Luke 18.1-8 | August 2, 2020
Pastor Ken Larson
Since the pandemic swept the country back in March, one of the consequences was shutting down all sporting events whether professional, college or high school. Golf and baseball have started again, hockey and basketball are getting set, and we’re told that in September pro football will be played. Whether that happens or not, and whether you like the sport or not, one thing is not in doubt – football is big business in America. It has a huge fan base all across the country and rakes in over $7 billion per year. Running, throwing and tackling is big business. One of the best running backs to ever play the game is Adrian Peterson, who spent most of his years with the Minnesota Vikings. Over his career so far, he has carried the ball more 3000 times and gained over 14,000 yards. If you translate all those yards into miles, it comes to just under 8 miles. To a marathon runner who goes for 26 miles in one race, 8 miles might not sound like much! But remember, every time Mr. Peterson was handed the ball he only ran 4.7 yards before someone knocked him down. Then he got up and ran some more, got tackled, then up again. That takes toughness and perseverance!
Perseverance is a valuable trait. We want our children to learn it. We teach them to keep going, don’t give up or let obstacles discourage you. This is an important characteristic of faith, too. In James 2 we read, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” He didn’t say “go look for trials,” but be ready because they will come. There are great benefits to following Jesus, but it’s not just a walk in the park. We need a persistent faith, and one pathway to developing that is prayer. In Luke 18 Jesus told a story to illustrate this. It begins this way, “Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.”
Who do you pray for? There are people and situations I pray about daily or several times per week. Do you pray for your children or parents or grandparents? Do you talk to God about friends, family and coworkers who have not met Jesus yet? We often pray for those who are critically ill or grieving. Certainly our prayers should include the racial tensions in our country and the Covid 19 crisis. And we can’t forget what’s happening around the world.
When Jesus taught his followers to pray and not give up, was this what he had in mind? Yes – but that’s not all. To understand the story in Luke 18 we must look at the context in which it was told. In Luke 17 Jesus was asked when he thought “the kingdom of God” would come. Those who asked the question believed that when the Kingdom came, bring peace and prosperity would bless their community and restore their people to a position of honor and respect among the nations. They longed for a return to the glory days of David and Solomon from a thousand years earlier. Jesus’ answer was totally unexpected. He said the Kingdom would come in two stages, and then surprised his listeners by stating the Kingdom was already present. It had arrived with his appearing and was evident in his healing and teaching. This Kingdom would also be visible in his death and resurrection that would bring forgiveness of sin.
However, he said, the Kingdom would fully come when her came a second time. In verse 24 Jesus said that day would “…be like the lightning, which flashes and lights up the sky from one end to the other.” He predicted a visually stunning event that no one will miss, but many will be caught unprepared. Christ indicated that folks will be going about life as usual – eating, drinking, marrying, doing business – and then the end will come suddenly. Those who are ready will eagerly welcome their Savior, but for those who have lived their lives with no thought of God or the condition of their souls, it will be disastrous.
It’s after this teaching about the end of history that Jesus “…told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.” Here’s the story. There are two main characters, a widow and a judge. Jesus' audience would have immediately recognized the situation. A poor widow had a claim against another person, but no one would help her get justice. In that day a woman whose husband died not only lost her life’s companion, but her economic stability and social standing, too. She became a person without means or leverage. The widow in the story had only one weapon in her arsenal – persistence. She kept pleading with the local judge to hear her case and protect her rights. At first the judge just ignored her. Verse 2 says, "...he neither feared God nor cared about men" which meant he didn't care about public opinion and had no sense of accountability to God. In Jewish culture judges were supposed to ensure that justice was evenly dispensed. Old Testament law commanded them to defend the oppressed because their authority was delegated to them not just by society, but by God. However, in Jesus’ day judges often ruled in favor of whoever paid the biggest bribe. That might explain why he delayed ruling in the woman's case, waiting for her to conjure up a kickback. Though this lady had no money, she wasn’t about to give up her quest, so she kept pestering the judge. She became such nuisance that the judge gave in and finally recognized her claim – just to get her off his back.
