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Shining in the Mud

February 11, 2020

I could mention 100 common different subjects for us to discuss, and virtually every one of them would ignite a firestorm of disagreement among good people. However, there is one subject where I believe we would be unanimous. American culture has devolved into a hostile, fighting, disrespectful environment from top to bottom. Political figures, celebrities, athletes, leaders in every arena—everyone down to our children in schools—has an opinion on everything. We not only have opinions; we have a great interest in sharing them emotionally across the board and labeling anyone who disagrees with us. It has led us to a crude, hostile, and destructive society where social media from television to Twitter and everything in between destroys lives and hope every single day. Our one-on-one dynamics continue this, and friends and families wound and lacerate each other as they vent their building frustration on the people closest to them.

Shaunti Feldhahn, in her inspiring book The Kindness Challenge, shares this information:

“Brain science researchers like Dr. Brad Bushman at Ohio State University have discovered that our idea of “letting off steam” as a way of dealing with negative feelings is completely wrong neurologically! Instead, it actually further activates an interconnected anger system in the brain. So, when we vent with our friends or co-workers, we’re building up steam rather than releasing it. A better analogy is this: Expressing our frustrations turns up the heat under the pot – and stopping our negative talk is like putting a lid on the pot and removing it from the heat. That choice actually changes the way our brain processes the negative situation. We’re just not as angry anymore! Even better, if we can actually look for something that is worthy of praise in this person or situation, positive feelings often replace the negative ones – which can help improve even the most difficult relationships. This doesn’t mean you should repress negative feelings, or that you can’t share something important with a supportive friend. It does mean to be careful about why you are sharing and how.”

Jesus followers have a mandate for living another way. The wise words of Solomon direct us: “A fool vents all his feelings, but a wise man holds them back.” Proverbs 29:11 NKJV

James, the brother of Jesus, who observed Jesus up close and learned from His words and example, taught, “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God… Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.” James 1:19-20, 26 ESV

We must be different from the world around us. We must behave with gentleness, kindness, respect, courtesy, and restraint. Challenging? Yes. Absolutely essential? Yes. Our witness to the world is at stake.

Paul tells us how this affects our mission in the world: “Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation. Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold out the word of life.” Philippians 2:14-6b

In other words, the world is so hostile and dark that people are used to the crookedness, depravity, and cruelty. When our language and attitudes are pure, when we relate to the people and situations around us without grumbling and arguing, we are like white pillars standing tall and shining in the middle of mud. People can’t help but notice and be drawn to the difference.

He tells us that when we control our attitudes and our speech (written and audible) in that manner, we have the opportunity to present Jesus, the Word of life, in a way to be noticed and truly get a hearing. We shine like stars in the midnight sky.

In this hostile world, as impeachment trials, political campaigns, and personal opinions heat up, disrespect, accusations, and negativity will abound, all masquerading as truth. We have the only Truth that matters, but we can only get a hearing when we rise above the mudslinging and shine.

Let’s do it.