Tuesday’s Column: Dale Mail
Corey Sawyers and I decided a few weeks back to go to the Georgia-Tennessee game at Sanford Stadium in Athens, Georgia, this past Saturday. Thanks to various reward programs and good deals, we were each able to do it all for less than a discount airfare. We were gone about 24, action-packed hours. We even were able to connect with the Shillidays, who had the same idea as us and made the trip from Colorado to Georgia. It was a lot of fun and we made some great memories. While there, especially in the several hours we were at the stadium, several things occurred to me that I would like to share.
It’s easy to see the comparisons and contrasts between our Saturday experience and trying to be a Christian in our world today. Obviously, I am not disparaging going to ballgames and having a good time. It’s great fun! But, it always reminds me of my need to exhibit greater commitment and zeal for the only thing that matters eternally. My prayer is that, in every way it can be measured, my heart, mind, soul, and strength will be most invested in loving the Lord, His church, and the lost. It also makes me aware of the vast potential in every person, properly directed, to seek first the Kingdom of God! How many, adequately exposed to God’s will and His offer of salvation, will wholeheartedly embrace and share it? Seemingly, the numbers are staggering! May we be enthusiastically about the Lord’s business.
It’s hard to beat the weather and the views at the average Rockies baseball game. This past Tuesday, 29 Bear Valley guys converged on the upper deck overlooking first base as the “good guys” took on those world-champion Houston Astros. For the unfamiliar (or disinterested), the Astros are the defending Worlds Series champions. They’re very good this year. But, so are the Rockies. Whenever Colorado can sniff first place when August is in view makes it a “great” season, by their standards (spoken by a long-suffering fan). We came into that game having won 12 out of 16 games in July. Several of us got there early–for a game which would start an hour late due to bad weather–and the thing that struck us was how many orange shirts and jerseys there were. Again, for the uninitiated, those are Astro rather than Rocky colors. But, it wasn’t their apparel that stuck out. It was their boisterous, relentless cheering. As much as I like Colorado baseball, I get frustrated with how quiet the average fan in the stand is (perhaps they are lulled into a tranquil state by those rich sunsets and cool breezes. Opposing teams’ fans seem less affected. We were louder than usual, but they were louder than us.
“Home field advantage.” It’s supposed to mean something, but Tuesday night was a reminder that it can be taken away. These were committed fans. We saw Texas license plates in parking lots. No doubt, some arranged their travel to attend a game while visiting our fair state. Or, they’re locals whose allegiance is strong enough to brave the prospects of tens of thousands of people who oppose their point of view. They weren’t embarrassed or ashamed to proclaim their loyalty. They were eager.
We often sing, “This world is not my home.” Truly, Peter calls the Christian an alien and stranger (1 Pet. 2:11). Our citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3:20). The Devil has control of this world and its domains (Eph. 2:2; 6:12; John 12:31; 1 Cor. 15:24; etc.), though Jesus will win in the end and He causes us to triumph now (2 Cor. 2:14; 1 John 4:4).
We enter the daunting arena of the world clothed with Christ. He wants us to stand out and to be heard. No, not obnoxious, but He expects us to infiltrate it with His influence (Mat. 5:13-16). We won’t sway the crowd or determine the outcome, but we will make a difference if we show up, stand up, and speak up. The world will be aware of our presence, even if it disapproves. That’s not really the point is it–to have their approval? The point is to show our unswerving loyalty. We know that we are on the winning side! With humility but also boldness, we should make that known!
Most of us, repeatedly throughout our lives, get asked or ask ourselves the question, “What’s your passion?” The word, defined as “a strong and barely containable emotion,” is one we may use for ourselves but one as likely to be used by others to describe us. Thanks to social media, we can see people’s interests, hobbies, and diversions whenever we choose. They post pictures, make comments, and talk about them with great frequency. However, there are some people whose focus is so intent on some topic that their emotion spills over. If anyone else brings it up, they cannot refrain from jumping in “with both dogs.” Yet, they themselves are always finding and sharing relevant material that supports or upholds their views. Maybe it’s guns (for or against), race (black, white, or hispanic), politics (R or D), illegal immigration (for or against), or some equally charged issue. Have you ever noticed someone whose passion seems to be for being argumentative and disagreeable? Passion is unmistakeable.
Not only through social media, but through my every social interaction, my life is declaring what my passion is. Those closest to me are best equipped to reveal what that is, but everyone who is exposed to me for any period of time can figure it out. What a sobering thought! I know what I would want that to be. Paul said, “For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). In Philippians 3:10, he simply says, “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings…” We have the corpus of Paul’s inspired writings, and it is filled with his expressing that passion. We have eyewitnesses to his ministry, especially Luke, who verify that this is what drove him and ignited his passion.
A lot of people know that I enjoy dark roast coffee, all things Georgia Bulldogs, running, peanut butter, traveling, and my family, but do they see passion for Christ in my life? I don’t get to say what my passion is, simply by thinking about what it should be in some moment of reflection. It is what my life shows that it is. When all is said and done, what will have been the great passion of my life? What about you?
The word translated “zealous” is from the Greek word zero (Dzay-lo-o). It is found 17 times in the New Testament. It means to “burn with zeal; to be heated or to boil, whether with envy, hatred, anger, or to be zealous in the pursuit of good; to desire earnestly, to strive after, busy one’s self about” (Thayer 271). It is found in both the positive and negative sense:
(The object of the zeal and the attitude it describes
determines whether it is an acceptable emotion or not.)
