Today I would like to share with you a short devotional I wrote for ChristianDevotions.com. They ran an edited version of this devotion yesterday:
“Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits.” Psalm 103:2 NIV
One day when my daughter was two years old, we went grocery shopping together. As we went up one aisle and down another, she would sometimes reach out from her seat in the cart for some little toy or pretty package. “I want that,” she would say. After telling her “no” several times, I finally pointed to one particular item and said, “You may want that, but you don’t need that.” In the very next aisle, she reached out for yet another enticing article. “I need that,” she said.
At times it can be hard to be thankful for what we have because we’re too focused on what we don’t have. When we ask our heavenly Father to meet our needs, it may seem we’re hearing “no” more than “yes.” Of course, it might be because, just like my daughter, we have trouble understanding the difference between our wants and our needs.
It’s good to have a roof over your head and enough food to eat, to have a job with some security, money in the bank, and a working car. It’s an amazing thing to be healthy and to have family who love you and friends who care about you. If you can claim these among your blessings, praise God!
But don’t make the mistake of thinking you need any of these things. You need God’s love and forgiveness. You need to have love for others. You need to be growing in your understanding of who God is and what he wants you to do with your life. You need to take your eyes off your own wants and remember to thank and praise God for all the good things he has done for you.
Many years have passed since my daughter got her first lesson about the difference between wants and needs, and she still struggles with the concept. So do I. That’s why every day it’s important to stop everything I’m doing and simply “Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits” (Psalm 103:2 NIV).
In the past week, similar events happened on opposite sides of the world. Two individuals came to the conclusion that their political beliefs were so important they were worth killing for. One man succeeded in his mission—to kill a member of the British Parliament, in West Yorkshire, England. Another man was foiled in his mission—to kill a U.S. presidential nominee in Las Vegas, Nevada.
On Sunday, USA Today ran an article about the “psychology of hate” which proclaimed: “American culture is more permeated than ever by hate and hateful expressions, and hate-inspired violence is more prevalent.” On the other side of the Atlantic, a member of the UK Evangelical Alliance echoed that sentiment about England and wrote that what Britain and America need is for Christians to step up and lead the way to reconciliation and healing.
The problem is that too many Christians are embracing hate and anger instead of reconciliation and healing. Like so many others, they are caught up in the kind of “life and death” mentality that led two people this week to choose murder as a way to make a political point.
How can I say that? I see it on Facebook. I read it in news reports. I hear it in the voices of people around me who are being driven by fear that they could lose “everything” if this person wins the election, or if that party triumphs, or if a particular vote goes against what they think is right. “Everything is riding on this.” “This could change everything.” “This could be the beginning of the end.”
Fear. Anger. Hatred. Yes, even Christians are joining in.
So here is my challenge.
STOP and TAKE 5.
Matthew 5, that is.
Read the 5th chapter of Matthew for yourself, and for the next week, every time you start to post a comment on Twitter or Facebook, every time you start to jump into a debate about what’s best for our country, every time you feel anger, fear, or hatred start to squeeze the joy out of your life, remember Jesus’ words.
“Blessed are you…the meek…the merciful…the peacemakers…the persecuted.”
“You are the salt of the earth…the light of the world.”
“If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.”
“But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
Those are all Jesus’ words, right out of Matthew 5.
Instead of hate, fear, and anger this week, post Matthew 5. Argue Matthew 5. Live Matthew 5.
That’s my challenge. Start now!
On December 5, 2015, I wrote a blog about a shooting in San Bernardino, California. Fourteen people had been killed that week by two shooters inspired by Muslim extremists. Only a month earlier I had written another blog about a series of terrorist attacks in Paris which left 130 people dead.
Two days ago, in the early morning hours, another Muslim opened fire inside a bar in Orlando, Florida, killing 49 people and leaving dozens injured. It has been called the deadliest mass shooting in US history, and if any of the individuals still in critical condition succumb to their injuries this week, the death toll will go even higher.
