Wednesday, October 13, 2010


SEPTIC TANK THEOLOGY. In our current Sunday morning sermon series on popular cliches, sayings, and expressions in everyday conversation evaluated in the light of scripture, we recently considered the oft-used phrase, "misery loves company".

That line can be taken 2 different ways. It may mean that sometimes hurting people want others around them to listen to them and comfort them. Or it might be suggesting that bitter, miserable folks often want to spread their toxic attitudes to others so they won't be all alone.

How does this saying look from the perspective of God's Word? Perhaps we should examine it from some varying biblical angles.

It is safe to say that cranky, negative, unhappy individuals do sometimes seek out others to align with them in their misery. A swamp, a cesspool of emotional and relational poison is then formed. Through gossip and complaining, resentful and frustrated persons build a coalition of folks who then stew in their juices and spew out their venom. The ancient wisdom teacher warns us frequently not to be drawn into these webs that can turn us into angry, whiny people. Check out Proverbs 13:20, 16:27-29, 21:19, 22:10, 24-25, 26:20-22, and 29:22. Read Hebrews 12:15, too. Two Old Testament characters, Korah in Numbers 16 and Absalom in 2 Samuel 15, stand out as spiteful, critical persons who tried to get others to link up with them in their meanness.

We do have a biblical mandate to go to and try to help hurting people, though. Texts like Romans 12:8, 15-16, and James 1:27, and 2 Timothy 1:16-18 all stress that. So does Galatians 6:1. But we better make sure we're strong in the faith when we attempt to minister to those who are bogged down in sin or grief or anger or guilt. We need to be constantly getting spiritually re-charged by prayer, time in the Word, and fellowship with positive, emotionally healthy individuals or we'll be vulnerable to getting sucked into the pain of those we're attempting to rescue.

I suppose that Hell will be the ultimate and eternal misery. Sinners who die without Christ have that as their unending destiny. My impression, though, is that even with that horrible place being heavily populated, there probably won't be any companionship there. That's the sense I get from reading Luke 16:19-31. Hell will be a destination of utter loneliness.

It needs to be said that all of us are miserable spiritually until changed by Jesus. Jeremiah 17:9 and 31:33 and Romans 3:23 and Mark 2:16-17 and Matthew 11:28-29 and John 10:10 make that point powerfully. How blessed we are that Christ came to us and beside us in our weakness and hopelessness and began to transform us! In the 4 Gospels, Jesus spent a lot of time in the company of miserable people and when they were willing to be changed(John 5:6) He lifted them.

NEW BOOK. Kerry and Chris Shook have written Love At Last Sight(Waterbrook Press, 2010). It is a helpful, practical, 30-day guide to growing and deepening relationships, whether marital or with friends. It's simple and straightforward but very insightful. The discussion on pages 151-152 of how certain types of aquatic life illustrate how different people deal with their anger is worth the price of the book. Puffer fish, hermit crabs, angelfish, electric eels, sharks, and piranha all picture the wrong approaches to expressing angry feelings. There are lots of constructive tools here for building stronger ties with those we love.

YOGA. Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president Al Mohler stirred up a hornet's nest with his recent blog post(reprinted in our worship guide the other week) criticizing the practice of yoga by Christians. He's gotten a lot of response, much of it negative. Maybe what he wrote will drive folks to the Word to see if what he said is right(Acts 17:11) or just personal opinion.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Vision Correction For Relationships

In my pulpit, over the last few months, I've been preaching a series of messages on popular cliches, sayings, and expressions that we tend to use and overuse in everyday conversation. We've been examining them from a variety of angles through the grid of scripture and a biblical worldview to see if they accurately describe the realities of life.

It's been fun!

I've probably enjoyed preparing and delivering this collection of sermons more than any other in my ministry. Gotten a lot of positive feedback, too. We've considered "when in Rome, do as the Romans do" and "don't count your chickens before they hatch" and "misery loves company" and "don't burn your bridges behind you" and lots more. We've dug into a lot of texts that sometimes support and sometimes refute these clever, catchy phrases.

The other Sunday we put this one under the microscope: love is blind. When folks toss that line into their talk they mean that generally people do not notice the faults of those they love. Well, is that true or false, good or bad? It would seem that it makes a lot of difference in dating and marriage relationships or business partnerships or friendships or church life whether you accept the validity of that cliche or reject it. Does God's Word provide any help here?

I think so.

Scripture does appear to suggest that we are to overlook a lot of stuff. In our dealings with those close to us we shouldn't take up every offense or get bogged down in every issue. Proverbs 10:12 and 19:11 as well as I Peter 4:8 make that clear. Remembering that each of us is fallen, human, and thus not perfect ought to keep us from being irritated at the little mistakes and idiosyncrasies of those around us. The realization that we don't always know what another person's going through can prevent us from getting upset or walking away or lashing out, too. Those we care about might be wrestling and struggling with some painful trial of which we're totally unaware, and their hurt might be behind some of their reactions that we do not understand. We just have to let a lot of things go. We need to be more patient. After all, in any of our relationships it ought to be our goal to build up and encourage the other individual.

It must be said, though, that the broad sweep of biblical counsel urges us to be observant, discerning, and careful in our ties with one another. Surely that's what Paul stressed in Philippians 1:9-10. We're to go into our relationships with our eyes open and probably should avoid making the closest, most intimate alliances with those who pose a danger to us spiritually, emotionally, and physically. It would be a most profitable exercise, for example, to take our children and teens through a crash course in the book of Proverbs, when we talk with them about close pals and dating, to help them observe all the warnings there about certain types of persons with whom they probably shouldn't link up. The foolish the angry, the lazy, the mean, the proud, the alcoholic, the violent, and the one bitterly alienated from his parents are just some of the individuals we should be aware of when it comes to forging our deepest bonds. Their toxicity could spill over onto us. In Genesis 24, Abraham sent his servant Eliezer out to find a bride for his son, Isaac. He gave him very careful instructions as to what to look for and what to avoid. It may be sweet and sentimental to get all caught up in warm, fuzzy, romantic feelings and refuse to see any negatives and potential trouble spots but it is a most unwise practice fraught with dire consequences.

We must not forget, either, that sometimes we have to confront and correct those we love. That's a biblical responsibility given to us in the body of Christ. It's not easy, and never fun, but often out of deep concern for others in the family of faith who may be straying or drifting we have to go to them and gently but firmly draw them back. This is where a grace/truth balance is vital. Proverbs 27:6 and Galatians 6:1 are pretty emphatic about this. We can't overlook or ignore serious sin or error in family or fellow church members but instead must do the difficult and genuinely compassionate work of restoration.

How blessed we believers are, though, that Jesus loves us inspite of our sins. A line from an old Gaither song reminds us that the "One who knows us best loves us most". It's kinda like the Old Testament prophet Hosea. He was fully aware of his wife's despicable adultery and yet chose to buy her back out of slavery and bring her home and shower her with love just as God forgave and loved Israel. According to verses like Romans 5:8 and Psalm 103:12 and Jeremiah 31:34 Jesus came to us completely cognizant of our ugly sin but chose to die in our place, paying our debt, that we might be forgiven and bask in God's love. Even now He knows all of our habits and inclinations and thoughts and even our motives and yet stays in love with us and works in us to gradually change us to be what we ought to be. What a Savior!

All of us probably ought to get our spiritual eyes examined when it comes to appreciating God's love for us and applying our love(2 Corinthians 5:16) to others.