Time To Re-Focus?

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“As long as it is day, we must do the work of Him who sent Me. Night is coming, when no one can work.”  (John 9:4, NIV 1984).

“I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.” (John 17:4, NIV 1984).

My Musings – “They were disappointed but believed they could solve the problem.  So they started earlier, stayed longer, and worked harder.  They kept doing the same things over and over again and wondered why things didn’t get better.  They were beginning to realize the difference between activity and productivity.”  (Adapted from “Who Moved My Cheese?” By Spencer Johnson, M.D.).

Activity or productivity? Start earlier, stay longer and work harder.  Doing the same (unproductive) things over and over, but things don’t get better.  Sound familiar?  Jesus knew there was much work to be done, and that His “night” was coming.  But He never confused the important with the urgent.  As a result, with merely three years of ministry, He completed the work that the Father gave Him to do.

How are we doing?  We are called to follow in His steps.  Are we starting earlier, staying longer, and working harder, but getting nowhere?  Maybe it’s because we are doing things in our own strength and wisdom?  Striking out on our own?  Straying from the path?  Losing sight of our calling?

My Advice – How can we follow in His steps if we are not keeping our eyes on the path He followed?  Maybe it’s time to refocus

Contribution or Sacrifice?

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Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. ”  (Romans  12:1, NIV 1984).

My Musings – Not all contributions (time, talent, treasure) are a sacrifice, although many who contribute might like to think so.  On the other hand, most who make sacrifices, usually are not thinking about what they are giving up, but rather to whom or for what they are sacrificing.

In view of God’s mercy – Mercy is not getting the punishment that is deserved.  Considering what punishment is being avoided, is it worth a contribution to the Kingdom or a sacrifice for the Kingdom?

Living sacrifices – God, through His Son, made one sacrifice for all of our sins, past present and future.  Why should we not want to live out our days sacrificially living for Him?

Spiritual Act of Worship – It’s not that we are trying to pay Him back.  We could never come close.  It is a way of saying thanks, that goes beyond mere gratitude.  It is reverence and adoration.  But more than a state of mind.  It is a call to action.

My Advice –  A couple verses prior to the one cited above (that’s what the therefore is there for), Paul writes “who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?”  (Romans  11:35, NIV 1984).  We are not looking for rewards, although there will be some.  But God doesn’t want us to pay Him back either.  He wants us to pay it forward.  “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”  (Matthew 25:40, NIV 1984).

The Life I Live…

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“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24, NIV 1984).

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.  (Galatians 2:20, NIV 1984).

My Musings – A couple well-known verses, with interesting paralells:

  • Deny Yourself – “I no longer live.
  • Come After Me – “Christ lives in me.
  • Take Up Your Cross – “I have been crucified with Christ.
  • Follow Me – “I live by faith in the Son of God.

My Advice – Christ gave up so much (denied Himself) to pursue (come after) us.  This took Him to the cross (crucified), so that we might live (by faith).  The cross we are asked to bear pales in comparison to the one He bore.  Let’s deny ourselves, our path, and follow Him.  Though it might lead through the “valley of the shadow of death,” it ends up in “green pastures.

 

Where Many Have Gone Before

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Be on your guard against men; they will hand you over to the local councils and flog you in their synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. I tell you the truth, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes. A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the student to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebub, how much more the members of his household!”  (Matthew 10:17–25, NIV 1984).

My Musings – “The Road to Coronavirus Hell Was Paved by Evangelicals” is the title of an op-ed penned by Katherine Stewart and published by the New York Times on March 27, 2020.  In it she writes, “Donald Trump rose to power with the determined assistance of a movement that denies science, bashes government and prioritized loyalty over professional expertise. In the current crisis, we are all reaping what that movement has sown.”  Later she adds, “by all accounts, President Trump’s tendency to trust his gut over the experts on issues like vaccines and climate change does not come from any deep-seated religious conviction…But he is perfectly in tune with the religious nationalists who form the core of his base.”

This reminds me of another story — the burning of Rome in 64 AD. “Despite the well-known stories, there is no evidence that the Roman emperor, Nero, either started the fire or played the fiddle [had not been invented yet] while it burned. Still, he did use the disaster to further his political agenda. Nero did not like the aesthetics of the city and used the devastation of the fire in order to change much of it and institute new building codes throughout the city. Nero also used the fire to clamp down on the growing influence of Christians in Rome. He arrested, tortured and executed hundreds of Christians on the pretext that they had something to do with the fire.”  (https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/neros-rome-burns).  “The persecution of Christians because of the fire started about 250 years of Roman persecution of Christians, a practice finally ended in 313 AD when Emperor Constantine legalized the Christian religion with the Edict of Milan.” (https://www.historyandheadlines.com/july-18-64-ad-great-fire-rome-nero-blames-christians/).

These stories differ in that the Roman Emperor blamed the Christians for burning Rome, whereas one media story is blaming a certain segment of Evangelical Christians (referred to as “religious nationalists” and the “Christian nationalist movement”) for “fanning the flames” of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States.  We do not know what “spark” will ignite the widespread persecution of the Church that Jesus spoke of in His Olivet Discourse. Perhaps “inflammatory” rhetoric, such as that used in the above referenced article, and which casts dispersions on all evangelical Christians in particular, will eventually spread to “engulf” all true followers of Christ in general.  When I say “true followers” I do not mean this as either a commendation or a condemnation of the any of the people or groups that are criticized in the article.  I do not know enough about any of them to pass any kind of judgment.  What I take issue with is how wide the net is cast in her criticisms.

We do know for certain that a day is coming when a “pandemic” of Church persecution will ultimately rise from the “ashes” left over from the persecution of early Christendom.  It many respects, it already has begun.  It may only be a “brush fire” now (at least in the United States — much worse in other countries), but soon enough it will become a “blazing inferno.”

