The Christian Perspective in Troubling Times

Brothers and Sisters, our friends in the world are desperately searching for answers right now. There is division, confusion, chaos, and it’s been going on for quite a while now. Are you confident that YOU have the answer? I’m here to tell you that you do. And I encourage you to share it.

Our friends need a leader. You have the King. (1 Timothy 6:13-15)

Our friends need peace. You have the Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)

Our friends need guidance. You have the Wonderful Counselor. (Isaiah 9:6)

Our friends need shelter in the time of storm. You have the Good Shepherd. (John 10:11-18)

Our friends need a sure foundation. You have the Rock. (2 Samuel 22:2-3)

Our friends need truth. You have the Way, the Truth, and the Life. (John 14:6)

How easy it is for us to get distracted from these truths of our faith. It’s easy to start chasing things in the world, and then begin looking for worldly answers to worldly problems. But when your focus is on taking up your cross daily and following Jesus, worldly problems don’t threaten you in the same way. And you certainly don’t look for worldly answers anymore.

Paul encourages the Corinthian church in 2 Corinthians 5:16-17 to keep their perspective in their spiritual reality, and not on their flesh.

“From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”

You are a NEW CREATION in Christ. Are you still living from the perspective of your flesh, the part of you that has already died (Romans 6:4)? Paul says in Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me!”

What an awesome perspective. Paul had strength in his trials because he had already surrendered his body and his life to Jesus. His life belonged fully to Christ. Can I say that? Can you?

Paul shows that perspective in action in Acts 16. The Holy Spirit prevented Paul and Silas from going into certain areas to preach, and were instead led to Macedonia (Philippi). After making disciples of Lydia and her household, they were later brutally beaten and thrown into prison. The Holy Spirit led them…to that? What would my response be? Doubt, confusion, fear? Not so for Paul and Silas. Their bodies were already crucified with Christ. The life they lived in the flesh they lived by faith in the Son of God. They had peace and joy in the midst of dark circumstances—so much so that they were praying and singing hymns to God in the prison. Their faith led to a miraculous working of God which led to the conversion of one of their persecutors and his household. They suffered well for the glory of God’s Kingdom.

We see another awesome example of this recorded in Acts 5:40-42. After defying orders by the Jewish leaders not to preach in the name of Jesus (Acts 4:18), Peter and the apostles are arrested. When questioned, they simply answered: “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). After deliberation, the council opted to release them from prison, but not before inflicting a severe beating on them. And what was the apostles’ response to this suffering? REJOICING. They rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for Jesus. And they surely didn’t stop preaching.

What an example.

Jesus encouraged his disciples to have this eternal/spiritual perspective when he told them not to fear those who can only kill the body (Matthew 10:28).

You know, don’t worry, all they can do is torture you and kill you (and your family). NBD.

I can’t help but think of the perspective of our brothers and sisters in Iran and China. They face this real persecution daily, but rejoice in the name of Jesus. I have much to learn. Truly, they’ve taken to heart the words of Jesus just before his message on fear.  Matthew 10:27 records Jesus saying: “What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops!”

Do not fear! Proclaim the truth from the housetops! Even if it means an enemy may kill your body, they cannot kill your soul!

The group MercyMe has a song called “Even If.” It’s based on a passage from the book of Daniel. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego defy the orders of King Nebuchadnezzar to bow to his golden idol. If they don’t reconsider their position on the matter, they would be thrown into the fiery furnace, to which King Nebuchadnezzar mocks: “and who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands”? 

The three boys do not fear and they do not cave. Their response is awe inspiring.

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” – Daniel 3:16-18

You know the rest of the story. God does save them from the furnace, and even King Nebuchadnezzar praises God. But the reality is this: Those three boys’ souls were saved by their faith regardless of whether God chose to intervene to save their flesh. They had that eternal perspective. They knew that no matter the circumstances in front of them, their God was bigger. Even if God didn’t save them from the furnace, their hope remained in Him. They had no doubts. They knew that golden statue was soon to be destroyed by the eternal kingdom that they already belonged to.

