MICHAEL ANTHONY BLOG
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Life of Christ
Vision of Life
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3 Tolerance Tips for Surviving
a Thick-Skinned Holiday Season
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- We’ve all seen the news stories – and the tweets that have prompted them. President-elect Donald Trump, a little more than a month from assuming the mantle of Leader of the Free World, taking a break from assembling a Cabinet and getting up to speed on the state of global affairs by calling out a critic as “terrible” and “dumb” or railing against Saturday Night Live for its parodies of him.
- The book on Trump in the wake of these Twitter rants is that he’s got a thin skin – hard to argue with when you consider SNL has been lampooning presidents since Nixon – and never before has once been goaded into publicly lambasting the series for it.
- But the president-elect’s troubles in holding his tongue – and his keyboard – when criticized can actually be instructive to all of us this holiday season. Alec Baldwin may not be launching into an unflattering impersonation of us at the dinner table, but the friends and relatives we will be sharing turkey and mistletoe with can give us a bad case of what I call “epidermis penetratus” – the ability to get underneath our skin.
(Recipe for Success)
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We Christians in America need a refresher on what it means to speak the truth in love. Equal parts of truth and love must be applied in all areas of life if we expect to enjoy God’s recipe for success. It’s what I’m calling a “successipe.”
Truth and love must always accompany each other. They are sisters, part of the same family. Consider Ephesians 4:14-15 (NIV):
“Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.”
APOLOGY NOT NECESSARY
Stop apologizing for Jesus. He calls us to follow Him and His teachings – and to teach others, without apology. This is the “Great Commission” found in Matthew 28:19,20. Why are we behaving as if it weren’t so great after all?
Relativism has ravished the church. We’ve stopped speaking the truth because we’re afraid of being rejected. Our personal comfort and convenience have replaced the taking up of our cross and following the biblical Jesus. We have forgotten that He says,
“Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven” (Matthew 10:32-33, NIV)
One of the ways we deny Jesus is by refusing to speak His timeless word. But it all begins by our refusal to first live it. This, our great “omission,” has neutered modern-day Christianity. We are a far cry from the magnificent, divine glory of our faith seen in the Book of Acts – and throughout the Bible.
We have forgotten that the way of Jesus is narrow. Get over it and get on with it. The great need of the day is for the Great Commission to be lived and taught – without apology or compromise. Truth still matters, because Jesus is still “the way, the truth and the life” and no one comes to the Father apart from Him (John 14:6).
We must stop apologizing for the truth. Live it. Speak it. Teach it to others. Doing so is the most loving thing you and I can do, because Jesus still says “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).
The most hateful thing you can do to yourself – and to others – is to withhold or reject the truth. Tolerance to falsehood is not love at all, it is the most diabolical form of hatred because it results in bondage, not freedom.
LOVE LETTERS SPEAK TRUTH
We must rediscover that nearly all of the epistles in the New Testament were written to people facing particular cultural, social, theological, and moral issues, about which, God speaks. In other words, God cares about every part of our lives – and speaks to it, too. We have, however, forgotten this.
A look at the modern pulpit, Sunday school class, the modern Bible college, and the modern seminary, reveals a very different approach. We are preaching, teaching – and living – as if God’s word needs to be sanitized. As if it exists in a vacuum. No, God’s word needs to be applied as the healing balm to the festering wounds that relativism, reverse intolerance and hatred have inflicted. People are bully God – and we Christians are, sadly, okay with it.
“But we don’t understand the modern application: God doesn’t need numbers to change the world. He needs unwavering dedication. In a word: worship.”
Our retooled “gospel” has no power. The apostle Paul said “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). Today, we are ashamed – and powerless – when boldness and power are exactly what we all need.
If we’re not willing to bring the Bible to bear on the particular issues of the day by speaking the truth, then salvation itself is not possible. Freedom will escape us all.
FEAR OR FAITH?
We’re afraid to speak the truth because church leaders are afraid of losing their church’s nonprofit status. We’re afraid of losing members, and it all goes to prove that we have confused church growth and popularity with discipleship and loyalty to the Jesus we say we’re following.
