What of “Everyone Else”?

Ours is a culture of exclusion and achievement.

We as a society lavish praise on “top performers” … “the best”.  Corporate America is on an never-ending quest for people who can take them to “the next level”.

Sadly, the world’s toxic values have penetrated the church.  We enshrine the church’s biggest donors with plaques on the wall.  We lionize the church’s most active volunteers with Lifetime Achievement Awards.

 


 

What of the “also-rans”?  What of the people whom the world leaves behind?  The “losers” and second-place finishers?

 

What of the people whom Christ called “the least of these”?

 


 

Mind you, gratitude is important.  The Apostle Paul writes:

 

“Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work.  Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”  (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13, 18)

 

At the same time, we must take care not to allow the pursuit of status to become all-consuming.  Once more, Paul writes:

 

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2)

 

In this season of Lent, we are called to humble ourselves before God.  We would do well to heed the words of John the Baptist:

 

The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is from the earth belongs to the earth, and speaks as one from the earth. The one who comes from heaven is above all.” (John 3:31)

 

We must be ever mindful of He Who Comes From Above.

(Spoiler Alert:  It’s not you … or me.)


 

Humility is a quality in short supply in our status-obsessed modern world.  We judge our neighbor by what brand of smartphone they carry, the type of car they drive, and the labels on their clothing.

Humility is a quality we should strive to exhibit all year long (as opposed to being something we haul out for Lent and put away on Easter Sunday).

We must not allow the pursuit of status to overshadow the church’s primary mission of serving the poor and unfortunate in our society.

 

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For 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, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” (Matthew 25:31-46)

 

 

 

A Season of Joy

It is all too easy to tie Christmas up in a series of man-made “rules” (“Don’t sing ‘Joy to the World’ during Advent! That’s a Christmas song! Why are you decorating your Christmas tree during Advent?”)

Christmas is a season of JOY. This not the time for the killjoys among us to be raining on the parades of their fellow believers.

Telling someone not to sing “Joy to the World”, “Silent Night”, or “O Little Town of Bethlehem” during Advent is something akin to telling an expectant mother not to have a baby shower until AFTER her child is born!


 

(If “Joy to the World” is a Christmas song, where do “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer”, “Jingle Bells”, and “Deck the Halls” fall on the spectrum?)

 


Christmas is a time of celebration; it is a time to celebrate to coming birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ, into the world.  It is a time of joy.

Should we really be having these debates during this season of “Peace on Earth”?

God Is In The Messy

As a dog returns to its vomit, so fools repeat their folly. (Proverbs 26:11)

 

Where can I go from your Spirit? 

Where can I flee from your presence?

If I go up to the heavens, you are there;

if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.

If I rise on the wings of the dawn,

if I settle on the far side of the sea,

even there your hand will guide me,

your right hand will hold me fast. (Psalm 139:7-10)

 

God wants YOU.

He wants ALL of you.

He doesn’t just want the nice, clean, sweet-smelling you that you present to the church on Sunday morning … No.

He wants your pain, your mess, your agony.  He wants to be Lord over ALL your life (The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly).


God is as much Lord over your messes (and mine) as He is Lord over the neat, clean, and tidy.

He is with the child who’s undergoing chemotherapy for cancer.  He’s with the soldier who’s had an arm blown off in combat.

God wants to be Lord of your WHOLE life.

 

 

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours. (St. Teresa of Avila, 1515–1582)

 

DON’T Do It … Even If It DOES Feel Good.

 

“If it feels good, do it!”

This is the mentality … the ethos …that has driven America since the 1960’s (Wanna shoot heroin?  If it feels good, do it!  Extramarital sex?  If it feels good, do it!  Damn the consequences!)

Consider films such as Dirty Harry and the Death Wish series.  People in an earlier era might’ve just shrugged off gun violence and gone on with their lives.

Not Harry Callahan.

Not Paul Kersey.

The underlying message of these films is, “Don’t bother with the police … Don’t bother with the system.  If you want justice, you have to take the law into your own hands.

“If going out and wasting the quote-unquote ‘bad guys’ all by yourself is going to make you feel good … do it.”


That’s NOT how the real world works.


I’ve given a great deal of thought to our nation’s recent spate of mass shootings (the mass shooting in Las Vegas, the recent shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas).  I believe a great many of these incidents are rooted in this mentality of “If it feels good, do it!”

We have people killing people in large numbers for no other reason than they thought they would get a thrill out of it.  They thought it would be something to add to the proverbial “bucket list” (“See Europe?  Check.  Blow away a crowded room full of people?  Check.”)

We have people who cannot abide the idea of living ordinary lives.  They crave recognition.  They crave attention.  As far as they’re concerned, if mowing down innocent people with an AR-15 rifle is what it takes for them to hit the “big time”, so be it.

And hit the big time they do.  Our society rewards their destructive behavior by showering them with the attention they so desperately crave.  Their lives and backgrounds are probed and exposed for all the world to see by the media (all in an effort to find a “motive” … a reason … an “explanation” … for their evil, criminal behavior).