So what was Jesus teaching about prayer? Did he mean to say that God is like the judge, who, if we just keep pestering him with our prayers, will eventually wear him down and become so weary of our petitions that he’ll give us what we want? Not at all. This is what’s called a “comparison by contrast.” Here’s the point: if a selfish and arrogant judge can finally be persuaded to help a woman he didn’t care about at all, how much more willing is God to help since he already loves us and desires to rescue those who humbly cry out to him. We don’t have to convince God to listen to us or pester him into answering. He’s already got his eye on us so we can be sure that if we keep praying and don’t give up, especially when things are hard, we know God is listening and will answer every prayer at the right time and in the right way.
Jesus told this story to encourage his disciples to pray and not give up. Why do you think he spoke this parable? Why would his followers be tempted to “give up?” especially if they knew that God was ready and eager to hear and respond to them? He told this story because he knew his people. He knew that after his death, resurrection and ascension, when the time came for them to carry out his mission and go make disciples of all nations, they would face many challenges and opposition that would be at times very fierce. Before he returned again and the Kingdom came in full force, there would be moments to celebrate those whose lives were changed by forgiveness and grace, and hard times when little progress was made and lots of resistance. It’s why the writer of Hebrews had to say, “And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus…” (Hebrews 12.1-2)
It wasn’t easy following Jesus then, or now. The gospel assures us that we are loved by God, that we have dignity because we’re made in his image, and we’re capable of great things. It also says we’re prone to go our own say, reject God’s path, and construct our own moral value system. So this means we need to repent and seek the forgiveness available because Jesus died on our behalf. This part of the message cuts across the grain of our culture's “anything goes” value system and undercuts the “I’m in charge of my own life” mentality. Jesus knew that there would be immense pressure on his followers to water down the message to make it more palatable. It was true in the first century and it’s true today. So we must pray to be faithful. We must pray for strength and wisdom to be compassionate ambassadors of the good news who are full of grace, but also committed to the truth. We must pray for conviction so we can stay the course and love those who disagree or criticize or even threaten us. We’ll only do this if we “keep our eyes fixed on Jesus,” keep praying, and don’t give up.
I wonder if there is an additional temptation to “give up” today because of what we’re all going through right now. It’s a tough time. So many things have changed. Life has been altered. We can’t go everywhere we want or see everyone love. Do you know someone who has had the virus? Two friends of mine, one in South Dakota and the other in Detroit, were physically devastated by Covid 19, and the wife of one of them succumbed to it. We’re all wondering how long will this last? Will a vaccine be developed that can immunize us from the sickness and when might it be available? How soon can we go back to a “normal life” and will we have to redefine “normal?” Parents and children and college students want to return to the classroom, but when will that be safe? When will ministries in the church be up and running again, and when we start, will people come or be willing to send their kids? I attended an online webinar this week for church leaders and the pastor who was leading it said he’s never seen a time when there’s been so much anxiety in the church across and the country and around the world. In the face of all this, what do we do?
Jesus told his disciples to “pray and not give up.” Right now the opportunities for external activities are less, so this is a great time to send the roots of your faith deeper down into the soil of Scripture and let your prayers ascend to heaven like never before. I heard a statistic recently that since the pandemic started, people are absorbing eight times as much social media as before. I can’t imagine that’s a good thing. Social media has its place, but wallowing in it won’t strengthen or grown your faith. Pray that God will sustain and strengthen your faith. You may run into someone who finds out that you follow Jesus and asks, “How come God let this pandemic happen? How come he doesn’t stop it? Doesn’t he care that people are sick and dying? Doe your faith really make a difference in a time like this?” Those are tough questions that deserve a thoughtful response. Could you give one? Do you need to pray for wisdom and also look for some good resources to use?
We must also pray that the Lord will uphold our Christian sisters and brothers in other parts of the world who harassed and threatened because of their allegiance to Jesus. Some live in places where the virus is spreading but they don’t have the kind of healthcare options that we do. Pray that God will enable his people to be faithful and compassionate to care for the sick and dying whether they are believers or not.
