Who is better off because you exist? This question has challenged me the last 6 years through various experiences and Scriptures. The latest has been the examples of non-profit work of believers in Lynch, Kentucky and Jeremiah 29. In a letter to Jews captured in Babylon and living as exiles, God commands, “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” (Jeremiah 29:7 ESV) The word for “welfare” is the Hebrew word, “shalom” commonly translate as “peace”. This word encompasses so much more than the cessation of hostilities, that a better word might be “flourishment.” God’s people are to seek the flourishing of the community they live. How can Knightdale flourish because of us socially, educationally, financially, spiritually, physically? Let us look for who the underserved might be around us and serve them in the name of Christ.
As we do this, we could get discouraged or depleted, so where do we get strength and hope to carry on? This is a nod to the title of the blog when Jeremiah 29:11 encourages us, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare (Shalom) and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope”. (Jeremiah 29:11 ESV) We serve a LORD who is working in even the most unlikely of circumstances to bring about our ultimate flourishment. Consider things above in order to help the family with special needs. Consider God’s investment in us so we can invest in Hodge Road Elementary and collect Box tops for the school find out more about that here. God chose to work on our behalf so we can support the new ichoose pregnancy support center. Consider how Jesus fights for us so we can appreciate the military veterans around us this November. How might your business help our community flourish? How might your family help your neigborhood flourish?
As my wife and I embark on a five-week weight loss challenge, each of us will be faced with temptations to overcome. She and I both love chocolate. I devour all kinds of bread. She enjoys candy and nibbling on snacks throughout the day. I have been known to consume a soft drink or two. But as challenging as these pleasures will be to forego, there is a larger motivation at work. And you could call it, too, a temptation. I am tempted by the challenge to reach a goal in the allotted time. I am tempted by the way I’ll feel and look and certain clothes will fit when I hit the mark. Those are good temptations for me. They will help keep me on track when my stomach gets to growling or someone breaks out the Double Stuf Oreos. And hopefully, when it’s time for the final weigh-in, I will have gotten what I bargained for.
There are plenty of temptations for good that Christ has made available in scripture to His children, if we can acquiesce to His unique economy. Jesus said for those tempted to be exalted, you can get there by humbling yourself. If you are tempted to show your good works, then do them where no one can notice. And if by chance you are tempted to know the God of the universe and all that He has in store for you, then give Him your life and die. The problem with these good temptations is that we quickly grow tired of their appeal. Their satisfaction is real, but it’s an acquired taste, fostered by time and tempered with sacrifice. That path offers fewer bells and whistles than the quick yet shallow rewards immediately available to us all. It might sound good Sunday morning, but by Monday afternoon we’ve moved on.
But be advised, if you are tempted to follow a real King, then He will most certainly call you to task. His greatest desire is to have worshippers. And since all of mankind was made to worship, you’re going to scratch that itch, one way or another, sooner or later. But if you’ll let Christ be the answer to your temptations, you’ll get so much more than you bargained for. You’ll get all of God turning you into all that you were meant to be. And that is very tempting.
Probably like you, I am in full Olympic mode, which means I’m fighting sleep so I can watch the next American hopeful in the Olympics at Rio. We get to revel in Michael Phelps swimming for record setting gold medals. I rejoiced in Simone Manuel’s gold winning performance as the first African-American to win a medal in swimming. I was inspired by Katie Ledecky’s dominating grit. Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas, and the rest of the women’s gymnastic team were dazzling in their performances. Every night is presenting another attempt for glory. I’m even reading For the Glory: Eric Liddell’s Journey from Olympic Champion to Modern Martyr, by Duncan Hamilton, to round out by olympic saturation.
Despite NBC presentation of the Olympics, the faith of Olympians seems to be looming in the performances, like “Christ the Redeemer” statue stands over Rio de Janeiro. I first noticed this in an interview with Michael Phelps describing his post 2012 personal meltdown. The words he used to describe the difference of today versus then seemed to ring of a new Christian understanding of self and life. The second clue was he reference of Ray Lewis, an outspoken Christian, as a mentor. Later I learned that it was The Purpose Driven Life book, by Rick Warren, that was used to bring change in Michael’s life. Then I wondered at a commercial describing Yusra Mardini, the Syrian refuge who saved the life of fellow refugees by pushing and pulling a broken boat through the Aegean Sea. Yes, I later find out that she too is a believer. There is the exuberant praise to God from Simon Manual, the picture of Usain Bolt kneeling in prayer on the track, and there is so much more. You can read more about Olympians who put God above their sport here.
