This summer I am leading our church through a biblical look at our core values. We are delving into who we are as individual Christians as well as our identity as a corporate body. The particular value that we looked at recently was the biblical principle of stewardship: “Everything we have belongs to the Lord. We are His stewards.” In examining many Scriptures on this topic, the most impactful came from Romans 14:8.
“If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.”
It can be tempting to exclude ourselves – our bodies, our opinions, our lives, our personalities, that which comprises the very core of who we are – from the “everything” that belongs to the Lord. Yet, the Holy Spirit inspired words of Paul are very clear here: we belong to the Lord. Whether you live or you die, you belong to the Lord.
Individualism has been a cherished value in our culture, and, in fact, often appears to the highest virtue in many ways. The attitude of “this is MY body”, “this is how I feel”, “this is what I think”, “this is what I see and understand to be truth”, and so on. It is painfully evident in many national conversations: abortion, sexual identity, gender discussions, race relations, etc. However, it is also on display in most every area of our life: our attitude, our money, our relationships, our bodies, and our possessions.
As a Christian we are not the Captain of this ship we call our life but rather, as 1 Corinthians 6:20 tells us, we were bought at a price. We are called to actively and consistently DENY ourselves (talk about counter-culture!), take up the cross, and follow our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ (Matthew 16:24). We are called to be transformed – that is changed from our own image – into the image of Jesus Christ (Romans 12:1-2). What does this mean for us, Church?
The implications are far-reaching, indeed. Since we belong to the Lord, He owns us; we are His and He is our Master. Imagine the impact we would have on our community – and ultimately our country and the entire world – if every Christian began to live this way! If, as we began to read Scripture, we actually read these inspired words as mandates, as commands, from our Lord and Master and, in response, began to internalize them and live them out. The death-grip that individualism has on our culture would disappear as people began to “live for the Lord” rather than “live for themselves”, or “live for the moment”, or “live for the feeling”.
May I challenge you with what I have been challenged with this past week? Ask the Lord to begin to conform you to His image to the point where the reality of Romans 14:8 is undeniably evident in your heart, mind, and life. You belong to the Lord. Submit your opinions to Him. Submit your identity to Him. Submit your strengths and weaknesses to Him. Submit your will to Him. Ask the Holy Spirit to take your very life, and live it for Him. As we do this, may He begin to transform not only us, but our families, the people around us, our churches, our communities, our country, and the world. Live for the Lord, today and every day. You belong to Him.
I closed my sermon with a powerful prayer from John Wesley. I would encourage you to not only pray this prayer, or one of your own with the same heart and spirit, but also to ask the Lord to embed it deeply in your spirit. I do not believe we can honestly pray this way and not be changed.
“Lord, I am no longer my own, but Yours. Put me to what You will, rank me with whom You will. Let be employed by You or laid aside for You, exalted for You or brought low by You. Let me have all things, let me have nothing, I freely and heartily yield all things to Your pleasure and disposal. And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, You are mine and I am Yours. So be it. Amen”
Acts 9:36-39: "In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (which, when translated, is Dorcas), who was always doing good and helping the poor. About that time she became sick and died, and her body was washed and placed in an upstairs room...All the widows stood around [Peter], crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was still with them."
Right now, our church is studying through the book of Acts. It has been a tremendous encouragement to see how regular, every day, ordinary people are used by the Lord to accomplish incredible things for the Kingdom.
Much of the early part of the book is devoted to Peter. It’s not uncommon for people to think of Peter as “super-spiritual” because of what the Lord used him to accomplish in his lifetime. But, as I reflect on the Peter revealed in the Gospels, I discover a man who struggled with a temper, a man who had a big-mouth, and was always having to fish his own foot out of his mouth for having spoken too quickly! And yet, it is simple surrender to the will of the Lord and being filled with the Holy Spirit that allowed him to be used in such an undeniably powerful way by the Lord.
However, even more encouraging than that, to me, is the story of a lady named Dorcas found in Acts 9. Dorcas was the epitome of “ordinary”. She was an older widow, and the only detail that we know of her life is that she made clothes for people. Here was an older woman who sat in her house and sewed. Her and my grandmother would have gotten along just fine! And yet, when we read of her passing, we read of a tremendous outpouring of sorrow by those in her town. Their sorrow was on a level that you might expect for a government official, or perhaps some local, influential religious leader. All of this for an old widow who wore out her sewing machine.