Something about this latest deadly attack left me even more unsettled than the other two. It wasn’t that the gunman was a US citizen or that he had been able to legally buy assault weapons even after being investigated by the FBI for possible terrorist links. It wasn’t even the attention-grabbing, compassionless response of a certain presidential nominee. It was my own confused feelings about the victims of the attack and the place where the attack occurred.
I first saw the news about the shooting as an alert on my smart phone when I sat down to breakfast Sunday morning. My husband and I briefly discussed the news and then went about our morning routines. At church that morning, no one seemed to be discussing the terrible event that had happened only hours earlier, and no mention of it was made from the pulpit.
Later that afternoon, I scrolled through my news feed on Facebook and was surprised to see how few of my friends and acquaintances had commented on the record-breaking violence happening in their own nation. I later went back and checked the full feed from Sunday morning on. Of my 148 Facebook friends, only five had posted any words of sympathy for the Orlando victims. An additional three had reposted a “Pray for Orlando” photo posted by their pastor, and one had used the occasion to speak out against the US government. After the Paris attacks, many of my friends added the colors of the French flag to their profile picture in solidarity, but nothing like that seemed to be happening now. Where was the outrage? Where was the grief? Where was the heartfelt compassion for the victims of this tragic and senseless act?
Is it because the victims were homosexuals?
Most of my Facebook friends are evangelical Christians, as am I. Is it possible that we – that I – felt less compassion for these victims because deep inside (or not so deep for some) we think of homosexuals as unrepentant sinners, openly living a lifestyle opposed to God’s commands? Do we think of them as more deserving of punishment than we God-fearing, law-abiding folk? After all, didn’t God personally destroy whole towns and people groups living in sin way back in the days of the Old Testament? Didn’t he order the Israelites, his chosen people, to take the lives of their own family members caught in sin?
The role of God as righteous judge stands in stark contrast with his claim that he is “not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). How he can be the loving father of his creation and yet turn from those who do not accept and obey him is one of the great mysteries of the Bible. What is not so mysterious is the picture of Jesus, hanging on a cross, betrayed and rejected, showing his great love by dying for us – all of us – those who would accept him and those who would not. All of us sinners. All of us deserving of punishment and death. All of us offered the free gift of God’s grace through Jesus’ great act of love.
So today, I am shamed and saddened by my own indifference to people who are really not that different from me. I am praying for them – for the survivors, for the families, for all those personally affected by this horrible event. And I am praying for myself and my Christian friends that God will soften our hearts and open our eyes to a world in great pain.
Today we should be in mourning. Perhaps every day we should be in mourning – a little bit at least – as we glimpse the great evil taking place all over this world and the millions of people affected by it. Someday, when Jesus has returned and the great mysteries are finally revealed, we can look with joy on all that God has accomplished through the suffering and pain. But not today. Today we must mourn.
Last week, I had fun visiting some historical sites in New York and Philadelphia. Part of the reason for my visit there was to try something new for this website - teaching videos. If you'll look at the top of the page, you will see that I've added a new tab for Videos, although that name may change in the future.
For my first video attempts, I found some brave souls who were willing to be tested from the U.S. Naturalization Test. My daughter will be putting together a compilation video of these interviews which we will post later. For now, you can check out the raw footage of the interviews on the Videos page.
Over the summer, I will be creating additional teaching videos to help explain some of basic information about the U.S. Constitution and other issues covered by the Naturalization Test. If you're feeling brave, you can take the full test now. It is also on the Videos page.
If you know of any schools or other organization which can benefit from these videos, please let them know about them. I am also available for speaking engagements!
What is my mission as an author? It's a tough question, but I believe the goal dearest to my heart is to help Christians think about what they really believe and then to act as if they really believe it. It all begins with understanding what it means to be a Christian. Then we have to learn to live like a Christian.