang in the balance. But what precede one’s inability to detect right and wrong is the fog of self-deception. And that self-deception is driven by one sin that resides in the soul of each person within the impeachment chamber. Pride has taken center stage in this trial, both in the chamber, and outside it in the hearts of millions across this land.
We each remain convinced that we are right, and the other guy is wrong. We are righteous, the others are evil. And based on our particular standard, perhaps that is true.
But our standard is never the right standard. Our positions are never completely righteous. In fact, if there is any degree of impurity in me, then I am not pure. And likewise, the same applies to any who would throw stones at those they despise. Let’s not forget, to despise is merely one shade of gray removed from the black of hate. And to hate is to kill in one’s heart, whether the blow is struck outwardly or not.
So if we are all impure, and self-deceived, when embracing our unique standard, which is the standard by which we should measure ourselves (first)? It is an external, abiding, and eternal standard that does not change from person to person, or nation to nation.
God’s standard which affirms you and I are both unrighteous is that unbending and non-negotiable standard. We are all filthy. Were our thoughts and actions to be put on trial in our own “Impeachment Trial” we would all be found guilty. I don’t know the specifics of your guilt, nor do I need to know. All that matters for me, is that my guilt and filthiness exceeds any righteousness I might outwardly display. And all my finger pointing at my political foes, could never make right the impurities in my life.
So what is it that you, and I, and America needs more than anything at this time?
Humility. The opposite of what we see on display in our lives and across every bit of media every day: Pride. Pride. Pride.
But we should remember this about the original and universal sin:
“Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” Proverbs 16:18
“God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” James 4:6
So rather than remain transfixed by all of the finger pointing and puffiness being displayed by our nation’s leaders this week, we should chart a new course, and consider some old advice.
The date was June 28, 1787 and our nation’s founders had been locked in a dispute for several weeks over the specifics of our founding. So Benjamin Franklin arose and shared the following words, which we would do well to reread, and take heed:
“The small progress we have made after 4 or five weeks close attendance & continual reasonings with each other — our different sentiments on almost every question, several of the last producing as many noes as ays, is methinks a melancholy proof of the imperfection of the Human Understanding. We indeed seem to feel our own want of political wisdom, since we have been running about in search of it. We have gone back to ancient history for models of government, and examined the different forms of those Republics which having been formed with the seeds of their own dissolution now no longer exist. And we have viewed Modern States all round Europe, but find none of their Constitutions suitable to our circumstances.
“In this situation of this Assembly groping as it were in the dark to find political truth, and scarce able to distinguish it when presented to us, how has it happened, Sir, that we have not hitherto once thought of humbly applying to the Father of lights to illuminate our understandings? In the beginning of the contest with G. Britain, when we were sensible of danger we had daily prayer in this room for the Divine Protection. — Our prayers, Sir, were heard, and they were graciously answered. All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of a Superintending providence in our favor. To that kind providence we owe this happy opportunity of consulting in peace on the means of establishing our future national felicity. And have we now forgotten that powerful friend? Or do we imagine that we no longer need His assistance.
“I have lived, Sir, a long time and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth — that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings that “except the Lord build they labor in vain that build it.” I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without his concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better than the Builders of Babel: We shall be divided by our little partial local interests; our projects will be confounded, and we ourselves shall be become a reproach and a bye word down to future age. And what is worse, mankind may hereafter from this unfortunate instance, despair of establishing Governments by Human Wisdom, and leave it to chance, war, and conquest.
“I therefore beg leave to move — that henceforth prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven, and its blessings on our deliberations, be held in this Assembly every morning before we proceed to business, and that one or more of the Clergy of this City be requested to officiate in that service.
Prayer, humility, and looking upwards to God to confess my own imperfections, instead of outward to point out my neighbors’ faults, is where we must begin. Anything short of this will merely quicken the demise of a once influential nation.
Matthew sat down behind his tax collector’s booth. It was just another day for him. He’d been doing this for enough years now that everyone knew he was a wealthy man. He had no external needs, or even wants. Yet he was empty inside.
This emptiness had most recently turned Matthew’s attention to the Torah. He wondered if the answers to his questions might be found there, or via some of the other Jewish prophets that were a part of his heritage.
As Matthew’s mind grappled with the teachings he had been exposed to in the synagogue, he harassed the man in front of him into paying his taxes. The grumbling Jew complained about the exorbitant “surcharge” that Matthew routinely tacked on for everyone that came before him. Of course folks hated him, but Matthew considered himself an astute businessman, and his wealth seemed to confirm his perspective.
Yet the more wealth Matthew accumulated, the greater his emptiness grew.
All of a sudden a voice interrupted Matthew’s thoughts. He had noticed a man standing a few feet away observing his tactics with the taxpayers shuffling before him. But when the man spoke, it startled Matthew:
“Matthew, follow me and be my disciple.”
