The Secret Courageously Revealed

 

Now when evening had come, because it was the Preparation Day, that is, the day before the Sabbath,Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent council member, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, coming and taking courage, went in to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.Pilate marveled that He was already dead; and summoning the centurion, he asked him if He had been dead for some time.So when he found out from the centurion, he granted the body to Joseph.Then he bought fine linen, took Him down, and wrapped Him in the linen. And he laid Him in a tomb which had been hewn out of the rock, and rolled a stone against the door of the tomb. [Mark 15:42-46]

A series of sermons on people of courage in the scriptures could hardly be complete without Joseph of Arimathea. One might at first disagree, since he had kept his belief in Christ secret [John 19:38]. But one phrase about Joseph in Mark 15:43 makes this lesson almost required: "taking courage, (he) went." We need to know why or how Joseph "took courage."

Joseph of Arimathea is one of those seemingly incidental characters that surprise us with some great truth or encouragement as we study. We are introduced to many of these characters as we study through the Bible. They don't loom large in our view like a King David or Apostle Paul as we see the development of God's plan through their actions. So we are tempted to pass over them. I'm thinking of characters such as the mighty men that fought alongside David or the once timid Mark that labored in the gospel with Paul. But it is my firm belief that the Spirit did not place these people in The Word without good reason and it is with such conviction that we turn our thoughts today to Joseph of Arimathea who shows up as a minor character in the gospels.

There is very little told us about Joseph. There are many legends, but as far as actual history, he only shows up in the four gospel accounts of Jesus' burial. You have to read all four accounts to get much of anything about him. However, what little we are told is quite illuminating.

In the text already read, Joseph is identified as "a prominent council member" (Mark 15:43; also Luke 23:50). This, along with the fact that Matthew says he was a rich man (Matthew 27:57), tells us that Joseph was part of Jewish aristocracy. So Joseph was a man of influence, a man with political power. Now, as a group, that Sanhedrin Council had considerable power. Just a few hours earlier than the event we read in our text, the Sanhedrin had persuaded the governor to condemn a popular and innocent Jesus to die.

But it was not Joseph's work in the council that brings his name into the record. His act of courage was something quite unexpected--and it happened because Joseph himself was something quite unexpected! While he was a member of the Council, he also was a disciple of Jesus! [Matthew 27:57, John 19:8]. Luke and Mark tell us that he "was himself waiting for the kingdom of God" [Luke 23:50-51, Mark 15:43].

In a sense, all Jews were looking for the coming of the Christ. But this special mention indicates that Joseph believed Jesus embodied the kingdom of God come unto men. Jesus himself had said, for example, in Luke 11:20: "But if I cast out demons with the finger of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you." Joseph saw Jesus as the embodiment of the kingdom and was expecting Jesus to fulfill the kingdom promises made by the prophets.

But Jesus is now dead. Joseph is feeling a great sadness now, similar to the two disciples we find trudging home to Emmaus when we read Luke 24. When they were asked about their disheartened look, we can even hear it in the words they say: "But we were hoping that it was He that was going to redeem Israel" [Luke 24:21].

It is very natural to expect Jesus' death to change everything. Who were Jesus' followers to follow now? What about the kingdom Jesus said was "at hand?" It appeared that kingdom building would halt in its tracks.

Indeed, Jesus' death would change everything; this is exactly what God had in mind! But it wasn't kingdom work coming to a halt; it was now really at its beginning. And while the work of the kingdom was about to change, things certainly also changed for Joseph. John 19:38 told us that Joseph was a disciple, "but secretly, for fear of the Jews." But a change is taking place. As we read in Mark, Joseph now is "taking courage" and is performing the very public action of claiming the body of Jesus to prepare it for burial. He now is openly showing his desire to be identified with Christ.

What brought about this great change? Why does Joseph now believe he needs to be publicly associated with Jesus? Where  is he finding this courage?

