Jesus can Help You Escape the Malaise

On July 15, 1979, President Jimmy Carter delivered an address live from the oval office that would soon become known as “The Malaise Speech.” Here is an excerpt from that address:

“It’s clear that the true problems of our Nation are much deeper—deeper than gasoline lines or energy shortages, deeper even than inflation or recession… In a nation that was proud of hard work, strong families, close-knit communities, and our faith in God, too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption. Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns. But we’ve discovered that owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning. We’ve learned that piling up material goods cannot fill the emptiness of lives which have no confidence or purpose.”

Carter is certainly not alone in his observation that “The American Dream” of nice big houses and cars has been unable to fill the holes in our hearts. Addiction specialist Johann Hari puts it this way: “We’ve traded floorspace for friends, we’ve traded stuff for connections, and the result is we are one of the loneliest societies that has ever been.”

So what are we supposed to do, when nothing that we try works? What if I buy new gadgets, and I still feel… bored? What if I binge-watch Netflix, but my own life still feels empty? What if I go to work day after day, but I can’t help but wander if what I do really matters to anyone, anyways?

A new year is beginning. Do you find yourself hopeful that this year, things will be different? Maybe that feeling of emptiness that so many of us feel is telling us that we are missing out on something vastly important.

I cannot tell you how many times I have resolved to make changes in my life. “From now on, I am going to do the dishes every day. I am going to eat healthy. I am going to pray for an hour each morning. I am going to live a life with purpose, making the most of every moment.”

But then that “malaise” that Jimmy Carter warned about comes creeping back in. I find myself turning to “stuff” instead of to meaningful human connection, against the advice of Johann Hari.

But as cheesy at it may sound in a society so traditionally steeped in religious tradition, Jesus has answers.

He told us that He came to give us a new kind of water that would not simply leave us thirsty again. He told us that He came to teach us how to live abundantly. He modeled a life of intentionality and passion.

In Ephesians 5:26-27, we are told that Jesus died for the church “so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory.”

To be sanctified is to be set apart as something that is special and different. Do you want to get out of the rat race and start living a different kind of life, one with true meaning? To be washed in holy water is to have a fresh start in life, day after day, as His blood continually cleanses us. Do you think you could use a new start now and then? To be presented to God “in all of your glory” is to unlock that potential that always seems to get snuffed out by “the malaise.” Do you want God’s help to live abundantly?

Jesus says those things happen in the church. Yes, as cheesy as it sounds in a nation as traditionally religious as ours. Yes, even though the church is made up of human beings who, by their very nature as human beings, often seem pretty insensitive and dimwitted. Yes. Jesus says those things happen in the church. Will you join us?

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Blessed are the Peacemakers

Jesus of Nazareth preached to the crowds: “blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.  From this we can see that both Jesus and God the Father esteem those who diffuse tension and bring understanding between conflicting people or groups.

On another occasion, Jesus told us “you have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.

Make no mistake about it, we certainly recognize on a personal as well as a national level that peace is not a state so desirable that no sacrifice is too great to achieve it.  There are more important things than peace.  We cannot sacrifice truth to obtain it.

One of my professors put it this way: turning the other cheek is not a prescription for how to respond when children are being murdered, it is an example of how we should respond when our honor is called into question.

And we, like all peoples throughout history, certainly do value our honor.

Yes, Jesus acknowledge that His message would at times result not in peace but the sword.  He even acknowledged that family members would turn on each other because of Him (Matthew 10:34-36).  But His word makes it clear that we must do all that we possibly can to be at peace with all men (Romans 12:18).

This would include, as already mentioned, responding with dignity and nonviolence rather than retaliation when out honor is challenged.  It would also include being wise about when, where, and how we share the truth.  Consider these Biblical principles for dealing with conflict:

The way in which a truth is spoken can affect how it is received: “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Proverbs 15:1)

Our speech should never be lacking in grace: “Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.” (Colossians 4:6)

Sometimes it is best to say nothing at all: “a time to keep silence, and a time to speak” (Ecclesiastes 3:7)

Even a friendly “good morning” does more harm than good when poorly timed: “He who blesses his friend with a loud voice early in the morning, It will be reckoned a curse to him.” (Proverbs 27:14)

May it be the prayer of all Christians that we can speak the truth in love.  To sacrifice truth is to misrepresent Christ to ourselves.  To sacrifice love is to misrepresent Christ to those we would seek to persuade.

Peace Handshake