“Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did.” 1 John 2:6
As Americans weigh in on the latest race relations battle, I can only imagine how satisfied Satan is, knowing that he has once again fanned the flames of division, racism and hatred in our nation. It seems that these skirmishes continue to flare up, no matter how many years we move away from the scourge of slavery that marked our nation’s past.
So as iron and stone artifacts are receiving increased focus by newspapers, cable news, and social media, what seems to be lacking, at least for those who claim to be followers of Jesus, is WWJD — as in What Would Jesus Do?
There was a time when this slogan was routinely seen on bumper stickers, wrist bands, and t-shirts. And many continue to pose the question, WWJD, to test their actions and words. But the problem with using WWJD is that too often a person’s subjective evaluation can yield multiple answers, if Scriptures are not abundantly clear.
So I’ve been searching the Bible for answers to how Christ’s followers should respond to the calls for removing statues, flags and monuments. Rather than pragmatic or even patriotic approaches, I’m more interested in what Jesus would actually do were He here physically today. But as I considered the likelihood of a subjective response to this latest American problem, I became more intrigued with WDJS — as in What Did Jesus Say?
If you grew up never knowing your father, but he left you a book with explicit instructions on what he valued and believed, such a document would be of great value as you encountered life’s struggles.
You and I never had the privilege that the original twelve disciples had, to not only hear the words of Jesus but to also see Him live those words out day after day. So when Jesus told them, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” and the disciples then witnessed Jesus loving and forgiving those who tortured and crucified Him, they could see that what Jesus said directly impacted what He did.
So whether it’s Jesus or you and me, our actions are driven by our thoughts and our thoughts spill out in our words.
If you and I profess to be followers of Jesus, and we routinely ask WWJD, then what Jesus said, and He directed others to say for Him throughout the Bible, should be of supreme importance to us as we deliberate over how to respond to statues and racism, and those who are drawing lines in the sand.
So let’s look at what the Bible has to say about how a follower of Jesus should respond to this latest racial skirmish.
Dealing with Anger & Conflict
“God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God.” Matthew 5:9
“But if you are always biting and devouring one another, watch out! Beware of destroying one another.” Galatians 5:15
“Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” Ephesians 4:31-32
“Again I say, don’t get involved in foolish, ignorant arguments that only start fights. A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone, be able to teach, and be patient with difficult people.” 2 Timothy 2:23-24
“If we love our brothers and sisters who are believers, it proves that we have passed from death to life. But a person who has no love is still dead. Anyone who hates another brother or sister is really a murderer at heart. And you know that murderers don’t have eternal life within them.” 1 John 3:14-15
Looking to the Good of Others
“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Matthew 5:44
“Don’t be concerned for your own good but for the good of others.” 1 Corinthians 10:24
“Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone—especially to those in the family of faith.” Galatians 6:10
“See that no one pays back evil for evil, but always try to do good to each other and to all people.” 1 Thessalonians 5:15
“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
Showing Grace, Forgiveness, Love & Unity
“If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.” Matthew 6:14-15
“Any kingdom divided by civil war is doomed. A town or family splintered by feuding will fall apart.” Matthew 12:25
“You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: Love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 22:37-39
“Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.” Ephesians 4:2-3
“Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.” Colossians 3:13
“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
“May God, who gives this patience and encouragement, help you live in complete harmony with each other, as is fitting for followers of Christ Jesus. Then all of you can join together with one voice, giving praise and glory to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, accept each other just as Christ has accepted you so that God will be given glory.” Romans 15: 5-7
The Lawsuit Analogy
“When one of you has a dispute with another believer, how dare you file a lawsuit and ask a secular court to decide the matter instead of taking it to other believers! Don’t you realize that someday we believers will judge the world? And since you are going to judge the world, can’t you decide even these little things among yourselves? Don’t you realize that we will judge angels? So you should surely be able to resolve ordinary disputes in this life. If you have legal disputes about such matters, why go to outside judges who are not respected by the church? I am saying this to shame you. Isn’t there anyone in all the church who is wise enough to decide these issues? But instead, one believer sues another—right in front of unbelievers! Even to have such lawsuits with one another is a defeat for you. Why not just accept the injustice and leave it at that? Why not let yourselves be cheated? Instead, you yourselves are the ones who do wrong and cheat even your fellow believers.” 1 Corinthians 6:1-8
This last weekend our nation was reminded of the priority of life, unity and cooperation as Hurricane Harvey bore down on Texas, wreaking death and unimaginable destruction for millions of our fellow Americans. Interestingly, my blog post last week entitled “Racial Strife: Finding the Antidote to the Enemy Within” dealt directly with such catastrophic events that can bring our nation together and what the two step solution is for this division we are facing.
