The Call of a follower of Jesus does NOT include obsessing with everything around us that seems to counter the way we would like the world to go. If you are there, you’ve lost the joy and peace of your call from the God of the universe, as my poem below attempts to remind us: _______
If we fall For what we see We’ve lost the call That is ours to be
“Pick up your cross” Were His words to us. Not look around To gripe and fuss
A simple call “…and follow Me.” But hard it is When obsessed are we
So take your eyes Off all that’s wrong And turn your mind To what’s unseen
When life is lived As Jesus did What gripes you now Will soon be rid
Our minds will seek The Call of Life The Way of Truth Away from strife.
So focus our minds On what’s unseen Priorities will shift From now to then
What lasts will call Not fleeting things Eternal will rise Over temporal flings
Our neighbors’ needs Will waken our thoughts As their souls cry out We’ll connect the dots
So trust and obey This is our call No matter if It’s big or small
“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:18
When our minds are focused on the unseen, our priorities will shift to eternal over temporal; lasting over fleeting. And that which lasts forever, the souls of our fellow man, will be our priority, versus those things that merely satisfy (or anger) for a moment or two.
Matthew sat down behind his tax collector’s booth. It was just another day for him. He’d been doing this for enough years now that everyone knew he was a wealthy man. He had no external needs, or even wants. Yet he was empty inside.
This emptiness had most recently turned Matthew’s attention to the Torah. He wondered if the answers to his questions might be found there, or via some of the other Jewish prophets that were a part of his heritage.
As Matthew’s mind grappled with the teachings he had been exposed to in the synagogue, he harassed the man in front of him into paying his taxes. The grumbling Jew complained about the exorbitant “surcharge” that Matthew routinely tacked on for everyone that came before him. Of course folks hated him, but Matthew considered himself an astute businessman, and his wealth seemed to confirm his perspective.
Yet the more wealth Matthew accumulated, the greater his emptiness grew.
All of a sudden a voice interrupted Matthew’s thoughts. He had noticed a man standing a few feet away observing his tactics with the taxpayers shuffling before him. But when the man spoke, it startled Matthew:
“Matthew, follow me and be my disciple.”
As Matthew rose to comply, he instantly recognized the man as Jesus, the one everyone had been taking about, because of his teachings and the miracles performed by this man from Galilee…
It was now three years after that first encounter with Jesus. Matthew was grappling with his future, along with the ten other men he had come to love. Jesus, the One who had called Matthew to follow Him and become His disciple had just ascended to heaven, after suffering a humiliating death, and rising from the grave, just a few weeks earlier.
As the disciples struggled with the departure of the man who had said to each of them “follow me and be my disciple” they openly acknowledged that they had several options.
As I’ve evaluated their circumstances, losing their Rabbi, the Son of God, with whom they had spent three years, I believe the following options are likely ones they considered:
1. Return to the normalcy of their previous occupations.
2. Take the knowledge they had gained from Jesus and fight the evils of their government, seeking to establish a “righteous” earthly kingdom. After all, this is what most of their family and friends regularly complained about.
3. Follow the example of Jesus, and share the Truth of the Gospel, that would transform the hearts of their neighbors, while also securing eternal life for all how would embrace the Truth.
The first option would have been the easiest, and perhaps the most secure. They knew how to fish, or collect taxes, or whatever their previous profession had been, before Jesus. This would have been comfortable and required no sacrifice, courage, or “cross-bearing.” But it also would have had zero impact on your life and mine, or literally hundreds of millions of Christ-followers over the last 2,000 years.
The second option would have been fraught with risk, and threat to their own personal safety. They knew and could see the rampant corruption in society, from their government, the tax system, and the religious establishment. Rome was an evil empire. The Jewish rulers were corrupt and self-serving. And the disciples had previously inferred in their conversations with Jesus that they were waiting for the Messiah to overthrow the corrupt institutions of their day. Had they chosen this option though, it’s certain their lives would have been cut short, and their influence lost. Furthermore, the Gospels that tell us of Jesus would likely have never been written, and probably none of the rest of the New Testament.
The third option, while seemingly foolish and futile, by any earthly standard, was no doubt the hardest for the disciples to consider, from a human standpoint.
Their training and experience would have suggested option one. Their passion, longing for justice, and perhaps even power and notoriety would have steered them to option two. Yet they chose the least likely option. They chose to simply follow the example of Jesus.
Their three years with Jesus allowed them to see the heart of God, up close and personal. They saw that, while Jesus was surrounded with corrupt politicians, government officials, religious hypocrites, and injustice everywhere, the Son of God did not commit His fleeting time trying to right all the wrongs of society. Jesus was disengaged politically, but not because He didn’t care about government. (In fact, it was Jesus who ordained government, both as the institution He would use to raise some rulers and demote others, while offering some degree of human oversight of the affairs of men.)