In thinking about this I remember Jesus' earlier words, "And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all [peoples] to Myself" [John 12:32]. Joseph is now displaying that truth. While viewing Jesus lifted up on the cross, Joseph found his own courage to step up. Joseph had watched Jesus that day, as so many had. He saw Jesus endure the cross and he took it as an example for himself.

The Scriptures testify greatly that Jesus is to be our example and one we follow. This is especially true regarding his submission to the cross, for scripture says we should be "looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of [our] faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross" [Hebrews 12:2].

That evening, after Jesus had died, people assessed the day's events. They "looked to Jesus," that is, they thought about Jesus, who had created food for them, controlled the winds, cast out demons, and raised the dead. And they noticed he used none of that power to stop his own death.

Joseph realized the greatness of character on display and responded with like character. Others were also changed, for example, the Roman centurion in charge of the crucifixion detail. After witnessing this sacrifice by Jesus he expressed his conviction, "Truly this Man was the Son of God!" [Mark 15:39]. The thief crucified beside Jesus expressed his belief that Jesus would "come into (his) kingdom" and could there remember him [Luke 23:42].

This did not happen with everyone. There are some very big names conspicuous by their absence in this scene! Where is Peter? Where are Andrew, James, and John? Their fear on this evening is not at all difficult to understand [compare John 20:19], but makes more notable Joseph's discovery of courage. Indeed, we may first be tempted to scorn Joseph that he had previously kept his admiration for Jesus secret [John 19:38]. But consider, it would have been easier for one to have been swept up in the crowds of support for the popular figure of Jesus than it was now to step up through true conviction at this time of apparent desperation.

As this crisis had developed through the previous twenty-four hours, other disciples had shown their lack of courage. Peter wilted in the test, even though he had been following Jesus for years [Mark 14:66-72]. The other disciples also deserted Jesus [Mark 14:50]. But Joseph had begun to show his affinity for Jesus' ministry. Luke tells us, "He had not consented to (the Council's) decision and deed" [Luke 23:51]. Whether this means he absented himself from this important Council session or was the cross-examiner that revealed some false testimony during the mock trial [Mark 14:56], it means that Joseph had already opened himself to criticism by the other Council members. Joseph may have been timid before but was now stepping up when the strongest test of discipleship was occurring.

Some might suggest that Joseph only came because God was making him fulfill the prophesy from Isaiah 53:9, "And they made His grave ... with the rich at His death..." But even when events of great import are at stake, God never forced anyone to act in a way contrary to his/her own volition. Compare the encouragement given to Esther that she needed to act, but that if she did not, God could accomplish his will another way [Esther 4:14]. Just as Esther found her courage, we are told explicitly that Joseph acted out of his courage. It was not the result of an irresistible force from God. When we study his courage, we see that it came from a conviction that Jesus is the Christ and it was brought into the open by the impression made upon Joseph when he witnessed Jesus on the cross.

That brings us to the question we must answer. How are we to find our courage? Certainly we are expected to display boldness in the gospel. This was Paul's goal in his ministry [Ephesians 6:19-20]. He also was thankful that others had become bold in their preaching even if it was with a wrong motive [Philippians 1:14]. Plus he exhorted Timothy to not give in to fear or be ashamed of his calling. Rather he should act with the Spirit of God in power [2 Timothy 1:6-8]. We should also desire to boldly act with God's Spirit of power. But how do we accomplish it?

Paul explained that true glory is only in the cross [Galatians 6:14]. This agrees with Jesus' statement that he would draw all people when he was lifted up [John 12:32]. It is our focus on the cross that will bring us true glory. When we "look unto Jesus...who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross" we are looking to the source of our own power [Hebrews 12:2].

Jesus predicted the need for such power when he said we all must "take up the cross and follow (him)" [Mark 10:21]. Joseph was certainly taking up a cross. He was publicly aligning himself with a movement that the Jewish leadership was intent on eradicating. Even the Roman procurator had not stood against them. He had determined Jesus to be an innocent man yet he still sentenced him to death, simply to placate the Sanhedrin.