As Matthew rose to comply, he instantly recognized the man as Jesus, the one everyone had been taking about, because of his teachings and the miracles performed by this man from Galilee…
It was now three years after that first encounter with Jesus. Matthew was grappling with his future, along with the ten other men he had come to love. Jesus, the One who had called Matthew to follow Him and become His disciple had just ascended to heaven, after suffering a humiliating death, and rising from the grave, just a few weeks earlier.
As the disciples struggled with the departure of the man who had said to each of them “follow me and be my disciple” they openly acknowledged that they had several options.
As I’ve evaluated their circumstances, losing their Rabbi, the Son of God, with whom they had spent three years, I believe the following options are likely ones they considered:
1. Return to the normalcy of their previous occupations.
2. Take the knowledge they had gained from Jesus and fight the evils of their government, seeking to establish a “righteous” earthly kingdom. After all, this is what most of their family and friends regularly complained about.
3. Follow the example of Jesus, and share the Truth of the Gospel, that would transform the hearts of their neighbors, while also securing eternal life for all how would embrace the Truth.
The first option would have been the easiest, and perhaps the most secure. They knew how to fish, or collect taxes, or whatever their previous profession had been, before Jesus. This would have been comfortable and required no sacrifice, courage, or “cross-bearing.” But it also would have had zero impact on your life and mine, or literally hundreds of millions of Christ-followers over the last 2,000 years.
The second option would have been fraught with risk, and threat to their own personal safety. They knew and could see the rampant corruption in society, from their government, the tax system, and the religious establishment. Rome was an evil empire. The Jewish rulers were corrupt and self-serving. And the disciples had previously inferred in their conversations with Jesus that they were waiting for the Messiah to overthrow the corrupt institutions of their day. Had they chosen this option though, it’s certain their lives would have been cut short, and their influence lost. Furthermore, the Gospels that tell us of Jesus would likely have never been written, and probably none of the rest of the New Testament.
The third option, while seemingly foolish and futile, by any earthly standard, was no doubt the hardest for the disciples to consider, from a human standpoint.
Their training and experience would have suggested option one. Their passion, longing for justice, and perhaps even power and notoriety would have steered them to option two. Yet they chose the least likely option. They chose to simply follow the example of Jesus.
Their three years with Jesus allowed them to see the heart of God, up close and personal. They saw that, while Jesus was surrounded with corrupt politicians, government officials, religious hypocrites, and injustice everywhere, the Son of God did not commit His fleeting time trying to right all the wrongs of society. Jesus was disengaged politically, but not because He didn’t care about government. (In fact, it was Jesus who ordained government, both as the institution He would use to raise some rulers and demote others, while offering some degree of human oversight of the affairs of men.)
But Jesus knew that there would never be any true external reformation unless there was first internal transformation. The heart would never be transformed via kingdoms, politicians, laws, or human initiatives. So Jesus committed His energies, passion, and work, to the heart, and His example illustrated His priority continuously.
Jesus did not fear the leaders of His day, as He routinely confronted them, rebuked them, and left them speechless. But it’s clear from Jesus’ example He did not attempt to overthrow them, or replace them with better men, or encourage others to rebel against them. His mission was so much greater than influencing or extinguishing a temporal earthly kingdom.
So Jesus placed the overwhelming focus of his three years of ministry in speaking eternal Truths to the hearts of His neighbors. He understood and taught that His neighbor was anyone in need, and so like the Good Samaritan, Jesus showed mercy and compassion to the throngs that He encountered daily. And those throngs included every kind of “despicable” person you can imagine. If I’m honest, people just like me.
With Jesus as their teacher and perfect example, is it any wonder that the disciples, whom we now call Apostles, followed directly in the footsteps of their Mentor? They could do no less. Of course, they likely continued to generate income to meet their needs. And they likely remained interested in their political circumstances, and other temporal matters. But those issues did not dominate their lives. In fact, there’s no record that they allocated even the smallest part of their time, treasure or talent to those earthly endeavors or distractions.
So of all the options the Apostles could have chosen, they chose the one that was eternally significant. The other options were temporal, at best. But they understood the words of Jesus when He taught them:
“What does it profit a man if he gains the world, but loses his soul?”
So they gained not only heaven, and resisted the temptation to choose the lesser options, but they also led many to God, by sharing the kingdom of God, versus the kingdoms of men. They pursued and imparted an eternal kingdom and forsook the lure of the temporal one.
If you are a follower of Jesus today, you can thank not only the sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross 2,000 years ago, but also the fact that eleven ordinary men, with no formal training and no external credentials, were willing to simply follow the example of Jesus. They forsook, or diminished, their professions, and the lure of power and prestige, and instead they chose the eternal over the temporal. Should we do any less?
“I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you.” John 13:15
“We must quickly carry out the tasks assigned us by the One who sent us. The night is coming, and then no one can work.” John 9:4