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.
Pandemics are nothing new. They’ve been around throughout the history of this globe. How we respond though has differed, as we’re seeing in 2020.
From the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, we have seen fear as an overriding emotion, along with anger, distrust and division. And unlike other national crises of the past, America has not united as one family.
Nineteen years ago, when terrorists attacked our nation, we saw both politicians and citizens come together as one. We recognized that when the planes hit their targets, thousands died, regardless of their politics, ethnicities, gender, or faith. Granted, it wasn’t long before that unity began to crumble, but it did occur initially.
Today though, there is no national unity on anything. None. If Trump says yes, the media says no. If scientists say no, Trump says yes. If stats indicate X, vast armies of opinions state Y or Z, with their own set of stats. And the lines of division grow deeper and deeper.
While this division has been growing for some time, historically we’ve seen that times of crises resulted in a warring family putting down its weapons, since the members understood that blood was thicker than water.
Not so today. Rather than laying down its arms, this American family is picking up more arms to wage war even more aggressively. Before I hear the response “Yeah but they…” let‘s remember that “it takes two to tango” and all sides of the growing conflicts in this nation are trigger happy.
➖There’s a kind of blood lust for those on the other side of every argument. Sadly though, this blood lust even flows from professing followers of Jesus. Imagine that!
So you may ask, what does Jesus, Peter, Paul and masks, have to do with the national “civil war” we are witnessing? Everything, at least it should for those who claim to look to these three men for authority and direction in their lives.
Every decision these days further divides. Masks has been one of them. There are those who listen to certain authorities who admonish the value of masks for both their own protection and that of their neighbors. Then there are others who refuse to touch a mask, since it’s a restriction on their “freedoms.” They quickly cite this nation’s founding documents, or some other argument. Some may not disagree with the idea of a mask, but they resent being forced to wear one.
As I was thinking about this, I wondered what Jesus, Peter and Paul would do today if they were present for this controversy? Would they gravitate toward one side of this argument, or another? Would they rally and chant? Would they take to social media to shout down those who differed from their position? I think not, in answer to all these questions.
At the heart of the attitudes of many believers today is an unwillingness to submit to authority. This flows from a belief that freedom trumps all.
This demeanor reminds me of a chaotic time during the early years of Israel, as chronicled in the book of Judges. There we read that “every man did what was right in his own eyes.” If you want a recipe for chaos, division, and ultimately anarchy, embrace that philosophy. It’s this spirit that rules today in America, including in the hearts of many believers.
But Jesus and the Apostles were always respectful to authority. During the three years of Jesus’ ministry, as He instructed His disciples, we saw numerous instances when Jesus modeled submission to and respect for earthly authority.
Recall the instance when Jesus instructed that we should “render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and to God that which is God’s.” There are several truths wrapped up in this short command, but one is that we should respect and submit to earthly authority.
In another instance, Jesus also taught his disciples to pay the temple tax. Likewise there are many truths to learn from this short passage in Matthew 17:24-27, but one key point is found in verses 26b-27:
“…Jesus said, “the citizens are free! However, we don’t want to offend them, so go down to the lake and throw in a line. Open the mouth of the first fish you catch, and you will find a large silver coin. Take it and pay the tax for both of us.”
Clearly Jesus was teaching that, despite their freedom to chose whether to pay the tax or not, they should pay it, so as to not offend the temple tax collectors.
Perhaps though, the greatest illustration of submission from Jesus to earthly authority was when He stood before Pilate, the Roman governor in Jerusalem. He did not rebel, challenge or resist. Rather Jesus submitted to an evil earthly ruler, even unto death.
The disciples were slow students at first, as they clung to their old way of life, fought amongst each other, and regularly failed in the lessons Jesus was teaching and modeling for them. But their three years of intense study under Jesus profoundly transformed them, to the core, particularly after Jesus ascended back to heaven, and they were filled with the Holy Spirit.
The men they used to be, the attitudes they displayed, and the things they once valued were all changed, like a caterpillar into a butterfly. The metamorphosis was like nothing the world had ever witnessed. A dozen ordinary men changed the world, because they where wholly transformed in their hearts, and obedient to Jesus.
So let’s quickly look at the attitudes and teachings of just two of these Apostles, Peter and Paul.