Yes, we need that power in our lives that only comes to those who love the man that went to the cross. We need that courage in our lives for we are often presented with needs that can only be met by boldness.

Like Joseph, we often find ourselves on the less liked, seemingly less powerful side of many choices in today's society. It requires some measure of fortitude to stand against the pressures of pervasive immorality, liberal theology, or atheism. We find that needed courage by looking to the cross of Jesus. The world may call that folly and kick it out of their way [1 Corinthians 1:23], but we know that submitting to God, as Jesus did, brings power. We know, whatever the immediate consequences, great good will always be the final result of following God.

There are times when, like Joseph, we must act without the support of other disciples. Peter, James, and John, for example, were Jesus' closest disciples and would later be pillars in the church; but at this particular time they were not to be found. The deed was left to an otherwise unknown disciple who performed it on his own. It may be true that none of Jesus' other disciples had the ability to go in to Pilate and ask for the body of their Lord. That would make it all the more important that this one disciple, who before had kept his love for the kingdom of God a secret, now become openly active.

We often find ourselves in the same situation today. Sometimes the leadership of our churches has abandoned the good purposes God gave them. We have seen preachers, elders, youth ministers, and college professors lead the wave of liberal theology washing against the disciples. At other times and places, church leaders have become so involved in worldliness that they do not have time or interest in accomplishing the work of the kingdom. These are times when some other disciple, who may before have been hiding in the background, must step up and lead by example. Whether it be a need to correct false teaching, to act in service to the brothers and sisters of the church, to begin the important task of developing young people into disciples, and on and on, if it isn't being accomplished, it is time for someone from some unexpected place to step up.

If that does not describe your situation, this does: Each of us knows that there is some good in the kingdom that only you can do at this time. When it is your friend or your family member that needs some helping hand or a word of encouragement or of instruction, it is not time for some well-known leader to step up. It is time for you to do what God has placed you at this place to do.

You also never know who you might motivate by your example. With Joseph came Nicodemus. He is only mentioned in John 19:39, but there he is. After Joseph had begged the body from Pilate, Nicodemus came along with him, at great personal expense, to prepare the body for burial. We all know how much easier it is to accomplish something when we are working in concert with someone else. The challenge becomes, who will be the first? "Joseph...taking courage, went in..."

So consider Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. He was lifted up on the cross for you. He endured that cross for the joy it would bring him thereafter, the joy of fellowship with his bride, the church, you and me. Consider that Jesus blazed that trail of faith so that we could walk it too; so that we would have the same courage to go against the tide of society for the sake of what is truly needed, for the good that always comes from doing the work of the kingdom.

You don't have to be someone with an obvious position or power in the church. You simply need to see that there is something you can do or should do and do it. If you are a person with some position or power in the church, like Timothy was, you also need to look to Jesus and fan your flame of courage to a bright fire. When you exercise your courage, you will be changing the world and leading others in the great work of the kingdom.

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Doing It Right!
"Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly." (Matthew 1:18-19 English Standard Version)

Early in the week, I was preparing a lesson on the next passage in our ongoing series of sermons from First Timothy when the above text was brought to my attention. Notice what it says about Joseph: He was a JUST man. That means he always did things in the most proper way he could manage. He didn't react to situations according to his emotions or calculate his next move with an eye to self-promotion. And in this case, it meant that he would do everything he could to protect his fiancée, Mary. Yes, he was going to break off the marriage contract because it certainly appeared to him that she had been unfaithful. But, no, he did not need to bad mouth her to his friends, and all the other things that we tend to do when we feel we have been wronged. Joseph did not need to make a big deal about being right. Everyone that knew him knew that he always LIVED right. He was a just man and it showed in his consideration for others.

That is a wonderful example for those of us that want to be right, and I trust that all of us want to be right in our own eyes as well as in the eyes of God. We can't claim that we are right simply because we are "better" than somebody else. We can't claim that we are right simply because we haven't been dragged off to jail. We can't claim that we are right simply because we have argued down all the opposition. We are right when we LIVE right. We are right when we give proper consideration to the entire needs of our current situation. Not what we can rationalize about our situation, not what gives us the greatest satisfaction, and not what other people necessarily expect, but what is right in view of ALL the circumstances. That includes the question of what is God's will and what is best for any other people involved.

