Grumbling Is Sin?


In the past I’ve been pretty hard on the poor Israelites fleeing Egypt for the Promised Land. They had just witnessed God’s amazing judgment on their oppressors, I reason, and walked out of Egypt a rich people. As if that wasn’t enough, God dried up a path through a sea and wiped out the army of charioteers following them.

And what did they do? They had the gall to complain when they got thirsty. They had the nerve to grumble about heavenly food provided for them on a regular basis.

Despite my judgment of that conflicted historical people group—which, by the way, coincided with God’s judgment of them—I’ve somehow avoided putting all the pieces together to see that MY grumbling, MY disputing is sin. I can see it in ancient Israel. I can’t see it in me. Or don’t want to.

In my post “The Lesson Of The Bee,” I pointed out that the problem of grumbling must first be addressed when we grumble against God. But directly hurling angry words at Him is not the only grumbling that displeases Him.

The passage to the Philippian believers, in which Paul commands them to do all things without grumbling, in no way limits this to their communication with God. In fact, since the point of their not grumbling was so that they might appear as lights in the corrupt and perverse world, it seems to me the lack of grumbling and disputing would have to be true of conduct and conversation in the public arena, not just the church.

In thinking of this command in a hierarchical manner—first don’t grumble against God—my natural second question is, Who is next in line?

I’d have to say, logically, that would be governmental leadership. For us in the Us that would start with … the President.

Ouch! That hurts, doesn’t it? I mean, isn’t it sort of one of the American pastimes to shred the President if we didn’t vote for him? Some, of course, shred all Presidents since they don’t vote, or don’t vote for a major-party candidate. Others “only” go after a President in the “opposition” party.

I know it sounds old fashioned, but I was raised to respect the President because he was … the President. It’s right there in the Bible, after all:

Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. (Romans 13:1)

Well, that doesn’t say “respect.” It says “subject.” Can’t we put ourselves in subjection to a leader and not respect him? Paul goes on to say more about our response to those in authority in his letter to Titus:

Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed, to malign no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing every consideration for all men. (Titus 3:1-2)

Since rulers would fall into the “all men” category, I think it’s safe to say the “malign no one” part applies to pretty much every President.

But what if the things we say against a leader are true?

Well, the things Israel said against Moses were true. They didn’t have water, and at one point, the water they had wasn’t drinkable. They didn’t have the strong-tasting foods they’d grown used to in Egypt, and there really were giants in the land.

The reality of those conditions didn’t mean they therefore had a pass to rebel against the man God had put over them. No, they could not stone Moses and return to Egypt because they were out of water.

Peter spelled out what was expected of the early Christians, many who suffered under the persecution of Roman rule, and why:

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. (1 Peter 2:13-15 – emphasis mine)

So are we muzzled? Can we say nothing critical about our President?

I think we are free to voice our opinion and even point out when we disagree with the President. I think we can state what we wish he would have done instead. For example, I have no problem saying I think the President was wrong in the decision he made about health care.

That’s a far cry from hurling verbal stones—the kinds of disrespectful invective that come out of the mouths of and onto the screen from many professing Christians.

It’s as if we think we have a better plan than the one God is working. When He said we could be light to a crooked and perverse generation by not grumbling or disputing, we come along with plan B: Grumbling and disputing when it comes to “a bad President” is desirable and to be encouraged. It’s the American’s right, even responsibility, because that’s what you do in a democracy if you get involved. And good Christians get involved.

There’s the insidiousness of this argument. Christians should get involved. But how shocked would our culture be if we disagreed respectfully, without maligning anyone, treating all with gentleness, showing consideration even to those with whom we take issue? Wouldn’t that have the kind of effect that, say, God said it would?

And even if we never see any results from subjecting ourselves to our President, we will have accomplished the greater goal—to please our Sovereign King with our obedience. After all, He’s the one who’s told us not to grumble or dispute. He’s the one we sin against when we disobey.

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in August 2011.

Advertisements
Published in: on August 29, 2016 at 6:57 pm  Comments (2)  
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Does Anybody Have A New Recipe For Manna?


