Should We Rant with Those Who Rant?

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Betteridge’s law of headlines clearly states: “Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no.” So spoilers.

I often think about the time I spend on services like Facebook and Twitter. Recently, I saw one of those exchanges where one person posts something inflammatory that then escalates in the comments. All to often, you see something like, “If you don’t like what I have to say, delete me,” tossed in among other attacks as well as more commenters lining up to take sides. This time, the exchange was between Christians, and the object of debate was far from a spiritual matter. (Actually, those two things happen more often than I would like.)

Romans 12:15 says we should weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice. That’s the primary reason I stay on social media right there. If I’m connected with you on Facebook, I sincerely want to know what’s going on in your life. I want to know what prayers you need, what celebrations you have, what struggles you are facing. That’s part of what being a brother or sister in Christ is about. That’s what being a friend is all about.

However, between adorable pictures of pets/kids and status updates about life, Facebook in particular has become a platform for soapboxes. It’s hard to scroll very far without seeing some post or another about why this group is heartless or why that group is stupid. Toxicity runs rampant. It damages relationships, and it motivates more than a few to take breaks from Facebook or abandon the service altogether.

Then come the times we feel the need to engage — to put someone “in their place.” Or, we jump in and participate in the rant, behaving like bullies toward those who think differently on some secular issue — gun rights, immigration, healthcare, taxes, etc. I’m guilty of this as anyone. Just a couple weeks ago, I caught myself being very mean-spirited on Twitter. Sure, I deleted the tweets after the fact, but the damage had already been done.

Here’s Romans 12:15 in its larger context:

In love of the brothers be tenderly affectionate one to another; in honor preferring one another; not lagging in diligence; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope; enduring in oppression; continuing steadfastly in prayer; contributing to the needs of the saints; given to hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless, and don’t curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice. Weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind one toward another. Don’t set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Don’t be wise in your own conceits.

Repay no one evil for evil. Respect what is honorable in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as it is up to you, be at peace with all men. Don’t seek revenge yourselves, beloved, but give place to God’s wrath. For it is written, “Vengeance belongs to me; I will repay, says the Lord.”

Therefore “If your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him a drink. For in doing so, you will heap coals of fire on his head.” Don’t be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

What I don’t see is an exhortation to rant with those who rant, to fight those who incite. Paul doesn’t give us permission to be Internet trolls. (Although, in a manner of speaking, he does give us permission to feed the trolls.) In fact, if I hold some of my past conduct on social networks to the standard put forth in Romans 12, I fall woefully short. Still, I recognize that struggle, and I’m always hoping to do better.

I invite you to look at your own conduct on Facebook and other social services. Are you ranting with those who rant? Stop. Are you inciting arguments and anger? Stop. Stop being overcome by evil, and instead be a source of goodness. And, above all, continue posting about your joys so that I can rejoice with you. Write about your sorrows, so that I can pray for you. I’m not going to unfriend you, mute you, or block you because I disagree with you on some things, but I’d much rather know how I can be a better friend to you than how to vote like you.

A Daughter’s Giving

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“US Cent Coin” by http://www.elbpresse.deLicensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

A few days ago, my daughter wanted to surprise me by buying me a bakery treat with her own money. As we were getting ready to go, she sat down, opened up her little change purse, and removed a dollar bill and some coins. My wife asked her what she was doing. My daughter’s response was, “I’m taking this money out so I don’t use it on accident. It’s for Bible class.”

What?

We were both floored. We’ve let her put money in the contribution plate since she was very little. My wife used to just let our daughter choose some coins to put in out of her wallet, and that eventually transitioned to our girl choosing coins from her own change purse. She takes it very seriously too — carefully choosing the shiniest coins or crispest bills and then meticulously arranging them in the plate. I just didn’t know how much value she placed on giving.

It’s easy for any aspect of our Christian lives to go on the back burner when we aren’t physically in the church building. My daughter’s actions really brought home Colossians 3:17 that says we should do all in the name of the Lord and Romans 12:1, where Paul calls us to be living sacrifices. Passages like these remind us that we should be putting Christ first all of the time.

Contribution can seem like such an insignificant act of worship, but it’s still important. A child putting money in the plate from her little change purse may seem like a small act, but it makes a difference. In that moment of setting some of her own money aside for “Bible class,” she taught us volumes about spiritual priorities. She was a light. She wanted to do something nice for me with her money — that was selfless by itself — but then she took that next step. She remembered God first.

Comfort and Joy

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Comfort and Joy — those two words summarize the gospel message very well. In Matthew 11:28, Jesus extends this invitation:

Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. All of you, take up My yoke and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for yourselves. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.

This is an invitation to all of us who want to leave behind the burdens of the world and find comfort in His arms. Jesus goes on in the the following verses to talk about how He is Lord of the Sabbath, the day of rest from this world’s labors. He offers comfort that gives us refuge and rest from this world and its concerns.

In John 15:11, when Jesus is telling His followers of the love He has for them and that they should have for each other, He says:

I have spoken these things to you so that My joy may be in you and your joy may be complete. This is My command: Love one another as I have loved you.