While most of us have not been directly impacted by Hurricane Harvey, our hearts, minds and prayers are with those who are struggling to survive. So as I was communicating with some friends in Texas and viewing the scenes of catastrophic destruction, the following thought suddenly struck me: Statues No Longer Matter
When an event like a hurricane, a terrorist attack or something similar occurs, our attention is immediately brought to bear on what is ultimately important. Likewise, if we are a follower of Christ, we should understand on an even greater scale that we have opportunities to make an eternal difference in the lives around us when we chose to live as Jesus did.
As you and I consider the controversies playing out over statues and monuments, may we remember the words of Jesus and the scriptures, focus our attention on eternity, and then adjust our behavior to align with God’s principles.
If you think others might benefit from this post, please consider forwarding it to them, including your pastor. And feel free to share your thoughts with me.
It was early 1943. The war in Europe and Asia waged on. The nations of the world were embroiled in an epic battle of good versus evil. Tens of millions of lives were being lost and hundreds of millions more were grieving those losses. Hell had unleashed its fury in a manner that had never previously been experienced. The utter depravity of man was center stage and no human soul remained untouched.
As the victory by allied forces at Guadalcanal against Japan had just been realized, half way around the world, General Dwight D. Eisenhower was selected to command the Allied armies in Europe.
At the same time in March 1943, thousands of miles from both Guadalcanal and Germany, a German immigrant was marking his 50th birthday in Chicago. As a teen, Oscar Werner, son of German parents, had immigrated to America from Ukraine. In the years since he immigrated, my grandfather had established himself as a professional musician, a concert flutist and a member of several area orchestras. He was also a successful entrepreneur, owning a music store in Chicago.
On this day though, as Oscar was reaching a half-century, he recognized the utter turmoil the world was enduring. But rather than despair, he looked upward for help and within the pages of a Book that had become his regular companion.
In keeping with his custom, Oscar boarded the Chicago El, the elevated train that he rode to work each morning. His routine was to move to his favorite seat, pull out his worn and tattered Bible, and continue reading through his favorite book. This day was different though. Halfway to 100, Oscar began to consider what the next 25 years of his life might hold. He had accomplished a lot since he first set foot on Ellis Island. But he knew that there would be more challenges in the years to follow. More battles to wage. And he would need God’s wisdom and counsel to prevail.
He opened his Bible, and began to read from the very first words of the book he so loved.
“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, ‘Let there be light’ and there was light…”
As he read that last word, the jolt of the El train startled him. He looked up as the train rounded the bend. The brilliant rays of the rising sun flashed in his eyes.
Spirit of God…
Oscar stopped. He had read that verse so many times before. But all of a sudden those words brought another verse to his memory:
“Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.”
Oh, how he desired the wisdom of the ages to light his path and give him the understanding he would need to navigate the next 25 years. And then, the idea that would come to dominate the remainder of Oscar’s life surfaced within his mind, as if the Spirit of God planted it there.
He would read through the Bible on average four times per year over the next 25 years so that in 1968, on his 75th birthday, he would complete reading through God’s Word a total of 100 times. His pulse quickened. He knew that this would be an immense commitment to God. He realized that he would have to sacrifice so many other “good” things in his life. But he also believed that the wisdom and direction he longed for in his life would be forthcoming. Saturating his mind with the counsel of God could only mean that.
