In Denver it’s illegal to drive a black car on Sunday.
In Ohio it’s illegal to run out of gas.
In Alabama it’s illegal to drive blindfolded.
In Arizona it’s illegal for a donkey to sleep in a bathtub.
In Hawaii it’s illegal to place a coin inside your ear.
There are several laws that most have never even heard of and there seems to be no shortage of ridiculous laws that definitely have a good story for their origin. The Jews had over six hundred laws and would often debate over which commands and laws were superior over the others. Was there an ultimate law that reigned supreme?
Jesus would echo the words of Moses in Matthew 22.37-40 and according to the Son of God, the ultimate command is a summary of faithful living. So the entirety of our purpose in life can be summed up in this one sentence,
“you shall love the LORD your God with your— everything.”
If you love God with everything; every area of your life will be in submission to His will. Your mental power and your strength must be combined to serve Him in unison, and even Paul recognizes how much easier said than done that concept is. In Mark 12.22 Jesus wraps it all together by linking the heart, soul, and strength together. This trifecta of our being can be tamed with discipline and utilized as a powerful force against evil. This is the key to loving Him with our everything.
There’s a story told of four men that went into the woods on a deer hunt one morning. The men split into groups of two and set out for the day. When evening rolled around, 2 of the 4 hunters had already returned and set up camp and were waiting on the other 2 men to return. Hours passed by when finally one of the hunters staggered into camp carrying a massive 8 point buck. The hunters asked where the other guy was, and the man answered and said, “He had a stroke earlier and is a couple miles up the trail.” The men are shocked and they say, “Why did you cary the deer back and leave your friend?” The hunter paused for a moment and said, “Well…I didn’t want my deer to get stolen.”
Sometimes in life our priorities can get a little mixed up. Maybe not to the point where we would choose a deer over a person, but nevertheless, each one of use is prone to lose focus. The definition of priority is “something that is regarded as more important than another.” For example, when you choose “priority shipping,” it is regarded as more important by the postal service and reaches its destination quicker. The things that we prioritize are the things that take up the majority of our time, money, and effort. A student trying to get a good grade will make studying their top priority. A football player that is trying to be the best will make training, exercise, and memorizing the team plays a top priority. And so it is with any aspect and profession.
There is revealed to us a top priority for us as christians in God’s Word. In Matthew six Jesus is just about halfway through His sermon on the mount when He turns His focus onto the subject of worry in verse 25. He says multiple times “do not be anxious.” And He goes on to give us a reason why. Jesus explains that God’s care for us is our reason for not worrying. We are more valuable than grass and birds. Therefore do not be anxious. God values us infinitely more than birds and flowers. It is at the end of this section that we find our priority. Verse 33 says, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
According to this verse, what is it that we should make a priority? What should we be putting our energy and focus into? The kingdom of God. “Seek first” literally means to “chase after.” Jesus tells us that we are to be in constant pursuit of the Kingdom. This means we are actively chasing and longing for it. Not just the kingdom of God, but also HIS righteousness. Not our own, but God’s. This is accomplished through constant prayer and daily scripture reading, continuous reflection and growth, caring for those around us and copying the mindset of Christ in everything.
Make God a priority, and the worries of this world will be taken care of. Chase after God and He has promised to take care of us.
We take our title from the final words spoken by the productive artist, Osamu Tezuka. As I skimmed his biography written by Helen McCarthy, I came across those haunting words as McCarthy discussed Tezuka’s passing in 1989 from stomach cancer. Frankly, I wonder what Tezuka felt he had left undone. Yes, Tezuka indeed had unfinished manga and animation projects, but his oeuvre includes “170,000 pages of comic art in around 700 different titles, from single-frame comics to epic series. He and his studios worked on more than seventy animated titles, from experimental films to TV series” (McCarthy 248).
In addition, Tezuka was a writer, illustrator, and designer. Having seen Mighty Atom (Astro Boy—US), Stanley Kubrick wrote a letter to Tezuka in 1965 asking him to be the art director of 2001: A Space Oddysey (1960s). Tezuka felt his schedule would be unaccommodating and turned down Kubrick’s offer (Artists). Even so, the global community acknowledged Tezuka’s work during his lifetime. He had accolades plenty. Though Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro, etc.) has usurped Tezuka’s title of “Japan’s Walt Disney,” biographer Helen McCarthy notes that Tezuka was far more. She suggests that Tezuka was more like “Walt Disney, Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Tim Burton, Arthur C. Clarke, and Carl Sagan all rolled into one incredibly prolific creator” (McCarthy 8).