This idea is in the passage that I was originally going to use as the basis of today's lesson:
1 Timothy 4:7-8--

"Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come."

Notice the admonition: "Train yourself for godliness" and the fact that Paul contrasts godliness with "irreverent, silly myths." There are two things to really dwell on here:

  1. The idea of training indicates a great amount of effort is being expended to reach a goal, in this case, godliness. No one who is truly training goes about it haphazardly or apathetically. You need a focused program that you work on a daily basis. That was the example of Joseph--his practice of rightness was so steady and consistent that he was known as a just man.
  2. The practice of irreverent, silly myths do not make one godly. Whether the myth is from society ("A real man has to fight" "You can't let her get away with that") or even a myth from religion ("Once you have done 'x' you will always be safe with God" "God loves everybody so it doesn't matter what you do"), it is no substitute for godliness. How do we know what is myth and what is truth? That is where the training comes in! We need to examine what principles we live by to see if they match the principles of God.

Let us all set godliness as our goal! That doesn't equal self-justification. If godliness is our goal, we will not shy away from choices that may be uncomfortable. We won't relate to others on the basis of what satisfies self. We won't excuse our inactivity with having followed some ritual or accepted some empty platitude. WE WILL make a concerted effort to know God's will and practice his love and goodness on a daily basis.

WHY? Because of the promises given in the above verse: "godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come." Promise for the present life in that we can be truly satisfied in living rightly. We can know the great blessings that come in Christ, e.g., peace, joy, assurance. And of course, the great promise for the life to come.

If we wish to be with God, why would we not work to be godly? Let Joseph's example lead you to a life that is just.

[Highlights from the sermon presented Sunday morning, Dec. 2, 2012, at the Brentwood Church of Christ worship assembly.]

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We Had Hoped He Was the One

Following the 2012 presidential election, a colleague wrote, "Christ is king and neither Obama nor Romney are of any consequence in the grand scheme." A family member took exception to that comment and we had a little study on it that I would like to share with you:

We are proud of our accomplishments. If we are working toward a certain goal, we think that goal is worthwhile and important. It hurts to think that anyone would say our efforts are of no consequence. First, let me say that the good efforts of anyone are of great significance to the immediate recipients of their graciousness. But in the the grand scheme, often the best intentions of mankind are the exact opposite of what God desires.

Take for example the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9). A great work was begun that would help the people be united. Yet God destroyed that effort. What seemed good to men was against God's plan.

Is slavery a good thing? Yet God put his chosen people in Egypt where they would be enslaved. Notice that the Jerusalem temple was destroyed twice by armies sent by God. He even used the barbaric Babylonians to discipline his people. And of course, the death of God's own son is something we would never have thought of as good, until God showed us that it was necessary.

Notice the dejection of Jesus' followers after he was crucified: "We had hoped that he was the one" (Luke 24:21).

We must be sure not to put our plans in place of God's. It is great to have plans, but don't place your hope in what can be accomplished on earth. God may have an entirely different way that he is going to accomplish something.

The other side of the situation--

But don't think that this truth makes your individual efforts unnecessary! "In the grand scheme" one person may be inconsequential. But God does have a plan for this world and that plan does involve somebody getting something done! Another example: In Esther 4:14, the queen is told, "If you keep silent, God will raise up help from some other place." This speaks to the fact that God can use anyone he wishes. God is not restricted to any one particular person or event. But the rest of Esther 4:14 says, "but you and your father's house will perish." If a person is not willing to be part of God's efforts in this world, he will also not receive God's blessings.

So, while I should not think that I or my champion are the only hope for mankind, I must also not think that I should not be active at what is given me to do. Great things happen in God's kingdom in every age. Esther 4:14 finally ends with: "Who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?"