If you’re feeling fearful or anxious about the future, bring those to the Lord. Sometimes I think Christians feel guilty about feeling afraid or anxious. Did you know that the most common command in the Bible is “Fear not”? Did you know it occurs 365 times. Seems like there might be one for each day. We know we’re not supposed to fear, but how do you get to that place? By trusting God enough to tell him about your fears, by speaking them out loud . One of my favorite verses is Psalm 56.3 where David says, “But when I am afraid I will trust in you.” He didn’t say fear was a faint possibility, but rather a sure thing. He knew fear would come, but when it did, David knew where to go with it. In 1 Peter 5.6-7 we read, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” God is big enough to handle your fears and worries. Don’t keep them bottled up inside of you. Talk to him. He’s waiting to hear from you.
After he finished telling the story of the widow and judge, Jesus asked, “…when the Son of man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (verse 8) When is Jesus coming back? I don’t know, but when he does, he hopes to find a faithful church. Faith that grows and perseveres is founded on the truth of the gospel and nurtured through prayer. When we pray, God is at work. When we pray lives are changed. When we pray, others find Jesus. When we pray, our fears and worries are cast onto the mighty arms of God. So this morning I’m asking you, will you pray and not give up? AMEN
Mark 2.18-22 / July 26, 2020
Pastor Ken Larson
Have you ever played the board game “Monopoly”? It’s been around since 1935. Every generation since then has grown up moving their playing piece around the Board, wanting to buy railroads or the “Boardwalk” and “Park Place” properties, hoping they wouldn’t pick up the “Chance” card that reads, “Go directly to jail, do not pass Go, do not collect $200.” Recently, though, some big changes were announced. One of the original game pieces is being replaced – the “thimble.” Why? Because it just doesn’t connect with most people’s experience today. In the days when socks, pants and shirts were repaired with a needle and thread a thimble was a necessity, but that’s a rare occurrence today. What will replace it – maybe a miniature cell phone?
The world around us changes constantly. What was common knowledge and practice for one generation is different from what succeeding generations know and do. If you …
The situation today is very similar to the first century. When the first Christians took Jesus’ story to the Mediterranean world, they encountered people to whom Abraham, Moses, and the Exodus meant nothing. Everything had to be explained in ways those cultures could grasp. On top of that, most communities had strong ties to other religions. It was a huge challenge to convince Greeks and Romans and Ephesians to embrace the teaching of a Jewish rabbi. It was all new. The message and methods of Jesus were also new to his first audience, the Jewish community. So he had to help people understand that God was doing something unprecedented. Life was about to change.
Life at First Covenant Church is changing, too. You’ve been listening to a new voice from the pulpit for the past month, and you’re praying for the committee that’s seeking a new permanent lead pastor. I’m sure you have questions about who will come and how he or she will minister. How will this person preach? What strengths will he or she bring? The church around the world has been forced to confront a new reality since the Covid 19 pandemic struck. We didn’t meet in person, now some churches are gathering again, but many are choosing to stay home and stick with an online experience. Some Christian leaders are saying that this may be a permanent situation. Many business leaders are finding that having employees work remotely is effective. I heard recently that many corporate CEOs want to renegotiate their office leases because they envision needing less space and others are selling their buildings. How will all these changes affect the church? No one really knows, but we certainly have to be looking ahead, thinking creatively, and asking serious questions about how we reach the next generations. Over the coming years the answers will become obvious, but one thing is certain – change is coming. Are you ready?