➖Regarding submitting to authorities they said this:
➖“Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God. So anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and they will be punished… give respect and honor to those who are in authority.” Romans 13:1-2, 7b
➖“For the Lord’s sake, submit to all human authority—whether the king as head of state, or the officials he has appointed. For the king has sent them to punish those who do wrong and to honor those who do right… Respect everyone, and love the family of believers. Fear God, and respect the king.” 1 Peter 2:13-14, 17
➖“Remind the believers to submit to the government and its officers. They should be obedient, always ready to do what is good. They must not slander anyone and must avoid quarreling. Instead, they should be gentle and show true humility to everyone.” Titus 3:1-2
➖Peter and Paul also had this to say about not offending others and respecting their needs:
➖“Accept other believers who are weak in faith, and don’t argue with them about what they think is right or wrong.” Romans 14:1
➖“So let’s stop condemning each other. Decide instead to live in such a way that you will not cause another believer to stumble and fall.” Romans 14:13
➖“We who are strong must be considerate of those who are sensitive about things like this. We must not just please ourselves. We should help others do what is right and build them up in the Lord.” Romans 15:1-2
➖“But you must be careful so that your freedom does not cause others with a weaker conscience to stumble…. So if what I eat causes another believer to sin, I will never eat meat again as long as I live—for I don’t want to cause another believer to stumble.” 1 Corinthians 8:9,13
➖“Don’t be concerned for your own good but for the good of others.” 1 Corinthians 10:24
➖“For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you are always biting and devouring one another, watch out! Beware of destroying one another.” Galatians 5:13-15
➖“…for you are still controlled by your sinful nature. You are jealous of one another and quarrel with each other. Doesn’t that prove you are controlled by your sinful nature? Aren’t you living like people of the world?” 1 Corinthians 3:3
While there are many other verses we could point to, in summary, these are the key takeaways, that affirm that Jesus, Peter and Paul would unquestionably wear a mask because:
1. They taught and modeled submission to governmental authority.
2. They desired to be good neighbors, as they followed the teaching “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
3. They were willing to give up their own freedom and rights, if asserting them would offend another brother, or cause them to stumble.
4. They prioritized humility, gentleness, and service to others, above their own needs and desires.
So today, where are you on the mask issue? If you’re willingly wearing one, good for you. Do so in humility, not in pride. Pray for your fellow brother and sisters who are struggling with this issue.
But if you’re not not wearing a mask, or if you’re doing so begrudgingly, seek God and His Word. Ask Him to speak to you and to give you the strength to follow His example and that of His disciples. And then remember this final admonition from the Apostle John:
“Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did.” 1 John 2:6
The year was sixty, The lines were drawn T’was 1860 And hate lived on
The forces were firm Convinced with pride That truth and right Was on their side
The war did come And bodies torn Six hundred twenty Thousand mourned
But many more Did bear the wrong From wounds so deep And hurts still strong
One hundred and sixty Years came and went And laws were embraced With such great intent
But wounds from years Too many to count Still surface again As generations mount.
And so 2020 Moved in as a cloud God’s plan was unclear For a nation so proud
Unyielding and firm We placed ourselves first We each sought our gods And ignored such a curse
Whether wealth or power Or glitz or fame Or whatever else Our desires did claim
Our pride we wore So good and bold The red white and blue Was ours to hold
But God would not dare Bow down to our flags Or yield His glory To all of our rags
And so our pride Was on full display When COVID hit And God halted play
Wall Street did stumble And Main Street shut down Our leaders confused In town after town
God had pressed pause To get our attention But soon the division Became more dissension
Our views so sure Were all that mattered The pride displayed Left friendships shattered
But then that virus From Eden born Of pride thru racism Did rise with scorn
The cry “I Can’t Breathe” Was heard by all Those final words A rallying call
But rather than bow And confess our sin We rallied and chanted Our views once again
The anger was seen In cities and streets And felt so deep In hearts and tweets
So today we repeat What’s happened before When lines were drawn And all kept score
But should we resign To another cruel end Where sisters and brothers And neighbors won’t bend?
Should we just assume That all is now lost And what we do see Will be gone with great cost?
There still yet is Hope But it will not reign When we will not see Injustice and pain
No, this Hope demands We turn from our pride And humbly accept What we have denied.
Our God above all Is able to heal But not on our terms Let’s submit and kneel
When Pride is torn down And God is restored Then black and white Will walk in accord
So will we defeat This virus of old That continues the hate And maintains status quo?