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Saved by what/who?

For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe. (1 Timothy 4:10)

 God!

She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21)

 
Jesus!

Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. (Romans 5:9)

 
His Blood!

But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. (2 Thessalonians 2:13)

 
The Spirit!

But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. (2 Thessalonians 2:13)

 
The Truth!

For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. (Romans 3:28)

 
Faith!

The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. (Luke 8:12)

 
Believing!

Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. (James 1:21)

 
The Word!

For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. (1 Corinthians 1:21)

 
Preaching!

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. (Romans 1:16) 

 
the Gospel!

even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved— (Ephesians 2:5)

 
His Grace!

he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, (Titus 3:5)

 
His Mercy!

For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? (Romans 8:24)

 
Hope!

Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. (Romans 6:16-18)

 
Obedience!


No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. (Luke 13:3)

 Repentance!

Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, (1 Peter 3:21)

 Baptism!

Gary Greene

[Scriptures quoted from English Standard Version]

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He Wants to Build What?

You are likely familiar with the quote from Jesus: “on this rock I will build my church...” (Matthew 16:18) and, of course, we all know what a church is. But what if you were in that group, nearly 2000 years ago, that first heard Jesus say it? What would you have thought he meant? What expectations would he have raised? Hearing Jesus' promise through the ears of his first hearers gives us a new and helpful perspective.

As I said, we all know what a church is. We hear the word church and think of the white steepled building we pass on the freeway and the stained glass adorned brick building downtown. Not that we are focused on the building. We are focused on the people that meet there, their creed, and their religious affiliation. That is what the word means to us in our society.

But, just as Jesus certainly was not talking about building a physical structure, neither was he speaking of some sect or denomination as we think of church today. When Jesus said “church” his disciples did not think of a religious group that meets down the road. That's our interpretation. Their interpretation would have been based on their experience of the word. In the Greek and Hebrew languages, it stresses the idea of a group called together for some specific purpose. You can look at Acts 19 where the same word is used of the Ephesian townspeople assembling, both as an angry mob and as a legal forum (vs. 32, 39, 41). The word in these instances is translated “assembly” rather than “church” because this was certainly not a church!

So Jesus' phrase, “I will build my church,” is synonymous with “I will call together an assembly.” And that fits the religious background of the Jews. The prophets had often spoken of the time to come when God would make a great assembly. Frequently the Lord mentioned gathering Israelites back from captivity (e.g., Isaiah 11:11-12). He also spoke of gathering “yet others to him” (Isaiah 56:8) and making a people for himself where there once was “not my people” (Hosea 1:10, cf. Romans 9:25-26 and 1 Peter 2:9-10). So the Jews were expecting a Messiah that would gather people from all nations into the house of the Lord (Isaiah 2:2, Micah 4:2).

That gives me a different way to look at the word church. Yes, I know that it still has the meaning of a religious institution or even a religious meeting place to those of the society around us. But I also know that Jesus and his apostles who carried his message to the world were trying to build a very special entity: a gathering of all who love God and accept their place as his people in submission to him. One gathering for one people who will disregard all worldly barriers to fellowship and harmony.

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Is Easter Really Over?

I find the abundance of signs that were announcing “Easter” services disturbing. Because here it is two weeks later and not one special sign encouraging Sunday worship attendance is anywhere in sight. How can we have all that fervor for remembering, honoring, and celebrating the resurrection of Christ for about three weeks before “Easter” then, poof, it all vanishes?

 
It seems that Easter has become just one more in a line of advertising opportunities. I know that behind the banners, extra assemblies, and added symbols is some sense that His resurrection is extraordinarily special. But if it is that special, why do we need to make such a hoopla once a year to encourage people to remember it? Why is it not something that is on our minds and hearts every day?
 
I am sure most of you do have it on your heart every day. Belief that Jesus is the Son of God, proven by the working of God's power in making Jesus the firstfruits of the resurrection, is the reason you have developed religious habits and stress righteous virtues. But what about our churches? Have we left the way of God and accepted the way of the world? What I mean is, do we believe we must have some glittery campaign in order to attract people to God?
 