One of Jesus’ favorite teaching methods was to tell a story. Over the next seven weeks we’ll be examining these “parables” which use situations from everyday life to teach us about life and faith and God’s Kingdom. The story in Mark 2.18-22 is all about change. Jesus was approached by some Pharisees and disciples of John the Baptist with a question about fasting. This was the practice of giving up food for a time to focus on prayer and introspection. In Jesus’ day every Jew was expected to fast once a year, but certain groups, like the Pharisees, did it more often. Some thought this elevated them in God’s eyes over others who weren’t as devout as they were. Yet Jesus and his disciples didn’t fast. When asked why, he referred to a Jewish wedding feast. It lasted seven days and during that time fasting was prohibited because this was a time for communal rejoicing. So Jesus’ intent was that being around him was an opportunity to be happy about the great things God was doing among his people – healing, helping, instructing – so it was not a time to fast. Christ’s presence announced that because God was doing something new, the old ways just didn’t work anymore.
He went on to explain this with two illustrations. If a person patched an old garment it was no good to use new cloth that had not been shrunk. If you did, when the garment was washed the new cloth would shrink and pull away from the old. In the same way new wine could not be stored in old wineskins. New wine is still fermenting and giving off gas so if it was kept in an old, brittle wineskin, it would burst the skin and then both the wine and the skin would be lost. Instead, new wine was placed in new wineskins that were still soft and supple and able to expand as the wine fermented.
It’s hard for us to grasp how radical Jesus’ teaching and methods appeared. For centuries Judaism demonstrated their faithfulness to God by keeping the traditions that developed over time. Many of these traditions were good because they reminded the people of what God’s love that had saved and protected them. They found their identity in repeating these practices. Then Jesus came along with new perspectives on God and life and faithfulness, and made extraordinary claims about himself like the prerogative to forgive sins and declaring that his teaching was more authoritative than what Moses said. He flouted Sabbath traditions and when religious leaders, like the Pharisees, opposed him he said, “You’re just a bunch of snakes.”
Yet no one could deny that common folks were experiencing God’s presence in a way no one ever had. Jesus’ teaching was like the new patch that couldn’t be over-layed on the old material of Judaism. His presence was the new wine that could not be contained by old traditions. Things were changing. Some hated it, some feared it, and others even called it the work of Satan. However these changes were necessary because Jesus came to reach the whole world, not just the Jewish community. His good news was for everyone – Jews and Romans, Greeks and Parthians, Spaniards and Germans, so for his message to be heard and embraced by a diverse audience it had to shed much of its Jewish character and break out of a provincial straitjacket.
As the culture around us changes, so in every generation Christians shift, too. But not everything changes. I heard one pastor say that the followers of Jesus must “marry” the message of the gospel, but we “date” the methods by which we communicate it (Ray Johnston). That’s true because what worked in 1970 or 1990 or 2010 may not be effective today. The last church I served before retiring was in suburban Detroit. When I came in 1999 it was a congregation of mostly nice white, Christian people, many of whom had a Scandinavian background. Then God began to do something new. Folks started showing up from all over the world, first from Germany and Sierra Leone and Japan. Then others came along who were born in places like India, Korea, Indonesia, England, Puerto Rico, Estonia, Nigeria – even Canada! Along with them we welcomed African-Americans, Latino-Americans and Asian-Americans. When our Sunday school kids packed the platform to sing at Christmas it looked like the United Nations. No, actually it looked like the Kingdom of God. This influx of diverse people changed us – our staff, budget and programs. We invited a Japanese pastor and his wife onto our staff and they started English classes to reach the huge Japanese population around us. Today there are people from eighteen different nations in that church. We didn’t set out to become a multi-cultural church, but when the Lord began to bring these folks our people opened their hearts and their lives so these new friends could experience the love of Christ. It changed our church.
If we get mixed up with Jesus, shouldn’t we expect things to change? Hasn’t God always been in the business of stirring the pot so that his people could discover more of him and then share it with others? Our God is endlessly creative, so why would we think he’d only be interested in us doing the “same old, same old?”
John Woolman was a devout Quaker who lived in the American colonies from 1720-1772. He was a successful merchant who lived a comfortable life. Then God convicted him about the evils of slavery. So he gave up his prosperous business and used his wealth to buy freedom for slaves. He wore undyed suits because dye was produced by slave labor. When he saw slaves on the road he would get out of his carriage and walk with them because they were not permitted to ride in carriages. He would not eat sugar, drink rum, use molasses or any product tainted by slave labor. One writer called him a “quiet revolutionary” who impacted others. By 1787, fifteen years after his death, not a single Quaker in America owned a slave.
