Soon, we’ll have lived in our current home for two years. We are enjoying the house, the location, the neighborhood, and most of the neighbors. However, one that lives pretty nearby has proven less than pleasant. His wife is an officer in our neighborhood HOA, and each month’s newsletter is a new posting of the hierarchy’s “95 theses.” Hardly anyone can keep from committing at least one infraction—certainly not us. They’ve had very little communication with us except when the husband complained that our compost pile was too close to the fence (on the other side of which were his garbage cans). Recently, while seeking our permission to re-paint their house, he took the opportunity to inspect the state of cleanliness of our garage. I share his desire that we keep our homes and yards in good shape, as property values are riding on our collective interest in such. The problem for them is that they have spurned our efforts at a relationship and they have done nothing to create one themselves. Thus, we tolerate and peacefully co-exist. But, there is no relationship.
Have you thought about how vital relationships are to our lives? Think about how ineffective we are with people without them. At best, we are mere associates. At worst, we become antagonists. Think of how vital the entity of relationship is to:
- Marriage (1 Pet. 3:7).
- Parenting (Deu. 6:1ff).
- A congregation (1 Th. 5:11).
- Shepherding (John 10:4-5).
- Church discipline (2 Cor. 2:6-8).
- Restoring the erring (Gal. 6:1-2).
- Preaching (2 Tim. 2:24-26; 4:2).
- Church works (Eph. 4:16).
- Deacons’ work (Acts 6:7).
- Soul-winning (Col. 4:2-6).
- Friendship (Prov. 18:24b).
Taking the time to build rapport may be mentally and emotionally exhausting at times. The best of relationships will have their downs as well as their ups. But God created us social beings not meant for isolation (Gen. 2:18). Joel O’Steen is shallow and superficial in his “preaching,” but tens of thousands of people are drawn to him because they find him relatable. His message is deadly, but his method is engaging. Some who consider themselves the staunchest “defenders of the faith” are virtual porcupines with their quills primed to stick those in their proximity. Surely those of us striving to follow New Testament Christianity can strive to build relationships while we steadfastly teach and follow the truth. How much more effective will we be as we conquer this principle every day?
A while back it was popular in the religious world to talk about Jesus’ encounter with two disciples on the road to Emmaus. The emphasis has often been on the disciples’ experience. I believe the biblical emphasis is on the character of Jesus. The disciples are contemplating Him even as they encounter Him. They describe Jesus as “a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people” (Luke 24:19). Notice three reasons why He was so mighty in word before all the people.
JESUS KNEW HIS MATERIAL. Luke 24:27 says, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.” Truly His knowledge is perfect and ours is not, but there is no excuse for failing to study–both on our own and for a class we are teaching or sermon we are preaching.
JESUS KNEW HOW TO RELATE ITS MEANING EFFECTIVELY. The men journeying to Emma’s, after walking with Jesus, said, “Did not our hearts burn within us while He talked to us on the road, while He opened to us the Scriptures?” (Luke 24:32). The dismal method of too many Bible classes is to essentially read and paraphrase in verse by verse fashion. Preaching can too often be disorganized in delivery or vague in message. Paul told Timothy, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15, NIV). Robertson says of “rightly handling” that it means “cutting straight…Since Paul was a tent-maker and knew how to cut straight the rough camel-hair cloth, why not let that be the metaphor?” (Vol. 4, 619). As presenters of truth, tell what it meant then and in context, and then apply it!
JESUS KNEW HOW TO MAKE THE MATERIAL LIVE IN HIS STUDENTS. Luke 24:45 says, “He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.” That is just what we are after as teachers, preachers, and proclaimers of the Word. We are not just fact-reporting. We are trying to get into the heart. Remember that Jesus sought to change lives with His teaching.
Only Jesus was the perfect teacher. But we can always be better and great. Let us mimic the Master’s approach to His material!
Today, I talked with some godly, sweet, and loving elderly people. They are people I respect and admire. They are full of rich memories, have vast experience, and profound wisdom. You are drawn to them. The people I’m referring to are neither superhuman nor necessarily those whose lives have been easier. Their sweetness is a product of their good attitudes. Not every elderly person I talk to are those I’d consider godly, sweet, or loving. They are bitter, rude, mean-spirited, selfish, and even, at times, belligerent. While dementia might transform the occasional person’s personality, there is a simpler explanation for how some old people get to be unpleasant. They were that way when they were younger.