And so on that day in 1943, as the rest of the world was in an epic battle for its very existence, Oscar experienced the peace that can only come from God. He knew that no matter what happened in the years to come, he would always have his Bible with him. The words he would read over and over again would permeate his life in such a way that they would transform him. And by doing so, they would direct him on a path that would honor God and bring blessing to Oscar and the rest of his family.
The El train came to a stop. Oscar disembarked and made his way to his business. But there was a confidence in his step that he had not known the day before.
Oscar Werner reading his Bible
Twenty five years later, Oscar sat on his sofa, where he had positioned himself every evening. As he did so, he read these final verses in Revelation 22, the last book of the Bible:
“And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book. He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.”
Oscar clasped the tattered and worn Bible to his chest. He smiled as he remembered he had purchased several copies of the Bible over the last twenty-five years. His constant use of the Book took its toll on each of the previous copies.
Oscar had done it. His one hundredth time reading through the Bible. Of course there was great satisfaction in having completed the goal he had set twenty-five years earlier. But greater than any feeling of success, he was reminiscing over the many times in his life when a verse he had read jumped off the pages and offered him the answer he needed to the challenge, struggle or battle at hand. He remembered Isaiah 55:11 at that moment:
“So shall My word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to Me void. But it shall accomplish what I please. And it will prosper in the thing for which I sent it.”
Oscar Werner’s Bible Tallying His Readings
That verse had been proven true so many times over the last twenty-five years. As Oscar had committed God’s Word to his heart, he realized that it had not been for naught. It had not returned void. Rather, there had been exponential return for the time he had invested in reading his dearest treasure.
As I think back to the years my grandfather was with us, one of the memories I have is of him sitting on his favorite sofa with his Bible on his lap. And while he read his Bible over 130 times in his life, he did have other past times. In front of his sofa was his black and white TV where he would watch his favorite baseball team, the Chicago Cubs. (While I’m no great baseball fan, I had to watch this year’s World Series in honor of my grandpa, knowing that he would be ecstatic to see his Cubs finally win!)
Grandpa Werner was an incredible example to me and so many others — of the commitment to a goal, the power of discipline, and the priority of God’s Word. The Bible was Oscar’s constant companion. It was his most powerful ally in every battle; his wisest counselor when facing difficult decisions; his most understanding comforter in times of sorrow. And my grandpa’s commitment to reading it has been an encouragement to me to do the same.
I share all of this not to simply highlight Oscar Werner, although he is a great man who I will meet again someday. But more importantly, my goal is to challenge you and me to consider, who are our counselors? Does your list include God’s Word? Are you regularly ingesting the Wisdom of the Ages into your life?
Whether you are a Christian, atheist, agnostic, Muslim, or unsure, I encourage to commit to reading through the Book that has traversed thousands of years and offers hope and peace to anyone who is willing to seek them.
In this era of technology I would encourage you to select an app to begin reading the Bible or even listening to it audibly. My app of choice is at bible.com where you can find several Plans that enable you to read through the Bible in a year. Last year I completed the “As it Happened” Plan which daily takes you through the Bible over the course of a year, in the chronological order in which the Bible was written. My preferred version for reading or listening is the New Living Translation (NLT) as it is in modern, easy to understand English.
I trust you will join me in reading through the Bible in 2017. If you will, I’m confident that your investment will not return void and you will find it to illuminate your path in this new year.
Footnote: While the specifics of the train ride, what Oscar was thinking and and how he came to his decision, stem from my own creativity, the decision to read through the Bible 100 times in 25 years is not. As reflected in the photos above, my grandfather kept meticulous records of when he completed each reading. He daily read the Bible, both on the El train on the ride to work as well as on his favorite sofa. When Oscar passed away at age 84, he was working his way through his favorite Book for the 132nd time, with his wife Esther reading it to him in those final days.
Has Campaign 2016 left you feeling like you are about to drown in a barrage of fear and moral corruption? Have you experienced any of these emotions over the last few months? Angst? Anger? Worry? Uncertainty? Nervousness? Fear?
As I’ve engaged in political discourse, I have seen these emotions permeating the discussions. It’s clear that Americans are experiencing an extreme degree of angst. The level of fear that is expressed by conservatives, republicans, independents, and democrats seems to be off the charts.
