When I used to vacation in America, I was always hugely encouraged by the massively more positive attitude to life than I was used to in Europe in general, and in the UK in particular. There was an optimism, a hope, a confidence that throbbed throughout American life, and especially among American Christians.
Sadly, I’m writing in the past tense. Because that up-and-at-’em, can-do spirit has gone, largely. And it’s absence is especially noticeable in the church. It was still quite evident when I first came here to work 5-6 years ago, but it’s slowly diminished since, and for many it completely evaporated on November 6.
In some ways, this emotional decline is understandable, especially among non-Christians. America has taken a few hard blows in recent years. However, what’s not understandable nor acceptable is the way that many American Christians are leading the way in joyless, smile-less despair. And no surprise, because many have been feeding themselves on a diet of negativity, defeat, cynicism, and pessimism;
A new diet
The American church and individual American Christians need a long and concentrated dose of Philippians 4:8.
Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.
We’ve been gorging ourselves way too long at the media’s trough as they’ve happily served us up an unremitting diet of the false, the base, the wrong, the filthy, the ugly, and the destructive.
But we’ve then gone and regurgitated that mess into our families and churches. We sit around our dinner tables moping and moaning. Preaching and praying sound more like whining and whinging. Our Facebook pages are full of frowns and fears. Garbage in, garbage out, as someone subtly put it.
We need to change our diet. Good in, good out. Philippians 4:8 in, Philippians 4:8 out.
But what does that look like in practice? Let me give you five equations that I believe will make us more biblically balanced and more counter-culturally optimistic.
More salvation than sin
Yes, we need to preach, write, and talk about sin. Without the doctrine of sin and conviction of sin, the Gospel makes no sense and has no power. Despite many wanting to downplay sin, minimize God’s law, and soften God’s anger, the Gospel message must begin with “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”
But for every minute spent on sin, let’s spend more on salvation. Sure, we must visit the prodigal’s pigsty – to see, smell, and even taste the evil of sin – but let’s not linger there any longer than we have to. A welcoming father is waiting.
Most Christians don’t need nor want to hear about homosexual marriage or abortion or the latest bloodbath in every single sermon and prayer. We do need to hear about Christ, and grace, and redemption at every possible opportunity.
More truth than falsehood
Just as banks train tellers to spot counterfeit money by over-exposing them to real money, and doctors are trained to detect heart and lung disease by listening to thousands of healthy chests, so Christians would be more edified, and also better prepared to spot falsehood, by focusing most of their reading and teaching on the truth rather than trying to know and counteract the innumerable errors, heresies, false religions, and cults that fill our world.
Sure, we need Apologetics. But I’d like to invent another subject area whose whole purpose would be to positively promote truth as aggressively as we tear down falsehood. Maybe seminaries could set up “Philippians 4:8″ chairs. We certainly need them.
More wooing than warning
Every preacher must woo and warn. Every hearer needs wooing and warning. However, in general terms, we need more wooing than warning, more carrot than stick, more of the beauty of holiness than the ugliness of sin, more of the drawing of Christ than the danger of the devil, more of the attraction of heaven than the fear of hell.
Let’s present Jesus to our congregations and families in all his beautiful saving glory. Let’s make sure that they know how much Jesus is willing to save, able to save, desires to save and delights to save.
More victory than struggle
“Trial, suffering, backsliding, defeat, temptation, etc.,” are all biblical words, but so are “victory, growth, maturity, progress, usefulness, fruit, service, opportunity, advance, assurance, and encouragement.”
Paul wanted to know “the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings,” but he also wanted to know “the power of His resurrection.” He knew the continuing power of indwelling sin (Romans 7), but he also knew the breaking of sin’s dominion and the power of life in the Spirit (Romans 8). Yes, “in this world we shall have tribulation,” But that’s not a full stop there. It’s a comma. …”, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
Do our sermons, blog posts, prayers, and songs reflect this biblical emphasis?
More celebration than lamentation
There’s a time to mourn; but there’s also a time to laugh. The note of celebration should sound louder than the note of lamentation. Of course we may complain about government policies and cultural decline, but we must also praise God and thank Him for giving us far more than we deserve. We have so much to be thankful for in the past, in the present, and even more in the future.
If we’re going to pray for five sick people, let’s make sure we also thank God for the health He gives to hundreds more, and the restorations of health for many we’ve prayed for but never thanked for. If we’re going to mourn over backslidings and apostasies, let’s also celebrate the steady progress, beautiful faithfulness, and deepening maturity of millions of Christians.
X more than Y
Please, please notice, I’m not saying, “X not Y.” I’m saying “X more than Y.”
How much more? I’m thinking maybe even a 60/40 split would give a massive boost to our mental and emotional health.
What are you feeding on? And what are you feeding others?