But Jesus knew that there would never be any true external reformation unless there was first internal transformation. The heart would never be transformed via kingdoms, politicians, laws, or human initiatives. So Jesus committed His energies, passion, and work, to the heart, and His example illustrated His priority continuously.
Jesus did not fear the leaders of His day, as He routinely confronted them, rebuked them, and left them speechless. But it’s clear from Jesus’ example He did not attempt to overthrow them, or replace them with better men, or encourage others to rebel against them. His mission was so much greater than influencing or extinguishing a temporal earthly kingdom.
So Jesus placed the overwhelming focus of his three years of ministry in speaking eternal Truths to the hearts of His neighbors. He understood and taught that His neighbor was anyone in need, and so like the Good Samaritan, Jesus showed mercy and compassion to the throngs that He encountered daily. And those throngs included every kind of “despicable” person you can imagine. If I’m honest, people just like me.
With Jesus as their teacher and perfect example, is it any wonder that the disciples, whom we now call Apostles, followed directly in the footsteps of their Mentor? They could do no less. Of course, they likely continued to generate income to meet their needs. And they likely remained interested in their political circumstances, and other temporal matters. But those issues did not dominate their lives. In fact, there’s no record that they allocated even the smallest part of their time, treasure or talent to those earthly endeavors or distractions.
So of all the options the Apostles could have chosen, they chose the one that was eternally significant. The other options were temporal, at best. But they understood the words of Jesus when He taught them:
“What does it profit a man if he gains the world, but loses his soul?”
So they gained not only heaven, and resisted the temptation to choose the lesser options, but they also led many to God, by sharing the kingdom of God, versus the kingdoms of men. They pursued and imparted an eternal kingdom and forsook the lure of the temporal one.
If you are a follower of Jesus today, you can thank not only the sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross 2,000 years ago, but also the fact that eleven ordinary men, with no formal training and no external credentials, were willing to simply follow the example of Jesus. They forsook, or diminished, their professions, and the lure of power and prestige, and instead they chose the eternal over the temporal. Should we do any less?
“I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you.” John 13:15
“We must quickly carry out the tasks assigned us by the One who sent us. The night is coming, and then no one can work.” John 9:4
If you use a mechanic for brain surgery, the mechanic will fail, and you may die. If you use a hammer to repair a windshield, the hammer will fail and the windshield will shatter.
Likewise, as long as we continue to consult politicians for their answers to problems that flow from the heart, we will continue to fail, no matter if we have a donkey or elephant in office.
I wrote an article a few years ago entitled “There is no political solution to a spiritual problem.” This is exactly where we find ourselves today. And because we have sought to solve our spiritual problems via political solutions we continue to fail year in and year out. Trump did not solve them. And truthfully, Biden will not solve them either.
So is there any solution? Well first what are the problems that are destroying this nation?
Hatred, injustice, anger, abortion, addictions (of all kinds), idolatry, self-sufficiency, pride, rebellion, and more. All of these problems don’t exist because we don’t have enough laws. Rather, they are alive and well within all of our hearts, to some extent, because we have failed to follow two laws:
💡 “Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” Matthew 22:37-39
Jesus is our only Hope and He is the only One who can solve the problems of our hearts, which is where all the sin that plagues our nation today resides, regardless of political party.
So are you a Jesus follower? Have you looked to Washington to solve our problems? As we begin a new year, and even a new Administration, would you consider a new paradigm? Let’s try shifting our focus from DC to Jesus, from politicians to our neighbors. As we do, we will experience a miraculous healing, first in our hearts, and then the hearts of our neighbors, as God does what only He can do.
💡“Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save.” Psalms 146:3
💡“Don’t put your trust in mere humans. They are as frail as breath. What good are they?” Isaiah 2:22
💡“And I will give them singleness of heart and put a new spirit within them. I will take away their stony, stubborn heart and give them a tender, responsive heart, so they will obey my decrees and regulations. Then they will truly be my people, and I will be their God.” Ezekiel 11:19-20
💡“I said, ‘Plant the good seeds of righteousness, and you will harvest a crop of love. Plow up the hard ground of your hearts, for now is the time to seek the Lord, that he may come and shower righteousness upon you.’” Hosea 10:12
2021 is here. Another year in a string of years that, when bookended together, represent your life, and mine. Just two days ago a friend of mine passed away. Unexpectedly. The final bookend to his life was 2020. I was profoundly saddened for him and his family.