What was the cause of such an outpouring? It was simple: this woman had a very powerful and impactful ministry in the community. Here was a woman so in touch with the needs of her neighbors, and so in touch with the heart of Jesus Christ, and so in touch with her own skills and abilities that she used each of these to reach deep into the heart of those who lived around her. Typically, we think of those who stand behind pulpits, or those who spend their lives in foreign countries as those who have the most impact for Christ, but what reach a simple servant’s heart that is given to the Lord and seeks to meet the practical needs of others has on people.
As I was encouraged by this Scripture, let me encourage you: let the Lord use you to meet the needs of those that the Lord has placed in your life. Christian service begins with asking the Lord to give you HIS sight for the needs of those around you, and then simply meeting needs with the heart of Christ. Be a “marketplace missionary” in your community. Use those talents that the Lord has given you to have a powerful impact for the Kingdom of Heaven.
I once heard a saying by Ravi Zacharias which deals with the relationship of what is inside of us and what comes out of us. He said:
“When you are bumped, what you are full of spills out.”
Pretty sobering, is it not? In other words, you can really tell what is inside of a person – what the condition of their heart is – based on what comes out of them when they encounter the “bumps” of life.
Jesus expressed the same philosophy to the Pharisees when, in Matthew 12:34-36, he says,
“Brood of vipers! How can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. A good man out of the treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things. But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment.”
That last statement is particularly frightening in that it ties every single word that escapes the confines of our lips to the day of judgment when we stand before Christ our King. The words that we say, and the manner in which we say them, reveal far more than simply how we feel “in the heat of the moment”. Jesus tells us that they actually spring forth out of the evil that is harbored within us.
Not too long ago, I had an instance where what came out of me frightened me. I had, just a few months prior, received the gracious gift of an ipad from my congregation, which was quickly employed in most every arena of my life. One day, without thinking, I set it down on the driver’s seat of our van. Then, like children do, my kids began barreling out of the car like an angry herd of rhinos. One child performed a high-quality knee drop right on the screen, immediately and irreversibly sending a crack from one end to the other. I became almost enraged for some reason, and instantly sought to discipline my child. Suddenly, the Spirit spoke to me in that moment. “Why are you so angry about that material possession that you didn’t even purchase to begin with? Aren’t you the one that thoughtlessly and carelessly placed it in the chair?” My reaction frightened me because it caused a light to shine in this dark place in my heart. Luckily, rather than immediately discipline my child out of anger, I repented before the Lord of this “evil treasure” in my heart.
What spills out of you when you are bumped? What reaction springs forth from the depths of your soul when you don’t get your way? What is the response of your heart in those moments when your will collides with the will of God, or even with the will of your fellow man? The sharp rebuke received by the Pharisees from Jesus had everything to do with the inner condition of their heart before their Lord, and this condition was evident based on the words they said and the manner in which they were spoken.
Each of could spend more time, I am sure, in the presence of the Lord repenting of the idle words which all too often roll off our sometimes forked tongues. Go before Christ and ask Him and plead with Him to fill you up with His precious Holy Spirit so that, when the inevitable and inescapable bumps of life collide with you, that it is His Spirit and that alone which spills out of you and not some “evil treasure” of the flesh.
Imagine the success that an enemy could have if, rather than directly engaging the opponent, he simply enticed the opposition to fight against itself. His work would be accomplished without so much as firing a shot or even loading his weapon.
Although the factuality of the battle is questionable, a story is widely propagated and believed that this actually occurred in the late eighteenth century within the Austrian Army.
“Here’s how the story goes: in 1788, Austria was at war with Turkey, fighting for control of the Danube River. About 100,000 Austrian troops had set up camp near Karansebes, a village that is now located in present-day Romania. Some scouts were sent ahead to see if they could find any Turks. Rather than find evidence of the opposing army, they found gypsies who had a lot of alcohol to sell, and they bought it.
The scouts brought the alcohol back to camp and started drinking, since the best thing to do the night before a big battle is get very, very drunk. As their little party became louder and more obnoxious, it attracted the attention of several foot soldiers who wanted to join in. The scouts were not open to sharing their find, and being drunk, they didn’t express this with a lot of tact.