We must follow their lead. Don’t focus on this world; don’t take your eyes off of your true king. True peace is only found through the lens of the gospel and in placing your hope in Jesus. Where is your hope today? What are your eyes fixed on?

“In you our ancestors put their trust; they trusted and you delivered them. To you they cried out and were saved; in you they trusted and were not put to shame.” – Psalm 22:4-5

Can’t See the Kingdom for Our Dreams

Thus says the LORD: “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the LORD.

Jeremiah 17:5

We often find ourselves inspired by the achievements of others. Famous athletes, powerful political figures, celebrities, and a host of other professionals become role models to so many who just know they can follow their dreams and become just like their heroes. But what should a Christian aspire to be in this world? A doctor, lawyer, preacher, professional athlete, president? What should Christian parents aspire for their children? How should faith shape the question of “what do you want to be when you grow up?”

How often do worldly aspirations line up with our spiritual reality as a new creation in Christ?

Can a Christian achieve prominence in their field of choice? Maybe that’s the wrong question. Can a Christian achieve prominence in their field while living their life on mission as a disciple of Christ? That’s perhaps a bit harder to answer.

Certainly, the body of Christ is full of different people from all different walks of life, skills, and talents. God works through His people in different aspects of life to be His representatives and His ambassadors.

But what if God takes a back seat as a Christian pursues their personal life goals? Even apart from a relationship with God, it’s plain to see that many families have suffered turmoil because careers, aspirations, and other commitments can lead to irreversible damage of those relationships. Isn’t it naïve to think that isn’t a risk we take in our spiritual lives? It comes down to a simple fact: we cannot serve two masters (Matthew 6:24). If our aspirations become our master, we begin to serve a god other than the Almighty, sometimes serving only ourselves.

As someone who has spent over 9 years in higher education pursuing advanced degrees and 4 years in the military, I can attest to the stress that is put on relationships, both spiritual and physical. I believe God has been with me and helped me grow throughout my life—even on the days that I barely acknowledged His existence. I also believe He gives us the freedom to choose just how many detours we want to go down during that growth process. I have no doubt He can and will use some of the roads we choose for good, even if we sometimes choose those roads for ourselves and not for Him (Romans 8:28). He has done that for me. I’ve made lifelong friends and spiritual bonds in both school and the military. I wore a uniform alongside some of the most dedicated and selfless individuals anyone could ever meet. My earthly job as a veterinarian has given me many opportunities to serve people, which I try to do with the attitude of Colossians 3:17 in mind. (I forget that truth more than I care to admit.) I even tried to shine the light of Christ while in the military, but it’s awfully easy to make an excuse as a “secret disciple” of sorts (John 19:38) and let Army policy dictate your interactions with your Soldiers.

I could have become completely consumed with my military career. I could let myself be consumed by business ownership as a veterinarian. Admittedly, I have some obsessive-compulsive tendencies, so I know I can go overboard with the attention I give to various things (like school or work).  But I recently realized that the most important aspect of my life was often not getting even close to that level of devotion. I needed to change my mindset and shift my goals. Don’t get me wrong, my current employer still gets very hard work out of me, and I do enjoy my earthly job. It’s just that I’m striving to change and improve my perspective. “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” (Colossians 3:23-24) I work for Christ. I serve Christ in all that I do. I work so I can provide for my family, but also so I can share with others (Philippians 2:4, Ephesians 4:28). I don’t work for position, promotion, or power. I’m not interested in chasing a higher salary. If I began to seek power or influence, then it’s my own power or influence that I want to spread, not God’s. I don’t want to work in any capacity that could lead me to put the spotlight on myself. I am just a struggling Christian trying to let go of me a little more every day and cling only to God.