If, like John Woolman, you call Jesus not just “Savior” but “Lord,” shouldn’t we become more like him in our character and actions? Why would we believe that we can follow Christ but stay the same? When was the last time you stepped out in response to Jesus’ call on your life to do something new or ventured beyond your comfort zone in service of the gospel? What new things does the Lord want to do in your life that will make you into a different person and bring you into contact with new people so you can impact their lives ? What does Jesus Lord want to do through First Covenant Church that you cannot imagine right now?
It’s not easy to change, but it can happen with the right motivation. I read an article by a man named Wayne. He likes sports, but had zero interest in bowling or roller skating. there were two that didn’t interest him in the least. Then he met a woman named Anna. He was really attracted to her, partly because she also loved sports. On their first date, he excitedly knocked on her door and when she opened it he asked, “Where would you like to go tonight?” To which she said, "Do you like bowling?" as she picked up her own bowling ball and bag. Wayne said, “I love bowling,” and out they went. They had a great time. The next week he picked her up again and asked, “Where would you like to go this week?” She picked up her roller skates and said, “Do you like skating?” And he said, “I've been waiting for months for someone to ask me go skating. I love skating.” They skated all night, it turned out great, and eventually they married. (Wayne Cordeiro, “A Personal Relationship,” Preaching Today audio, #225)
What changed his attitude? The relationship made all the difference. A growing love opened Wayne up to new possibilities and then change was no problem. When you have a growing relationship with Jesus, you’ll discover he wants to transform your life, but it’s always rooted in his love for us. Christ’s invitation to follow was never coerced. When someone came close they felt his love, and then they would do anything for him – even lay down their lives. If we back away from a challenge or ignore a call to ministry or resist a change that deep in our hearts we know is necessary, could it be that our love for God has grown weak or distant or cold? Yet the good news is he’s always inviting us to come closer. He wants to share our burdens. He delights to hear about our joys or fears or questions. Draw near to him in prayer. Listen for his voice in the Scriptures. Fix your eyes on the cross and marvel at the depths of his love for you. Jesus went through the greatest change of all time when he took on the mantle of human flesh and became one of us. He doesn’t ask us to do more than he did.
The future is uncertain, but this presents us with a massive opportunity for creativity and faithfulness. New wineskins will be required. What we can’t afford to be is fearful and what we must never do is stick our heads in the sand and say, “change is not coming.” It’s already here. I heard one church leader say, “Denial is not a strategy.” Instead we must affirm that our God is trustworthy. Know that our Savior’s love never wavers. Be sure that the Holy Spirit is still at work and the Gospel is true. So be hopeful, be faithful, be courageous. AMEN
Romans 12.1-2 / July 19, 2020
Pastor Ken Larson
Most Sunday mornings are fairly quiet. There usually isn’t a lot of traffic on the roads because people have planned a leisurely day that’s very different from the usual hustle and bustle of a weekday. May 18, 1980 seemed to be a tranquil Sunday morning for a woman in Poulsbo, Washington, which sits across the Puget Sound from Seattle. Then she heard a thunderous noise; her first thought was that a tree had fallen on her house. Her home was fine. What she heard was the explosion that occurred 150 miles to the south when 1300 feet off the top and sides of Mt. St. Helens was instantly blown off in a volcanic eruption. The initial blast blew gas and rock out of the mountain’s side at near supersonic speeds mowing down everything within eight miles; a thick green carpet of Douglas fir and hemlock trees went down like they were toothpicks. A second vertical eruption sent a mushroom cloud of hot gas and ashes with temperatures of 600 degrees twelve miles into the air. The giant ash cloud was visible 200 miles north and as it drifted eastward turned daylight into darkness. A surge of mud, lava and billions of gallons of melted glacial ice and snow surged down the mountain slopes at speeds up to 90 miles per hour, demolishing everything in its path. It turned a scenic mountain into an eerie landscape. The eruption was heard as far as 600 miles away, but incredibly some folks who were rescued from within a few miles of the mountain reported that they didn’t hear a thing. When they saw the sky turn dark they thought it was a cloud cover bringing rain. They were standing in what scientists call a “zone of silence.” The incredible upward thrust of the exploding mountain sent the sound of the blast rocketing up into the atmosphere and when it bounced back to earth, it moved outward and away from ground zero. So those closest to the mountain would not have known of the explosion unless they had seen it happen.