Was Tezuka merely a tortured artist? The artist often receives low pay and endures long hours, inviting illness and depressed mental states. This lifestyle seems especially true of mangaka and animators of Japan. As an aside, I note how many manga series I have read that went on sudden hiatus due to the mangaka’s health for these reasons. From a Western perspective, the Japanese are workaholics. In the United States, the artists would likely have unionized and gone on strike. Yet, Tezuka longed to keep drawing, even when it wasn’t lucrative or detrimental to his physical health. Since Tezuka has a son now working in the billion-dollar anime industry, it is doubtful Tezuka thought his work was his sole legacy. Yet, something drove Tezuka to keep churning out work. And in so doing, Tezuka not only shaped the “psychology of Japan’s postwar youth” (About Tezuka Osamu) but likewise “laid the foundations for the 21st-century image of a ‘cool Japan’” (McCarthy 12).
Perhaps it was about identity? Maybe Tezuka could only see himself as an artist. I know many men who do not know what to do with downtime or retirement. These men define themselves by their occupation. This propensity is not necessarily a bad thing. However, such thinking can lead to discontentment and disappointment. If someone or something suddenly took your job from you, what would you do? Can you enjoy the life you have built for yourself through your industry? I realize I am asking deep philosophical questions that have nothing to do with devotional literature on their surface. Yet, these thoughts are pertinent to Christianity. Christianity is vocation number one (Ephesians 4.1). Thus, Christianity should be our identity. The things we do so we may eat (2 Thessalonians 3.10) are of secondary import. As long as one is faithful, it matters not if he is the captain of industry or shovels manure. We might add that our hobbies must likewise take a backseat to our Christian walk (Matthew 6.33).
Yet, despite knowing, as Solomon concluded, that one’s duty is to “fear God and keep His commandments” (Ecclesiastes 12.13), we still have difficulty making an application. Even David and Asaph wrote psalms of an existential nature (Psalm 8 and 73). Perhaps this struggle results from the torture our fleshly bodies meet out upon our spirits (cf. Romans 7.14-8.1). Indeed, we wish to be rid of the flesh and clothe ourselves with our heavenly habitation (2 Corinthians 5.1ff). Hence, Paul understood what gain he had in death but acknowledged he had work to do while he remained (Philippians 1.21-22). Even so, I don’t know if Paul would have sounded like Tezuka, begging to do more work than he had already done when on Nero’s chopping block. All I know is that I hope to have a more cheerful tone when on my deathbed than Tezuka. I want to sound more confident like Paul: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4.7 NASB1995). The only way any of us can accomplish that, of course, is to ensure that we are about our Father’s business today.
The Art of Osamu Tezuka: God of Manga, by Helen McCarthy, Ilex, 2013, p. 248.
In the following fictional scenario, an unnamed extremist country has defeated the United States of America (work with me, there’s a point to this). They established a puppet government and required survivors to pay exorbitant, unreasonable taxes. The country has dealt with oppression under their rule for long enough that rebellions start to take place, but aren’t very successful.
Some are desperate enough (or simply weren’t patriotic to begin with) to work for the state controlled by the enemy. Worse, their job is to force an already oppressed people to pay tributes they can’t afford. The enemy has killed too many Americans. The enemy has humiliated the country – once the global power – in ways that may never be reversed. Any American working for the enemy is a traitor.
Imagine we have two different individuals in this dystopia: one is a freedom fighter, dedicated to overthrowing the enemy, the other is a traitor (and fair game for the freedom fighters). Both of them somehow find God, follow His word, and end up working together in a congregation of dedicated followers. The freedom fighter would kill the traitor, except for something that changed his mind forever: Jesus. The traitor would abuse and absolutely ruin his own people before Jesus.
If this seems far-fetched, consider that two of Jesus’ disciples were Matthew (a tax collector for the Romans and a traitor in the eyes of Jewish people) and Simon the Zealot (a freedom fighter sworn to kill people like Matthew). Their political and social views were radically different, but Jesus brought adjustments to their world views that changed them forever. They were no longer a freedom fighter and tax collector, but followers of Jesus (see Acts 1.12-14).