Now, I acknowledge and appreciate that someone has to do those very consuming jobs, hold those tough positions, and wield a particular level of power in our society. I’m thankful to have those people in our society, and I believe, especially in the case of governments and authorities, that they are appointed by God for a specific and respectable role. I’m just saying that’s not for me. I can’t and won’t say that it’s not for you. I do hope to at least encourage you, fellow Christian, to prayerfully consider whether it should be. Whatever you do, don’t do it for yourself. Let go of your “self.”

The ultimate example of letting go of self to serve God is none other than Jesus himself. He was seated in Heaven with God from the very beginning—the preeminent of all—and yet he chose to empty himself, become a servant, and voluntarily die the cruelest of deaths for you and for me (John 1:1-5, Colossians 1:15-20, Philippians 2:5-8). An example such as that simply cannot be matched by any of us. But what a standard it is (Ephesians 5:1-2). Think about it for a minute. We won’t ever earn or deserve that sacrifice—the love that was poured out for us.

Another example we can look to is that of Paul. Paul was at the height of his game in the world at one point. Just check out his resume in Philippians 3:4-6. In comparison to our day, we could think Paul’s parents were so proud of the man he became. Certainly, he would have been held up as a role model for all the young Jewish boys of his day. And even after he became a follower of Christ, we might even think that his status would provide such a great platform that he could use to reach people for Jesus. But Paul wanted nothing to do with that platform. He would even go on to become a messenger to primarily Gentiles, a group of people who would care very little of his prior position as a Pharisee. He threw all of that away. It became very clear to him that all of those things—the status, the accolades, even his race and tribe—all of that was rubbish! (Philippians 4:7-9)

Paul’s goals in his life had a drastic shift. He went from pursuing life as a zealous Pharisee with all the wealth, power, and status that came with it, to humbling himself as a servant of the same Christ he persecuted. His new goals? To “know Him and the power of His resurrection,” to “share in His sufferings” and “become like Him in His death” so that “by any means possible [he could] attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:10-11) Does that compute with us? His new goal for his life was to suffer and die just as his Savior did. He knew that it was “no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20) How could he even think of boasting in his accomplishments in the flesh? No, rather he would boast in his weaknesses and his need for a savior. What a powerful truth to grasp: when we are weak, then we are strong! (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

In 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, we read an encouragement from Paul to run the race to receive the prize. But he wasn’t referring to the rat race of this world. Far from it. We shouldn’t be chasing after a perishable wreath. No, we are living for an inheritance much more valuable than that—an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in Heaven for us (1 Peter 1:3-4).

Are we holding on to or striving for something that Paul would call rubbish? Are we letting garbage get in the way of our walk with Christ? Are we running the wrong race? What are we pursuing? Are we following our hearts or following Jesus?

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?

Jeremiah 17:9

Like Paul, Nicodemus climbed the ranks of the Pharisees. There may be only a few Scriptural references to Nicodemus, but I believe it’s more than fair to say he ultimately decided to surrender his status and reputation to become a disciple of Jesus (John 19:39). Similarly, Matthew achieved prominence in the Roman world as a tax collector. When Jesus called, Matthew threw that status away (Matthew 9:9). He voluntarily left a life of luxury, wealth, and security to follow Jesus.

I’ve got a long way to go to live this out. My spirit is willing, but my flesh is weak (Matthew 26:41). Thank you, God, that your power is made perfect in our weakness!

Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, the persecuted (Matthew 5:3-12). Jesus came to proclaim the good news to the poor and pronounce liberty to the captives and the oppressed; give sight to the blind; and to proclaim the coming of God’s Kingdom! (Luke 4:18-19). It’s not our earthly status that Jesus came to improve. He didn’t come to help you climb the ladder to success in this world (Luke 12:15). He didn’t come to fix the world; He came to save you from it! We are not of the world any longer (John 17:16), so let’s quit looking for our identity in it. The rich young ruler that came to Jesus walked away sorrowfully when Jesus told him to separate himself from his earthly treasures (Matthew 19:16-30). The man who had a great yield of crops was more worried about his 401K of sorts rather than his eternal retirement plan (Luke 12:17-21). Even some of Jesus’ disciples came to Him celebrating that they were able to cast out demons through the Spirit, and Jesus had to redirect their focus—don’t rejoice in what you do on earth, rejoice that your name is written in Heaven! (Luke 10:17-20) Truly, where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matthew 6:21).