It’s hard to imagine that a person standing within miles of an erupting volcano couldn’t hear it. We are continuously surrounded by sound – music, advertisements, newscasts and political messages. People try to connect with us. We’re also bombarded with visual communiques that come at us through websites and social media and television. We pay attention to some, ignore most, and others we’re oblivious to. Have you ever wanted shut it all off like a water spigot and retreat into a “zone of silence?” Amid all this, God is speaking. Can you hear him?
The Bible tells that God communicated with his servants in myriad ways. He met Moses in the desert, Elijah on a mountainside and Paul on a highway. He spoke through prophets, angelic messengers, dreams and visions. Psalm 19 and Romans 1 declare that the grandeur of the created order announces God’s presence and majesty. In Numbers 22 the Lord even used a donkey to convey his message. That text always gives me hope that he might even use preachers on occasion!
God’s great desire is for us to know and understand him and his purpose for our lives. Over the past several weeks we’ve talked about how God is “closer than you think.” You can detect his presence and hear his voice. Like Jacob, we will find the Lord in places we didn’t expect. As Mary and Martha found out, God can make his presence known no matter what kind of personality you have. Last week Pastor Mike talked about how those around us can help us discern the Lord’s direction. We’ll conclude today by exploring how to hear God by being “mindful” of his presence and voice. We need not exist in a spiritual “zone of silence.” Paul’s words in Romans 12 and Philippians 4 can help us.
In chapters 1-11 in Romans, St. Paul laid out the essentials of the gospel: the state of humanity apart from God, Jesus’ death on the cross for our sins, the promise of forgiveness through faith, and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit who enables us to actually live out that faith. Starting in chapter 12 Paul answers the question, “What then does the life of faith actually look like?”
The first thing he says is that in light of all God has done, the only reasonable response is to offer your whole life to him. Paul called this a “living sacrifice.” In most ancient religions, including Judaism, an adherent showed their dedication to their deity by bringing a costly sacrifice to worship – grain, wine, a animal. Followers of Jesus have no such sacrifices because Christ was our ultimate sacrifice that we can’t copy or match. However, we can offer God all we are and have. Instead of a lifeless substance or a dead animal, ours is a “living sacrifice” which means we demonstrate our love for God by our actions – how we speak to one another, the priorities we set, the quality of our relationships.
Making this “living sacrifice” begins with a choice. In verse 2 Paul said, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world.” The culture all around us constantly attempts to mold us into a particular shape. God sets before us a different pattern. We are not helpless victims in this tug or war, but we must intentionally pattern our lives after Christ or the prevailing winds will sweep us along if we’re not mindful of how we live. Living as a follower of Jesus is not just about good feelings or sensing a warm connection with God or stockpiling religious information. Your life can be remarkable if it’s conformed to the pattern Christ set for us. Beginning a life journey with Jesus may begin at a moment in time, but God molds us progressively over time as we allow him to do his work in us.