Our future appears to have been boiled down to the choice that will prevail on November 8th. While there are monumental factors at stake that are driving the choices Americans will make at the ballot box, there have been other seminal moments for our nation.
If you think back over your life, you can no doubt identify times when your future was dire and bleak. Similarly, while our nation’s homeland has faced a relatively tranquil and prosperous series of decades, there have been periods in our history when citizens wondered if the Republic would survive.
I’m reminded of a passage in the gospels where the disciples were fearing for their lives. The story is found in Matthew 8 and highlights one day in the life of Jesus. Throughout that day, Jesus healed a leper, a paralytic child, a feverish lady, cast out a demon, and healed dozens of others. At the end of this “day in the life of Jesus” where the miraculous became almost commonplace, Jesus led his disciples into a boat to cross the Sea of Galilee.
Shortly after Jesus and the disciples embarked on the journey, a violent storm encompassed their boat. The disciples, terrified by the tempest that surrounded them, and the waves that were crashing inside the boat, yelled out in utter hopelessness, to a sleeping Jesus.
“Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!”
Consider exactly what the disciples were revealing with those chilling words. First, they had completely forgotten what they had just witnessed earlier in the day, when Jesus performed miracle after miracle, reflecting His complete dominion over the physical and spiritual. Second, consider that this supernatural Man had led them directly into the boat. While they were unaware of what lay ahead, Jesus fully understood what that dark night held for them. Finally, while Jesus knew there was a storm directly in their path, He also knew that the storm was not the object of that night. Rather, a lesson that the disciples needed to experience and learn, was precisely what Jesus had in mind.
So Jesus awoke to the disciples’ screams of fear, panic, and hopelessness. He saw it in their eyes, heard it in their voices, and fully understood their emotions. But, He did not immediately deliver them from their greatest fears. Rather, as the waves were swirling around their knees, Jesus questioned:
“Why are you fearful?”
Did the disciples not understand what the purpose of the last twelve hours had been? Did they not remember that Jesus was the Son of God? Did they fail to comprehend that He delivered dozens from physical and spiritual oppression? Did they not realize the most obvious reality, that Jesus was in the boat with them? Could they perish with the Son of God at their side?
Yet they so easily forgot, just as we so often do. But notice Jesus’ next words.
“O you of little faith.”
The disciples had within minutes lost their trust in the very Creator of the universe; the God-man who had called them to follow Him, and told them things about themselves that only God could have know; the Nazarene who they were seeing live a perfect life, who had turned water into wine, healed the sick and lame, brought words to the lips of the mute, opened the eyes of the blind and the ears of the deaf.
Yet, fear gripped the disciples and they lost their faith. And what was drowned out that night by the storms that swirled around them was not their physical lives, but more importantly their spiritual faith.
But then, despite the fear and lack of faith by the disciples, we read these words:
“Then Jesus arose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm.”
If Jesus can halt physical storms can He not conquer the storms in your life, and our nation? Of course He can. And although there are clear biblical principles that instruct us to not simply sit back and do nothing, we also learn from Matthew 8 that what we are often lacking is faith.
Faith that believes.
Faith that trusts.
And, as we learn in the book of James, faith that is revealed by our works, for we read that “faith without works is dead.”
Remember that “Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever.” The same Jesus that saved His disciples from drowning that stormy night, is the same One who is fully aware of the storms in your life, and our nation. But will you and I acknowledge, trust, and follow Him, not just on November 8th, but more importantly on November 9th and forward?
In just a few days our nation will enter a new era. It could be a very stormy and tumultuous period. So we have two choices. Will we turn to the ultimate answer for a stormy future and return to the only One who can guide us through these storms? Or will we trudge on, in fear, disunity and hopelessness?
Politicians, their Parties and ideological movements are not our hope. There is only one Hope: Jesus Christ. Let’s turn to Him as we climb into the boat that will traverse a Clinton or Trump Presidency. It’s going to get rough, but we know that God Himself “will never leave us nor forsake us.“
“You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You.” Isaiah 26:3