All empty souls tend toward extreme opinions. ~ William Butler Yeats
Your discipleship program is perfectly designed to produce the disciples you have. ~ Dallas Willard
In my first pastorate in Oklahoma there was a crusty old man named Steve. He was a charter member of the fifty-year-old Baptist Church. He was mean, cranky, and critical. I’m not sure any pastor that ever pastored that church met his expectations.
One day in the gravel parking lot in front of the parsonage next door to the church, Steve mentioned a list of sins that he thought was wrong and that I needed to preach about. It was the stock list of Baptist sins: Drinking, dancing, going to movies, and women wearing pants in church.
In, what I was sure was a snarky tone of voice, I said, “That’s quite a list, Steve. You left off smoking.” I winked.
With a fierce look in of his eye and a filter-less camel hanging from his lips he said, “Pastor, I don’t’ care if Jesus Christ walked around the corner of that Church right there and told me that smoking cigarettes was a sin and that I should quit, I would NOT do it.”
I stepped back a few feet, in case of lightning strike, and whispered, “Get him, God!”
Steve was not changing. He didn’t love his family much. He didn’t love other people much. He was easily irritated. He had a judgmental spirit in him. And he was a legalist.
But was troubling was not just that he wasn’t changing. What was troubling was the fact that nobody was surprised by it!
Nobody said: “We ought to call in a consultant from some place, or we ought to have an emergency meeting of the deacons to consider this strange situation where there’s somebody who’s come into our church week after week, year after year, and kind of been doing church life the way that we say church life ought to be done, but he’s not changing.”
Often folks in that church would just say, “Pastor, that’s just Steve being Steve. It’s just the way he is.”
I’m sorry, but that is not good enough for Steve. It is not good enough for me either.
I want to be a man of peace, but I fear, more often than not, I’m an agitator. How can I change? More importantly, how can you change?
Train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. 1 Timothy 4:7-8
If you want to be free to make great music, you’re probably going to have to practice scales and do some training. It’s true of intellectual transformation, and it is no less true of transformation in the spiritual realm.
I think largely because we live in a society of instant gratification—this wisdom has almost been lost in our day.
I want to change. So, I wonder if you would join me in in a training program to do whatever it requires to be a person of peace this Christmas season. To be a peacemaker, like Jesus called us to be. How in the world could we be people who make peace?
Well, one of the ways is to figure out what stimulations you allow in your life that bring agitation. To identify and isolate your agitation triggers. So, for me that means that in the month of December, I am going to fast from the trigger points of my lower angels.
- Cable News—For me what happens coming from the White House can send me into spirit of anger. For you that might be anything that comes from CNN or MSNBC. Here’s an idea: Don’t watch it.
Here is some great advice from Dorothy Day:
“Turn off your radio. Put away your daily paper. Read one review of events a week and spend some time reading good books. They tell too of days of striving and of strife. They are of other centuries and also of our own. They make us realize that all times are perilous, that men live in a dangerous world, in peril constantly of losing or maiming soul and body. We get some sense of perspective reading such books. Renewed courage and faith and even joy to live.”
(Journal Entry, 28 September 1940)
- Social Media—If what is showing up on your Facebook page causes you heartburn, curb your access to it. For instance, if you have a smart phone you could take social media off of your smart phone. I love seeing pictures of my grandkids on Facebook. So, I don’t think it necessarily a positive to do away with it completely, but I can discipline myself to log in at my computer and set a limit to how much time I give myself to surf through social media.
- Email Chains—If someone forwards you an email about Hillary Clinton, Barak Obama, or Judge Roy Moore, don’t read it. Just delete it without reading it. You can do this.
- Spread Peace—instead of passing along the bile that you feel about the culture wars locally, nationally, or globally, try sending positive scripture verses and sentence prayers.
- Spend more time praying than complaining about anything.
Would you consider joining me in these disciplines for a few weeks? Let’s claim and live during the month of December the words of the wise old Apostle Paul,
Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
We ought to be the kind of people that if Jesus Christ himself walked around the corner of our church and said that a certain attitude was a sin and for us to stop it, we would move heaven and earth to be obedient to the One who died for us.
Then maybe people would say about me, “That’s just Joe being Jesus. It’s just the way he is.”
And peace would have found its way into this world.