Gathering mannaBoiled manna. Fried manna. Mashed manna. Manna a la quail. Manna sauteed. Baked Manna. Raw manna. If there’s a way to prepare manna, my guess is, the people of Israel figured it out. After all, they had a steady diet of the stuff for forty years.

The people themselves didn’t take long to start complaining.

We remember the fish which we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers and the melons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic, but now our appetite is gone. There is nothing at all to look at except this manna.” (Num. 11:5-6)

Nothing to look at. Only manna.

Apparently it didn’t occur to them that without manna they would have had nothing. Apparently it hadn’t occurred to them that their “free fish” in Egypt required them to be slaves.

So it is today. We seem so rarely contented. Rather, we live life for the next thing, and the next after that. We want the vacation to Tahoe until we hear about our friend who is heading off to Italy. So we add that to our “Bucket List,” which is nothing but a glorified “I want” list—I want this, I want to do that.

When we own our own home, we complain about the property taxes. We enjoy amazing technology, only to long for the newest gadget now out. We love our cars but can’t wait to trade them in for the upgraded model. Our jobs provide us with the money to pay for food and clothing, but we can hardly wait for the weekend so we don’t have to work. Or for vacation.

Life has become one big stress.

Or has it? Maybe life is not the stress, but we are looking at manna—or life—with dissatisfaction because we want something God hasn’t given us.

We take for granted God’s provision and we even diminish its value because we’re longing for something else—something we had in the past or something we think we’re entitled to in the present.

We replace gratitude with complaining, appreciation for disgruntlement. We disdain the security and constancy God provides in favor of something risky or edgy.

I do anyway. I hate to admit it. God is so faithful, and yet I grow complacent—so unlike Abraham. He considered God’s promises and “did not waver in unbelief, but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God” (Romans 4:20b).

I have ample reason to give glory to God, but I tend to think more about what He did not give me rather than what He has given me.

The crazy thing is, some of the things God withholds become things I’m so thankful later on that I haven’t been burdened with. Who knew? Good things can become burdensome.

Let’s take books, for example. Every writer wants above all else to publish her book. But publishing only leads to the need to promote the book and to follow it up with another and another. In short, the very good thing of having published a book grows into a larger requirement, a burden, even.

Perhaps God withholds that good thing—a published book—because He wants to spare that writer the burdens and responsibilities that would come with it. I’m aware, for instance, of a writer who did not receive an expected book contract. While waiting, though, a family member contracted a serious illness which required a great deal of family involvement. How would it have been possible for this writer to navigate the waters of publishing at the same time as meeting the necessities of family life?

Of course, it’s so easy to say, Why didn’t God give the book contract and withhold the illness? No one can answer that for someone else, and sometimes we can’t answer it for ourselves. God simply hasn’t disclosed all His plans. But then, He doesn’t report to us, does He. He isn’t required to check in with us or get our approval to exercise His will.

In reality, He knows precisely what we need. And sometimes it’s not fish. It’s more manna.

The Lesson Of The Bee


Some time ago, I had a bee find its way into my bedroom. I don’t relish killing bugs, and less so bees, but this one was in my bedroom! What to do?

I ran through my options as I watched the angry little critter buzz to the top of the window screen, find no opening, and buzz back to the bottom. Again and again.

At last I figured out a way to avoid killing him. From the cupboard, I pulled down a goblet, then retrieved an envelop that fit nicely over top. I held the glass stem and approached the bee still bouncing against the screen in a futile attempt to zip outside.

In one quick move, I plopped the goblet over the wayward wanderer. As he flew into the bowl looking for escape, I slid the envelop between the screen and the lip of the glass. Got him!

Earlier he seemed mad. Now he buzzed with vicious frenzy.

Poor little guy, I thought. Wasting all that energy, so mad he’d sting me if I gave him the tiniest opening. Yet my only intention was to help him get exactly what he needed, the very thing he’d been looking for.

And then it hit me. So often I act just like that bee. I find myself in a mess of my own making and try furiously to free myself, often repeating the same futile steps over and over. Then, when things seem to get worse, not better, I rail against God, not realizing that He’s using the very circumstances I hate for my good.