An argument broke out, which soon escalated. The alcohol was confiscated, more people joined in, punches were thrown, and a shot rang out. Amidst the mayhem, someone shouted that the Turks had arrived.
Caught unawares and unprepared, most soldiers fled the scene immediately. Others got into formation and charged at the supposed enemy. Shots were fired, cavalry was assembled, and the defecting soldiers were killing every man they saw without thinking.
Needless to say, the Turkish army had not arrived. They wandered into Karansebes two days later and found 10,000 dead or wounded Austrian soldiers. A little confused by this turn of events, they were nonetheless delighted to take Karansebes without any effort at all.”
The enemy, the Turks, took their objective without any effort at all. Jesus gives His followers several stern warnings about their enemy: Satan. Jesus says that Satan is a murderer and liar (John 8:44), that he attempts to snatch away what has been sown in our hearts (Matthew 13:19), and that his purpose is to steal, kill, and destroy our lives (John 10:10). Truly, this is our enemy. One of the most effective tactics of our enemy is to get us fighting and competing with one another. One of Satan’s most effective strategies is to simply get God’s people fighting and competing amongst themselves rather than fighting and competing against their real enemy. When this is accomplished, his work is complete! He can achieve his objective with little effort at all, simply sowing seeds of discord and watching us fight each other to death.
Mike Breen, a British pastor and founder of the 3DM “missional community” church model, noted the following about the American church:
“You will never find a more hyper-competitive culture than you do in the United States. As a foreigner living in this land, I can attest to that with the utmost respect. Americans love to win, they love the struggle of the journey and love holding up the gold medal of victory. Now don’t hear me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with being competitive, it’s just how competition has become warped and twisted within our culture. And it’s that, at least in the church, we are competitive about the wrong things. Much of the American church finds itself competing with the church down the road. “Are we bigger than them? Do we have more influence than them? Do we have the best/biggest youth group in town? Do people like to get married in our church building? Do people like our church better than theirs?” The fact of the matter is that there is a battle, we do have an enemy and we should be competitive…but against our enemy! What we haven’t seen is how crafty he is. This seems to be the alliance he has struck with the American church: “I’ll let a good chunk of your churches grow…just not at the expense of my territory.” And so what happens? 96% of church growth is due to transfer growth and not churches striking into the heart of our enemy’s territory. We’ll consider it a win because we have the new service or program that is growing…but that growth is mainly from people coming from other churches. That’s not a win! That’s a staggering loss. Furthermore, for many pastors, we don’t think we’ve won until we’ve won AND someone else has lost. Seriously?! For sure, we have an enemy and we should be competitive, but we should be competing against our enemy, knowing that the final battle has already been won, and not competing against our own team members. So gifted and skilled is our enemy, so conniving is he, that he has convinced us that beating the people on our own team is victory while he stands back and laughs, rarely having to ever engage in conflict, protecting his territory. He is beating us with a slight of hand, with a clever distraction, turning us against ourselves. Question: In what ways are you competing (both in actuality or simply in your mind) against people who are on your own team?”
So, the question remains: are you competing against people on your own team? If so, let’s go before the Lord and ask Him to show us how we can work together through the unity of the Holy Spirit to achieve His objective and defeat our real enemy, Satan.
“Forgiveness” is not an easy pill to swallow, especially when you are on the receiving end of some hurt by another person. The deeper the hurt, the harder it can be to bring ourselves to the point of forgiveness. And yet, as a Christian, we have a command from our Lord that is as clear as day that we MUST – not just that we ought to – forgive others. There are no caveats to this imperative, there are no circumstances that are exempt, there is only forgiveness.
While this can be hard, it helps for us to remember what we ourselves have been forgiven of. We could each echo the cry of Paul who said in I Timothy 1:15, “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.”
Christ came to forgive even the worst and vilest of sinners, and each of us has been in Paul’s shoes. Why is it so hard for us to forgive others sometimes when forgiveness is so readily available for us?
Matthew 18:23-35 tells the parable of the unforgiving servant. It tells the story of a servant who was forgiven a debt of 10,000 talents (one talent was worth about 15 years’ wages) and yet would not forgive someone else a debt of just 100 denari (about 100 days wages). The last verses of this chapter make it clear how our heavenly Father views and will deal with those who do not forgive others. Verses 34-35 read like this, “His master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him. So My Heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.”
