I have posed this question to several of my friends and Church members lately. What is the one thing Christians should stop doing? Asked another way, I tell them to fill in the blank in this sentence. I wish Christians would stop … (blank)
My quest was to find one thing that I could write a blog about for you today. Instead, it opened a can of worms that generated several funny, insightful, and often agitated responses. A few of the most interesting things were things like Christians need to stop talking about politics and a particular candidate. Christians need to stop ranting on social media and sharing fake news. Others thought that Christians must give up their hypocrisy and ignoring certain sins. The list of possibilities was long and contained seemingly no pattern.
The only connection I could make is that everyone agrees that people who claim to follow Jesus have at least one thing they should stop doing. The quest to become like Christ keeps pushing us to find the next area of our lives on which to work. Our actions, attitudes, beliefs, relationships, and views must be continually reassessed. There is no point in which a Christian can say they are doing everything God desires.
My single lesson from this experiment can be summarized this way. Christians need to start asking themselves daily, “What is the one area I need to become more like Christ?” If you are unsure where is the best place to start, then ask a trusted friend, “What is the one thing I should stop doing?” I am sure they have an answer if you are willing to hear it. There is a long list of possibilities for change, and each one of us needs to keep improving on this side of heaven.
This question keeps rattling around in my head lately. It is the result of several encounters and conversations. It is one of life’s most fundamental questions; “What do you want people to say about you once you are gone?” More than a eulogy or a statement about the sickness you bravely endured till the end, what is the lasting memory you want people to have of your life?
I think the best description a believer could have is simply, “They worked hard to become like Jesus.” This one statement captures the heart of a follower of Jesus, along with our struggles as humans.
First, being a Christian is hard work. It takes a concerted effort every single day of your life. We can choose the easy way or can walk the path of faith. We can follow our instincts of the flesh or listen closely to the voice of God. Would it not be excellent for people to the work you put into your faith? There will be times you fail, but you keep getting back up and trying again.
Second, the goal of our belief was to be transformed to be like Jesus. This is a lofty ambition, but it is helpful to set the bar high. For most people, we like to compare ourselves with the people around us. “Sure, I am not perfect, but do you see how much better I am than other people,” we tell ourselves. True believers set the bar to the life of Jesus. We know we will never attain it, but we keep working over a lifetime to be transformed into the son’s image.
When our lives are over, I want my life to be remembered for its total trust in God, and I hope you do too. Spending every day growing in our thoughts, words, and actions. It is nice if people think of us as great parents, spouses, children, and friends, but when we try to become like Christ, all those things naturally come along with it. Working hard to become like Jesus is much more significant than fulfilling your earthly role. It is greeting every day with faith, action, and love in each encounter. It is a lofty goal, and it works itself out one day at a time, even on days like today.
Recently I saw a meme that went around social media that caught my attention. This one I even “liked” when a few people I know posted it. It looks like this:
For some reason, the statements’ sentiment appeared to ring true, but I could not just let it go. I kept thinking about it until I figured out what was wrong. The statements do not reflect how life works, especially in the eyes of a follower of Jesus.
Most of the time, being undisciplined is easy. Anyone can do it. It does not become hard until down the road, and you need the advantages that being disciplined alone can bring. Skipping exercise every day is easy. Sleeping in is terrific, but down the road, maybe in 40 or 50 years, you will want the benefits that a lifetime of good health will bring, and only then will life be hard. The real issue is not choosing which hard life you will lead. The question is, will you lead a comfortable life now that will turn out to be hard later or a hard life now that will have benefits further down the road? No one has difficulty choosing which hard thing they will do. People have trouble deciding if they want an easy life now, knowing the dangers lie ahead in the distant future.
Every day and every week we wake up, we have a choice. Will we pay the price today knowing the rewards will come later, or will we take it easy today and pay the price somewhere down the road? I believe this is true in this life and in the one to come.
This has been an unbelievable week at our Church. In 8 days, we will have held a family visitation for the passing of a Church attendee, a funeral and luncheon afterward, youth group with food, along with a wedding rehearsal plus dinner and the wedding. This on top of two worship programs on each of the Sundays. All of this on top of Covid season, where we are continually cleaning and disinfecting to keep everyone safe. Yet, everything is set up to be completed in two days without a glitch.