The same is true for you today, Christian. We get to be citizens in God’s Kingdom. That should be the highlight of our lives! Sure, use your talents, skills, education, etc., but never let them lead your life (1 Corinthians 7:29-31). You may be following God’s will for how you can best be on mission for His Kingdom. On the other hand, you may be chasing after garbage. Let God lead you, and you will soon find out.

My aspiration for myself, my wife, and my children: to be a servant for our Lord and His people. To be a worker in His vineyard in whatever capacity He wills. What else is there for a Christian to pursue?

Give up your own ambitions. Surrender them all to Him. Give up your flesh and embrace your life as a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:16-17). If you haven’t become a new creation in Him, there’s no better time than now. Let us introduce you to our Savior. Jesus came so we would have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10). Choose that life—it’s the only one that lasts.

Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.”

Jeremiah 17:7-8

“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” – Philippians 2:1-11

Bandwagon Fans…

“…These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat…” – Matthew 20:12 

Is there anyone that gets more sideways looks than a bandwagon fan? All along they mocked your team. They knew during that loss early in the season that you were a fool for wearing that jersey. They’d never cheer for that team. Then it happens. The season is almost done, everyone knows your team is going to win it all. Just like that, your coworker is your team’s biggest fan. He didn’t put in any effort to cheer them through the season. He wasn’t sweating bullets during that crazy overtime finish that sealed the spot in the playoffs. He didn’t sow any of the seeds, and now he’s trying to be part of reaping the harvest. Now that it’s widely accepted, he’s happy to join in.   

Isn’t that exactly the feeling of some of the workers in the vineyard in Jesus’ parable recorded in Matthew 20:1-16? The first group started working early that day. They knew what they agreed to work for and got started immediately. Others were added shortly thereafter—they worked most of the day and shared much of the hard labor; sweating for hours under the blazing sun. More were added later, some even added with just one hour left in the work day. How could they be paid the same wage as those who’d been working all day long? It wasn’t even that hot anymore. Where is their sweat equity? How is that fair?   

How is anything we’ve been given from God “fair”? What do we truly deserve? Death—we deserve to die in our sins (Romans 6:23). For God to be fair with us is something that we really don’t want. His only son was sent to die a horrendous death for sins he didn’t commit. Talk about something that isn’t fair… What grace and mercy God’s followers have been shown! We know the great love of God because we’ve experienced it. We know the price that was paid for us. We should be thrilled to share that gift with someone else, even up to the very last second of our work in the vineyard. 

See, those early workers misjudged the attitudes of those last-hour additions. They weren’t relishing in the fact that they got paid the same wage for a fraction of the work. They knew they were blessed to be given a position in the vineyard, and they put in as much hard labor as the remainder of the day allowed. They simply weren’t aware that the vineyard was hiring (Matthew 20:7). They didn’t hear the call to join the work until that final hour. If they had recognized or been given the opportunity earlier, they would have jumped at the chance. 

The fact is, not everyone is going to recognize the Kingdom or it’s worth right off the bat. Many won’t. The Kingdom of God is not like the kingdoms of this world. It doesn’t come with the bells and whistles with which the world defines a powerful and attractive empire. It starts off as something as unassuming as a mustard seed, the smallest of all seeds (Matthew 13:31-32). Who wants to join the team that appears so small and insignificant? How does something like that stand a chance? What impact could it possibly have on the world around it? Won’t it always be outnumbered, overpowered, and destined to fail?  

Nope. That upside-down, unassuming kingdom, the Kingdom of God, is everlasting, and it will never be destroyed (Daniel 7:14). God wins! Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:24: “Then comes the end, when [Christ] delivers the Kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power.” Those authorities that seem to the world almighty and indestructible will be crushed by the eternal Kingdom of God (Daniel 2:31-45). That tiny mustard seed actually grows into the biggest plant in the garden, towering over everything else that was planted.   