I do not wish to halt all the attendance promotions that churches undertake. But I want to be sure that we do not legitimize the feeling some have, which is the idea that perfunctory observance of a couple of annual religious holidays is enough to nurture one's relationship with God. (Yes, I have had people tell me they believe that is enough.) When we stress our “Easter Service” and “Christmas Eve” worship more than our ongoing Sunday worship meetings, Sunday school, and midweek study times, we may be helping people develop that harmful attitude.
 
Instead, let's make every Sunday a time of celebration and renewal. Let's make every Sunday a time to recommit ourselves to a vibrant relationship with God. Let's take every opportunity to connect with the Lord and bring our living closer to his perfection.
 
Whether our churches help us or not, we can each commit to following such a practice. We can, whether our church leaders promote it or not, have that celebration in our hearts. We can use the study and worship times that are in our churches' weekly schedules to be constantly encouraging ourselves and others.
 
No more Christians on "holy days" only. By our devotion to God and his service, we can make it a holy life!

 

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The Rules of the Race

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize?
Run in such a way as to get the prize.”
 

1st Corinthians 9:24 (NIV)

I was challenged once by a particular lesson presented by an old friend. He was suggesting a sermon I might deliver sometime. But it made me re-think my own Christian race and realize that at that time I had an error I needed to correct—an area where I was not running according to the rules.

All of us need to reevaluate our lives to be sure we are running “in such a way as to get the prize.” Paul, the apostle, gave us the example. He was continuously aware of the need to have full, conscious control of his actions: “Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize” (1st Corinthians 9:26-27, NIV).

We cannot approach the Christian life with a “whatever” attitude. (You know that one: you ask a teenager about something and they say, “Whatever!”) Our Christian race is only won when it is run with the proper attitude and purpose. Often, God notices our incorrect attitudes and sends someone to steer us back to the right way. We frequently brush it off. (“Whatever!”)

If “whatever” would work, Jesus would not have criticized the Pharisees. They were very pious and morally precise; why not leave them alone? They were not left alone because they did it out of a sense of self-righteous pride. With that attitude, they could not be acceptable to God!

There are several other attitudes people hold about the Christian life that do not fit with the rules of the race.

  • The “I do it because I have to” syndrome produces lives that appear to be Christian but are not filled with Christian joy.
  • The “I’m already saved, don’t bother me” syndrome reveals both a lack of gratitude and a lack of purpose.
  • The “pay attention to me!” syndrome reveals a person who thinks he is in the church to be served rather than to learn how to serve others.
  • The “I know what’s right, now fall in line!” syndrome produces orthodoxy but not love.

These problem attitudes are not problems from their beginnings. They originate from good ideas. The attitudes listed in the previous list, for example, begin from submission, grace, dependency or leadership. However, that attitude was not then watched by its owner to see what it grew into. These folks are running, but it is not the Christian race they are trying to win.

Let’s all evaluate our own attitudes and also pray for each other that we will each run in such a way as to get the prize.

 written
November 2, 2003
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Where are the Heroes?

“If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the
tax collectors doing that?
And if you greet only your brothers, what are you
doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?
Be perfect, therefore,
as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Jesus in Matthew 5:46-48

It’s not surprising how prevalent the drug culture is when you compare other facets of our society. People turn to drugs to make life more exciting or less stressful, or themselves less inhibited or more creative, etc. These are the same guidelines followed in many of life's choices: not by what is right but by what will give me the feeling I want. Most everyone thinks, “I should be happy,” so the search is on for the situation that will make them happy. Along the way, many evil decisions are made: spouses are abandoned, children neglected, friends abused, responsibilities ignored.