But if you’re reading this, you made it through 2020, and have once again begun what you’ve done for a number of decades now. Another year. If your life were a song, 2021 could be just another verse in that song.
But, should it be? Should your life be characterized year after year with sameness? Should the tune others have come to recognize when they encounter you or me, continue to be the one we play as each new year creeps closer to our final one?
Resolutions are something many of us make when a new year rolls around. I suppose the reason we make them is because we want the new year to be different than the prior one. We make them because we think back over the verse of last year’s song and we recognize things we don’t like, or we don’t see things we wish had been there. And so, we rise up, for a day or two, with a feeble attempt to change the song, not merely add another verse to the same old tune.
As I considered these thoughts, and the many years I have struggled with simply repeating the same old song, decade after decade, I went to the actual definition of resolution. Of course the conventional definition of the word in the context of a new year is generally “the act of determining; firmness or resolve.” But there was another use of the word resolution that, in the context of our theme of a song, seemed to be right on point.
Resolution in a musical context means, “the progression of a chord from dissonance to consonance.” With music, when you have dissonance you have “a mingling of sounds that strike the ear harshly; a clashing or unresolved music chord.” But dissonance also means, “inconsistency between the beliefs one holds or between one’s actions and beliefs.”
The second word in the definition of a musical resolution though is “consonance” which simply means “harmony or agreement among components.” In music, “notes that sound good together when played at the same time are called consonant; one can listen to them for a long time without a feeling that the music needs to change.”
So a musical resolution is transitioning from sounds that are harsh and clash and suggest a need for change, to notes that are pleasant, stable and do not require change.”
What an interesting analogy of what so many of us do each new year. We look back at our lives in the previous year(s) and we see a life of dissonance. We recognize that many of the things we profess to believe, or we know to be true, are not evident in our lives. We see inconsistency in our example. And that inconsistency often strikes others harshly, even those we love.
So we “resolve” to move away from personal dissonance towards consonance. We thus seek a life in the new year where our lives are in harmony with those deep values and beliefs we say we hold to. Whether it’s something as simple as eating what we know to be healthy, to reconciling our outward actions with what we know to be true inwardly, we all seek to harmonize our lives.
But if your past decades will predict your future course, then it’s safe to say that whatever you resolve today, will soon be another dissonant conclusion. Even though the definition of “resolution” includes the word “firmness,” it’s likely that your life and mine will lack resolve in 2021.
So why is this? Fundamentally, because we are frail. I know I am. Over and over and over I say I will do “x” and then I don’t. At least not permanently.
The Apostle Paul, perhaps one of the most resolute Christians ever, had this to say about this struggle:
“And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway.” Romans 7:18-19
In a sense, Paul was acknowledging the dissonance that existed in his own life. He too struggled with doing (actions) versing knowing, or his beliefs. But…
Yes, thankfully there is the word “but” to offer us Hope. Note what Paul said just a few verses later:
“I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin.” Romans 7:21-25
I too struggle with the very things Paul was talking about. It can be something as simple as eating healthy. Or it can be something as serious as aligning my daily walk for Jesus, with what God’s Word says it should be.
But the greatest secret I have ever found to instilling “firmness and resolve” into my resolutions has been what Paul disclosed above. If I want to be “free” from the song of prior years, if I want to move from dissonance to consonance, and if I want my life to reflect a new song, “the answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.”
It’s oh so simple, and oh so hard. My life’s ruts, the harsh, dissonant chords I’ve gotten used to playing, are such a part of my life that it’s impossible for me to permanently change them. But there is Jesus. And He can literally transform your life and mine from one that is harsh, unresolved, and clashing, to one that is pleasant, appealing, and others desire to listen to. And it’s not you or me. But Him. If I ever forget this, my life will once again be dissonant.
So as you consider your resolutions for 2021, why not begin with the one that is the foundation for every other one. Resolve to pursue a new song. Let Jesus be the conductor of your life. Let Him write the music. And let Him take total control of your life.
You might ask, “how do I do that?” 1 John 2:6 tells us how:
“Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did.”
“Live your life as Jesus did.” That’s the secret. And finding out how to do that requires, or I should say, it “demands” that I find out just how Jesus lived by daily investing time in God’s Word, since we are told that Jesus is the very “Word of God.” So to know Jesus means to know the Bible. That is the foundation.
If you will resolve to reading the Bible in 2021, then your life this year will take on a new song. The dissonance will become consonance. And regardless of what goes on in the world this year, it will be the absolute best year of your life, as 2020 was mine.