The only way our Church was able to accomplish all this over was because of wonderful people who willingly serve others with their time. There has been a steady stream of people who have been here to set-up, tear down, clean, cook, and prepare the building. The number of people who have pulled together to make this week happen has been outstanding when you consider that only a couple of us are paid to do anything, that makes it even more impressive.
This week has reminded me why the analogies for the Church are so fitting. Believers together are like a family, always looking out for each other. The followers of Jesus are like an army who work together to accomplish their tasks. Christians are like a body, and every part has an important function. Some get recognition, and others do not, but that does not make one more significant than another. In today’s analogy, I would say the Church is like a team where everyone plays a vital role in winning.
The New Testament continually gives instructions on how we are to live with one another. The group is essential to the work of the Lord. This week I saw everyone playing their part, and other people were blessed because of it. The Church is far more than a preacher and a meeting on Sunday. Everyone here is important, and we could not exist without you.
I am embarrassed by what I said and did. It might not seem like a big deal to other people, but it was a colossal failure to me. While I hate that story being a part of my life, it was the catalyst that moved me in a new direction.
That one failure forced me to come face to face with my sin. I had to rediscover my time with God each day. It helped me to appreciate my wife and family at a deeper level. From those days until now, I have taken a different approach to life as a Christian, husband, father, and pastor. That one mistake radically altered my future even though it is a stain in my past.
My experience has taught me two things. First, no matter what you are going through, God can use it for good. The overwhelming pain, unbelievable embarrassment, and sheer disappointment in yourself that you feel now could be the event that makes you a better person and believer. It is hard to imagine that something horrible could make your life better in the long run, but it can.
Second, when someone is going through a traumatic breakdown because of their sin. Do not be quick to judge, point fingers, and spread gossip. The thing that person is going through at that moment may be the thing God uses to change their life. It might be the wake-up call they needed.
The people who make it to the finish line of faith are scarred people. Most of them have a story or two which they never tell in public. They are forgiven, but it is still embarrassing. I hate that I had to go through it, and I feel sorry for your pain too. But if we allow God to use it to redirect us, it can be the event that makes us more like Jesus.
Where does your mind go when you have a few spare minutes? When the room gets quiet, and you have silence to think about anything in the world, what do you find yourself thinking about?
Recently I listened to a lecture that talked about neural pathways. While it was a lot of scientific stuff that I did not understand, the speaker’s summary was worth the effort to listen. He said that our brains have pathways to access and store information, and the more we use them, the easier it is to access that pathway without much work. The example he used was driving to and from work using the same road every day. You have done it so often that your mind doesn’t need to strain to remember how to do it. Therefore, some days you get to work or back home and barely remember driving. The pathway was wide, and your mind quickly guided you home without stress.
The application is quite simple for such a complex issue. The things you think about the most are where your mind will naturally wander in quiet moments.
Addiction happens when you have opened a pathway to something terrible. Your mind will immediately run to “how can I get my next fix.” This can be anything from drugs to alcohol and especially pornography. The human brain will open the doors to whatever evil you expose yourself to the most.
The flip side is also true. If you spend a large amount of time reading, praying, and studying Godly, positive things, then that is where your mind will immediately gravitate toward those during free moments. This is why Paul says that Christians should be people who renew their minds (Romans 12:2). He instructs us to focus on whatever is good and noble and Godly (Philippians 4:8). The more we think about these things, the more we will naturally move that direction when we are given the freedom to open our minds.
I once heard a preacher named Joe tell the story about how his dad would always question him with this one question, “Son, where is your mind?” That was, and still is, a great question.
Yesterday I spoke at a funeral. The entire thing lasted about 45 minutes. The family then traveled to finish the proceedings with another pastor performing a graveside service. I am guessing that it lasted about 15 minutes. All total, a life of 61 years was summarized in about an hour-long service with a nicely written obituary and a slide show of family pictures.
Whenever I am part of a funeral, my mind cannot help but turn to reflection on my own journey. My entire life, and yours too, will be captured in a few brief words from a pastor and some people who cared about us. Since that is true, I wonder what they will say?
Most of these summaries have four aspects to them:
Their Relationships. This person was a spouse, parent, child, sibling, and friend.
Their Passions. What did this person enjoy the most in life? Where did they spend their time and find the happiness they pursued?
Their Personal Stories. This is what happened that helped me to know and love this person who is now gone.
Their Faith. What we believe means more at the end as we step into eternity.