Life is about the sum total of the choices we make, the way we bend our will, and our reaction to the adversities of our lives. We are building character, one day at a time, one reaction at a time. As I think about it, I know some godly, sweet, and loving children, teens, young adults, and middle-agers. I also know too many who are none of these things. If they live long enough, they’ll grow into more hardened, exaggerated forms of themselves. Gossips can become worse gossips in the golden years because they may have more time and have had more practice. Grouches seem to grow worse with time and opportunity. The impure of heart, after years of harboring filth, allow it to spill over far more often in words and deeds (how many of us have encountered a “dirty old man”—a more elderly form of the “dirty young man”). Worriers in youth make fretful worriers in the twilight time of life. So many traits of character and attitude in the old have been in the making in the young.
In Psalm 119:9, David asks, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Your word.” Solomon saw among the youths a young man lacking sense (Prov. 7:7). He also counseled one to remember his creator in days of youth (Ecc. 12:1). God can be our confidence from our youth (Psa. 71:5). These and so many other admonitions aimed at those in days of youth will also protect and preserve those who reach old age. What can I do to make sure I am a sweet old person?
- Be intentional. Take steps to be sweet. It’s not many people’s natural mode of operational. Spending much time with God and learning to imitate Him helps with this.
- Be introspective. Take time and effort to examine yourself. Are you ill-tempered, impatient, easily irritated, easily put out, and the like? Warning! You’re well on your way to being a crotchety curmudgeonly coot!
- Be interested. Selfishness is behind those traits that lead one to be unpleasant in the winter of life. Be genuinely, actively interested in the welfare, needs, and interests of others. Taking the focus off self will aim you toward sweetness.
We could probably think of more suggestions, but here’s a good start. Surely, we’d all like to be sweet old people when the day comes. But, don’t wait! Start now!
Today marks the 26th anniversary of the largest railway disaster in Soviet history, a tragedy that came just a couple of years before the formal dissolution of the Soviet Union. As two passenger trains from the Trans-Siberian Railroad met in the Ural Mountains, a leaking gas pipeline exploded and killed 650 people. Many who survived suffered burns over much of their bodies while others suffered from lung and respiratory damage due to toxic fumes given off by the fire. Then Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev denounced the accident as “negligence or improper work practices…Many of them [disasters in various branches of industry] are caused by mismanagement, irresponsibility, disorganization. I cannot say for sure right now, but experts are saying that once again we have negligence and violations in the operation of complex equipment” (“Soviet Rail Fire Kills 650: 2 Trains Caught in Gas Explosion,” Steve Goldstein, Philadelphia Inquirer, 6/5/89). The final death toll was lowered to 500, but Gorbachev’s suspicion was confirmed:
The LPG pipeline, carrying gas along some of the same route as the rail lines, was loaded with a mixture of propane, butane and other hydrocarbons, pressurized to keep it liquefied. Pipeline engineers noticed a drop in pressure in the pipe on the morning of June 4. Instead of searching for a leak they increased pressure in the line to maintain production. This resulted in two huge clouds of heavier-than-air propane gas leaving the pipe. The gas traveled a half-mile to the rail line and settled in a gully between the towns of Ufa and Asha (http://en.atropedia.net/article:384fd5).
Those two ill-fated trains, filled with children, passed right over that gully and stirred the gas with their motion. A spark from the track ignited the gas, causing a fireball a mile wide and flattening trees for two miles while the explosion, visible for 95 miles, broke windows in Asha (ibid.). This catastrophe was imminently avoidable, making it far more heartbreaking and devastating to survivors and victims’ families.
Sometimes, we preach and teach about the harm of destructive teaching by wolves in sheep’s clothing (cf. Mat. 7:15). Some creep in unnoticed, apparently with a deliberate agenda to do harm to the precious bride of Christ (cf. Jude 4ff). Paul wrote of some who upset the faith of others through false teaching (2 Tim. 2:18). All of these and similar warnings deserve our vigilant concern.
However, do we often fail to see the untold damage done by simple, stunning neglect? Carelessness in our example and our speech can wreck havoc on impressionable people swayed by our powerful influence (cf. Luke 17:1ff). Failure to monitor our attitude can be tantamount to a volatile explosion for the faith of someone (Phil. 2:14-16). Ignoring the needs and pleas of help by brethren in our midst can be devastating for them and us (Mat. 25:41ff). James deals with harmful attitudes within self and toward others, issuing this caution, that “to the one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin” (4:17).
As I consider the stewardship of my life, with my opportunities, influence, and resources, I must not ignore my duty and responsibility to be a magnet for the Messiah, not a saboteur of the Savior.
