For the past six days Russia has made significant advancements on several strategic locations in Ukraine. Every news outlet is showing photos and videos of devastation that has already occurred, and it’s predicted to escalate still. There are complicated foreign policies being discussed over topics like NATO, sanctions, and the effects on the rest of the world after Putin’s recklessness.
Many countries are mad, some indifferent, while some cheer on their favorite country like it’s their favorite sports team. It’s chaotic and it’s concerning, but it’s not the Christian’s long-term problem. If this earth was our eternal home then I would be biting my nails and losing my hair. However, Christians all over the world should take comfort in the fact that heaven is a place where there is no war. We should remind each other that in order to make it, we are not required to be Republicans or Democrats. There are two camps in this world, but those aren’t it. The two groups are those who are lost and those who are saved. When you look at your TV or maybe out of your window and you see the death and carnage, we aren’t witnessing the death of heroes and villains. We’re watching souls walk through the door of eternity.
Our focus is easily pulled away from the reality that is only seen through a spiritual lens but it’s the reality that matters the most. The lyrics of two hymns have been strung together in my mind this week, “There’s a Great Day coming and this world’s not my home.”
“Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”
Some people’s sin struggles are evident. If they wrestle with foul language or lying, you can hear it. If they wrestle with immodesty or drunkenness, you can see it. Some spiritual weaknesses, though, are insidiously difficult to see–especially in ourselves. In Luke 9:46-56, in events that follow each other in very short order, the disciples’ struggle with pride is exposed by Jesus. We can understand why they struggled with pride. They were walking with the Messiah! He was training them for a special mission. Now, the only matter for them to settle was how they ranked among each other. Jesus exposes that very mindset in these verses.
PRIDE SEEKS PREEMINENCE (46-48). The disciples argue among themselves about who might be the greatest. Not only is this childish, but it reflects their short memory. They just displayed a deficiency of faith that prevented them from casting out the unclean spirit. Perhaps Peter, James, and John, given privy to the transfiguration, might have felt that if they had been among these other disciples they would have been able to cast it out. We don’t know. All we know is that Jesus rebukes the very idea of the arguing by placing a child in their midst. Children were barely noticed among first-century adults, but Jesus makes paying attention to and ministering to the least of people the mark of greatness. Discipleship is not about glory and visibility. It’s about having our eyes open to the humble and our hearts open to serving them.
PRIDE SHOWS PREJUDICE (49-50). While some have tried to use these verses to say that there are saved Christians in religious groups outside of the New Testament church, they totally misunderstand Jesus’ point (not to mention, miss the teaching of a great many passages). What was John’s bone of contention? There was a disciple of Jesus who was doing works in His name (acting by His authority; recognizing His identity). They tried to prevent him “because he does not follow along with us” (49). They concluded this person couldn’t be acceptable because he wasn’t accompanying them. Jesus knows this man is on His side, but the disciples’ needed to hear this: “Do not hinder him; for he who is not against you is for you” (50). This territorial mentality can creep into our thinking. We should hold hands with all those who are on the Lord’s side, doing the Lord’s work. This is true if it regards the good works of others in the local congregation or if it is area congregations.
PRIDE SEEKS PUNISHMENT (51-56). Pride shows itself in a very different way shortly after this. Jesus sends some followers on a mission, but they were rejected. James and John’s solution was to exact vengeance on them. They were anxious to call down fire from heaven and consume them. Whatever they expected as Jesus’ reaction, they had to be surprised at His rebuke. He corrects their thinking, saying that He came to this earth to save rather than destroy men’s lives. Jesus’ solution was simply to move on to more receptive hearts (56). Sometimes our impatience with others or disappointment in their displays of unbelief can make us trigger happy. Whether we are indignant on the Lord’s behalf or we feel personally slighted, we need to remember the patient, charitable response Jesus makes to those who, in the moment, refused to receive Him. That patience and kindness may or may not ultimately reach their hearts, but it is the best route to success in trying to both be a disciple and win disciples for Jesus.
Do a Bible search and see what God says about pride. It’s at the top of the list in those deadly sins of Proverbs 6:16-19, things God says He hates! Both Testaments say that it leads to our downfall (Prov. 3:34; Jas. 4:6; 1 Pet. 5:5). So often, we see it as a struggle for those who are already in the body of Christ. I must constantly watch for this self-centered behavior, keeping my focus on other disciples, the lost, the less fortunate and weak, and especially the Lord. Let me remember that it’s all about Him and them, and say with John the Baptist, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).