How much simpler if I obeyed God and refrained from grumbling and disputing, if I trusted Him instead of blaming Him, if I turned to Him in dependence instead of away from Him in stubborn willfulness. After all, my buzzing about is no more profitable than was that little bee’s.

God, on the other hand, sees the big picture, knows what’s best, and has much more regard for me—love, actually—than I had for the miscreant I set loose from my bedroom.

“Do all things without grumbling or disputing,” Philippians 2:14 says. Now there’s a novel idea. 😉

What does me in, though, is what Paul says next:

so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world (v 15; emphasis mine).

By this one thing, refraining from grumbling or disputing, we will accomplish what Christ called us to do—serve as lights in the world, even the crooked and perverse world.

I’m thinking the first grumbling or disputing I need to eliminate is any directed at God. We’re so quick in our culture to say that it’s OK for us to rail against God. He understands. He forgives. He’s big enough to handle it. He knows what I’m thinking anyway, I might as well say it. We’re just being honest.

Actually, no. While God does understand and forgive, while He’s certainly “big enough” to handle my puny complaints, while He already knows my heart, it’s still not right for me to accuse righteous God of doing what is not good. And where in Scripture to we learn that God values our honesty more than our trust?

What I should do when thoughts of disgruntlement come into my mind, is confess them and seek God’s forgiveness.

Who am I to accuse God of wrong doing, or of falling down on the job, or of not keeping His promises? I’m really no different than an irate bee buzzing madly to get what I want, ignoring the hand stretched out toward me.

I don’t want to be that bee any more.

This post sans some small additions and revision first appeared here in August 2011.

Published in: on March 18, 2015 at 7:12 pm  Comments (3)  
Tags: , , ,

Disappointed Or Disappointed With God?


Forgiving_Sins031I’m reading a book that, in part, discusses the Psalms, pointing out that some are laments or psalms questioning God, asking Him for answers, for change, for help, but in the end, the psalmist finishes in the same place as he started—with the same doubts and sorrows and fears.

In thinking about the various things that could trigger a lament, I realized there are human experiences that are disappointing—which is just another way of saying, we expect one thing to happen and it doesn’t. In fact, sometimes, the opposite happens or a different thing which looks worse than the circumstance we’re in, happens.

Take, for instance, the lame man who’s friends lowered him on a stretcher through the roof so that Jesus would heal him. Instead, Jesus says, Your sins are forgiven. How disappointed might that man have felt? He wanted to walk, expected to walk, but Jesus gave him a different kind of healing than he anticipated. Was he disappointed?

Scripture doesn’t say, but it wouldn’t be surprising if initially he felt disappointed.

Many other Jews were clearly disappointed with Jesus. They expected Him to be their Messiah coming to conquer and to set them free from their enemies. Of course He did those things—but the enemy He conquered was death, not Rome, and the freedom he gave was the freedom from sin and guilt and the Law, not political freedom from a repressive government.

Abraham’s descendents, enslaved by Pharaoh, were also disappointed with God though Moses led them out of Egypt. They wanted to escape, no doubt . . . until they were in the desert, with the Red Sea in front of them and Pharaoh’s army behind them. Or until they had no water. Or until they saw giants in the promised land. Clearly, God wasn’t doing things the way they expected, and they decided a return to Egypt was in order. Some wanted to pick a new leader and some wanted to pick a new god.

On the opposite end of the spectrum stand Joseph and Gideon and Samuel and David and Daniel and Jeremiah and Paul and Stephen and John and Martha and the widow with her last mite, and many, many others. They were at the end of their options and didn’t see God. They were in prison or oppressed by a foreign power, exiled, running for their lives, impoverished, alone, facing death, and they couldn’t have looked at their circumstances and thought, Yep, just as I planned it.

But their unmet expectations were not, in their eyes, more than a light, momentary affliction. They were not disappointed with God. He hadn’t failed them or forsaken them. Rather, He was the One passing through the waters with them, holding their hand through the valley of the shadow of death, gathering them in His arm and carrying them in His bosom when they had wandered on their own.

The point is clear. I can have my expectations foiled, even shattered, and still accept the fact that God’s way, different from what I’d anticipated, is good and right. I can seize the opportunity to praise Him, or I can shake my fist at Him, mouthing silly phrases such as, “He’s big enough to handle my anger.”