Wouldn’t you want to be in on that from the beginning, before it’s widely known and accepted? Part of the joy of a championship win is experiencing every turn it took to get there. You may have even played a role (albeit possibly only very small) in the overall effort. There’s a cost to following through all the way to the end, of course, including being ridiculed after that one embarrassing loss. But you’re happy you paid it in the end. Sharing in that final victory is more than worth it. The longer you’d been a fan, the more pain you experienced during those dark seasons—that just translates to more joy and reward when that great victory is finally realized. A bandwagoner just can’t really share in that, can they? 

Jesus’ first disciples had an awesome opportunity to be part of something special from the very beginning. Jesus brought the Kingdom of God to earth (Mark 1:15). His mission was to proclaim that Kingdom (Luke 4:43; 8:1). He commissioned His disciples to proclaim it to the world around them, perhaps even before they had a full grasp of it themselves (Luke 10:1-12). The gospel of the Kingdom was proclaimed boldly during the few years of Jesus’ earthly ministry. He commissioned more of His disciples to assume their role in the Kingdom by continuing to proclaim it boldly to the world as He ascended to His throne in Heaven (Matthew 28:19-20).   

Even today, there’s an important role to be played in God’s Kingdom, as we grow ever closer to the end of life on earth as we know it (Romans 13:11). Kingdom people are still His ambassadors to the world (2 Corinthians 5:20). He chose imperfect people, “jars of clay” (2 Corinthians 4:7), to hold that treasure and display it to the world. The cost? Your life on earth, however much is left. The spoils of victory? Eternal life with God in the eternal Kingdom (Matthew 16:24-25; Galatians 2:20). What an uneven trade… 

Despite any widespread proclamation of the final victory, there will be people that only realize who wins after the season is over. They won’t have the chance to represent those colors, but they will ultimately recognize who the true champion is. As Paul writes in the letter to the Philippians (Philippians 2:10-11): “At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord…” Widely accepted by all in the end, because it is the ultimate truth that many simply deny.   

What should Kingdom people’s response to that fact be? We should be rooting for bandwagoners! We should be proclaiming the Kingdom as God’s ambassadors until the final whistle blows. There is room at the victory celebration. God is patient, and God is gracious (2 Peter 3:9). Our mission is to display the Kingdom, where the last will be first and the first will be last (Matthew 20:8,16; Matthew 19:30; Luke 13:30). We proclaim God’s eternal victory so that as many people as possible might join us working in the vineyard, regardless of how much time might be left in the workday. Any distractions from our mission may mean less potential bandwagoners get the message in time to make the choice to jump on board. After all, “the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few” (Matthew 9:37). The Kingdom needs workers for the harvest, even those that are jumping on the bandwagon—because in reality, isn’t that what we’re all doing these days?   

Today, those imperfect jars of clay that God has entrusted the treasure of His Kingdom with are people who at some point in their lives realize what Jesus ushered into the world 2,000 years ago. Bandwagoners that missed the part before the truth was revealed in full. Missed the part before we could hold the full revelation of Scripture in our hands. There was a time when the Holy Spirit was yet to be granted as a gift to live within the believer—we missed that part. We missed the part where our Savior would be nailed to the cross while the world mocked His followers who had proclaimed that He was the Son of God. “Some king,” the world thought. Some King, indeed.   

The end is written; we know how the story ends. God wins. No, we aren’t bandwagoners in the sense of an insincere allegiance. The Kingdom has no place for that (Luke 9:62). We are simply late to the party. Just like the workers who were hired late in the day, it is not necessarily any fault of our own. We have an awesome God who is offering us the same wage as those disciples who have gone before us—eternity with Him in His eternal Kingdom (Romans 6:23). We have the luxury of knowing the end before we begin. Jump on the bandwagon with me, and let’s look for others! 

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” – Romans 1:16-17

-Chris