When being troubled is good

 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, his spirit was troubled within him when he saw that the city was full of idols. Acts 17:16

There are things that happen in human history that make us pause because they demonstrate a darkness among us that is so terrible we cannot fathom it.

Like 9/11.

Like Ferguson.

Like last week in Oregon.

And because it troubles us all, we are willing to talk about it. We do talk about it. We read articles. We find out about the victims. We celebrate heroism. We reach out to those who are hurting in the aftermath.

Those are good things.

But we must not stop there.

It does no good for us to pause and feel the lostness around us unless we then enter into it with the gospel in a way hurting people can understand. There are moments like this, not devastating on such a widespread scale necessarily, but moments every day where the lostness of the world should make us pause.

Athens was one of those moments for Paul. The city was like a modern-day Paris or New York in terms of cultural influence. There were more idols in Athens than there were people, and when Paul walked through the streets and saw the idolatry firsthand, it troubled his spirit. I picture Paul exasperated to the point of tears in the middle of the city street because of its lostness, much like when Jesus looked out over Jerusalem and wept (Luke 19:41).

I’m not advocating that we walk around crying our eyes out every day, but we do need to acknowledge how dire the situation is. We will not step into darkness to bring light if we do not acknowledge the seriousness of that darkness.

Ephesians 2:1-3 lets us know the hopelessness of every person’s condition apart from Christ. Sin doesn’t make us pretty bad off. It makes us dead. We are not mostly dead. We are dead-dead. John Piper puts it this way, “We’re in the morgue, not the doghouse” with God.

Our lost friends aren’t simply needing to make some good choices to turn their lives around; they are dead in their sins.

Our country isn’t simply headed in the wrong direction in need of moral leaders; our country is dead in idolatry.

But before you decide this blog post is a real downer and close this window because you’d rather just come back for List Wednesday, consider this – where sin brought death, Jesus brings life (Ephesians 2:4-10).

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That’s why Paul didn’t plop down in the middle of the street in despair. He didn’t throw his hands in the air and leave that place, either. He recognized the seriousness of their condition, and he also knew he had the answer they needed.

So Paul took Jesus right into the heart of Athenian culture (Acts 17:19-34) and confronted their idolatry, sharing the gospel in a way they could not help but understand. In doing so, he brought the life and light of Christ to a dark and dying place.

And so can we.

“Who’s Nae Nae?” and other signs you’re getting older

Today is Clay’s birthday, y’all. It’s one of those times when the number of years lived really does end with a 9. But don’t tell him I told you.

Not that he has any reason to be feeling blue about that new number. Rob Lowe, Johnny Depp, George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and Tom Cruise are all older. And if you think about it, I could have stopped that list right after Rob Lowe and it would have gotten the point across. It’s a great time to be alive.

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I’ve never understood the hangup people have with getting older, anyway. I’ve recently decided I’d like to live well into my second century. One reason is that it means I’m still not yet middle-aged. But also, I feel like the blog of a 102-year-old woman could be really popular. Maybe not so much in the minds of my great-grandchildren, per say, but everyone else in the world would excuse, and probably even look forward to the lack of filter that naturally comes with that many years. Just think what a hoot these List Wednesday posts will be then.

We’re all getting older. And speaking of List Wednesday, here’s how you can know for sure it’s happening to you.

signsyouregettingolderThe question, “What are you doing tonight?” If you have your way, you’ll be getting ready for bed at 7pm and then settling in to read a book or watch Netflix…and it feels right.

Self-image. When someone under-guesses your age, you relive that glorious moment for days. But then when your 20-year-old son uses an app that ages him 70 years in a photo, Facebook’s facial recognition software thinks it’s you. You would find this extremely offensive if you weren’t so distracted by the fact that those wrinkles look so real.

Keeping up with culture. You’ve bookmarked urban dictionary. Also, you don’t know who Nae Nae is and have never asked anyone to watch you whip. You did look it up on The Google, though, and are still just as confused as before.

Reliving the old days. You’ve clicked on “Get Peanutized: Turn Yourself into a Peanuts Character,” “Then and Now: The Cast of ‘Sixteen Candles,'” “Which ‘Breakfast Club’ Character are You?” and “10 Things You Didn’t Know about ‘Gilligan’s Island.'”

Doctor’s visits. You just want one doctor who can explain everything, but you have 8 specialists, instead. And they’re all too young to even know who Doogie Howser is.

Changes. You’ve given a good amount of thought to what’s wrong with kids these days. Also, your new TV is nice, but you really just want your old remote back…and for your favorite shows to come back.

Birthdays. Nothing says “I love you” like a new pair of socks. After that, a blog post with a Rob Lowe meme is just bonus.

Nodding the head does not row the boat

 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. James 1:19-27

There’s an Irish proverb that says, “Nodding the head does not row the boat.” I don’t know much about Ireland or how that proverb got its start: Did Irish oarsmen sit in the boats for morning meetings to discuss where to go and how to get there before they set out each day? Did some guys just kick back for awhile even after the meeting ended, drinking their coffee, filling in the blanks and pondering the notes on their handouts instead of rowing? I don’t know, but if you think about a boat like a church pew, then maybe it makes more sense.

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James describes two kinds of listening. There is the kind of listening that compels activity, and then there is a lackadaisical kind of listening.

Maybe the latter listener is lackadaisical because he talks too much, is holding onto anger, or remains unrepentant regarding a particular sin (Jas. 1:19-21). Each of these problems reflects a spirit of pride that, through deception, blocks truth from making any sort of real difference in a person’s life. Whatever the reason, James says we should get rid of it.

We need to do something besides sitting and listening.

A fun fact about writing devotions, Bible study curriculum, and articles is there are times I’ll reread something I wrote months or years ago that causes me to think, “Hey, I should probably do that.” My blog and Word documents are more like an album of selfies than an actual mirror, but it serves to illustrate the same principle we find in James 1:23-25. The point is it’s not a one time thing.

We must keep on listening and keep on becoming doers of God’s Word.

It is not enough to give God’s Word a quick look, fill in a few blanks while nodding our heads, and then go on with life as usual without remembering or applying what we learned. Neither is the pinnacle of righteousness summed up in moral living. That’s why James picked controlling the tongue and looking after orphans and widows as evidence of the active listener and compelled doer of the Word. Outward religion without inner control and genuine compassion is a sign of lackadaisical listening.

And lackadaisical listening will never get you where God wants you to go.

Humbly accept the word planted in you, believer (Jas. 1:21b). You might think of it this way – God has given you the oars you need. Don’t let them just sit there. Pick them up and keep rowing.