I’ve been disturbed for a number of years with the “it’s OK to be angry at or disappointed with God” attitude in the Church. Now I’m beginning to wonder if this unwillingness to bow to His sovereignty might not be behind some of the false teaching that seems so prevalent in our day.

It’s in the presumption that God is supposed to make me rich, that God is not supposed to be wrathful, that God is supposed to keep me healthy, that God is not supposed to mean it when He says, All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.

In the end, such attempts to shape God into the image we want for Him are not so different from the Israelites fashioning a golden calf and calling it Yahweh. That generation of people who shook their fists in the face of God, wandered in the wilderness for forty years, then died.

Talk about disappointment.

Except, God never let them down. Not once. He gave them food miraculously, every day; kept their clothes and shoes from wearing out; protected them and led them with His presence, manifested as a pillar of fire by night and a cloud by day. And yet things weren’t as they’d hoped. Their disappointment had nothing to do with God and everything to do with what they thought how God was supposed to be and what God was supposed to do.

Instead of seeing God as a great provider who would surprise them with the unexpected and care for them in ways they hadn’t imagined, they groused and complained and ultimately said they’d had enough.

Disappointment with God led them to death.

In contrast, disappointment that yields to God’s plan instead of our own, results in things like Paul and Silas singing praises in jail after they’d been beaten, which in turn provided an opportunity for them to preach Christ to their jailer and see unbelieving people converted.

The Lesson Of The Bee


Not so long ago, I had a bee find its way into my bedroom. I don’t relish killing bugs, and less so bees, but this one was in my bedroom! What to do?

I ran through my options as I watched the angry little critter buzz to the top of the window screen, find no opening, and buzz back to the bottom. Again and again.

At last I figured out a way to avoid killing him. From the cupboard, I pulled down a goblet, then retrieved an envelop that fit nicely over top. I held the glass stem and approached the bee still bouncing against the screen in a futile attempt to zip outside.

In one quick move, I plopped the goblet over the wayward wanderer. As he flew into the bowl looking for escape, I slid the envelop between the screen and the lip of the glass. Got him!

Earlier he seemed mad. Now he buzzed with vicious frenzy.

Poor little guy, I thought. Wasting all that energy, so mad he’d sting me if I gave him the tiniest opening. Yet my only intention was to help him get exactly what he needed, the very thing he’d been looking for.

And then it hit me. So often I act just like that bee. I find myself in a mess of my own making and try furiously to free myself, often repeating the same futile steps over and over. Then, when things seem to get worse, not better, I rail against God, not realizing that He’s using the very circumstances I hate for my good.

How much simpler if I obeyed God and refrained from grumbling and disputing, if I trusted Him instead of blaming Him, if I turned to Him in dependence instead of away from Him in stubborn willfulness. After all, my buzzing about is no more profitable than was that little bee’s.

God, on the other hand, sees the big picture, knows what’s best, and has much more regard for me — love, actually — than I had for the miscreant I set loose from my bedroom.

“Do all things without grumbling or disputing,” Philippians 2:14 says. Now there’s a novel idea. 😉

What does me in, though, is what Paul says next:

so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world (emphasis mine).

By this one thing, refraining from grumbling or disputing, we will accomplish what Christ called us to do — serve as lights in the world, even the crooked and perverse world.

I’m thinking the first grumbling or disputing I need to eliminate is any directed at God. We’re so quick in our culture to say that it’s OK for us to rail against God. He understands. He forgives. He’s big enough to handle it. He knows what I’m thinking anyway, I might as well say it.

Actually, no. What I should do when thoughts of disgruntlement come into my mind, is confess them and seek God’s forgiveness.

Who am I to accuse God of wrong doing, or of falling down on the job, or of not keeping His promises? I’m really no different than an irate bee buzzing madly to get what I want, ignoring the helping hand stretched out toward me.

I don’t want to be that bee any more.