We have all known people who are prone to boil over with jealousy and anger. They seethe. They grit their teeth. They explode! They are just like that unattended pot on the stove, and they usually leave an even bigger mess. They are proving that there is something underneath them leading to such “outbursts of anger” (Gal. 5:20).
We also know people who always seem enthusiastic about serving the Lord. They are effervescent. They have an infectious smile and positive attitude about almost everyone and everything. They are eager to serve and help. They go the extra mile. They seem genuinely thrilled to be able to engage in spiritual service, no matter what it is! Guess what? They are proving that there is something underneath them leading them to be “zealous of good works” (Ti. 2:14).
Both vessels, boiling over, impact the church. Both have influence. Yet, one is using his or her passion constructively, but Satan is using the other destructively. What lights your fire? Is there one underneath you? Let it be an earnest desire to build up the Kingdom! This is one instance where a “watched pot” needs to boil–boil over with enthusiasm for serving Christ!
Have you seen The Weather Channel’s Jim Cantore video where he is ebulliently exulting over the thunder snow he witnesses and knows to be captured by his cameraman? The YouTube video montage where he is on camera for six lightning strikes says it all. At one point, he implies that he’d rather experience this weather event than win the $500 million lottery. The enthusiasm is transparent and honest. You can’t help to feel excited about what he’s excited about because he so enthusiastically expresses it.
Being a Christian is not necessarily a non-stop fist-pumping, mountain-top experience. The late Wendell Winkler used to say that there are not very many mountain-top or valley days but that most were “in between.” He called it “the glory of the ordinary.” What we do on the ordinary days is what typically makes the bigger impact. However, the genuine enthusiasm of Christians is certainly contagious! Some of the best church leaders I have known have known how to inject others with zeal. Other words are “passion,” “desire,” and “excitement.” If this is artificial and contrived, it is eventually detected. True enthrallment for pursuing the will of God, though rare, leaves its mark far and wide.
What should fire our enthusiasm?
Challenge yourself. Ask, “What gets me excited?” If the Georgia Bulldogs were to ever win the National Championship again, look out world! I’d give those around me a “Jim Cantore” moment. My honest prayer is, “Lord, help my greatest passion and enthusiasm be reserved for the things that will endure after the heavens and the elements burn and melt” (2 Pet. 3:11). Let’s get excited about serving Jesus and doing His will!
Steve Martz recently wrote a book he entitled 77 Talks To Bored-Again Teens. Explaining the rationale for his book, Martz says, “With teenage attention spans decreasing as fast as new channels appear on satellite TV, it’s not just a case of presenting the gospel as it stands and hoping they ‘get it.’ In this post-modern age you have to hit them in bite-sized chunks to make an impact and make tentative steps into their world.” There is no doubt that our world is changing, and most of us change with it to a greater degree than we realize. This blog post, your congregation’s PowerPoint, your dish, your DSL, your i-stuff, and a thousand other gadgets are shrines paying homage to such change. These things may indeed challenge the perseverance of our attention span.
Yet, with all due respect to Martz’ attempt at accommodation, I think his premise misses the point. Without intending to, Martz is trying to improve on God’s means of communicating His message. If it is not still “the foolishness of preaching” whereby God seeks to reach and save mankind, what can man invent to better it (cf. 1 Cor. 1:21)? However, I am certain that there are “bored again” Christians of all ages scattered here and there. I agree that there should not be any, but let me suggest some other ideas for breaking out of these doctrinal doldrums.
Break out of the entertainment mindset. Each of us should remind ourselves every day, “It’s not about me.” Humor-filled, emotionally-tugging, and feel-good lessons may touch a more superficial part of us, but we should remember that listening to a sermon or singing a spiritual song is not the same as watching a good (?) movie or listening to our favorite musical performer. Read the sermons of Peter, Stephen, and Paul. Vegetable-Soup For The Israelite Soul or Your Best Roman Life Now was not the foundation for their lessons. Andrew, Bartholomew, and Philip were not a traveling drama troupe or praise team. The Greeks and Romans had actors and actresses, stage and plays. The early church was not interesting in tickling a funny bone; they wanted to save the soul.
Renew your relationship with God. The Christian life can become more exhilarating and exciting the longer you live it. As your inward person is renewed daily (2 Cor. 4:16-18), you will find God, His Word, His promises, His love, and heaven more real to you. Even as your body breaks down, people disappoint you, and others desert Him, you can find Him dearer and closer to you with each passing day. Even as living the Christian life brings tears, sacrifices, and persecution, it will not seem boring to you! Paul is pretty discouraged at times in 2 Timothy 4, but he never once sounds bored. My grandpa would say that boredom means you have too much time on your hands anyway!
Find somebody to serve. Boredom reflects the luxury of thinking about and tending to self. Stephanas and his house devoted themselves to service. The Bible does not say, but I cannot imagine them being bored (cf. 1 Cor. 16:16). Christians have been liberated to serve (Gal. 5:13). Through serving one another and in all serving the Lord, we will find great satisfaction and reward (cf. Eph. 6:6-7). I have seen few true servants that were unhappy, much less bored. This is a sure remedy for the “bored again” Christian.
Someone once asked a preacher, “What is worldliness?” A teenager in the class answered, “It’s letting the world set the standards.” That may be the best definition I have ever heard. Let us not let the world set the standard for spirituality, excitement, or enjoyment. Those trying to medicate themselves with entertainment are heart-sick folks! True excitement and joy comes in overcoming this world (cf. 1 John 5:4). Don’t be a “bored again” Christian!