Christ Himself, while being crucified at the hands of those He came to save, pleaded to the Father that they be forgiven. No matter the hurt, Christ calls us to be a people of forgiveness. This week I read an article about the forgiveness that Ronald Reagan had toward his would-be assassin, John Hinckley Jr. that highlights this principle well. Craig Shirley, in an article written for RealClearReligion, wrote the following:
“The diagnosis was devastating, but he took it calmly.
To a person, no one ever came forward and said Ronald Reagan ever felt sorry for himself, ever asked God, "Why me, Lord?" He never got down in the dumps, never moped around, simply accepting and working around his Alzheimer's disease -- and maintaining his uncanny optimism.
Always a man of devout faith, the experience of having narrowly escaped death drove Reagan's Christian faith even deeper into his character.
From Harrison to Lincoln to Garfield to McKinley to Harding to FDR to JFK, all were elected at twenty-year intervals, and all had died in office, including four via an assassin's bullet. Reagan, through the grace and hand of God, the speed of his Secret Service detachment, the decision of Jerry Parr to go to George Washington Hospital rather than the White House, the skill of the attending physicians, nurses, and staff, and his own strength, stamina, and mental toughness, broke the curse; he did not succumb to the assassination intentions of John Hinckley.
But no one would really know Reagan's immense capacity for Christian forgiveness until 1983 after Hinckley's incarceration at St. Elizabeth's Hospital, a mental institution in Washington, DC.
Astonishingly, Reagan sought a meeting with Hinckley to tell him in person that he forgave the young man. Reagan had first raised the idea of talking to Hinckley with the White House physician Dr. Daniel Ruge one weekend at Camp David. After Ruge initiated the conversation, Reagan reached out to the head of psychiatry at St. Elizabeth's Hospital, Dr. Roger Peele.
"Ruge said that Reagan would like to talk with me," Peele recalled. A call was arranged but "the striking thing for me was how modest they were. They were concerned about interrupting my schedule." Reagan and Peele chatted amiably, and Peele said he recalled the kindness and professionalism of Reagan and his staff asking several times if he was being inconvenienced in any way. Further, he told of Reagan saying he wanted to pardon Hinckley, not legally but "personally" and "in private."
As Reagan’s heart was toward the man who wished him dead, so must ours be toward those who wound us. We must understand that by holding a grudge against others, and being unwilling to forgive them, that we are in direct disobedience to the commands of Scripture and that God will deal very severely with us if we do not lay our wounds at His feet and pray His prayer of forgiveness, “Father, forgive them.” Take a moment and ask the Lord to help you develop a forgiving heart and give your hurt to Him.
I have told people before who work with their hands that I envy their line of work. When they build something, they can see the results with their eyes and feel it with their hands; they can observe the completion of their project and be satisfied with the outcome. As a Christian, though, our calling is very different. Our work is not results based and, for many people including myself, that oftentimes can make it discouraging if you go for a period of time without seeing any fruit from your labor.
James compares the work of the Christian to a farmer waiting for harvest time. He says in James 5:7-8, “Be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain. You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.”
Many of the words used by James can be hard to swallow: be patient, waits, waiting patiently, and, again, be patient. We do not naturally excel at being patient, and it makes it all the more difficult when, in other areas of life, patience is not so desperately needed. We long for biblical patience, but we long for it right now.
Many times, though, the Lord will send us His little assurances that, in fact, His work is being accomplished through out toil. Much like the farmer who, after planting the seed and waiting patiently, sees the first glimpse of green breaking through the black soil, the Lord allows us to see the evidence of His fruit before it is completely mature. Paul, for example, planted the Philippian church in about 50 AD. Several years later, he was sitting in a lonely, dark prison cell. If I were Paul, I would be wrestling with the doubt that, perhaps, some of my labor had been in vain. And yet, as he is sitting in this prison cell, a familiar face from the church in Philippi, Epaphroditus, journeys to find him to bring him encouragement and a gift from his friends in Philippi. It was this occasion – the occasion of the green leaf breaking through the black soil of Paul’s circumstances – that prompted him to write the beautiful letter of Philippians.