From the archives: this post originally appeared here at A Christian Worldview Of Fiction in August 2011. Somehow it escaped being one of the under-three-stars posts. 😉

Published in: on May 20, 2014 at 7:52 pm  Comments Off on The Lesson Of The Bee  
Tags: , , ,

Cultivating Thankfulness In A Disaffected Society


The_First_Thanksgiving_Jean_Louis_Gerome_FerrisIt’s hard to be thankful when more seems to be going wrong than right. It’s freezing outside and you catch a cold, but can’t skip work because you have no more sick leave. Besides, there’s this important thing due, and you CAN’T be late. Or unprepared. Because rumor has it, your job is on the line.

Then there’s the latest news story that says something in our water is probably killing us, if the terrorists don’t figure out a way to do it first. The economy is a mess no matter what the stock market is doing, and every day one government official after another is being exposed as a jerk, a lawbreaker, or a corrupt politician.

Then there’s the disappointing mess that the new health care law has become. How many of your friends are like you and are about to lose their present policy?

Are we thankful yet?

The specifics for each of us may be different, but it seems a lot of people would identify with the sentiment that there’s more going wrong than right.

Add to all the pressure and bad news, the constant message from our computer screens and TVs that we deserve better than what we’ve got. We deserve better treatment, a better gadget, a better policy. Advertisements bombard us with the idea that we can, and should, do better, if only we’d get with the program and buy their stuff.

So, how are we doing with thankfulness?

Oddly enough, the people that originated a celebratory feast as part of a day of thanks, had a whole lot more problems than we have. According to the Scholastic article “The First Thanksgiving” the Pilgrims arrived in the New World during the winter. Their perilous two-month voyage across the stormy Atlantic had lasted far longer than expected, and had already taken a toll. Their supplies were nearly depleted, and they became ill because of the conditions on board ship.

As it was, because of exposure, malnutrition, and disease, nearly half the original 102 settlers died before the coming of spring. At the lowest point, only seven people were healthy enough to take care of the sick.

Without the help of the Native Americans living in the region near the place where they settled, it’s likely they would not have survived another winter. Other colonies had failed, and future colonies would be wiped out by attacks from a different group of Native Americans.

The survivors, of course, were committed to this dangerous adventure, and needed to figure out how to provide properly for themselves in order to avoid another disastrous winter. The Indians gave them invaluable help.

In April, the Mayflower headed back to England and the small band of settlers were on their own.

Well, not quite. God was watching over them. By His providential care, they made friends with the Monhegan Tribe, and became acquainted with Squanto who knew English and translated so that the Indians could teach them when to plant corn, how to catch fish, how to use the carcass as fertilizer, and who knows what else.

So it was, they dug in, built homes, and cultivated the soil.

The Pilgrims’ entire male working force consisted of twenty-one men and six of the older, stronger boys. With this small force, they tilled and planted with heavy hoes, (having no horses nor domestic animals), twenty acres of Indian corn, six acres of wheat, rye and barley, as well as small gardens near the homes consisting of peas and other small vegetables. (“The Pilgrims Story and the First Thanksgiving”)

Exif_JPEG_PICTUREAt the end of the summer, they reaped a bountiful harvest. And from a deep sense of gratitude, they held a feast of thanksgiving. Ninety Indians came and celebrated with the fifty-eight Pilgrims for three days.

Why? They had all lost loved ones, were in a strange land with no way of returning, and winter was coming.

They didn’t have health care. Or grocery stores. Or cars and freeways, let alone the Internet and Skype. They were cut off and alone. But they celebrated thanksgiving.

They were grateful that God had provided what they needed for that next season. And they trusted that He would do it again and again.

Perhaps our disaffected society isn’t particularly thankful (and I’m talking year round, not whether or not we remember to say thank you to God or to our family on Thanksgiving Day) because we don’t remember what it feels like to be without.

Maybe we need to take a short term mission trip to an underdeveloped nation or volunteer at a homeless shelter or walk the streets of a big city urban center to see what “being without” looks like.

Maybe we should pray that God would open our eyes to the countless blessings we enjoy–and keep our eyes open so that we live in joyful contentment rather than in disaffected greed or coveteousness.

Grumbling And Disputing Revisited


Before I forget, I’m taking part in a blog carnival, a kind of blogger magazine in which submitted articles are collected and linked at a host site. My chosen carnival is the Christian Carnival, hosted this week by Thinking In Christ. The topics may vary, but all have one thing in common — the worldview of the author. It’s a great way to take a peek beyond our usual online circle to see what other people think and what they’re concerned with.