This is where millennials may want to jump up and shout with affirmation – but we need much more than mere shouting. We need genuine spiritual awakening. We need a movement of repentance. This is the epicenter of every true revival, and where real hope and change begin.
We love the stories in the Bible of the heroes of our faith. We love the story of Gideon, where God had to pair down the size of his army. But we don’t understand the modern application: God doesn’t need numbers to change the world. He needs unwavering dedication. In a word: worship. But our understanding of “worship,” too, has been hijacked, mistaken nowadays for mere musical arrangements rather than the rearranging of our entire lives for God’s unfiltered, unhindered, unapologetic glory.
THAT LOVE THING
The second thing we need to do love people as we speak God’s truths. This does not mean we are to appear loving. It means we are to genuinely love people.
We should be doing all that we can to teach people God’s unadulterated, absolute truths, so that people everywhere can enjoy God here, now, and forever. Remember, truth sets people free. Falsehood sets them up for failure.
Where are you when it comes to speaking the truth in love? Do you need to repent?
You Need to Master This
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It’s something we all need to do – often and genuinely. The inability to do it creates problems in nearly all aspects of life. The problem is, we often don’t know how. The truth is that we make it harder than it really is. I’m talking about how to apologize – and mean it.
People don’t often stop to consider that repentance and humility are siblings. Genuine apologies are central to a life of humility, because a humble person is someone who recognizes when they’ve done wrong, and owns up to it. If you have a hard time apologizing, you’re already having a hard time being humble – and a person who is not humble is at odds with none other than God. Opposition from God makes all of life much, much harder than it needs to be. Humility is the grease of life.
I know the temptation is to keep reading, but that last last paragraph you just read deserves a second look. In fact, nothing else you’re about to read will be more life-changing than what you’ve just read. The key, however, is in letting that last paragraph sink in until you begin to adjust the rest of life around its truth. Humility really is the grease of life.
Unless your sin is only against God (which is rare), it also affects people. When repentance is real, we usually need to make things right with people, not just God. This involves apologizing, accepting apologies, forgiving and asking for forgiveness. It means changing our ways.
It’s a lie to think we can get real with God and not be real with people. Consider Jesus’ summary of life in Mark 12:30-31:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second (commandment) is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
We’ve got to learn how to genuinely apologize, accept apologies, forgive and accept forgiveness. Here’s are some suggestions that I’ve found helpful, which I hope will help you, too:
1. HUMBLE YOURSELF, PRAY, SEEK GOD’S FACE AND TURN. This is where it all begins. If you read the Bible, God’s Word, and really humble yourself before Him, He will so convince and empower you to do what is right that the rest of what you are about to read and do will fall into place.
Put first things first. Spend time with God, get His heart and mind on the matter, and He will enable you to do what is right.
2. BE COURAGEOUS AND SINCERE. DO IT. The best way to apologize is to reflect on your sin, repent of it and then be honest. The more you get into the practice of being honest with God and honest with yourself, the easier it will be to become honest with people. And, you will find that people will begin to see your authenticity and respond in kind. (No, not every time. But you greatly increase the odds if you set the example).
3. MAKE IT UNCONDITIONAL. Leave the consequences to God, not your imagination or the opinions of people. God knows when an apology is sincere and when it is not. Don’t apologize with preconditions. Your reward in apologizing is doing what is right before God and people, not because it will be recognized or applauded by people.
If you have preconceived expectations and wait for people to approve or respond to you, you will set yourself up for discouragement. Just do what is right – without conditions – and trust God.
4. DON’T JUST APOLOGIZE, DO SOMETHING. If you have gossiped, slandered, lied or stolen, you may very well need to do more than simply apologize to the person(s) immediately affected. You may need to go to others and make restitution that reflects your sorrow.
There may be consequences to confessing to a lie or returning something you have stolen. God honors truth and honesty. Do what is right and trust God with the consequences.