How many times can we read of Christ’s followers rejoicing? They rejoice in worship. They rejoice in prison. They rejoice in persecution. They rejoice in their hope. Their lives are joyful because they carry Christ’s joy and love inside them.

Too often, we trade Christ’s comfort and joy for burdens and heartache. We dwell on things that take away our peace. We take in influences that squander joy, and then we might go and do the same to others. Think of how confrontational and impatient we can become while waiting in lines or stuck in shopping traffic this time of year. Think of how you treated the last cashier to ring your order up incorrectly.

We proclaim to serve a risen Savior, a Prince of Peace, Emmanuel, the Lamb of God. Every day we follow Him should bring us comfort and joy, and we should then spread that everywhere we go. What joy it should be to know that we have a home prepared with our Savior! What comfort we should be able to take in the fact that the burdens of this life are temporary and that He came to bear the weight of our transgressions! How can we let anything in this world get us down when we keep those things in our thoughts?

These two qualities are then rooted in love — love for our Savior, love for the world, love for each other, and the confidence we have of God’s love for us. It’s a way we should be set apart form the world. During the holiday season and throughout the year, we should bear tidings of comfort and joy.

The Slippery Slope of Grace

xkcd has been one of my favorite webcomics for a long time, and today’s entry is absolutely fantastic.

Sure, taking a few seconds to be respectful toward someone about something they care about doesn’t sound hard. But if you talk to hundreds of people every day and they all start expecting that same consideration, it could potentially add up to MINUTES wasted. And for WHAT?

What would happen if you took time to care about the people around you? What would result from actually showing kindness and concern for your bank teller, your waitress, your cashier, your plumber, or a telemarketer? Might you start to make the world around you a little better? Might it eventually make you into a better person? We get so worried about so-called slippery slopes in our church cultures, but this is one I can get behind: a slippery slope of grace.

Peter describes this slippery slope in I Peter 1:

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.

Jesus has shown us grace in His love, and we come to know that grace through knowledge of His word. We then let that word help us grow to the same love He showed us, and part of that love is grace. Every time we practice grace toward others, we grow more like our Savior. This might mean we use kind words where we might want to be harsh. We listen where we might want to dismiss. We show kindness when we feel wronged. We forgive where we might want to begrudge. We take time to understand before we pass judgment.

When Paul was verbally or physically assaulted during his ministry, he never responded in kind. When Jesus confronts Peter about denying Him, he shows mercy and forgiveness instead of resentment. Jesus challenges us to resist conformity with the harshness of this world at the end of Matthew 5:

You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even n the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

These statements are not suggestions or truisms. This is how we grow closer to being like our Savior. This is what it means to be like Christ.

If we do this though, we will indeed be on a slippery slope. Because if I show kindness to those around me, even those I do not like, I might begin to care for them. If I care for them, I might be concerned for their well-being. If I’m concerned about that, I may begin to love them. And if I love them, I will begin to care about their souls. Then I will start focusing more on God’s work of seeking and saving the lost. If I do that, I might lift my head above worrying about all of the things that seem so important in this world and focus on something higher.

The slope is indeed slippery, but unlike others, it’s on an incline. It’s a risky journey worth taking.

Lessons from Daniel Tiger

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Author Amy Hollingsworth wrote the following about Fred Rogers in her book The Simple Faith of Mr. Rogers:

Every day he taught God’s message without preaching a word.

Fred Rogers is one of the very few celebrities in this world I still hold in high esteem. Whenever I’m down or frustrated, I watch an episode of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. When I am angry at others, I watch interviews of him interacting with other adults. I try to channel his care and calmness in my classroom teaching. To me, he is one of the best examples we have had of Christian conduct in modern culture. While I understand we have God’s word to explain so much to us, Fred Rogers has had an effect on me in that I can see those teachings exemplified in the conduct of such a public figure.

Mr. Rogers took the moral of the good Samaritan parable – that we are all neighbors one to another – and turned it into a regular children’s show. Not only was he teaching children during his half-hour program, but he taught adults as well. He taught us how to be patient, how to listen, how to be both trusting and trustworthy. He imparted God’s message without so much as a scripture, all the time asking us to care for each other as neighbors. Would you be mine? Could you be mine? Please won’t you be my neighbor? 

That legacy continues in Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, which is one of the very few television shows my daughter gets to watch. (The other regular is Dinosaur Train, if you must know. Other than that, she occasionally watches YouTube videos of ballet and astronauts – separately. Okay, rabbit chase done.) And I have to say it is one of the most positive things on television today. Every episode demonstrates such care and kindness between the characters, it’s almost unbelievable. Every aspect of the show seems planned around providing the best example it can to children and parents.

Also, every episode features a short song snippet that gets repeated throughout the episode, reinforcing the lesson of the day. The characters may sing about taking turns, trying new things, sharing, helping, or dealing with anger. Over the next few posts, I want to take some of these songs and look at the lessons they teach and what we adults can learn from them in our Christian walks. In Matthew 18, Jesus says we should all become like little children, so I’m inviting you to join me over the next few weeks in shelving my jaded and sometimes frustrated adulthood and becoming more childlike. And perhaps some of these lessons from the Land of Make Believe will help us make a better reality for ourselves in this world.

Trolly, take us home!