Grumbling, again??? You might think we covered this topic to completion.

Almost, though I think we could take a look at a lot of areas and spend some time thinking about how Philippians 2:14 applies. Such a short verse, so easy to read quickly and move on:

Do all things without grumbling or disputing

The word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword

But when I take time to think about the implications, I am caught, pierced by the sharp point of the Sword of the Spirit.

We’ve already seen that we’re not to grumble against God, even though our circumstances seem to put us where we don’t want to be, and even if things seem to turn worse, not better, in the face of our prayers.

We’ve also considered that the “all things” of this verse preclude our grumbling against governmental authorities or against our church leaders.

If we wanted to stay on our response to those in a leadership role, we could talk about how we deal with our parents, our bosses, even our spouses. But this “all things” part of Philippians 2:14 doesn’t let us think the verse is only about how we’re to behave when we’re in a subordinate position.

No, we’re to be different from the world in all our interactions — with our neighbors when they have a party late on Saturday night, playing loud music well past bedtime. We’re not to grumble or dispute when a commenter to a blog post calls us names. We’re not to grumble or dispute when another driver cuts us off so that we end up slamming on the brakes and missing the next light.

Is this possible?

Are we to turn into doormats with a “Come one, come all, good foot-wiping available here” signs over our heads?

I don’t think so. I don’t infer that a prohibition against grumbling and disputing is also a prohibition against speaking our minds when we disagree. This is not the Bible’s “peace at all costs” policy.

Lots of other Scriptures convince me of this. We are to remove the wicked from among us (1 Cor. 5:13), for example, and we are to turn a sinner from the error of his way (James 5:20) — hard things to do if we are to avoid confrontation.

In his third letter John took on a member of the church in rather harsh terms:

I wrote something to the church; but Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them, does not accept what we say. For this reason, if I come, I will call attention to his deeds which he does, unjustly accusing us with wicked words; and not satisfied with this, he himself does not receive the brethren, either, and he forbids those who desire to do so and puts them out of the church. (vv 9-10)

Paul held nothing back when he was warning against some of the professing Christians who proved false:

for Demas, having loved this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica … Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. Be on guard against him yourself, for he vigorously opposed our teaching. (2 Tim. 4:10a, 14-15)

These don’t sound like statements from doormats.

Here are a couple principles I can glean from these scriptures and others.

1) To obey God in this area of doing all things without grumbling or disputing does not require more self effort. It requires me to walk in Christ — to be so in tune with Him that I want to relate to others the way Christ would relate to them. And to rely on His grace and His power, not my own self-effort.

2) If I must speak about someone else’s wrong doing, it must be for some purpose other than vindictiveness.

3) If I am to confront someone regarding their sin, I must do so in love.

4) If I am to voice a different opinion from someone, I am to do so in humility.

I think that last point is critical. Paul brought up this issue of doing all things without grumbling or complaining right after writing to the Philippian church about being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intend on one purpose.

Those things could be achieved, he said, when believers didn’t think only of their own interests but of others, too. Ultimately, he said, be like Christ who was the epitome of humility, emptying Himself, taking on the form of a bond-servant, and eventually going to the cross. With all this in mind, then he said, do all things without grumbling or disputing.

Published in: on September 7, 2011 at 6:32 pm  Comments Off on Grumbling And Disputing Revisited  
Tags: , , , ,

And No Arguing?


Philippians 2:14 in the NIV says, “Do everything without complaining or arguing.”

I grew up arguing. No matter what my parents said or even the occasional paddling they gave, it seems my brother, sister, and I found something to argue about. Who got to sit in the front seat of the car, who’s turn it was to do dishes, what Monopoly deeds we’d trade, what TV program we’d watch. You name it, we argued about it.

Being the youngest, I learned pretty quickly that my best chance was to become the swing vote, siding with either my brother or my sister as circumstances demanded.

But arguing is stressful, as I’m sure my parents knew. Now I understand that arguing is in direct opposition to what God wants for believers. We’re supposed to love our neighbors as ourselves, and it’s pretty hard to do that when we’re complaining and arguing. I get it, but there are still too many times I don’t do what I get.