We get an interesting glimpse into the life of the early church in Acts 2.44-47. While it is not practical for us to live in that same way, there is one principle that we should examine. The early church spent a great deal of time together outside of their worship on the first day of the week. Acts 2.46 says, “And day by day, they were devoted to the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all of the people.” What’s going on here? The members of the church dedicated time every day to growing in their relationships with one another. To them, “church” was so much more than just showing up for worship every time the doors were open. It was the Monday through Saturday relationships that fortified their faith. What was the result of this dedication? “And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2.47). Are we likely to live for a faith we have not invested in? Are we likely to stand up under trials if we do not have a sense of community in the church? Are we likely to resist temptation without strong ties in God’s family? The early church faced trials we could never understand, yet they remained faithful because of their strong relationships and resulting faith. The early church relied on constant contact with one another to help them build their faith. Nothing builds a Christian’s faith more than being around a group of people who want the same thing (to live like Christ), genuinely care for one another, and share a common goal (heaven).
San Diego entrepreneurs Brad Damphousse and Andy Ballester started GoFundMe “as a way to help individuals and small charities raise money for good causes” (WSJ). Most people have heard of this “crowdfunding site” and have even contributed. MacMillan and Tan report, “Its members now raise about $100 million in donations per month.” But, Forbes Magazine revealed how some have used such sites for the ridiculous, including Zach Brown who raised $55,492 from 6,911 backers to make potato salad (Forbes). I have seen some pretty audacious, if not questionable, uses of such sites to fund events and circumstances.
But I’d like to alert you to an infinitely greater need that people all around you every day have. They have surmounted a debt they cannot possibly repay. Their circumstances are desperate, far beyond eviction, lawsuits, or bankruptcy. A billion people giving all their material resources could not satisfy that debt. Despite this, I have never seen even one of them advertise, beg, or solicit help to resolve their circumstance. In an incredible turn of events, it is incumbent upon you and me to find them and offer them aid. They usually cannot identify the need, much less articulate it. But you and I know their need, and the expectation falls squarely upon our shoulders to meet it.
If they were to put it into words, they would say, “Go find me!” How could we turn a callous heart away from such a desperate need? May we muster the courage and heart to, in the words of the old quartet hymn, “go out and win, rescue from sin, day’s almost done, low sinks the sun. Souls are crying, men are dying, win the lost at any cost.”
Consider these passages, too:
1 Peter 1:18-19
Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16; Luke 24:46-49
There are some people with “trust issues.” They are stuck in a negative frame of mind, believing the worst in others with little expectation that they will improve. They may even castigate anyone who would encourage you to put faith in people. Certainly, our greatest faith must always be in God. He never fails, forsakes, or leaves us (Heb. 13:5-6), but people invariably do those things. We cannot put more faith in people than God, listening to and following them when they contradict His will. That’s a false, wrong extreme, but so also is a cynicism that fundamentally, inherently distrusts people to do the right thing. This does not mean that there are people in our lives who do not struggle with sin because we all do (Rom. 3:23).
Let me encourage you to have faith in God’s people. Why?
Jesus did. He selected twelve men, salty fishermen, shady tax collectors, strident nationalists, and selfish materialists. While the latter let Him down, the other eleven grew and accomplished much. Jesus entrusted His mission to them (Mat. 28:18-20), having faith that they would accomplish it. But, Jesus also had faith in others—the woman at the well, the woman caught in adultery, Zaccheus, Bartimaeus, Nicodemus, and so many others. Some He put faith in failed Him and even left Him, but that did not ever stop Him from investing that faith in others. Do you remember what He said to Peter after He had failed? “I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:32; emph. mine). That was faith in Peter!
It empowers others. When somebody expresses faith in your ability to accomplish something, how do you respond? When you are given responsibility with the explicit or tacit understanding that the giver believes in you, don’t you give it your all to live up to that trust? 2 Timothy 2:2 seems to imply this reaction is a natural consequence of being entrusted with something.
