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Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “All Bottled Up”

While modern culture, especially on the Internet, might disagree, I think it’s a pretty clear fact of life that, when it comes to friends, loved ones, or the far majority of people we meet on the street, we don’t want to say things to upset them…even if we need to.

Such was the dilemma Starlight Glimmer found herself in within this episode. Trixie, the first friend she had ever been able to make on her own, had lapsed into one of her normal bouts of selfishness and self-centeredness that caused Starlight no end of trouble for an entire day. But while she desperately wanted to call her out on it and vent her frustrations, she was scared at what the reaction would be and feared driving away one of her only friends.

In this particular case, it led to a rather amusing sequence where Starlight continued to bottle up her anger until it figuratively and literally broke free, resulting in more mayhem. But considering this sort of problem in a more general sense, it’s representative of a special problem to the Christian.

Witnessing is the biggest point of contention in Christianity, whether you’re a Christian or (ironically) not a Christian. It doesn’t take a relatively great amount of effort to practice witnessing in small ways, such as praying for friends and family, sharing a verse, paying for someone’s meal at a fast food place, or comforting someone who is visibly sad and depressed. But, one way or another, a Christian will eventually get to the point where he or she gets an opportunity to talk more concretely about the Gospel and the Bible, and that’s where things that require more of a conscious investment take place.

On what I would call the “soft end” is stances on things like abortion and homosexual marriage. The harder stuff is the “first part” of the Gospel. To tell people about the glorious sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ and His love for the world, naturally a Christian first has to tell people about why that sacrifice is necessary as is the need to accept it.

That’s not a very pleasant message to the nonbeliever. (Sometimes I think Christians lose sight of that in their witnessing. What someone might think is a glorious message of saving power and salvation might only be one to fellow Christians. To everyone else, it might sound very much like “join us or die and suffer eternally”. It seemed to be a pretty big theme in the New Testament that before people accepted the saving message of the Gospel, they were convicted, either by others, the Word, or themselves, that they were sinful and wanted more.) But nevertheless, sometimes we have to get into the “hard” stuff about the message, and that’s usually not a pleasant feeling. Most of us, Christian or not, don’t want to say anything to upset or anger friends and loved ones; let alone total strangers. And to me that’s perfectly natural. We were designed to be social creatures. Again, contrary to what Internet posters or the news media would like you to believe, most people want to live in peace with each other. We don’t like doing things that will get society or even individuals upset at us.

Unfortunately, sometimes we don’t have a choice. Sometimes telling someone something unpleasant for their own good is something that needs to be done, like in this episode. And when it comes to the saving message of the Gospel, sometimes there’s no other recourse but to avoid any sugarcoating, dancing around the issue, or even being able to get away with sharing the Gospel “without words”, so to speak. The time will come when we’ll just have to come out and say it. The analogy that’s often used in sermons is if you see a person about to walk over a cliff and they don’t realize it, you would have to shout at them to stop to save their lives even if they didn’t want to hear it. And if we truly believe all people are doomed without the Gospel (“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” [Acts 4:12]; “Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”” [John 14:6]), then we have to share it as well in spite of how uncomfortable it might be at times.

And while this is a good point, it only introduces me to the main idea I want for this devotional.

Unfortunately, I don’t know any way to make this kind of testimony easier. But getting back to what I keep referring to, our modern culture and the need to always express our opinion about everything in our society, I have one item of advice that I think is worth noting.

I do see Christians online who preach the more difficult parts of the Gospel to accept, and I commend them for boldly doing so as it’s more than what I do, but often I strongly believe how they’re doing it is shooting themselves in the foot. Obviously, when they speak out like that, it invites nonbelievers to come in and start attacking the message and, occasionally, themselves. That’s understandable, and it’s also an opportunity for dialogue if handled right. Yet this is where I see what could be an opportunity get hamstrung.

Oftentimes the Christian will get sucked into the same “game” and start attacking the individual and their own beliefs right back, which lowers them to their level. Not to mention that when other nonbelievers see this behavior, they conclude that all the Christian is trying to do is disparage everyone who isn’t one of them, which is what everyone else online does and, as a result, they consider Christianity with the same view as any other religion.

Other times I see Christians falling back on the same defense: saying that the reason their opponents don’t think their message is brilliant and good is because they are destined for destruction and the Word of God has been hidden from them, whereas all people who truly belong to Christ see how great it is. That may very well be true (See 2 Corinthians 4:4). It also may be true that the particular message may impact some and not others. It further might be true it was a message only “the choir” would appreciate. Finally, it might be true that the message was, quite simply, a bad message. After all, if every single word ever preached was good, proper, and perfect, all Christians would still be Roman Catholics. (“Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” [1 John 4:1])

Finally, and most infuriatingly, so many Christians will outright insult their opponents on a long post and then end it with a “have a blessed day” or “God bless you” and a smiling emoji…as if that somehow negates the fact they insulted someone just to make themselves feel superior and clever. That is the absolute worst. In those instances, Christians don’t look like everyone else…they look worse than everyone else. Now everything nonbelievers accuse Christians of is justified: that we’re snooty little busybodies who think we’re better than everyone when we’re supposed to recognize how broken we are. (There’s an easy way to avoid this one: don’t insult people to begin with.)

I’ve heard things from my loved ones before that were unpleasant to hear. Oftentimes I was angry at first and even reactionary. However, I also ultimately considered what they were saying and, in time (usually an hour or two), I began to accept what they were telling me. Why? Because I know them and I know they love me. I know they truly care about me and my well-being. Most of all, I know that they would not say something like that to willfully get me upset unless it was really for my own good, because they generally don’t say things to get me upset because they don’t want to.

And how does a Christian who goes out of their way to start political fights, mocks people of different races, creeds, or affiliations, and is always trying to be smarmy with biting insults toward people who disagree with them look when they’re saying something that says, in essence to the non-Christian, that they’re smarter and more favored by God than them?

To me, a good rule of thumb is to not look for trouble. It’s the responsibility of the witnessing Christian to police themselves and not be drawn into this modern culture tendency to vent hate and disgust at everything. While I don’t always succeed, I try not to start a fight about anything unless it’s something that’s worth fighting about…and, frankly, unless it’s a matter of life or death like the Gospel, there is nothing worth starting a fight about.

If we must look like “jerks” in the eyes of the world, let it be about something that we know is worth the reputation. Don’t take extra steps to earn it. As Paul cautioned in Ephesians 4:29: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”

Suggested Prayer: “Lord God, I thank you again for the sacrifice of your Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ, by which the world is redeemed and reconciled to you and we can have eternal life in Heaven. As I have received this wonderful good news, I choose to share it with all those around me in some way today and every day by both the words I say and the life I live. As I commit myself to your commission, please strengthen me to avoid clinging to anything petty, selfish, or what serves to only justify myself and, as always, “speak the truth in love”. Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”