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 O’Reilly Factor and FoxNews. Over the last two decades, these two entities became household names for literally millions of Americans. Holding the top spot in the prime time cable ratings is something most TV personalities would aspire for and, if achieved, would no doubt boast of. Bill O’Reilly was no exception. The fact is, Bill was never shy to remind his viewers of his unparalleled success.
Over the years I have watched my share of the O’Reilly Factor. And while I have agreed more often than not with many of the positions Bill would take, I found myself regularly perturbed with the man. There is something about watching someone spout off braggadociously, night after night, that can turn a person from a follower to a critic.
More than once during the last decade I’ve thought of Proverbs 16:18 when listening to O’Reilly pontificate about his infallible views on nearly any subject under the sun. That verse asserts:
“Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”
It’s likely that we all struggle with that five letter word: Pride. And perhaps the more successful one becomes, and the more he or she is in the public eye, the greater the temptation is to think highly of oneself.
I’ve often heard the expression “a self-made man” used of those who achieve some level of success. But I’ve always been deeply troubled by such a view. If one affirms God and His sovereign role in our world and lives, then I would suggest it is pride-gone-wild to assert one is a self-made anything. True, we play a part in our future, with every choice we make. But I believe it is dangerously wrong to buy into the notion that we are the reason for our success.
The truth is there is a greater Power at work. I liken it to a farmer who sows his fields. Sure, he planted the seed, but God gives the rains, sun and the ultimate increase. And even further, God gives the farmer the resources, health and strength to even plant the seed.
Likewise, in our lives, we can plant seeds of success by the choices we make. But it is ultimately God who honors those choices. Only God can bless us with successes beyond our wildest dreams. But when those dreams come to fruition, here are some questions that, depending on our answer, will determine whether pride has entered into our lives.
What do we think? How do we act? What do we say to others? Whom do we thank? Is it ourselves or God?
Deuteronomy 8:18 answers the last question with this affirmation:
“Remember the Lord your God. He is the one who gives you power to be successful…”
So as I think about Bill O’Reilly’s fall from the pinnacle of success to the depths of shame, I am saddened to see such a loss. Whether Bill is guilty or not of the charges leveled against him is beyond the scope of this article. But Bill’s arrogance and pompous attitude loom large for anyone willing to see them. And sadly, I believe they drove the reason for his fall.
More important than Bill’s fall though, is this. His failures force me to look in the mirror and test my motives, my attitudes, and my beliefs.
Is there Pride in my life? Do I possess a haughty spirit? If so, then there is a fall and destruction in my future.
What about you? Have you considered these questions? If not, I would challenge you to do that same.
At the end of the day, all that is good in our lives and all that we might accomplish or accumulate is only by God’s abundant blessings. Any explanation beyond that should cause us to seriously consider Proverbs 16:18… before it’s too late.
One final thought. As Bill O’Reilly falls, Tucker Carlson rises, being offered Bill’s former prime-time slot at 8pm. It’s noteworthy to mention that Tucker Carlson is moving from his short stint at 9pm, after replacing Megyn Kelly, to the 8pm hour, the top slot in prime-time. Will Tucker though, learn from Bill O’Reilly’s mistakes and resist the temptation to credit himself for his sudden success? Time will tell. And let’s hope humility reigns.
Earlier this week I returned from a two week trip to Nepal with a team of five guys. Our adventure flew us from Atlanta to Doha, Qatar and on to Kathmandu, Nepal. I’ve been to quite a few countries over the years, and oftentimes my travels have taken me to a number of places with very low standards of living. But as soon as we ventured from Tribuhaven International Airport into the streets of Kathmandu, I knew that I was in for an experience like none other.
While cell phones were everywhere, basic standards of living, like flushing toilets, potable water, dependable electricity, paved roads, and even something as ordinary as hot water in hotels were rare in Kathmandu, even more so in the mountains, where we were headed the following day.