While there aren’t likely too many Christians with national animosity at that level, we aren’t strangers to the political division that affects every aspect of our lives. You may have even seen it play out in your church. We have focused too much on politics!
Many with good intentions (that includes me) have even said something like, “We should be able to get along, Republican and Democrat, if we’re in the same church.” That’s technically true, but misses the point.
We are not republicans or democrats (or any other political party, for those outside of the States). Our identity is not tied to a political party. We are Christians. Our leader is Jesus, our country is Heaven, our flag is His church. Yes, we live in our own countries and must be good citizens (Romans 13). Yes, we’re going to have differing viewpoints on social issues.
We have to stop blurring the line between our political parties and our faith! On both sides of the political aisle is immorality and incompetence. Christianity is beautiful because it shifts our primary allegiance and focus to God, not government. It’s a new allegiance that allowed former traitors and freedom fighters to work together for a greater cause!
If someone asks us to describe our world view and our first thought is political preference, we’re wrong. We will only have unity and peace when God is our common king. We can say that He is already, but our actions confirm or deny that claim. If God is our king, we will be good citizens (Romans 13.1-7). If God is our king, we will love each other deeply (I Peter 1.22). If God is our king, our morality/worldview/outlook will come from His word and not from our preferred political party (principle found in I Peter 1.14-19; Romans 14; Acts 1.13; John 18.36). I struggle with this. Many of us do. We have to be Christians before anything else, and remember that our primary allegiance is to God!
Grocery store–Place where we buy food to sustain our physical bodies
Restaurant–Place where we pay someone else to provide food for our physical bodies
School–Place where our children receive an education to prepare them to live on earth as adults
Hospitals and Doctor’s office–Place where we go to address issues with our physical health
Workplace–Place where we go to earn money to take care of our physical needs
There are other places that have remained open or reopened whether to provide what we’d deem essential or places that are more diversionary but which various experts call essential to economic or social survival (malls, bookstores, ballfields and arenas, etc.). In fact, “essential” can be put into a lot of categories–academic, economic, social, emotional, medical, physical, and spiritual.
Pandemic restrictions have impacted and altered public behavior for almost a year. It’s more than mask mandates, hand sanitizer, social distancing, and the severe reduction of handshakes and hugs. It has been the reduction of personal interaction at the assemblies. Many congregations have devised virtual means of meeting for Bible class and worship. Just like virtual doctor visits, online instruction, and telecommuting lack the desired qualities of the in-person alternative, so it is with the virtual gathering.
The first-century church labored under restrictions, too. The threat was not a virus, but often a virulent government hostile to their faith. Christians in various places faced severe persecution and even the death penalty if this identity was known (Mat. 24:9; Rev. 2:10; 1 Pet. 4:12-16). The assemblies were an easy way for Rome to know a Christian’s identity. Despite the potential cost of discipleship, what do we find the early Christians doing and being commanded to do? As a good preacher friend, Terrence Brownlow-Dindy, recently said, Acts 20:7 not only told the saints when to take the Lord’s Supper (the first day of the week) but also how (come together). Despite governmental interference and opposition to them, Christians were still commanded to assemble (Heb. 10:25). It was essential to be present to stimulate each other to love and good deeds (10:24). It was essential to be present to encourage one another (10:25). It was essential to be present to prepare for Christ’s second coming (10:25).
What’s the difference between the risks incurred in Cracker Barrel, Wal-Mart, Home Depot, and Hobby Lobby walking aisles, touching items, and standing in line with strangers and coming together and running any risks we might incur by assembling together for worship and Bible class? The commodities and services provided at places like those at the beginning of this article serve us only in this life. The wisdom of God, who designed the church including the importance of coming together, commands assembling to address our most essential need. It is absolutely true that Christianity is not confined to the church building, a great lesson we discovered or remembered at the start of this crisis. Perhaps, though, we inferred from this that actually coming together was less essential than shopping, going to school, and going to work.
I have seen brothers and sisters in Christ at stores, restaurants, weddings, and funerals who have not come into the church building to give and receive the fellowship and encouragement God made essential both for our own spiritual health and that of our spiritual family. Scripture repeatedly tells us the earth and all its works will be burned up some day (2 Pet. 3:10). Our souls will never die. As we prioritize the essentials, what is more essential than that? The dictionary defines essential as “absolutely necessary; extremely important.” If anything qualifies, our assemblies do.