Below are some thoughts on how you can make the Bible the foundation of your life, which will in turn strengthen you in every other resolution you might make:
🔹Practical Reading Suggestions
Download the YouVersion Bible App on your phone. (With the Brown Holy Bible icon).
Go to “Plans” and click on “Find Plans”
Go to “Through the Bible”
Click on “Whole”
Find “Read Through the Bible” Plan (It’s a one year plan)
Click “Start Plan”
My favorite version is the New Living Translation (NLT). Not only is it in modern vocabulary, but it has a great Audio option.
I both read (with eyes) and listen (with my ears) via the Bible App. Even when I’m reading with my eyes, I have the audio playing, so I can see and hear simultaneously. It helps me to better understand and retain what I’m reading.
Regarding the “Audio” option, it’s pretty much all I listen to anymore when I’m driving, walking/exercising, etc. It connects well with any Bluetooth device. Also, the NLT audio is by far the most pleasant to listen to, in my opinion. It also includes dramatization where various voices are used to “act out” the stories in the Gospels and Acts.
I recommend you Register with “You Version” so you can track your Bible reading, interact with friends and so much more. If you do, please send me a friend request so we can encourage each other via the app.
If you start on this journey, and have any questions whatsoever, please reach out to me. There’s nothing more important to me than encouraging others to read the Bible. So if I can help in any way, including questions or problems with the Bible app, please let me know.
So I pray that these meager thoughts will in some way, encourage, inspire, or motivate you to pick up God’s Word and begin afresh in 2021. Let this particular resolution be the one that enables you to succeed beyond anything your heart can imagine.
Begin a new song… by reading God’s Word, everyday, for the rest of your life!
“When I discovered your words, I devoured them. They are my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, O LORD God of Heaven’s Armies.” Jeremiah 15:16
As we wrap up 2020, it’s clear that half of America is exhilarated over this year’s electoral results. The other half is anything but. One side is cheering. The other side is jeering. One side will watch with eager anticipation for what Washington will now do. The other side is eager to do all it can to block and disrupt. Four years ago, these same groups were in reverse roles.
So has anything changed? Seriously? I mean, if you look over the long haul, what is improving? More importantly, will anything you do individually have a scintilla of direct impact on what goes on in Washington? Does it feel like we are stuck in the proverbial one step forward and two steps back? Or perhaps it’s just another edition of the movie Ground Hog Day.
I think there’s a reason for this reality and it’s because of a misplaced focus.
The city where you and I can make the absolute least difference is Washington. However, the place we can make the most difference is our community. Yet, we are lured into placing all of our focus in the place we can have the least impact. Meanwhile, the place you can have the most impact gets your least attention.
For over a decade, when I was active in and obsessed with politics, this was my continuous challenge to those I led:
Don’t put all your energies into something that will, in the long run, give you zero return. Rather, put your energies and focus into that which you can actually influence and make a difference. In politics, for the vast majority, that would be your city, county or even state.
I seldom had anyone disagree with this concept. But here’s the problem. It’s easy to understand but hard to do. Why? Because Washington seems glamorous, and we reason that it’s for all the marbles. We see little glitz with city or county politics. Honestly though, your local elected officials likely impact your day to day life more than your congressman, senator, or POTUS will ever do.
So am I once again a political junkie? No. But if the above makes sense, then maybe I have your attention for an even greater truth.
A Greater Truth
If you’re a follower of Jesus, our enemy is someone who comes to steal, kill and destroy. He’s a master deceiver. He knows just how to distract us from those we can impact, and instead he lures us to focus on that which we cannot impact, at least not much, and certainly not for the long term, or eternity.
So who are those you and I can impact? For starters, those closest to us: our family, friends and neighbors. The little old lady down the street. The fatherless, widows, refugees, and such. Or that homeless person who is struggling to find food or stay warm in freezing temps.
That’s the story of the Good Samaritan. He was alert and aware of the needs directly in front of him. And when he saw them, he refused to walk on by, unlike the priest and Levite (the religious community) who ignored the hurting man in the ditch.
If you want your life to make a difference in 2021, and into eternity, then it might require you to shift your focus; reprioritize your energies; and elevate permanence over fleeting.
The famous Jim Elliot, who gave his life in the jungles of Ecuador pursuing the eternal, left us with the following quote that is known around the world:
”He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”
I’ve always wanted my life to count for something. I assume you do to. But for years, my “counting for something” was measured by stuff, prestige, short term victories, business success, political campaigns, and other such objectives. Honestly some of them were really good things. But they were all temporal.