The time is now The choice is ours Will we turn to God Or let pride devour?
Our path to heal These wounds so deep Begins each new day As I awake from my sleep
I am the one I must seek to control My desires submit To a much greater goal
And like Son of Man Who left heaven above And humbled himself To show us true love
May each of us look To love and to labor For God our Creator And the one we call neighbor.
Love God and love others These simple commands Are what Jesus modeled And our God demands.
💡“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
Politics. It is deeply divisive, even amongst family and friends, including God’s family. Even these fallible thoughts on my part could be divisive, although they are not shared in order to do such.
So why do I share them? I suppose it may be the same reason you share yours. Because we both think that our thoughts have merit. And they do, both yours and mine. But ultimately, I want thoughts to not merely be human-inspired, but God-aligned, both yours and mine.
So recently, as I was reading The Book, Jesus’ words jumped off the page of Scripture when He said this:
“Jesus answered, “My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world.”” John 18:36
Before we analyze the thoughts above, let’s set the context. Jesus, the very Creator of all there is, including what we see and don’t see (earthly kingdoms and rulers as well), was standing before an earthly ruler, Pontius Pilate. This governor was no spotless man. He was ruthless, corrupt and evil. A few weeks earlier, Jesus had commented about Pilate killing some Jews worshipping in the Temple (Luke 13:1), but notice that Jesus did not render an opinion about what was likely a ruthless act by a guilty ruler. (But that’s a whole separate discussion.)
So here Jesus is, standing before a miserable man. Think for a minute of the most immoral American President in your mind. Pilate was worse.
Now consider that the God of the universe is being judged by this man, and God does not delve into a litany of accusations or pronouncements about Pilate’s sins and evil actions. Rather, Jesus (God in the flesh) simply bears witness to the Truth, to a power that is greater than any earthly one. Jesus simply points Pilate to that which is this man’s only Hope and Salvation: Truth itself, as Jesus asserted of Himself previously (“I am the way, the truth and the life. No man comes to the Father except through me.”)
Now, back to the statement Jesus made to Pilate, when the Roman governor asked Jesus why he was being put on trial.
Jesus simply answered with these facts:
My Kingdom is not an earthly one
If it were, my followers would fight an earthly battle on earthly terms
Again, My Kingdom is not of this world
So Jesus had the ultimate opportunity, to simply educate Pilate and all the hypocritical religious leaders observing this kangaroo court, about His rights, His authority, and His greater power. But Jesus had an even greater audience than those in attendance that day at His death sentencing. The entire Christian world for the next 2,000 years would read and witness how Jesus responded to an unjust ruler and religious establishment. And what did Jesus do?
Jesus humbled Himself to the temporal earthly powers, that could never transform the heart. And instead, Jesus pointed billions of men and women since that day, including you and me, to a greater calling: to The (eternal) Kingdom versus a (temporal) kingdom. The former offers heart transformation. The latter offers little to nothing, except possibly political frustration, feuding, dissension, and heartache.
But this is not the end of the story. The first followers (the disciples who became apostles and the Founding Fathers of our Faith) learned well the lesson Jesus taught in that brief exchange with Pilate. They finally understood that there was no need to fret over their earthly rulers, or to dedicate their hopes and dreams to establishing a government to their personal liking. Rather, they committed their “lives, fortunes and sacred honor” to the only Constitution that truly mattered, the living Word of God. And for the rest of their days on this little temporal globe, they resisted the temptation to go back to their former lives where they grumbled about the political realities of their day. In place of that, they pursued the spiritual Truths that Jesus had taught them, and lived before them, for three years.
And the rest is history. We don’t have a record of a great government that was established by these men. Nor do we have an example of kingdom victories and great political movements. But we do have a record of a world transformed through a simple message, and strategy:
Share the gospel, one life at a time. And as the heart is transformed, souls are saved for eternity, marriages are healed, families are reunited, communities reinvigorated, and at times, entire nations are awakened (if God wills).
But it starts with “The Kingdom” instead of a kingdom. And it results in permanent transformation, in place of short-term “wins” that are quickly lost with the next political skirmish.
So, if you ask me, perhaps this is the lesson Jesus was teaching as His life hung in the balance. He could have “won” the political battle that day, but an entire world would have lost. So He challenged us to:
“Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” Matthew 6:33