I’ve never heard the avid fisherman say, “Do I have to go back to the lake?”
I’ve never heard the shopaholic say, “How often do I have to go to the store?”
I’ve never heard the committed sports fan say, “How many games do I have to watch?”
I’ve never heard the foodie say, “How often do I have to try a new restaurant or dish?”
I’ve never heard the head-over-heels-in-love say, “How many times do I have to see him/her each week?”
I’ve never heard the devoted mom say, “How often must I hold my baby?”
We’ve lost the battle when our sermons, articles, and classes center around answering the question, “How often must I assemble? How many times a week do I have to come to church? Are Sunday night and Wednesday night mandatory?”
How unnatural for a disciple, a committed follower of Jesus who is in love with Him and who has such a relationship with Him that He is priority number one, to approach the assemblies in such a way! Must? Have to? You see, the question is wrong. The mentality and approach is where the work needs to occur.
When Jesus and His church are my passion, the thought-process becomes “I get to,” “I want to,” and “I will!” Neither parents, grandparents, spouses, elders, preachers, siblings, nor anyone else have to get behind anyone and push the one who has put Jesus at the heart and center of their lives.
Not a legalistic or checklist mindset. Instead, an outgrowth of what’s happening in my life between my God and me. Church “attendance” is but one evidence of this, but it certainly is an evidence of this. Church and religion are not just a slice of the pie of a committed Christian’s life. Christ is the hub in the wheel of their life, and each spoke of the wheel is attached to that hub. The difference could not be more dramatic!
The shortest book of the Old Testament is dedicated to revealing the coming punishment of a nation which descended from Esau. Edom, also called Teman (for Esau’s grandson, Gen. 36:15),faced “the day of the Lord” (a frequent Old Testament term meaning coming, divine punishment) along with all the nations. Well over a thousand years after Esau lived, his descendants betrayed God’s people, Judah, by helping the Babylonians loot Jerusalem during the time of the captivity and exile. God took notice and the book of Obadiah is proof that He planned to take action.
While that is the background of Obadiah, it’s the way that Edom saw itself that has been imitated by many nations in subsequent times. One of the consequences of forgetting and denying God is that the most frequent substitute put on the throne of one’s heart is self. How sweet to embrace the thought that “blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord” (Psa. 33:12). What a contrast to the frequent lamentation in Scripture about nations who forget God (Psa. 106:21; Deu. 32:18; Jud. 3:7; Jer. 3:21; etc.).
Is it possible for people today to imitate the mindset of the Edomites? If so, how does God feel about that? How will He respond to that? It seems that at the heart of this book, we find:
THE SOURCE OF THEIR SECURITY (3-9)
Obadiah says they are arrogant and put their trust in their hiding places and their lofty places. They thought they had built a pretty impregnable defense and impenetrable destiny. This earth and world provide no such guarantees. Jesus would call this building upon the sand (Mat. 7:26-27). What do I place my confidence in? The stock market? Material prosperity? Military might? Higher education? Recreation? Retirement? None of these things are inherently wrong, but they make poor foundations for our lives.
THEIR SIN (10-14)
It appears that the three overarching problems God has with Edom is that they did nothing when their brother (the nation of Judah) was in need (10-11), they rejoiced over their brother’s misfortune (12), and they even participated in his suffering (13-14). When we list out the “worst sins” mankind commits, where do we place apathy? God puts it at the top of His list here. Sometimes we call them “sins of omission.” Edmund Burke wrote, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” On Judgment Day, the Lord will place on His left hand those who saw the needs of others and didn’t meet them (Mat. 25:31-46). Obadiah depicts three stages of one spiritual cancer: indifference, gloating, and collusion. John’s sobering words are appropriate here, as he asks, “But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?” (1 John 3:17). How helpful to see our brothers–those through Christ or Adam–as God sees them.
THEIR SENTENCE (15-20)
Nine times in five verses (10-14), Obadiah refers to “the day” God visited Judah for her sins. It was the day of their disaster, distress, destruction, and misfortune. Because of Edom’s sinful response described above, God had a day set aside for them, too. They would reap what they sowed (15-16). They would suffer (18). They would lose it all (17,19-20). The future looked bright for God’s faithful remnant (17-21), but not for those who had built their lives upon the sand.