That is it. People rarely talk about the cars or houses they owned. There are very few references to vacations. I have never heard anyone mention the movies or TV shows they watched. The few exceptions are those who had a real passion for something that falls into one of the four categories, like the lady who saved her whole life to take her sister to New York for a week of fun.
Most of what gets said are quiet moments of seemingly insignificant interactions. There was the way he crawled into bed at night and told stories about his childhood to his kids. People speak of the way she would stop and talk to you about yourself. She never spoke of her needs but was always concerned about others. The stories of selfless service, loving sacrifices, and valuing others fill the air with fond remembrance.
If this is true, then we must be continually reevaluating to make sure we are giving our lives to things that will matter after we are gone. Are we connected to others in meaningful ways? Do our passions align with our goals for life? Is our story touching the lives of others in a positive way? Are we prepared for the final day of our life?
Be assured, one day, your life and mine will get one hour of people’s time. They will take all you have done and boil it down into a few little nuggets of goodness. Be sure they have plenty of things from which to choose. If not, you can start changing today what people will say on that day.
Are you more concerned that people will follow Jesus or that they will like you?
It is a simple question that requires hours of self-reflection, honest relationships, and time in prayer to answer. Because you are a Christian and a representative of Jesus to the world, it is easy to see the two things as being one. They are not the same, and each one has different ramifications.
If you want people to like you, then you will do anything to win their approval. That often means you will change your views to suit the situation. You will never be able to draw a hard line on anything for fear of someone being on the other side. You will also steer away from anything that pushes people to make difficult decisions. There will be no cross those who follow Jesus to take up daily; instead, it will be positive aphorisms repeated to make people happy. Sections of the Bible will have to be ignored or explained away so as not to offend anyone. Being liked makes it hard for you to stand with Jesus because you are always protecting yourself.
If you want people to follow Jesus, then that is an equally challenging road to walk. You will have to speak the truth and understand that people are rejecting Jesus and not you. You will be forced to ask life-altering questions knowing that some people will resent you for doing it. The Bible will be held in high regard, even though you know others will reject it. Helping people to become fully devoted followers of Jesus is a path that forces you to put down your pride and self-promotion.
This week when you talk to other people, there will be a point where you must ask yourself, “Am I concerned with people following Jesus or liking me?” When that moment comes, you can choose the path of least resistance and immediate gratification and decide to do something that will make other people think you are a great person. The other choice will be to stand for the truth in following Jesus. It will be a difficult decision, but you can choose whichever way you like. Just one, Jesus told his followers, is the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father but through him.
Sharks kill people with one bite. Their large mouth and rows of sharp teeth can destroy their prey quickly and easily.
Piranhas are small fish. They do not kill their meals in one bite; instead, a group of them will attack their prey together, tearing it apart one little piece at a time. They usually live on insects and dead animals, but they have been known to attack larger animals and even humans in extremely rare cases.
While I do not want to die either way, I have seen this as an analogy for a life of faith. We live in fear of sharks while swimming with the piranhas. The attacks on our soul rarely come from one big event; instead, they happen one small bite at a time.
When writing to the Church in Ephesus, Paul tells them to put on the full armor of God. One part of this outfit is a shield. He says the shield of faith “with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.” (Ephesians 6:16 – NIV 2011) We might picture large arrows like modern archery equipment, but the reference is more to tiny darts. These little darts were often thrown by hand and had two purposes. One was to set the attacker’s shield on fire if it was made of wood. Two, they find any small open areas and try to penetrate, causing injury. I find it curious that he does not mention evil having a bomb or a bazooka. The image is a small weapon over a big one, or in other words, piranhas over sharks.
When evil attacks your heart, mind, and soul, it rarely comes in a catastrophic event. It is always one little bite or one small dart at a time. Evil comes at you with temptation, doubt, wrath, lust, despair, vengeance, problems, and trials in our lives. Paul tells us to hold up the shield of faith and stop them. Faith gives us the strength to stand against evil with courage.
Today and into the near future, you will be attacked in ways meant to injure you in small ways. Evil does not need a big weapon to make you fall; it just needs you to let your guard down.
Recently I have wondered if our first thought the moment we enter paradise would be, “Why did I try to stay on the earth so long? I fought so hard to live a long life, and compared to this, it was not worth all that effort.”
Don’t get me wrong, I love my life and enjoy every minute with my family and friends, but I keep thinking that every minute on this side of eternity is not as wonderful as every minute on the other side.