Since I started this short series by looking first at our response to God, then to those in governmental authority over us, I thought it might be good to consider another level of authority — that of our church leaders.

I know some Christians hardly think of their pastor or elders as being in authority over them — a sad state in the Church today. Instead, the pastor and worship leader seem to operate more like entertainers, doing whatever they can to keep the people coming. And the people act just like those in an audience. They critique the performance, applauding at times, and … dare I say it? … grumbling at others.

I attend a wonderful church where I receive Biblical teaching and enjoy rich worship. And yet, from time to time, I find myself grumbling in my spirit. After all, the worship leaders and pastors aren’t me, so they don’t always do things the way I think they should. Sometimes it’s a difference in style; sometimes I think there’s a Biblical issue at play.

But who made me worship cop? Who elected me to represent the Holy Spirit? Going into critique mode when I’m in church is part of my argumentative spirit, part of the wickedness James says we need to put off.

Come to think of it, he also has some important words about complaining and arguing.

What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. …

Do not speak against one another, brethren. He who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge of it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy; but who are you who judge your neighbor? (James 4:1-3, 11-12)

If James says this about judging our neighbor, how does it apply to judging our pastor or our elders or our worship leaders?

Slowly I’m learning that when I find myself bristling about this issue or that, my reaction signals my need to repent.

I can and should pray for the leadership of my church. I’m even free to communicate with them in courteous and kind ways to express my thoughts. I am not free to grumble, even in my heart, or complain and argue about how the leadership is doing things.

I wonder how different church would be if we prayed more and argued and complained less.

Published in: on September 1, 2011 at 5:40 pm  Comments (5)  
Tags: , , ,

Grumbling Is Sin?


I’ve been pretty hard on the poor Israelites fleeing Egypt for the Promised Land. They just witnessed God’s amazing judgment on their oppressors, I reason, and walk out of Egypt a rich people. As if that wasn’t enough, He dried up a path through a sea and wiped out the army of charioteers following them. Then they had the gall to complain when they got thirsty. They had the nerve to grumble about heavenly food provided for them on a regular basis.

Despite my judgment of that conflicted historical people group — which, by the way, coincided with God’s judgment of them — I somehow avoided putting all the pieces together to see that MY grumbling, MY disputing is sin. I can see it in ancient Israel. I can’t see it in me. Or don’t want to.

In my post “The Lesson Of The Bee,” I pointed out that the problem of grumbling must first be addressed when we grumble against God. But directly hurling angry words at Him is not the only grumbling that displeases Him.

The passage to the Philippian believers in which Paul commands them to do all things without grumbling in no way limits this to their communication with God. In fact, since the point of their not grumbling was so that they might appear as lights in the corrupt and perverse world, it seems to me the lack of grumbling and disputing would have to be true of conduct and conversation in the public arena, not just the church.

In thinking of this command in a hierarchical manner — first don’t grumble against God — my natural question is, Who is next in line?

I’d have to say, logically, that would be governmental leadership, starting with … the President.

Ouch! That hurts, doesn’t it? I mean, isn’t it sort of one of the American pastimes to shred the President if we didn’t vote for him? For some, that means shredding all presidents since those complaining don’t vote, or don’t vote for a major-party candidate. For others that means “only” going after the one in the “opposition” party.

I know it sounds old fashioned, but I was raised to respect the President because he was … the President. It’s right there in the Bible, after all:

Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. (Romans 13:1)

Well, that doesn’t say “respect.” It says “subject.” Can’t we put ourselves in subjection to a leader and not respect him? Paul goes on to say more about our response to those in authority in his letter to Titus:

Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed, to malign no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing every consideration for all men. (Titus 3:1-2)

Since rulers would fall into the “all men” category, I think it’s safe to say the “malign no one” part applies to them as well.

But what if the things we say against a leader are true?

Well, the things Israel said against Moses were true. They didn’t have water, and at one point, the water they had wasn’t drinkable. They didn’t have the strong-tasting foods they’d grown used to in Egypt, and there really were giants in the land.