This book has application for our world, our country, for the church, and for each of us as individuals. Frequently, life will come along and shake our confidence. How we do on the other side of that distress depends on our foundation. That is a prayerful process. We can be fire or stubble (18). May we find the strength ascend Mount Zion and the kingdom (21; Heb. 12:22-29).
“Rancor” is synonymous with hostility, bitterness, spite, and vitriol. In Ephesians 4:31, Paul warns the Christian against “bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander [and] malice.” While it didn’t seem possible that this election cycle could produce more heat and saber-rattling than the last couple, it has already exceeded it. It is almost painful to watch the cable news networks, but we should expect the world to behave like the world. Yet, when I see brethren so vehemently defending their candidate and excoriating those who disagree with them, I am truly disheartened. Social media continues to pour gasoline on this already potent fire.
I try to imagine the apostles and early Christians, were they to have such an outlet, tying into one another and beating their chest as they debated each other over the merits of Claudius over Nero, devoting so much time arguing their points about which candidate would better favor the cause of Christianity. Inspired writers had every opportunity to show such a participation and bias, but they are conspicuously silent. While I do not agree with the extreme that David Lipscomb took in his book On Civil Government, can we not, if we are not careful, veer toward the other extreme through blind allegiance to rulers who, when dispassionately and objectively viewed, honor and demonstrate evil over godliness? Whether it is foul language, deceit and dishonesty, and glorifying sexual immorality (a la Playboy!) or lying, pro-abortion, and criminal behavior, I am baffled as to why a Christian should get so invested in one candidate or exorcised at the other. May we never prioritize America over our dear brotherhood or our heavenly goal. We gauge that priority by our thoughts, speech, attitude, and actions regardless of what we claim.
As a husband and father for whom the prospect of grandchildren may not be many years hence, I grasp with such personal investment the gravity of this year’s election and the current world situation. Yet, I can let the fear of that eclipse the infinitely bigger picture. What a glorious day it would be if we could steer our consuming passion toward Jesus and the mission He left us!
You may have a decided leaning toward the Republican or Democratic offering in this year’s election. Given this year’s choice, I don’t believe you can cling to either without your hands being very dirty. That being said, may we all be prayerful and imminently restrained in our interchange especially with our brethren and before the eyes of the world. Our unity in truth, our common mission, and our Christian example are eternally more important than politics. Period!
It was such a treat to be among the hearty, faithful Christian men of central Wyoming and the Bighorn Basin. By Bible-belt comparison, they come from small congregations. But their passion and desire to grow the church is humongous. Near the end of their men’s retreat, they divided into groups to discuss the obstacles to growth and suggestions for growth. What they came up with was incredibly insightful, helpful to especially anyone living in the current, western culture.
Among the obstacles they listed were:
Lack of commitment
Lack of adequate leadership
For those in Alabama, Oklahoma, and California who would say, “Those are our obstacles!”, isn’t it interesting how common our struggle is. The same factors are holding back our growth all over the nation.
Yet, I love the suggestions they came up with. I think they are key to tapping into our growth potential throughout the country and, to a great extent, throughout the world. They suggested the following:
Increase fellowship—The key to growth is being in each others’ lives more
Emphasize and empower Bible study—There can be no spiritual or numerical growth without growing our knowledge and understanding of God’s Word
Think outside the box—Staying faithful to truth, get out of method ruts and overcome fear of rejecting a different, scriptural method just because it is new
Challenge greater application of biblical truth—Every class and sermon must have a viable “so what”
Be intentional in our relationships—Realize that our jobs, community involvements, friendships, etc., are means to an end rather than an end of themselves. They all exist as opportunities to evangelize.
Our brethren in the deep south, the north, the Atlantic region, the upper midwest, the southwest, the far west, the northwest, and, in short, any recognizable region of the country share a desire to be relevant and meaningful in our communities. We want to honor Christ and grow His body. But it will take measurable steps. It won’t happen incidentally! We must act on our hopes and desires. We must personally engage ourselves in enacting these suggestions daily! In so doing, we’ll not only avoid being part of the problem but we’ll be part of the solution.