I experienced a similar joy as I was serving with my Army Reserve unit this past weekend in Atlanta. Everyone in the Army has a specific function, a task to complete. Some work on computers, others handle logistics, and still others handle paperwork and so on. The chaplain, however, has an interesting role within the Army. Their job is working with people, and how do we know when a person is “fixed” to the point where our task is complete? I had spoken with a Soldier several months before when he shared with me some personal difficulties he was having. I prayed with him, wrote him a letter, and sent him a book I had written about having assurance in your faith. This weekend, he found me and told me that, through prayer and reading, the Lord had spoken to his heart, and that his life was turned around. His family was back together, and the Lord had pulled him out of his depression. Praise the Lord! The little green leaf broke through the black soil.
Though, as Christians, we cannot touch a finished product or see a completed project, the Lord does send us little reminders that He is, in fact, accomplishing His good work through us. As you serve the Lord, be patient. Establish your heart in Him as you wait patiently on His return. And, look for the little green leafs that break through the black soil of depression, weariness, and apathy. Look for answered prayers. Look for changed hearts. Look for the Lord and you will discover that, as you serve Him patiently, He is bringing forth a great and beautiful harvest in your life.
In 2001, HBO released one of the great mini-series’ ever produced for the television screen: Band of Brothers. The series chronicles the journey of the Soldiers of Easy Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne Division during World War II. It begins with their rigorous training on Mt. Currahee in Toccoa, GA and ends with their capture of Hitler’s famous “Eagle’s Nest” in Berchtesgaden.
One scene that stands out vividly to me came about three-quarters of the way through the series. These men had been at war, without a break, for months and months. They were, for the time being at least, at a point where they not been shot at for some time. The company had been supplied with replacements, and one of these replacements – who had yet to experience the perils of combat – expressed his desire to be engaged in a firefight. Immediately, one of the Soldiers who had been present from day one, Frank Perconte, began to yell at the man and curse him for his desire. You see, Perconte had experienced more than his share of fighting and was probably experiencing what today would be labeled “battle fatigue”.
As Christians, we too can experience “battle fatigue”. We are called to serve others, just as Christ Himself came to serve rather than to be served (Matthew 20:28). I have seen many good brothers and sisters who are just simply physically and mentally drained from doing the Lord’s work and doing so while in the midst of otherwise already busy lives. What are we to do in those times? What would the Lord have us to do when we feel as if we have given everything and, quite frankly, feel sick and tired of serving other people?
I was comforted to discover, as I combed through Scripture this week looking for some wisdom from God’s Word on this subject, that our Lord has much to say about serving Him, serving others, and experiencing His rest in the midst of life’s fatigue.
When Paul had been slowly drained by some particular weakness, the Lord told him in II Corinthians 12:8-9 that His grace was sufficient for Paul, and that GOD’S power was made perfect in PAUL’S weakness.
When we feel fatigued from persistent and repeated prayers that are unanswered by the Lord, we are reminded of the story of the persistent widow in Luke 18:1, and that we ought to never lose heart in our prayers, knowing that they are heard by our Heavenly Father.
When we feel that all our labor is for naught, and that no one cares and that even in our toil we are making no difference in anyone’s life, Matthew 6:4 promises that our Father, who sees in secret, will reward us. HE sees us, and HE will reward us. There should be much comfort in that knowledge.
When life’s various pressures clamp down on us from all sides, and we feel that we are simply not going to make it out with our sanity intact, James 1:2-4 reminds us that the various trials of this world which test our faith produce patience, and that when patience has its perfect work in us, then will we truly understand the perfect sufficiency of Christ and lack nothing.
And, when we simply grow weary from the struggles of this world, may we hold on to the comforting words of Galatians 6:9-10 which tell us that we should “not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.”
A great number of people these days are just plain TIRED. The world seems to be spinning faster, things don’t seem to get easier, and weariness seems to grow until it beats us into submission and we take our eyes off of the prize that serving Christ brings. Christ calls us to serve, but He also promises to give us REST in Him in the midst of serving (Matthew 11:28). If today you are heavy laden from your labor, reflect on the promises of Scripture for those who serve faithfully. Go to Christ and spend some time resting in His presence. Ask Christ to remind you of the reward that comes from Him and not from man. Don’t give up, Christian!