It’s ultimately a matter of attitude.  We’ve ceased seeing people as human beings.  We don’t see people as individuals who have families and loved ones.

We as a society are losing our capacity for empathy.  We spend so much time relating to people through screens that we’ve forgotten how to relate to the living, breathing, flesh-and-blood, human beings that are all around us.

We’ve become accustomed to seeing people as a means of achieving OUR ends (as opposed to being ends in and of themselves).

Real Life is not like the movies.

God Is Not a Lawyer

The Ten Commandments is a binding contract … and God does not allow loopholes.

There is no such thing as “kind of sinning”, “sort of sinning”, and “sinning a little”.  Sin is sin is sin is sin.  You’ve either sinned or you haven’t.  It’s just that simple.

You shall not see your countryman’s ox or his sheep straying away, and pay no attention to them; you shall certainly bring them back to your countryman. If your countryman is not near you, or if you do not know him, then you shall bring it home to your house, and it shall remain with you until your countryman looks for it; then you shall restore it to him. Thus you shall do with his donkey, and you shall do the same with his garment, and you shall do likewise with anything lost by your countryman, which he has lost and you have found. You are not allowed to neglect them.You shall not see your countryman’s donkey or his ox fallen down on the way, and pay no attention to them; you shall certainly help him to raise them up.”  (Deuteronomy 22:1-4)

 “Observe the sabbath day to keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant or your ox or your donkey or any of your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you, so that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you.  You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, and you shall not desire your neighbor’s house, his field or his male servant or his female servant, his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”  (Deuteronomy 5:12-14,21)

The Ancient Israelites weren’t all that different from you and I.  The reason God has had to denote His Commandments in exasperating detail is because — just like modern man — the ancient Israelites went looking for loopholes and escape clauses (no doubt some Israelite asked the question,  “Ok, I can’t work on the sabbath … but the fields need plowing.  Can’t I have my kids or my farm hand work on the sabbath?  What about my wife?  Can’t any of THEM do it?”)

Truly living without ANY limits whatsoever is like trying to drive a car that has no steering wheel and no brakes at 200 miles per hour (good luck trying to stop the thing).

The consequences of sin can be catastrophic (just ask Adam and Eve — one wrongfully eaten apple brought death upon mankind).  How many marriages have been ruined because one spouse had an affair?  How many lives have been lost because of suicide and/or drug addiction?

God is a loving Father who wants to protect his kids:  you and I.  He knows us better than we know ourselves.  Would we be not wise to trust him?

 

Whose Vision Are You Living?

“I have learned to be content regardless of my circumstances.  I know how to live humbly, and I know how to abound. I am accustomed to any and every situation—to being filled and being hungry, to having plenty and having need.  I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.”  (Philippians 4:11,12)

 

What is a life well-lived?

Whose vision are you living?  Whose dream are you living — yours or Corporate America’s?

Our society has no concept of “enough”.  It’s not enough to have a house; Corporate America would have you believe that you must have a twenty-room McMansion in order to be a complete and “successful” human being.

It’s not enough to have a car.  Corporate America would have you believe that in order to be “successful”, one must have a Mercedes, Ferrari, BMW, or some other car that costs as much as most people’s mortgages.

What do YOU want?  What appeals to YOU?

 

“Vanity of vanities,” says the Preacher,
           “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.”  (Ecclesiastes 1:2)

 

The “preacher” who wrote these verses in the Book of Ecclesiastes is none other than King Solomon.

Solomon had wealth beyond imagination.  He had hundreds of wives (it is said that he fathered children by every single one of them).  He had gold.  He had jewels.  He had mines.  He had the best of everything.

Whatever he wanted, he possessed

“Vanity” is translated in the original Hebrew as “vapor”.  In essence, what Solomon is saying is that life comes and goes like vapor, like the mist.

 

“Thus I hated all the fruit of my labor for which I had labored under the sun, for I must leave it to the man who will come after me. And who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool?  Yet he will have control over all the fruit of my labor for which I have labored by acting wisely under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 2:18,19)

 

This is the fate of all who strive after riches — You Can’t Take it With You.  Your kids will be fighting over your “stuff” long after you’ve passed away.

 


 

How much of what we think we want in life is the result of our being programmed by Corporate America?  Madison Avenue spends billions of dollars every year to convince us that we are an “aspirational” society.

What is it that we should “aspire” to … gold-plated toys?  Trinkets?  Is having the latest model iPhone really worth working 90+ hours a week?   Is the BMW that’s parked in your driveway worth the time you’ve spent away from your spouse and children?

 


 

“I considered all my activities which my hands had done and the labor which I had exerted, and behold all was vanity and striving after wind and there was no profit under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 2:11)

“Righteous men, wise men, and their deeds are in the hand of God.” (Ecclesiastes 9:1)

 

The mere accumulation of possessions is not enough to fill the emptiness in one’s soul (it didn’t work for King Solomon).  Expensive toys can never fill the God-shaped space in one’s heart.

We would do well to heed the wisdom of the Apostle Paul in Philippians Chapter 4:  a life well-lived is one that is lived modestly.  We should strive to be content in all circumstances.