Snooze the bad reviews

Philippians 1:12-18
I’m a part of several Facebook groups that focus on social media.

Some deal only with church communications. Others are for those in the business or non-profit worlds. Even though the people represent different fields of work, they all share many of the same goals. In some way, they want to amplify their organization’s online presence and influence. Social media offers such great potential.

The people in the groups bounce ideas off each other. They share new material and ask for feedback and critique. Sometimes, some of them just need to vent–it can be a frustrating job. From time to time, there’s a question that pops up. It’s usually from someone newer to the group. From what I can piece together, most people who ask this question are also new to their social media role.

“Do I delete this negative comment from our page?”

They want to know what to do with bad reviews and comments people leave on their social media sites. You see, what’s good about social media is that it’s for all to see. What’s bad about social media is that it’s for all to see. Online sticks and stones can absolutely hurt a company or a church’s reach.

There isn’t one answer to the question. What you do with such reviews and criticisms depends on who it was from. Was it someone from your community or an internet troll? What is the nature of their complaint? Was it something petty or serious?

Most people want to follow their first inclination. That is to delete any bad reviews or comments people leave on their sites. I could be wrong, but it feels like the church groups really want to avoid all criticism or judgments.

Now, you may not dabble with the intricacies of social media management. But here’s why this is worth your consideration.

Apostle Paul had to deal with this in his own ancient Rome way. There were, of course, no ugly online reviews. Instead, Paul’s critics bound him in jail. As if that wasn’t enough, others sought to increase his suffering in prison (Philippians 1:17).

Paul addresses their efforts in his letters. His approach differs based on the context of his writing. It makes me wonder what kind of social media account he would run. When it’s important to justify himself he will. When he needs to call out someone else he will.

Even then, he always brings the attention back to Jesus.

In Philippians 1, Paul took no real offense at those who preached Christ out of selfish ambition. Neither did he have harsh words for those who sought to make his life more difficult. “What does it matter,” he asked. “Just this, that Christ is proclaimed in every way, whether out of false motives or true; and in that I rejoice.”

That kind of attitude stems from several factors. You need the peace of God, for sure. You need a focused intent on the mission God gave you, too. The answer to criticism is faithful, honest self-evaluation. Make sure your witness isn’t fueling hostility and antagonism. Keep in mind that people criticized Mother Teresa and Mr. Rogers. They killed Jesus, too. Someone will have some negative comment about you or your church. 

Don’t let that steer you from the loving mission God entrusted to you.

Stay blessed…john

Burn it down

Isaiah 1:24-31
I am not a “burn it to the ground” kind of preacher. But some have said I am. Actually, I’m a “rip the band-aid off” person who then wants to do what we say God wants us to do. So, I can see how someone might get that confused.

Over the course of my pastoral ministry, I’ve heard a lot of what churches want to do for the glory of God. My greatest struggle has been watching us muddle toward the details of bringing them to life. We debate and argue over fine points. By the time we make a decision, we’ve lost the joyful desire to make anything meaningful happen.

Something else happens with our dreams. We get caught up in what we’re used to doing that we don’t have the bandwidth to pursue any new direction from God. Churches are bad about letting things go. That’s a strange trait for people who believe in the resurrection to have. In an unfortunate move, as the church has struggled, we’ve intensified our grasp on the familiar.

How much of our struggle relates to our desire to keep things as we like them?

The result of this is there’s no room for what needs to happen. We’re too busy, tired or comfortable with what is before us at the moment. This is where some might think I want to erase all we know at church. But I don’t.

Early on, the Lord impressed on me the value of the local church. Through the power of God, to be cliche, we are a force to be reckoned with! I’m just not sure bake sales rattle the gates of hell all that much. We have a hard time getting our own people in the church moved by what we’re doing. How can we expect Hades to worry?

In the first chapter of Isaiah, the prophet comes out ready to burn it all to the ground. Judah and Jerusalem’s bleak future is all but set. Even an ox knows who its owner is. But the people of God continue to burden God with their religious veneer. The people need to repent.

There are stark aspects of Isaiah’s vision. God says, “I will smelt away your dross as with lye and remove all your alloy.” That’s a burning process. But why does God want to do that? Is it mere punishment?

No, it is a restorative promise.

Although God sees what the people have become, let’s give them the benefit of the doubt. Let’s assume they started out wanting to honor God. They didn’t set out to ravage the poor and create injustice. Over time, though, they mixed so much into their faith they couldn’t see what they had become.

Yes, God will judge. But Isaiah’s vision is more than that. “I will restore your judges as at the first,” God says. God’s true motive is restoration and redemption. God’s smelting process is a refining process.

That’s what we miss about what God wants to do in and through us. If God is going to refine us, things might get hot. We will lose things along the way. But we gain God’s restoration. Do we really want to lose that?

Stay blessed…john

Seeing stars

2 Samuel 7:18-29
This week, I read of a new study about stars that get too close to black holes.

Scientists created models of black holes that had encounters with stars. The study’s design will help understand the violent breakdown stars face against black holes. Throughout the galaxy, black holes rip apart stars that get too close.

But some stars can escape the gravitational pull of a black hole. It turns out that the smaller, more dense stars have the best chance of survival. It’s not impossible, but it is a struggle.

Let’s consider another struggle we all know. The intrapersonal struggle Paul acknowledged in Romans 7 is one most of us can identify with. The good we want to do we don’t do. What we don’t want to do is what we end up doing.

Why is that so true?

Modern psychology might suggest we actually want to do the things we say we don’t. That’s ultimately why we do them. Prophets might tell us sin makes us do them. Don’t we like to say “at the center of sin is the letter ‘i'”?

Both ideas offer the same truth. As long as we remain at the center of our universe, we’ll do what we want to do. Indeed, the struggle is real. Thankfully, as much as we may fail at removing ourselves from the center of our attention, we can have faithful moments. We can survive our encounters with the black holes of pride, selfishness and ego.

Let’s consider a prayer from King David.

He had planned to build a temple dedicated to the Lord. Who wouldn’t love that idea? I imagine David was excited. Even the prophet, Nathan, agreed and blessed the building project. Money was no object. God had obviously blessed David in his military pursuits. Now, David wanted to honor God.

But the Lord refused the offer. It wasn’t that the temple shouldn’t be built. It was not the time. And it was not to be David’s task.

As much as David wanted to do it, he recognized something more important. What God wanted.

How was David able to resist the urge to still do what he wanted? There’s a lot we could say. For now, I’ll turn our attention to the opening line of our passage today: Then King David went in and sat before the Lord.

For those who would prefer a more dynamic, maybe quicker, approach to learning freedom from sin and control, my apologies. It doesn’t happen overnight. Chances are you’ll come to know what Paul struggled with. What we all struggle with. 

But day by day, prayer by prayer may it be that we are free from the desire to live according to our own will. Sure, there may be so much we want to do that seems good and godly. But is it what God wants from us right now? It is possible to escape the pull of our will. It happens when we constantly recenter our desires and pursuits on the will of God through prayer.

Stay blessed…john