The inimitable historian, David McCullough, has churned out another masterpiece in his new book, The Wright Brothers. Chronicling their lives before, on, and after that famous December day in 1903 in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, McCullough, in his unique way, peels back the layers of the people who made the history. One particular example of this is seen in the author’s conveyance of Wilbur Wright’s misgivings about what he was going to make of his life. Writing to his older brother Lorin, Wilbur said, “The boys of the Wright family are all lacking in determination and push. That is the very reason that none of us have been or will be more than ordinary businessmen” (24). It is amusing to think that Wilbur made this statement in 1894, less than a decade before that historic first flight. Every airplane trip you make is a testimony to the Wrights’ determination, push, and extraordinary industry of the bicycle shop brothers, Orville and Wilbur Wright.
What do you see when you look at your life? Are you dismissive of your talents and opportunities? Do you think yourself in terms of your “can’ts” or your “cans”? Perhaps you are prone to discount your potential.
If that is you, you should consider the case of a few other people. Moses resisted leadership, claiming to be a nobody (Exo. 3-4). Saul hid himself in the baggage (1 Sam. 10:22). Jeremiah apparently tried to hide behind his age (Jer. 1:6-7). Timothy seems to have been fearful (2 Tim. 1:7). Yet, each rose to a position of greatness and played an important part in God’s plan. What was the “X” factor in every case? As God told Judah through Jeremiah, “I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope” (Jer. 29:11). Solomon would say, “Commit your works to the Lord and your plans will be established” (Pro. 16:3). Then, a millennia later, Paul tells the church at Philippi, “It is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phi. 2:13).
Relax! Take the pressure off of yourself because, frankly, it is not about you. It is about the God who is at work in you. Chart a course that puts Him first in your life and dedicate yourself to trying, as hard as you can, to please Him. Isn’t He strong and smart enough to open the right doors? Is He able to do great things? Yes! The incredible thing about that is that He has chosen to do great things through lowly people like you and me! Stop and consider this. What does God see in you? What will He do through you to His glory? Never stop asking that question!
It is a commendable mixture of righteous indignation, conviction, and affection for the Lord and His church to want to answer all the critics, rebut all the troublemakers, defend all the reputations, and fight all the false teaching out there. Knowing how best to deal with the pot-stirrers or the novel-doctrine-peddlers can cause quite the consternation. Do we answer every allegation and oppose every little quibble? Are there times where the best answer is to simply ignore “one who sows discord among brethren” (Prov. 6:19) or those who attempt to “preach any other gospel” (Gal. 1:9)? That requires great wisdom and judgment as to the specific situations which arise, but it is clear that the Bible has given disciples the counsel to just let some things lie.
A NEGATIVE EXAMPLE: The Pharisees Of Matthew 15. These religious leaders elevated human traditions (1-2,6,9), made their own rules they bound others to follow or else (3-6), had heart problems (7-9), and spoke defiling words (11). They intimidated the disciples, who were concerned that Jesus offended the Pharisees (12). Jesus pointed ahead to the judgment that would determine the nature of their work (13), but counseled His followers to “let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit” (14). So often, those who strive and divide, as well as those swayed by them, experience the fruit of their work in this life. Others, unheeding of cautions and pleadings to the contrary, find out in the end (cf. 1 Tim. 5:24-25). While the Pharisees ultimately nailed Jesus to the cross, His view of their divisive tactics was to simply “let them alone.”
A POSITIVE EXAMPLE: Peter And John In Acts 5. Gamaliel, a respected teacher of the Law and member of the Sanhedrin Council, weighed in on the work of Peter and John, two faithful gospel preachers. He looked at past movements of those claiming to be someone, Theudas and Judas, and compared them to these followers of Christ. His advice, “stay away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or action is of men, it will be overthrown; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God” (Acts 5:38b-40). While we have no indication that Gamaliel’s advice is inspired, as Caiaphas did (John 11:49ff), it is hard to find fault with his logic. In the case of the apostles in Acts five, their plan and action was of God. In the case of the other two “leaders,” it was of men. Time typically tells. Inspect the fruit. Listen to the words. Watch the attitudes. Discern the actions demanded and urged. Examine it all in the light of carefully studied Scripture.
Apathy and indifference can lull us to sleep. The antagonistic or the agents of unscriptural change can both serve to wake us up, get us to reexamine our stand, get into our Bibles, and work to ensure our message and our methods are “by the book.” But do we have to accept every challenge and dare? Jesus once drew in the dirt in the face of those who demanded an answer from Him. There are some times when the best answer is silence. As for those who make demands of us? Sometimes, we’re best to just “let them alone.”