If we all made all our choices by what makes us feel good, there would be no heroes. Heroes are people who put aside their plans or desires in order to do something good for another person. For example, Sgt. York wanted to live a life of pacifism; but, when forced to be in a combat situation, he put aside his own comfortable ideas and fought to save the lives of other soldiers. Another example: the apostle Paul rejoiced that Christ was preached even though the preachers were intending by their preaching to stir up more trouble for Paul (Philippians 1:17-18). He was that much more concerned with what was good for others than with his own feelings.

Every day we see heroes in the world around us: the mother of a handicapped child, a teacher in an inner city school, Big Brother/ Big Sister volunteers, anyone who steps outside her comfort zone to help another, anyone who will put his own plans on hold while he encourages someone else.

When Jesus was describing how hard it would be for the disciples (Matthew 10:5-42), he said even the smallest act of participation in their work would be rewarded (v. 42). One who is thinking of his own comfort will not find it easy to participate in God’s work because God’s work does not make us comfortable in this world. Jesus also said, if one desires a perfect life, live without regard to a comfort zone (Matthew 5:46-48). Don’t shut your eyes to the destitute nor your hearts to the hurting. Don’t withhold friendship from those who disagree with you.

If you would have a perfect life, stop making choices by what you desire and start thinking of how you can be an encouragement to those around you, even those you don’t know yet, “that you may be children of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust.” (Matthew 5:45).

Be perfect, be heroic, be a disciple…be loving.

alternate title: "Being Perfect"

written October 26, 2003

 

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The Hard Choices?

Don't you know that you are a temple of God, and that God's Spirit lives in you?
If anyone destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him;
for God's temple is holy, which you are.

1 Corinthians 3:16-17, World English Bible

While reading an article from Chicken Soup for the Surviving Soul, I was struck with the thought that Christian living has something in common with dealing with a serious illness. When people have suspicious physical symptoms, they often ignore them and let the problem grow instead of treating it. They fear the uncertainties of the treatment. They dread the sorrow for their family.

In the same way, people also ignore spiritual needs. We know we should find some way to fulfill those needs, but we fear the process. We fear humility and submission because they are traits that have picked up negative connotations. We are not certain that those around us would approve of overt spirituality; they may accuse us of being fanatic. So, rather than address our spiritual needs, we focus on earthly pastimes and goals.

What we forget is: dealing with a problem always makes a situation better in the end!

  • Young people who give in to peer pressure end up regretting it,
        but those who persevere in purity are rewarded with joy
  • Confession may bring painful memories and guilt to mind at first, 
        but it results in cleansing and freedom from the previous stress of that guilt
  • Approaching an estranged family member is often awkward, 
        but renewing a previously wonderful relationship that had gone sour
        brings a happiness now blessed with greater understanding
  • Acknowledging one’s weakness may seem demeaning,
        but actually, it’s the way to find the Spirit’s power in our lives.

When we look at spirituality through worldly eyes, we will always see reasons to avoid it. Because we realize that godly living is work, we tend to look for shortcuts. We must realize that greater rewards come from the efforts and trials; then we will be ready to follow the Lord’s guidance.

This is true for churches as well as individual Christians. Earthly goals, such as attendance numbers or conforming to other congregations’ expectations, can easily take the place of striving for a spiritual atmosphere. We allow this to happen because spirituality requires more effort and thoughtfulness than these worldly goals. We would rather that our congregational choices revolve around programs that can run on “automatic pilot” instead of involving ourselves in the pain of broken lives and the sacrificial love required to help them. (Remember what Jesus said about the Pharisees: they worried so much about physically measurable things that they would even measure out the ounces of herbs coming from their gardens for tithing. But they left undone “the weightier matters...judgment, mercy and faith”--Matthew 23:23.) These are natural, “everybody has them” desires. However, the Christian has been touched by the love from above that doesn’t allow him to be happy with natural, fleshly decisions.

We all feel the need to honor Christ in our lives by making the harder choices. Rather than suppress those urges, let’s support one another in the process of making those commitments. In so doing, we will build a congregation, a temple for God’s Spirit (1st Corinthians 3:16-17), that will truly live above worldly ways.
written
November 9, 2003

 

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