I have been reflecting this week on the Second Coming of Christ and how that can, and should, impact the way I live my life. In my preparations for this week, I came across these words written by John Soper, pastor of Ridgeway Church in White Plains, NY. It is a beautiful expression of not just the biblical account of the Second Coming, but, more importantly, how that should impact our own life.
Sometime near the end of his life, Anthony Ashley Cooper, the seventh Earl of Shaftesbury, is reputed to have said: “In the last 40 years, I do not believe that I have had one conscious thought that did not include the idea of the return of Jesus Christ.” An overstatement? Perhaps, but it goes a very long way toward explaining the amazing career of one of the Victorian era’s most successful social reformers.
That same preoccupation is evident throughout the New Testament. It is the stated or implied reason behind nearly every ethical injunction in the writings of the apostles, and without question, it framed the life of the Early Church. The first generation of Christians even began their ordinary interactions with the greeting “Maranatha,” an Aramaic expression meaning “The Lord is coming”!
“Jesus Christ, Our Coming King” is the expression that captures the same passion exemplified by the apostles, the Earl of Shaftesbury and a million other devoted followers of our Lord throughout the centuries. It is, to use the words of the apostle Paul, “our blessed hope.”
Belief in the Second Coming of Christ is rooted in the experience of the followers of Jesus who, a few days before Pentecost, gathered on a mountain to listen to the last teaching of the resurrected Christ. He commissioned them to be His “witnesses” to the entire world, and then, as they watched breathlessly, He ascended into heaven. While they stood gazing at the sky, two angels appeared and delivered this message: “This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way that you have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11b).
The clear implication (and the equally clear teaching of the entire New Testament on the subject) is that Christ’s Second Coming will be personal—He Himself, not some representative, will return to the earth. Further, His return will be both public and visible; that is, we will be able to see Him come. In fact, the writer of the Book of Revelation says that “every eye will see him . . .” (Rev. 1:7). We are also told that when Christ returns, He won’t be alone. He will be accompanied by “thousands of his holy ones”—angels (Jude 14)—and by “those who have fallen asleep” (1 Thess. 4:15).
Many volumes have been written exploring the events that will occur when Christ returns, but here are a few things the Bible says will happen: Jesus Christ will be vindicated in the eyes of those who crucified Him (Rev. 1:7); the whole of creation will be liberated from the curse imposed upon it after the sin of Adam in the garden (Romans 8:20–21); the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord (Isa. 11:9); God’s righteous reign will be established upon the earth for a thousand years (Rev. 20:1–6); and, ultimately, the final destruction of Satan will be accomplished (Rev. 20:7–10).
Since it is clear that the writers of the New Testament expected the Lord’s return very quickly, many skeptics have suggested that nearly 2,000 years ought to be enough time to convince us that they were mistaken. The Scripture, however, anticipates that attitude and warns us (2 Peter 3:8–10) that while God restrains His judgment (just as He did in the time of Noah) so that more time can be given for men and women to repent, this gesture of patience will be misinterpreted. Most of humanity will conclude that the promise of Christ’s return is nothing more than pious fiction. His return will catch them off guard like the coming of a thief!
Over the last four decades I have read a great many books about the Second Coming of Christ. Unfortunately, most were devoted to predicting when this cataclysmic event will occur (something the Bible explicitly tells us NOT to do), to debating the order of events connected to His return or to splitting the eschatological “hairs” that separate one group of evangelical believers from another. All of this speculation entirely misses the point of what the Bible says about the matter. The whole focus of the New Testament’s teaching about the return of Christ can be summarized in two simple propositions: first, because Christ is coming, we need to be ready—living lives that are pure, steadfast, prayerful, holy and reverent; and, second, because Christ is coming, we need to finish the task He has given us—the preaching of the gospel.
Maranatha! The Lord is coming. Are you ready?
As humans, it seems that our memories work like a sports highlight reel. We remember the highs and how wonderful those times were, and we remember the lows and how terrible those times were. Like a line graph on a plot, we remember certain moments and most of the rest of our lives simply connect one dot to the next.