My Advice – “A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master.”  Will you be prepared to follow in His steps? The cost of following Him may be high.  It was high for Polycarp, and others like him.  “86 years have I have served him,” Polycarp declared, “and he has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King and my Savior? You threaten me with fire which burns for an hour, and is then extinguished, but you know nothing of the fire of the coming judgment and eternal punishment, reserved for the ungodly. Why are you waiting? Bring on whatever you want.”  (Polycarp of Smyrna, Christian martyr and a disciple of the Apostle John, circa 160 AD).

Be prepared to “boldly go where [many have] gone before!” Just make sure that it is “on [His] account” you are persecuted and not on account any political agenda of this world that is not firmly established by the Gospel of Truth.  For our Kingdom is not of this world.

Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied, ‘Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.‘”  (Acts 4:18–20, NIV 1984).

Sharpening The Saw

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Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.  (Mark 1:35, NIV 1984).

My Musings – The above verse is just one among many where Jesus withdrew to a solitary place to commune with the Father.  Why was this so important?  “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” (Abraham Lincoln).  So what’s so important about having a sharp saw?

Suppose you were to come upon someone in the woods working feverishly to saw down a tree.  “What are you doing?” you ask. “Can’t you see?” comes the impatient reply. “I’m sawing down this tree.”  “You look exhausted!” you exclaim. “How long have you been at it?”  “Over five hours,” he returns, “and I’m beat! This is hard work.”  “Well, why don’t you take a break for a few minutes and sharpen that saw?” you inquire. “I’m sure it would go a lot faster.”  “I’m too busy sawing!” (Dr. Stephen R. Covey, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.”).

Sometimes we get so busy going about the work we have to do, that we neglect the things that would make those things so much easier.  Jesus understood this about His ministry.  For example, one of the times He withdrew by Himself to pray was immediately before He chose the twelve disciples.

My Advice – Time spent in prayer and in the Word is crucial in as we journey through this life.  How about you?  Does your saw need sharpening?

Our Good Neighbor Sam

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Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends [neighbor].”  (John 15:13, NIV 1984).

[Wanting] to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”  (Luke 10:29–37, NIV 1984).

My Musings – Know anybody named Sam?  You may not think so, but you probably do.  In some respects, they are ordinary people, just like you and me.  In other respects, they are quite extraordinary.  Selflessly they go about their daily “routines,” just like you and me.  But unlike you and me, each and every day they may be called upon to lay down their lives so people like you and me can go on with our routines.  Each and every day, many do just that.  We see their faces on the news and in the newspapers after they have made that “no greater love” sacrifice.   We pause for a moment and grieve.  Then we return to our routine, all because they broke their “routine” for neighbors they never met before.

My Advice – And who is our neighbor?  Maybe we ought to cast the net a bit wider?

Be The Church

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They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.  (Acts 2:42–47, NIV 1987).

My Musings – While these are clearly challenging times as the world comes to grip with this global pandemic, (perhaps unprecedented to most of the world’s population living today), they pale in comparison (at least to date) to challenges that previous generations have endured.  Our grandparents sent an entire generation of young men off to fight fascism and aggression in Europe, North Africa and the South Pacific.  This came just a few short years after the great depression, where U. S. unemployment peaked at nearly 25% (probably much greater in other countries).  The Spanish Flu (probably not a politically correct name by today’s standards) infected an estimated 500 million people and claimed the lives of an estimated 50 million (some estimates go as high as 199 million) souls.  This was when the world population was around 1.8 billion.  During the 14th century, it is estimated that 30% to 60% of the world population of 450 million died from the Black Plague.

One might ask, how does the Church respond to the crisis facing the world we live in today?

I would propose that it should have very little to do with how we “dochurch and very much to do with how we “be” the Church.

In certain respects, the above text gives many a overly romanticized impression of the first century Church.  “Why can’t we be more like the first century Chuch?”  But we must remember, as persecution spread, the Church in Rome was driven underground into the catacombs beneath the city.  Then, of course, there was persecution in the middle ages where people like Wycliffe, Hus, Zwingli, More and Tyndale were put to death, not to mention the religious persecution the led to settlement in the “new world.”  Even today, in certain communist and Islamic countries, Christians constantly face persecution and death.

In light of all this, how we “do” church (worship style, time of service, length of sermon, systematic versus topical versus textual preaching, color of carpet, etc.) is fairly trivial compared to how those mentioned above were committed to being the Church.  As we reflect on the crisis facing the world today, our focus as well should be on how to be the Church in a world that needs the hope that only Christ offers.  Especially if we are just beginning (much worse to come) to experience the “birth pains” that Christ warned about in His Olivet Discourse and the tribulation to follow that the Apostle John recorded in Revelation.

My Advice – Be the Church.  What are some practical ways we can put into practice some of the following ways of being the Church to our neighborhoods and communities?

Love One Another – “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”  (John 13:34–35, NIV 1984).

Do Unto Others – “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”  (Matthew 7:12, NIV 1984).

Live At Peace With Everyone –   “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”  (Romans 12:18, NIV 1984).

Be A Servant – “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”   (Matthew 20:25–28, NIV 1984).

Do For The Least Of These – “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.  “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’”    (Matthew 25:35–40, NIV 1984).

Practice Pure and Faultless ReligionReligion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.  (James 1:27, NIV 1984).

Be A Witness – “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  (Acts 1:8, NIV 1984).

Be Prepared With Your Reason For Hope Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.  (1 Peter 3:15–16, NIV 1984).

What Remains? – “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”  (1 Corinthians 13:13, NIV 1984).

Here are some suggestions from my local church: (https://www.fbcsycamore.com/)

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