The next morning, we boarded a short flight from Kathmandu to Tumlingtar, a very small town sitting alongside the Arun River. Out the left side of the plane, as we flew east, rose the Himalayan Mountain Range, with its crown jewel, Mount Everest, the tallest mountain in the world at 29,029 feet. In fact, eight of the ten tallest mountains in the world reside in Nepal.
The following days would test our bodies and psyche as we departed Tumlingtar. With backpacks on our shoulders, we headed for a canoe ride across the Arun River, a jeep ride we’ll never forget over some of the dustiest, deeply rutted roads imaginable, and many miles of hiking up mountains and through tiny little villages in some of the remotest parts of Nepal. Everywhere we went over the next several days we were met with continuous stares, acknowledging the fact that in some of these little villages, no American had ever been seen.
As we traveled throughout Nepal over the near two weeks we were there, the word “thanksgiving” came to mind over and over. As I compared my life back in the United States with that of the Nepalis, I couldn’t help but thank God for His providential blessings. Whether it was our standard of living, the liberties our Constitution affirms to us, or the spiritual truths that were a part of our nation’s DNA, the American experiment is something we all too often take for granted.
Americans like to acknowledge our many blessings annually on the 3rd Thursday of November with turkey, dressing, pumpkin pie and football. But truthfully, as we look around the world, we should celebrate Thanksgiving this very day, for our blessings are too numerous to count. Whether one lives in a penthouse overlooking Manhattan, in a suburban middle class neighborhood, or subsidized housing in an inner city, each one of us is part of an elite body of citizens, even with our diverse socioeconomic levels. As “Americans” we are all afforded unlimited opportunities and the freedoms to pursue them. But lest we become puffed up, we should remember that the status we enjoy has been bestowed on us by a merciful and loving God, and that there is nothing inherent in us that would merit such blessings.
As we think of the many nations of the world, we should remember that God established the times and boundaries of each nation (Acts 17:26), and He also blesses those nations who affirm Him as their God (Psalm 33:12). But as I was abroad these last couple of weeks, I came across this verse in Psalm 9:17 — “The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God.” There is no doubt in my mind that America is rapidly forgetting God, and the division, turmoil, instability, and even violence we are seeing across our land suggests that we are beginning to reap the consequences of such forgetfulness.
There is really only one solution to restoring our Republic. And it begins with thanksgiving and humility. I pray that we will all begin to reassess our relationship to Almighty God, and as we do, also count our many blessings. And let’s make everyday a day of thanksgiving.
I recently purchased a DJI Mavic Pro drone, a state-of-the-art technological wonder. It’s a unique compact drone, designed so that the arms can be folded down and transported with ease, but still possessing some of the most highly sophisticated features available. I was able to take the drone on the trip to Nepal and captured many incredible aerial views. Below are just a few of the videos that will give you just a little sampling of our team’s experience. I trust you enjoy them.
With Christmas just over and New Year around the corner, it’s a week when so many of us enjoy time reminiscing with family and friends, while planning for the year ahead. Christmas, the day that begins the week, is all about family when you consider the reason for the day.
Two thousand years ago, a divinely chosen couple in Bethlehem became a family when the Creator Himself chose to enter this world as an innocent child. The purpose of that child, Jesus, was to regather His spiritual family that had been lost because of the choice of the very first family thousands of years earlier in the Garden of Eden.
So I thank Jesus for the family He has given me. From my wife and two sons and daughter-in-law, to my father, mother, brother, sister and all of their extended families, I am truly blessed. But there is another family that dwarfs my physical family in size. It is my spiritual one, that extends from Tennessee to the four corners of this world, from the present to the past and into the future. This spiritual family is one that includes so many brothers and sisters that it will take an eternity to get to know them all. And so this, yet unmet family, is also someone I am deeply grateful for.
But along our journey during our “three score and ten” years on earth, we all have the opportunity to make so many friends along the way. Some we enjoy for years. Others for a few moments. But the blessings and words of truth we experience through these friends can deeply impact our lives in a way that often changes its trajectory. And for this I am deeply grateful.