How does this happen? Paul said in the rest of verse 2, “…be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Why did Paul talk about “renewing” the mind? He certainly wasn’t implying that faith is a purely intellectual pursuit that leaves out the emotions. He was lifting up the importance of letting God fill our minds and thoughts because that’s where we make moral judgments, and decide what is true or false. When God speaks or acts we listen or observe, take note of what we feel, but it’s with our minds that we determine our response. When Jesus was asked what was the “greatest commandment” he quoted Moses words in Deuteronomy 6.5, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength,” but then he added to it by saying we must love God “…with all your mind.” (Mark 12.30)
It is imperative for us to sharpen our minds because that hones our receptivity to God’s voice and presence and actions. In Romans 8, Paul admonished us to let our minds be “governed by the [Holy] Spirit” because that brings us “life and peace” (verse 6). In Ephesians 4 he wrote that those who “harden their hearts” toward God end up with “futile thinking…darkened understanding” and that leads to horrible consequences (verses 17-19). Do you see why “renewing of the mind” was so important? If we want to be able to hear God’s voice, sense his presence, understanding when he’s reaching out to us, and recognize his activity in the world, It’s imperative that we cultivate a mind he can reach. In Philippians 4.8 Paul wrote, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable -- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy -- think about such things.” That should be our goal. So what would this look like in practical terms? How does one develop that kind of mind? Here are three questions to consider.
First, who do you spend your time with? Whether they are friends from school, family members, coworkers or casual acquaintances, if their life rubs off on you, will you benefit? Are you surrounded by people with positive attitudes who use good language and challenge you to pursue excellence? Or are they cynical or negative? Do those in your circle respect or mock your faith practices? I don’t believe we should be afraid of people, especially those who don’t share our faith. Relationships with a wide variety of folks is healthy. But it’s those relationships with people who don’t share our beliefs that force us to know what we believe and why we believe it, so that our life and faith can rub off on them. Keep watch over how your life is affected by others and whether or not you are moving toward what is right, excellent and praiseworthy.
Here is a second question: how is your mind impacted by what you let in through social media, film, music or television? Any genre of music can be good or bad, but are the lyrics inspiring or sordid? Some TV programs are great, and can be relaxing; but not all of t hem. We used to watch a sitcom about a married couple and their in-laws. At first we enjoyed the funny situations depicted, but over time the dialogue became increasingly nasty; the characters continually tore down each other. It became so sarcastic and cynical that we stopped watching. What are you reading these days? I’m always working my way through several books. I like to read mysteries for fun, but I’m also reading a biography of George Washington. A third one is titled, The Third Option. It’s written by Miles McPherson, an African-American pastor who played pro football. He writes about how we can improve the relationships between people of different racial groups; it’s well worth reading. If you are discerning, your reading can move you toward God instead of the gutter.
The third question is this: do you align your thinking with the Scriptures? When you hear a news story on the radio, read an article on the internet, hear a television host comment on politics or discuss recent events with friends or co-workers, do you consider all that was said in light of what the Scriptures teach? Or are you more likely to let your political affiliation or past experiences or what you were taught growing up to determine the conclusions you reach? It’s been just over a month since the death of George Floyd and the resulting demonstrations in Minneapolis and other cities across the country and around the world. How did you view the actions and reactions of law enforcement, community leaders, the governor and demonstrators? Did you draw your own conclusions from just looking at events or did you try to get underneath, to really hear the angst and anger that came from minority groups who have been pushed down and disregarded and discriminated against for hundreds of years? How do you think God viewed all that happened? I don’t believe anyone can grow up in this country without acquiring the baggage of bias and prejudice. The question is do we recognize them and then live above them? Seeking justice for others is absolutely a biblical issue. If you read Isaiah and Micah you’d have to close your eyes not to see it. The prophet Amos wrote that God “despises” the worship assemblies of those who piously claim to love him but don’t seek the good of others. Then in chapter 5 he thundered, “But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-ending stream.” (verse 24) We’ll only understand events and find a proper perspective so that we can pursue the good of others when the truth of God’s Word has captivated our minds and molded our thinking, and the love of God has filled our hearts with love and compassion. Then we can share both with others.
I believe the followers of Jesus should be the best thinkers around because they immerse themselves in the truth contained in God’s Word. Fill your mind with what is “true, noble, right, pure, excellent or praiseworthy…” When we let God transform our minds and mold our thinking, we will develop a deeper spiritual perception and be better equipped to tell when God is speaking, what he’s saying, and where he’s directing our paths. We need not live in a “zone of silence.” Our Lord is all around us, closer than you think. AMEN