Many people get stuck in life for no other reason than not doing what they know, deep down, needs to be done.
5. DON’T GET DISCOURAGED. Apologizing may be new for you. The truth is that it’s new for anyone who really wants to follow God. It’s all about embracing an entirely new lifestyle – one that turns from self and turns to God. Completely. Others may not believe you at first. But as you walk with God you will develop a new reputation with people, and a new freedom to follow God and leave your old ways behind.
Keep doing what is right, and don’t let human comments, fear of rejection, or emotions, deter you.
6. TRUST GOD ALL THE WAY. Remember this simple saying: “The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe” (Proverbs 29:25). At the end of the day, you’ll either follow God or people. Follow God, and leave the consequences to Him. Someday, perhaps sooner than you think, you’ll be glad you did.
In this life you’ll experience a freedom and joy that only comes from truly surrendering to God. And in the life to come, you’ll be rewarded even more. A life that is truly surrendered to God is one that masters the lost art of asking for forgiveness and extending it, completely, to others.
HOW ABOUT YOU? Is there someone you need to ask for forgiveness? Is there someone you need to forgive? Why wait to postpone joy, freedom and happiness another second?
Deal With This Or It Will Deal With You
Strife is part of life – but much of the strife we experience can be minimized. This is especially true if you’re a leader, in any capacity, because leaders have to deal with people, and people have a way of not always agreeing with each other. If you want to reduce the strife in your life, and in the lives of others, there is something you must address head-on, or it will play head games with everyone within earshot. Never – and I mean never – let gossip go unaddressed. If you’re going to ignore gossip, you might as well participate in it.
Proverbs 26:20 speaks about the destructive power of gossip:
“Without wood, fire goes out;
without gossip, conflict dies down.”*
Gossip fuels conflict the way dry, seasoned wood feeds a campfire. Allow it to go unchecked and a small campfire can become a raging wildfire. While none of us can avoid all conflict in life, you are a poor (and foolish) leader if you don’t address the kinds of conflict created by the flames of gossip. Don’t debate the truth of God’s word. Gossip is a serious, destructive sin.
HOW TO PUT WATER ON THE FIRE OF GOSSIP
1. Get your facts straight; don’t make assumptions. Before you assume things, do your research. Find out if your suspicions about potential gossip are justified. If they are, take action. If they aren’t, move on.
2. Be humbly courageous. Make the decision to confront the person/people involved. Remember, if you do nothing when you know gossip has occurred, you are deciding to risk the potential of a small fire becoming a raging inferno. If that happens, even more of your time, energy and resources will be taxed. Small sins, left unaddressed, grow (See James 1:15). The lack of courage is a reason for many leadership wildfires. Pray for courage, then lovingly, patiently and firmly approach the person/people involved.
3. Begin by affirming the person/people. Then, ask questions; avoid making accusations. Let the person/people know you value them and their time, and care about their quality of life and the quality of the lives of others. Let them know the motive for your getting together with them, so they know you love them and people.
After doing this, ask questions about the details you discovered in your research. Allow them time to answer, and be open to the possibility that you may have received incorrect information. However, you must also be ready to confront the sin if your information is correct, and gossip did indeed occur. Good leaders don’t shy away from problems — they address them head-on.
4. If the person/people are sorry, lovingly hold them accountable and help them repent. If someone has gossiped, they need to not only be sorry. They need to make amends. Gossip is a sin with tentacles. Those tentacles need to be lopped off. The way this happens is for the person/people who gossiped to approach those they gossiped to and say, from the heart, “I am guilty of gossip. I sinned. I sinned against God. I sinned against you, others and myself by doing so. I am sorry, would you please forgive me?”
Of course, there can be variants of this, but not significant variants. The core of the confession and repentance must be present: admission of guilt/sin against God and people. Remorse for the sin. Asking for the person/people sinned against for forgiveness. Without these ingredients, the person/people have not dealt with the fire they started. It’s very important that humble repentance is manifest by the gossiper, or else the damage they started will spread. We have God’s word on it. Don’t forget Proverbs 26:20.