But as I’ve grown older, and spent more time contemplating what really matters, the truth of Elliot’s quote above grips me. And God has used a myriad of realities in my life to capture my attention. The following verses seem to encapsulate what Elliot was saying:
“For no one can lay any foundation other than the one we already have—Jesus Christ. Anyone who builds on that foundation may use a variety of materials—gold, silver, jewels, wood, hay, or straw. But on the judgment day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. The fire will show if a person’s work has any value. If the work survives, that builder will receive a reward. But if the work is burned up, the builder will suffer great loss. The builder will be saved, but like someone barely escaping through a wall of flames.” 1 Corinthians 3:11-15
So, if you feel like your stuck on that old hamster wheel, where you’re going all out, deep into whatever you’re doing, but you just never feel like it’s making a difference, maybe it’s time to reevaluate.
The new year is here and it’s a great time to be introspective. Be honest with yourself. If 2021 is your final year on this globe, how do you want to spend it? Do you want to commit your final energies, passion, and focus on “wood, hay, and straw” or “gold, silver and jewels?”
Only you can answer that question. And only God, not me, can direct you to the right answer and what it is that is “wood, hay and straw” in your life. Your “gold, silver and jewels” may not be similar to mine at all.
But if you’re a Christ follower, whatever your mission is, it will be eternal. Anything less will never satisfy. Or last.
So if you’re on the hamster wheel, I hope you’ll step off. The enemy will do his best to lure you back on, but Go Deep into God’s Word to find the antidote to the enemy’s lies and deception.
So when you breathe your final breath, are you ready for a real “happily ever after” experience ? It can be when your life is invested in the eternal.
”What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” Matthew 16:26
This last weekend I was volunteering at a church being used as a #COVID testing site, in a predominantly African American neighborhood in Chattanooga. I’m grateful to my friend Bill Ulmer, the Community Foundation of Greater Chattanooga, and the many healthcare workers and non-medical volunteers who have given of their time, resources, and hearts, to administer thousands of tests to needy people over the last couple months.
As I was standing at the street directing traffic into the church parking lot for the drive-thru testing, I felt a lump under my shoe. I looked down to see what it was and to my dismay, I saw the spent shell of a 9mm bullet.
My mind went to the various homes I’ve lived in throughout my adult life, and the churches I’ve attended. Never have I ever considered that I would find a bullet shell lying outside my home, church, or place of business. It’s a reality that most of us do not have to deal with. But while that may be true for many Americans, bullets are all too much a reality for many of our citizens, who live in Chattanooga and cities across our nation.
Because we don’t see or experience something though doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. It simply means it’s not a part of our bubble. But if we are going to be people who care about the needs of others, and the fears they deal with, we must be willing to burst our bubbles, and step outside our insulated world, to better understand the ugly realities that too many others live with every day.
So what if you stepped outside your home, or church, or business, and it wasn’t that uncommon for you to find bullets littering your street? What if your neighbor’s windows, or your own, were shattered by a drive-by shooting? What if violence was something that regularly visited your neighborhood? Would your life be different? Would you wish that others cared? Would your outlook on life change?
I believe that’s part of the message of Jesus when He said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” And it’s also what the Apostle Paul meant when he said, “Don’t be concerned for your own good but for the good of others.” (I Corinthians 10:24)
In Chattanooga there are no shortage of churches. We often proudly declare we are the “buckle of the Bible belt.” In fact, approximately 220,000 individuals claim to be followers of Jesus in our county. A “follower” suggests one holds to and seeks to live by the teachings of Jesus. If this is true, then is it too far fetched to believe that the problems of violence, poverty, depression, broken families, inner city dysfunction, and many of the other societal struggles could be better addressed by those who claim to, above all else, 1) Love God, and 2) Love others?
Let me be clear. The ultimate goal of a follower of Jesus is to honor and glorify God. One of the ways we do so is by sharing the Good News, we call the Gospel. That good news is both eternal and immediate. If it’s real in our lives, it will have a transforming affect on how we live, how we treat others, and the Hope we share with them. While we may be able to address many of these temporal needs referenced above, ultimately the greatest need we all have is a spiritual one. But oftentimes the best way to share a spiritual message with others is to first demonstrate that message through tangible physical means. Hence, the Church should be one that ACTS: Advancing Christ Through Service.
So if bullets litter our streets, they are simply symptoms of a deeper, spiritual need by the one who fired that bullet. May we as believers not close our eyes and ears to the needs that are so abundantly obvious. May we not be like the priest and levite, in the parable of the Good Samaritan, who walked by the man lying in the ditch, even though they looked directly at him. Rather, let’s be like the Good Samaritan, who saw the need, and stopped to help. This is the true message of Jesus. Let’s love others and by doing so, we are demonstrating our love for God.