Sometimes it is difficult to know what to say in a very broken world. One looks at the world where sabers are being loudly rattled to the point of serious conflicts. I talked with a policeman from one of our cities who gave a very bad assessment of inner city condition. Many western nations have pushed aside the Christian foundation upon which they were built. And the list goes on. All things out of my control that I can do nothing about. Certainly we pray for our nation and world. Yet, even that can feel like a rather hopeless effort. But I do have a family who depends upon me. I have a neighbor who is having difficulty and needs my support. I do have those close by who need prayer, and encouragement. I have clerks and attendants in places of business I patronize that need a smile and greeting by name. There are lots of things in this world I can do nothing about, but there are also a lot that are much closer at hand where I can provide some positive good. I will pray and weep before the Lord over the bigger things, but I will love and serve those who are close at hand. That will at least mend some of the brokenness.
Have you ever heard of Nahum? Probably not. But actually one of the books of the Bible is named after him. Having three short chapters toward the end of the Old Testament, he is one of the so called minor prophets. We know nothing about his life except that he was called by God to speak a message of repentance some 600 years before Christ. Like other of the prophets he may have been an ordinary working man that God called out for a particular mission. Also, like other prophets, it was probably not something he wanted to do, but he was willing to be obedient to His Lord. Nahum shows us that one doesn’t have to have a great position in the world, great wealth, great learning, or great influence. God simply looks for people who are willing to say “yes” when called. That call may not even be to bring a prophecy to a great nation. It may be to just speak to a neighbor, or serve in a community task. God simply looks for those who are willing to be faithful in the love of Christ. In that we are all like Nahum.
Our daughter has been stationed in Hawaii for two years, but is now leaving for her next deployment. This was the case when we lived there many years ago. It was a place where people were passing through. They lived there for a time. They worked. They learned, but then they moved on to another place. Actually, that is the way the Bible speaks about our time on this present earth. We are here for a time of growth in faith, and in service to others before we move on to the next place God has planned for us. The Bible calls us stranger and sojourners on the earth. That doesn’t mean this earth is not important. It is, but it is not all that God has for us. The Apostle Peter wrote, “According to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.”(II Pt. 3:13) We are to enjoy our time now, to grow in fellowship with one another, to learn more of the nature of our gracious Lord, and to serve in love all those the Lord lays on our hearts. But we also look forward in great hope to all the Lord yet has for us.
People go to all kinds of lengths for excitement and challenges. The Guinness Book of World Records tracks some of the strangest things, and people will do whatever is necessary to be listed as a world record. This is not something I aspire to. Even so it highlight something in our nature that craves a challenge, that thrives on excitement, and that desires to be singled out for a good accomplishment. Being a part of the nature God created, these desires are not wrong. The problem with so much of mankind is that we seek fulfillment in the wrong places. The Lord offers us all of these in His service. If you read the Gospels, the life Jesus is offering His followers is a constant challenge. A life of faith comes with no guarantees for an easy time, and without any knowledge of what is ahead. When we enter a walk with the Lord His central instruction simply says “trust Me”. From here He takes us in directions we never dreamed, but if we are willing to follow His path we will hear the only commendation that really matters, “Well done good and faithful servant”.
The Jews understood well that they were the chosen people of God. What they lost sight of was the reason for which they were chosen. In the covenant God made with Abraham, his family was to be blessed so that they in turn could be a blessing to all the nations of the earth.(Genesis 12:1-3) Jesus raised the scorn of the Jewish leaders when He went to the foreigners and outcasts. That has always been God’s intent. He is not willing that any be lost, but that “all men be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”(I Timothy 2:4) It is still true today. The Church has been given a new covenant in Jesus Christ. We are to be a different people, but not an exclusive people. The grace that God has given us in Christ is to be extended to the world, and that world begins in our own homes, neighborhoods, and communities. It is to be extended in love in as many forms as God gives us the wisdom and inspiration. Jesus said, “if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.”(John 12:32) Jesus has been lifted up in sacrifice for all people. Now we seek to lift Him up as we serve others.
We have mentioned before about the disconnect sometimes seen between the teachings of Christ and the behavior of Christians. The New Testament letters of John and James highlight this. In the early days of the Church, even before the followers of Jesus were called Christians, they were called people of The Way. That meant they were people who lived, and could be recognized by, a particular way of life because of their love for the risen Lord Jesus. The particular mark of the Church was to be as St. Peter wrote, “all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.”(IP. 3:8) James tells us to guard our tongue, and let our faith be shown in works of service to others. We do not do these things to gain points with God, or somehow work for our salvation. We do them because we have a Saviour who washes our feet, and has willingly sacrificed His life in atonement for our sins. “We love because He first loved us.”(I John 4:19) We remind ourselves that we are not just called Christians, but we are people of The Way.
Jesus always does things backwards! He talked to the Pharisees, respected scholars of their day, and called them hypocrites, and empty tombs. He said if your want to be a leader, you need to be the servant of all, to be first you have to be last. He just didn’t get it. He didn’t understand about power and prominence in this world. Or maybe He did. Maybe He really saw how hollow and superficial all the things we hold up as goals to strive for really are. Maybe that is why He spent His time with the tax collectors and sinners. There was no pretense in them. They knew they were weak and needed His help. And they received it. The ones who come to Him empty are sure to be filled with His living water.
A Christian often finds himself caught in the middle – wanting to show compassion but needing to stand firm on convictions; facing battles in this world, but without using the same weapons the world uses. The life of loving an enemy, turning the other cheek, and washing smelly feet is not an easy one. We are called to loose our life for Christ’s sake in order to find it. This requires a complete change of heart which only God can accomplish within us. The Psalmist prayed, “Teach me your way, O Lord, and I will walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.”(86:11) To love and serve the Lord Jesus Christ is to live daily facing this contrast between the world, and the life we are called to in Jesus. He, alone, can help us meet this challenge as we seek Him in prayer, and yield to His guiding hand in the circumstances of life.
Paul was always concerned about the unity within the body of Christ. In Romans 15 he said, ” Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For even Christ did not please Himself.”(15:2-3) Scripture calls us to a place of humility when thinking about ourselves, and of willing sacrifice when answering the needs of others. This is the instruction for all who are in the church, and where it is seen, it provides a strong witness to the love of Christ. With the words of Christ, “Not my will, but Thine be done,” we have just experienced a week where Jesus displayed the greatest act of self giving love possible. It is this same love that we are to show for one another. This is the heart of what the church is all about.
Paul writing to his spiritual son, Timothy, tells him to be “diligent in the matters” he has instructed him about, and to “guard what has been entrusted to your care.”(ITim. 4:15&5:20) Timothy was leading a church congregation at the time, but Paul’s words are applicable for all of us. We have all been entrusted with a gift of God’s grace in our life in Jesus Christ. We have all been instructed in the way of life that honors our Lord. We have all been given talents and abilities that are good and useful in the Lord’s service. These are all good gifts from our Lord. Gifts are only useful if they are unwrapped, fully understood, and put to good use. Stewardship is using what we have been given in the service of our Lord in whatever ways He daily opens for us. In this way God is honored with our lives.