5. If the person/people who gossiped are not sorry and won’t take ownership of their sin and repent, follow Matthew 18:15-20. The Bible is God’s handbook for conflict resolution. Follow it. By doing so, you are following God, not just a book. Do the right things in the right ways. This is true when it comes to handling someone who has gossiped. Don’t skip steps and don’t compromise because to obey this process is to obey God.
6. Follow up and make time to thank God, personally, and with the person/people who gossiped. If the people involved repent and follow #4, above, wonderful. You have followed the LORD well, led people well, and they have followed well (especially the LORD). The fire will be doused. Take time to stop everything and thank God for His goodness, and commend the repentant person/people for taking godly steps to correct a godless act.
Yes, there may be consequences for the sin of gossip even after the guilty repent and apologize, but all you can do is all you can do – and great leaders are responsible leaders who don’t shy away from conflict. If you are a leader, you must address conflict and its roots, because without doing so, you aren’t going very far. And, neither are the people God called you to lead.
We have to get to the heart of the matter, and the heart of the matter is the human heart. Each of us needs to participate in The National Week of Repentance, coming October 30 – November 6, the week before the election. You don’t have to travel anywhere to jump in. RevivalMatters.com provides all the information you need to invite the deep change of heart and lifestyle that only God can bring.
*Scripture taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB).
PULLING TEETH FROM A ROARING TIGER
One of the reasons America is in such a mess is because we Christian leaders don’t seem to give a darn about the damned. The level of mistrust, competition and disinterest between pastors works against the unity that Jesus prayed for in John 17:23:
In light of the moral decline, racial division, financial turmoil and political nonsense we are seeing this election year, I’ve been reaching out to pastors and Christian leaders, trying to get us all on the same page – God’s page – so that we can fulfill Jesus’ prayer in John 17 and actually reach the lost. Here’s what I’ve found: getting Christian leaders together these days is about as easy and comfortable as pulling teeth from a roaring tiger.
We don’t need the devil to derail us. We are doing a find job all by ourselves. Isn’t it ironic that we are pursuing church growth and “ministry” without prioritizing unity – the most important ingredient for church and ministry success? At the end of day, we’re shooting ourselves in our own feet by diminishing the importance of Christian unity. No wonder the world yawns when we open our mouths. Can you blame them? We don’t practice what we preach.
We don’t seem to believe what Jesus taught: people are persuaded about the love of God in proportion to the unity among Christians. The greater the unity, the more irresistible God becomes. The more divided we are, the less people care about Christ. If our objective is to get people to follow Jesus, we have to start following Him ourselves. Until we do, we are nothing more than hypocrites. We want people to love and follow a Jesus we’ve left behind.
It’s not complicated. Our disunity reveals that we Christian leaders don’t seem to really care about reaching the lost. If we did, we’d be doing far more to be unified, because unity convinces people that God is real and the message of the cross is true.
A few months ago, I asked my assistant to reach out to senior pastors from neighboring churches, asking if we could “set up a time to meet in regard to the state of the nation and how churches can cooperate together in unity.” Here is the ironic response of one such pastor:
Is that really God’s “very best”? We make false assumptions about each other that keep us at arms length – in the same city, at this pivotal time in American history. What is wrong with us? We leaders have lost our way. How is it possible to talk “shop” without the shop itself? If we keep talking about all the other issues we face, except the most important issues of the day, aren’t we merely postponing the inevitable day when the circling wagons will achieve their goal? Aren’t we wasting precious time – and precious souls – in the process?
We pastors and Christian leaders all need to repent – big time. We’re too divided to be of any use to the Jesus we say we want other people to follow. The National Week of Repentance is coming October 30 – November 6. Get involved and be part of the solution to the division that is so obvious within the Church. Visit RevivalMatters.com and sign up, now.
ARE YOU A CATALYST FOR UNITY, OR ARE YOU SHOOTING YOURSELF IN THE FOOT at this key time as history is being written? do you give a darn about the damned?