People live up (or down) to our expectations. Have you ever had someone in your life who handled you this way: “You’re no good!”; “You’ll never amount to anything!”; “You’re hopeless!”? Maybe they don’t say it, but they convey it. Preachers and teachers communicate the word through such a pessimistic prism. Leaders convey it in ways both spoken and unspoken. Love “believes all things, hopes all things” (1 Cor. 13:7).
It brightens life. Would you like to maintain a PMA (possible mental attitude)? Never lose the ability to believe in others! A glass half full approach is necessary to retaining an optimistic, hopeful way of life. I’m not saying to be delusional, but you can improve your own quality of life with a fundamental belief that most people, when they know what’s right, want to do what’s right.
It is biblical. Paul had confidence in Philemon’s obedience (Phile. 1:21). He had confidence that Corinth would do the right thing (2 Cor. 2:3). He had confidence in Galatia’s doctrinal resilience (Gal. 5:10). He had confidence in Thessalonica’s continued faithfulness (2 Th. 3:4). What an example, and oh how we should imitate him in this!
Teresa of Calcutta is often associated with certain verses found on the wall of her children’s home, even credited for authoring it. Kent Keith is the likely author. In the composition, “Do It Anyway” (aka “The Paradoxical Commandments”), he notes that people will criticize and be petty. He encourages doing good, loving, and serving anyway. You can choose how you will spend your life, expecting the best or worst of others. May I urge you to have the most faith in God, but leave room for faith in people—especially God’s people! You will not regret it.
Missouri has “The Arches,” California, “The Golden Gate Bridge,” New York, “The Statue Of Liberty,” Georgia, “Stone Mountain,” and Minnesota, “The Mall of America.” For years, Colorado was most renowned for our glorious views of the Rocky Mountains. More and more, our nation’s fellow citizens associate us as “the state that legalized marijuana.” Although Washington legalized pot the same day Colorado did, somehow the fame (infamy?) of this move is more associated with our great state.
Today, April 20th, is known by many as the marijuana holiday. Many theories abound as to the origin of this number being associated as a code word for smoking weed—the most educated guess being a group of High School pot smokers from the early 1970s in San Rafael, California, known as “The Waldos”—but the mainstream public is now quickly catching on to the implications of its use. Say “420” and a growing number of non-users will think “marijuana.”
Association is a powerful thing. Whatever we think, people associate us, as a church and as individual Christians, with something. Think about it. Did you know people will speak of our congregation and say, “That church is _____________”? Chilling, isn’t it? What goes in the blank? Evangelistic? Friendly? Active? Dead? Cold? Out-Of-Touch? The same thing happens with us. They say, “He (she) is so ___________.” How sobering!
If I could choose, I’d want to be associated with a number like one of these: (Philippians) 2:1-4, (John) 13:34-35, (Hebrews) 13:1, (Mark) 16:15, (Matthew) 16:24, (John) 15:14. But, try as I might to manufacture a reputation, that’s ultimately not my call. I earn that by what I practice, avoid, value, and prioritize. We take a lifetime to build it, one conversation, one deed at a time. It will be our memorial, standing well after we are gone. What’s your number? What do people associate you with? If, by chance, you don’t like the answer, get busy repairing or rebuilding. It’s never too late to start.
This now famous motto came into the public consciousness as part of a contest run by the Los Angeles Police Department’s internal magazine, BEAT, in 1955. Officer Joseph Dorobek submitted the winning entry with “to protect and to serve.” Nearly 60 years later, it continues to be seen on the side of the department’s patrol cars and serves to “embody the spirit, dedication, and professionalism” of the LAPD’s officers (via joinlapd.com).
With so much animus and distrust of law enforcement in some circles right now, it can be easy to forget their vital role of keeping peace and enforcing the law. Without them, anarchy and violence would reign, with no one to restrain the lawless from violating and harming those incapable of defending themselves. While there are unethical, lawless individuals in every profession, many who hear reports against law enforcement never stop to ask whether there is ever bias on the part of the reporters. Perhaps it is a bias against law, authority, or the perceived power delegated to those wielding a badge. It is good to remember that God has appointed the governing authorities of each locale (cf. Rom. 13:1ff).