The reality of those conditions didn’t mean they therefore had a pass to rebel against the man God had put over them. No, they could not stone Moses and return to Egypt because they were out of water.

Peter spelled out what was expected of the early Christians, many who suffered under the persecution of Roman rule, and why:

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. (1 Peter 2:13-15 – emphasis mine)

So are we muzzled? Can we say nothing critical about our President?

I think we are free to voice our opinion and even point out when we disagree with the President. I think we can state what we wish he would do instead of a course of action he’s chosen. For example, I have no problem saying I think the President is wrong in the decisions he’s made about health care.

That’s a far cry from hurling verbal stones — the kinds of disrespectful invectives that come out of the mouths of and onto the screen from many professing Christians.

It’s as if we think we have a better plan than the one God gave us. When He said we could be light to a crooked and perverse generation by not grumbling or disputing, we come along with plan B: Grumbling and disputing when it comes to “a bad President” is desirable and to be encouraged. It’s the American’s right, even responsibility, because that’s what you do in a democracy if you get involved. And good Christians get involved.

There’s the insidiousness of this argument. Christians should get involved. But how shocked would our culture be if we disagreed respectfully, without maligning anyone, treating all with gentleness, showing consideration even to those with whom we take issue? Wouldn’t that have the kind of effect that, say, God said it would?

And even if we never see any results from subjecting ourselves to our President, we will have accomplished the greater goal — to please our Sovereign King with our obedience. After all, He’s the one who’s told us not to grumble or dispute. He’s the one we sin against when we disobey.

Published in: on August 31, 2011 at 7:46 pm  Comments (5)  
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

The Lesson Of The Bee


Not so long ago, I had a bee find its way into my bedroom. I don’t relish killing bugs, and less so bees, but this one was in my bedroom! What to do?

I ran through my options as I watched the angry little critter buzz to the top of the window screen, find no opening, and buzz back to the bottom. Again and again.

At last I figured out a way to avoid killing him. From the cupboard, I pulled down a goblet, then retrieved an envelop that fit nicely over top. I held the glass stem and approached the bee still bouncing against the screen in a futile attempt to zip outside.

In one quick move, I plopped the goblet over the wayward wanderer. As he flew into the bowl looking for escape, I slid the envelop between the screen and the lip of the glass. Got him!

Earlier he seemed mad. Now he buzzed with vicious frenzy.

Poor little guy, I thought. Wasting all that energy, so mad he’d sting me if I gave him the tiniest opening. Yet my only intention was to help him get exactly what he needed, the very thing he’d been looking for.

And then it hit me. So often I act just like that bee. I find myself in a mess of my own making and try furiously to free myself, often repeating the same futile steps over and over. Then, when things seem to get worse, not better, I rail against God, not realizing that He’s using the very circumstances I hate for my good.

How much simpler if I obeyed God and refrained from grumbling and disputing, if I trusted Him instead of blaming Him, if I turned to Him in dependence instead of away from Him in stubborn willfulness. After all, my buzzing about is no more profitable than was that little bee’s.

God, on the other hand, sees the big picture, knows what’s best, and has much more regard for me — love, actually — than I had for the miscreant I set loose from my bedroom.

“Do all things without grumbling or disputing,” Philippians 2:14 says. Now there’s a novel idea. 😉

What does me in, though, is what Paul says next:

so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world (emphasis mine).

By this one thing, refraining from grumbling or disputing, we will accomplish what Christ called us to do — serve as lights in the world, even the crooked and perverse world.

I’m thinking the first grumbling or disputing I need to eliminate is any directed at God. We’re so quick in our culture to say that it’s OK for us to rail against God. He understands. He forgives. He’s big enough to handle it. He knows what I’m thinking anyway, I might as well say it.

Actually, no. What I should do when thoughts of disgruntlement come into my mind, is confess them and seek God’s forgiveness.

Who am I to accuse God of wrong doing, or of falling down on the job, or of not keeping His promises? I’m really no different than an irate bee buzzing madly to get what I want, ignoring the helping hand stretched out toward me.

I don’t want to be that bee any more.

Published in: on August 30, 2011 at 5:43 pm  Comments (5)  
Tags: , , ,