Complaining. Everybody does it. Sometimes, well...actually occasionally, we complain from a positive perspective for the purpose of effecting change and that’s good! But most of the time we complain because someone or something is irritating us, or putting pressure on us or challenging us or contradicting us. Most of our complaints are not for the purpose of truly solving any issue; rather, they are for the purpose of being heard, of having our position or circumstance or opinion verified. We complain for attention, for sympathy and to reinforce our ego. We often use complaining as a tool of destruction against those we oppose. For the most part, complaining doesn’t sound all that productive. So, what do we do about it? How do we stop our complaining or transform it into something good?
Last week we began talking about what it takes to actually change the world around you – what it takes to not only have a dream for change but to begin that process of change. We talked about Nehemiah, a little known figure in the Old Testament, who not only had a ridiculously big dream for change, he worked the idea and recruited the masses to help him progress towards making that dream a reality. Today we finish the story as we catalogue the principles and techniques Nehemiah used to accomplish what seemed impossible. Not only did Nehemiah achieve something magnificent, he also left clues and tools along the way for us to pick up on and use to apply to the changes we want to effect in our own lives.
Everyone wants their world to be better. Everyone has dreams and ideas they see as transformative - even innovative - yet the vast majority of us never do anything about those dreams and ideas to bring them to reality. Why the lack of effort? Because it is hard, because it takes thought, energy and determination and most of us are not convicted enough by our dreams and ideas to be willing to commit all of that effort. Occasionally someone stands apart from this typical reaction and actually thinks, acts, leads and accomplishes their dream or idea. Today we will talk about a little known man in the Old Testament who did just that. His dream was laughable, his mission was ridiculous and his enemies were determined to stop him, yet he focused and fought with all of his being and changed his world in the process!
Human nature is a funny thing. We live in an age of instant gratification, an age of virtually no waiting for anything. We send a text, a tweet, a message or we post, and our expectation is for an almost instant answer or follow or response or reaction. What we want we not only assume we can get, we assume we can get it immediately in just the right color, brand and style. Getting and having have become so easy and expected that we have begun to overlook the value of patience, waiting and doing without. Human nature IS a funny thing. In this age of abundance, we are experiencing a very high rate of dissatisfaction and unhappiness. Why? One reason is that we have all but forgotten the preserving and healing power of gratitude. It’s really simple - for happiness and contentment to flourish, they require gratitude to be their constant companion. Let’s take a look and see how it all works…
Every so often someone comes along who stands out from the crowd, someone who distinguishes themselves from their peers by their manner, their motivation and their mission. They don’t seem to fit into any comfortable category, for theirs is a mission that has world-changing implications and such missions are not common and least of all comfortable. With such a description we would typically and rightfully envision Jesus as its object, but today we will focus on another. Today we focus on John the Baptist, the man who prepared the people for Jesus, the man who stood alone as a powerful voice that pointed to the Redeemer of all men. John the Baptist uniquely epitomized greatness – where did he come from, what did he do and how did he do it?
Everyone has had and will have the experience of being wrong, of making mistakes and of not understanding something well enough to properly represent it. Everyone! The question is not about what to do IF these things happen; the question is how do we handle it WHEN these things happen? Making mistakes and being wrong are never comfortable experiences, but they are priceless in their value if we allow them to be. So, how do we allow them to be priceless? When we are wrong, do we face it or ignore it? When we make a mistake, do we 'fess up or bury it? Further, how can we identify the thought and behavior processes that bring us to wrong conclusions and actions so we can avoid repeating the same old mistakes over and over again?
You hear the word "temptation.” What do you think of? For some of us it might be best to NOT answer this question out loud. For others it might be dark chocolate or getting even or pushing the envelope or wanting to take what is not ours. In every case, temptation is directly built upon our human desires, and our human desires left unfettered will continually fabricate webs of attraction, entitlement and deceit. These webs are binding, sticky and tenacious, and once we allow ourselves to touch them we may find ourselves too close to walk away, too weak to resist and too willing to try it out – you know, "just this once!" Temptation has shattered many relationships, disrupted many positive pathways and broken the contentment of many lives. Temptation is unfortunately not only alive and well, it is being fed, fostered and flaunted by our present society! What do we do! How do we get that temptation genie back in its bottle?
In many ways we are daily in a fight for our lives. There are so many choices that present themselves to us each and every day, many of which can distract and derail us from what is most important. The biggest factor that determines whether we stay on track with life or go down some rabbit hole of distraction and disruption is simply...me. Yup, I am the decision maker - the gatekeeper of my own mind and body - and I alone have final say as to what kind of victory or what kind of defeat I will experience. Now, wait a minute! As a Christian shouldn’t I be subject to the will of God through Christ? Absolutely! Then why am I saying that I am in control? It’s simple! I decide how much influence the will of God will exercise in my life at any given moment and that makes ME my worst enemy! Great! Now what do we do? What do we do? We learn how to identify, fight and win the battle!
We all would like to think that we are special in some way before God. We want to be sure of His love for us and His guiding hand in our lives. For most of us, being special translates into a feeling – an emotional response that produces a sense of security. But is that all there is to being special? For the Christian at least there is much more to it. We know that everyone is not called to follow Jesus and we also know that according to the Bible, God does specifically call some to follow. How does this work? How does God get your attention and touch your heart and mind? What makes us want to respond to God and what might make us shy away from responding to Him? Is it easy to recognize when God is seeking us out and trying to touch our hearts?
Last week we began our conversation by saying that pride can be a tricky thing and prejudice can be an awful thing. We focused our attention on the pride side of the matter and its insidious way of taking over our lives. Now it’s time to talk about prejudice, and this is a hard conversation to have. For most of us, we can observe what we think is prejudice in others. We see a skewed view on some group or approach and we think about how unfortunate it is and wonder why they cannot see a bigger picture. Well, the bigger picture begins with these questions: How prejudiced am I in my view of the world and of others approach? Am I willing and able to recognize prejudice in my own thinking, and when I see it am I willing to attack it with the same passion that I feel about the prejudice of others? Prejudice needs attention and eradication, no matter where it’s found. How do we do that?