As I dig through my own mental filing cabinet of memories, I find this to be true. I can easily and readily recall the high's and low's, but everything in the middle seems to be like the packing peanuts that hold everything in place. When I remember the highs, or the good times, it is not uncommon for a particular memory to stick out in my mind because of what someone else did selflessly for me. Oftentimes the selfless acts of others make the deepest impressions. For example, I remember one time when my mother took a $100 bill and put it under someone's windshield wiper in a blank envelope with no name attached to it. I also remember one time that my father, when we were just visiting a church, jumped in and started moving tables and chairs even though we all knew we were never coming back to this church. I remember one time, as a teenage driver, that I backed right into a woman in a Wal-Mart parking lot and dented her up car pretty good. I got out, albeit nervously and reluctantly, and she said simply, "God Bless You and I hope you have a Merry Christmas." I owed her, bigtime, and she helped me when she certainly didn't have to.
I think these memories stick out in our minds because they are so counter-intuitive to what our selfish human nature is wired to do. We are wired to be selfish, and we are wired to look out for ourselves more than others. And yet, as Christians, we are called to have the attitude of Christ. Paul summarizes that attitude in Philippians 2 when he writes,
"Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross!"
Talk about selfless! Here was the immortal, eternal, all-powerful King and Creator of the world and everything in it who left EVERYTHING to become NOTHING for us and did so gaining NOTHING in the process, aside from a relationship with us. THIS is how much He loves you. THIS is the greatest demonstration of selflessness the world will ever know. And, THIS is the standard to which you and I are called. By the power of the Holy Spirit working in us and through us, we are called to view others the same way that Christ views us.
By displaying such a humble, Christ-like attitude toward others, Christ can use us to make these same deep, indelible impressions on others. By working through His people, Christ becomes the points on the line graph of their lives. Pray that the Holy Spirit will make you aware of the many opportunities you have to display the attitude of Christ to those around you. In doing so, you never know how deep an impression Christ will make on them through your selflessness and obedience.
One of the beautiful aspects of living life with others, through all our highs and lows, is the depth of relationships that are developed in the process. It is one thing to spend a few years with someone and then move on, but it is another thing entirely to endure life with someone over an extended period of years and observe and participate in the work of the Lord together.
In 2 Samuel 23, we have this beautiful scene of men gathered around a dying King David as he utters his last words to them. What makes this scene so significant is the fact that these men had endured years of extreme highs and lows together. They had endured living on the run and in caves, and they had also enjoyed reigning over a great and glorious kingdom. Here were men who had literally gone to war for one another, and the chapter is a re-living of some of their times together.
It is a wonderful reminder to me of the fellowship that Christians enjoy as we live life together in the Lord. As we soar on the heights of life's accomplishments together and wade through the depths of life's tragedies together, there is a beautiful and almost unexplainable interweaving of life which cannot be undone.
One word sits beneath all of these circumstances: together. It is the unique aspect of living life together with others that brings about a deep, abiding level to the Christian life that is not possible for us if we try to go at it ourselves. What happens when Christian brothers and sisters cling to the Lord together and "bear one another's burdens", as Galatians says? Not only do all parties involved grow closer together, but, even more glorious, the Lord receives wonderful honor as His Spirit works in the lives of everyone involved.
Multiple times in this chapter, as Samuel recounts some of the incredible feats of David's mighty men, he concludes with the phrase, "and the Lord brought about a great victory."
Time and time again, both in the record of Scripture as well as in our own lives, we see this truth at work: the Lord weaves together our stories and testimonies with those he has put in our life to bring about great victories for us, for others, and ultimately for Himself. We see this through the struggles of the Israelites throughout the Old Testament, through the lives of the disciples in the New Testament, and through the lives of those we know and love each day.
One of the greatest temptations of the flesh is to hide ourselves away from the struggles of those around us. In one sense, it is safer to live life this way because we have a natural tendency to protect ourselves from things that cause us pain. And yet, in a much greater sense, we are missing out on the beauty of "life-on-life" discipleship and the glorious fruit that the Lord brings about in our lives when we do this. We discover that not only does the Lord use this beautiful fellowship to use us to minister to others, but He also uses others to minister to us. And, in doing so, in each case, He brings about a great victory for us and for Himself.
Take time to reflect on those people in your life that the Lord has used to bring about great victories. It is a wonderful thing to remind each other of the victories that the Lord has brought about in your life. Oftentimes it seems that others remember your victories in greater detail than you do, and that you remember their victories more vividly than they. Let us encourage one another with the victories the Lord has brought about in our lives as we do life together.
Each week this blog will be updated with a word for the week from my current studies.