However, one particular interview capture well this relationship between sport and their identity in Christ. Watch this interview with David Boudia and Steele Johnson after their dives.
All of these public expressions of faith matter, for their is a battle going on for glory. Every Olympic scorecard is an expression of glory. The only question will be who gets the glory. In the score cards of your life, who is getting the glory?
Last week Jarrod talked in his blog about one day seeing the countless stars in the sky, a view that only a Creator could create ( Gen. 1:31 ). The next day he saw the effects of neglect and poverty on a community that had been forgotten by man, but found within it a silver lining, confirming they had not been forgotten by God.
Yesterday I had a similar experience. I was able to stand within a few feet of a huge waterfall spilling down from the mountaintops into a beautiful lake. However, right next to it was an aging glacier, once majestic and now scarred with dirt and rock, receding 20 feet every year, destined to nearly disappear in my lifetime. I know many will disagree with me on the cause of its demise, but as I moved my eyes from the waterfall to the glacier and back again, I could not help but see the contrast between God’s creation untouched (the waterfall) and God’s creation damaged by man (the glacier receding from climate change).
Sin is typically discussed on a personal, individual level (Romans 3:10, Romans 3:23). That is critically important since we can only be saved on a personal, individual basis (Romans 10:9-13). However, the impact of our collective sin nature can so easily be seen in the world around us. For some reason, theological warning bells go off in the minds of many Christians when the issue of the destructive nature of human intervention on our planet is discussed. I would offer the point that personal sin is amplified, not muted, as we cohabitate as stewards of God’s workmanship ( Gen. 1:28 ). If one does not accept man’s sin nature tied to global warming, there are no shortages of other examples to point to. Remember the industrial smog in China for the 2008 Olympics? The pictures of residents wearing masks as a normal course of life. In 2012, it was London who had to temporarily reduce its auto traffic by 30% in the weeks leading up to the Olympics in order to bring emissions levels under predetermined requirements. Today’s news is about concerns in Rio for the 2016 Olympics, as more than 10% of athletes will be exposed to water that is thousands of times above accepted limits for untreated human waste.
There is a tipping point. Have we reached it? Are we past it? Who but God knows. He is patient with us ( 2 Pet. 3:9 ) but we all know the end of the story (2 Pet. 3:10 ), when our stewardship over this old earth ends and He wipes everything clean, for eternity. I would expect that, when we no longer have a sin nature, we will take much better care of our home. In the mean time, we need to recognize the pervasiveness of sin and, more importantly, be about our Father’s business ( Luke 2:49 ) ( James 4:14 ).
Is it ever good to be forgotten? I suppose it depends on who is forgetting you. Two nights ago I was standing outside in a dark mountain valley, cut off from the technology that surrounds us (I barely survived no cellular and wifi service). Without the small light of a screen, I looked up to see the millions of starlights that were immensely bigger than our earth, but diminished in appearance by the billions of light years distance. Once again my mind reeled and imagination failed to grasp the depth of space. Yet Isaiah 40:26 commands us, “Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.” Not one of those brilliant dots were misplaced and each subject to the will of the Maker.
The next day I was in another technology challenged corner of the world in Lynch, Kentucky. Everywhere I looked, evidence was shown of a place and people being forgotten. It is a town built by a corporation that the business disregarded fifty years ago. A town being disregarded by its own people. The buildings show decades of neglect, the infrastructure is barely there. The people show little hope and addictions of the town give evidence. However, it is here that I see a sign stating “In God’s name, serving those who are underserved.” It is here, that I hear the stories of God answering prayers in miraculous manner for a people who will call on their Lord. It is the forgotten place that God has shown His presence. The God who is the Maker and Master of all space is the same one who speaks to the forgotten of us.. This to show that within one soul is the treasure that our maker seeks. One 8 year old little girl has the great capacity to glorify God in trusting relationship that cannot be matched by a sky filled with stars. The world may forget you, but the One who made the world does not forget you.