But with a New Year just moments away, we must consider the future. 2017 is full of the unknown and will undoubtedly include many joys but heartaches as well. Our future is largely like a lump of clay, without form but able to be shaped into whatever object we desire. Will the object it becomes be one resulting from little thought and simply coincidence? Or will 2017 be a year in which its outcome is one of deliberate planning, choices and consideration of God’s purposes for our lives and His plans?
I trust your New Year is one that is thoughtful, deliberate and includes the blessings of God in all that you do as you seek to honor Him.
As I peer out the window at the terrain below, jetting over the heartland of America, I cannot help but ponder the future for our nation following the unexpected and historical win by Donald Trump.
We saw so many “firsts” during Election 2016. The first billionaire to win the Presidency. The first woman to ever receive the nomination for President of a major party. The first election where both candidates’ unfavorable ratings were at historical highs. And so many more.
Today I am indeed grateful to God that we are not referring to Hillary Clinton as President-elect. If you believe that God is still intimately engaged in His creation, then you understand that Daniel 2:21 was once again affirmed in this election in which we were all given the privilege and responsibility to participate: “And He changes the times and seasons; He removes kings and raise up kings.”
While I am thankful that Hillary Clinton did not prevail, admittedly I remain a skeptic as to Trump’s veracity, trustworthiness and character. My concerns will either be affirmed or invalidated in the months and years to come. And honestly I pray they are proven wrong. But one thing is certain. As Donald Trump transitions from candidate to President, some very distinct realities will set in.
If you’ve ever flown, as I am doing today, you know that there can be something magical about soaring 30,000 feet above the earth at 600+ mph, seeing the earth below you whiz by. The details of all that lies below is indistinguishable from that altitude. Similarly though, if one is glancing up from the ground into the atmosphere, the specifics of an aircraft is also unknown.
What airline is it? What is its tail number? Is it a Boeing or Airbus? Who is inside? There’s no telling until the plane lands.
But when that silver capsule finally touches down, the answers will become clear. If there are defects in the plane, they will be exposed. And as the passengers disembark, their true identity will be revealed.
Over the last year, the Trump campaign has been like the jet cruising at 30,000 feet. Its flight plan has been purposefully one of generalities with limited substance dealing in poll-tested, populist issues. But to an angry and disgusted populace, the vague flight plan proved wildly popular, with statements like these fueling Trump’s flight:
“I will build a great wall on our southern border and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words!”
“Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the US until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.” (Interestingly this statement was removed from Trump’s website 11/09/16, the day after his election. See here.)
“I’m going to repeal and replace Obamacare.”
“We’re going to have a special prosecutor for Hillary. If I were President, Hillary would already be in jail.”
But the Trump campaign is now descending from its year-long high altitude voyage, to the reality of a Trump administration. As the implementation of the billionaire’s vision proceeds, which was strong on emotionally charged rhetoric but soft on specifics, any blemishes in Trump’s policies and flaws in his style and guiding philosophies will quickly be tested and revealed.
Fortunately for Trump, he is landing his Presidency on a “Republican-friendly” runway, given the reality that our new President will be advantaged with a GOP-controlled Senate and House. And while there are many Republicans in Congress who are not fans of Donald, the way in which Trump won will give him the gravitas that many of his predecessors lacked.
So will President-elect Donald Trump touch down in Washington, prepared to govern and deliver specific solutions that are as popular and successful as his campaign rhetoric was in its lacking of those same specifics? Can the reality TV star be accountable to voters to follow through in the drudgery of day to day governing? Will Trump’s decisions over the next four years remain in alignment with the positions he claimed he supported during his campaign? Or will President Trump revert back to the antithetical views and values he embraced during the many decades leading up to his Republican “conversion.” Will the dozens of campaign promises Trump made, many outrageous in nature, be fulfilled? And if not, will his supporters even care?
The answers to these questions will determine whether President Trump’s arrival and tenure in Washington will be a successful and controlled touch down or a disastrous crash landing. For the sake of our nation, our communities and our loved ones, I pray our new President is not only wildly successful, both politically and personally, but that the man who disembarks in Washington is a man of great character and integrity.
“What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul?”Mark 8:36