God does not have an official position in His Kingdom for watchdogs or police officers to police the actions of others. He made us creatures of choice and He allows us to choose good or evil. While occasionally there are preachers and other members who are self-appointed to such a position, the concept is foreign to Scripture. However, He did organize the church with elders who protect (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:2) and deacons who serve (1 Tim. 3:10,13). In fact, all members are to be servants of Christ (Gal. 5:13). Preachers are to preach the word, and when they declare the whole counsel in love (Acts 20:27; Eph. 4:15), they will sometimes convict the hearts of the hearers. Particularly elders, who are commissioned to protect and serve the flock, deserve our respect and esteem (1 Th. 5:12-13). Especially is that vital in an age that disdains authority.
It was an honor for me to serve as a reserve police officer in Livingston, Alabama, for a couple of years in the early 1990s. I was able to see the dedication and sense of honor held by these extraordinary men and women. Let us honor those public servants of God (Rom. 13:6) and those spiritual servants of God (1 Th. 5:13)!
Paul recounted his conversion on several occasions and spoke of his attitude toward Christianity before embracing it himself. Of the many ways he described his pre-Christian life, think about what he said in Acts 26:11. He describes it as being “furiously enraged” at Christians. He ravaged the church (Acts 8:3). He breathed out threats against them (Acts 9:1). He had the power and desire to punish them (Acts 22:5). He was a violent aggressor toward Christians (1 Tim. 1:13). What changed him?
The word of Christ did (Acts 27:14). Jesus taught that among the conditions of heart is the good and honest one (Luke 8:15). The teaching of Christ can change people’s minds and attitudes.
A changed view of Christ did (Acts 27:15). Though Scripture does not explicitly tell us his view toward Jesus before his conversion, His vicious reaction to “The Way” (Acts 9:2; 22:4) reveals that he was absolutely opposed to the view of Christ asserted by the disciples, that He is Lord (cf. Acts 2:36). Yet, on the road to Damascus, encountering Jesus, Paul immediately begins to acknowledge Him as “Lord” (see how Luke emphasizes the Lordship of Christ in Saul’s conversion in the account in Acts 9—1,5,10,11,13,15,17). A person will have a dramatic attitude adjustment toward Christ who comes to acknowledge and appreciate Him as Lord and Master.
A more profound life’s purpose did it (Acts 27:16-21). Christ outlines His purpose for Saul—a minister (16), a witness (16), opening people’s eyes (18) as his own were. Whatever the focus of a person’s life, it is not as meaningful as when Christ is in the center of that focus.
16th-Century Scottish historian, John Knox, wrote, “No one else holds or has held the place in the heart of the world which Jesus holds. Other gods have been as devoutly worshipped; no other man has been so devoutly loved” (Haythum Khalid). That is true for those who come to take Him as He is presented in the Bible. In the public marketplace where ideas are sold and traded, we will encounter people whose mindset toward Christ and His Way mirrors that of Paul’s before He was converted to Him. Our task is to live Him in our lives and, if possible, share His Word. If their heart is good and honest, the Word will change their view of Christ and their view of their life’s purpose. If that happened so frequently in the unfriendly environment of the Roman Empire of the first-century, it can happen in our current culture!
Melissa Smith contacted KGTV in San Diego, California, to make an interesting report. She had watched a pregnant woman and her little boy beg for money at a local shopping center. Many people gave the woman money. Melissa happened to watch the woman, who held a sign reading “Please Help,” get into a car with a man driving a Mercedes Benz. A follow up story, a few months later, found what appears to have been the same couple driving a brand new Mini-Van that still had dealer plates. The address for the Benz owner was an upscale apartment that rented for $2500 per month (10news.com). There are many people in legitimate need of financial help, and there are many more legitimate ways to contribute to their assistance than handing money out of a car window.
Yet, there’s an application I want to draw from this extreme case. As incongruous as it is for a Benz owner in a fancy apartment to stand on a corner and beg, there is something more out of place. In Colossians, Paul describes Christians as those qualified to share in an inheritance (1:12), attaining to all the wealth attached to that (2:2), partaker of all treasures (2:3), and owners of an unparalleled prize (2:18). Do we ever live like spiritual paupers? We do when we allow worry, doubt, immorality, fear, guilt, or any similar thing to cause us to live like and act like the impoverished world who has no access to these wonderful spiritual blessings. We have a place in glory reserved with Christ (3:4). We have no need to beg for the scraps the world can offer. Let us live like the rich children of God that we are!