The school where my son Brian coaches lost the state football title game in a hard-fought battle. Their opponent was undefeated over the past two years. I sent Brian a text to commiserate with him and received a terse reply: “Kids battled!”
No coach shamed the players after the game. No one shouted at them for their mishaps or bad decisions along the way. No, the coaches showered the young players with praise for what could be praised.
Along the same vein, it’s good to know that believers in Jesus will not hear harsh words of condemnation from our Lord. When Jesus comes and we stand before Him He’ll not shame us. He’ll see what we’ve done as we’ve followed Him (2 Corinthians 5:10; Ephesians 6:8). I think He’ll say something like, “You battled! Well done!” The apostle Paul testified that he had “fought the good fight” and looked forward to being welcomed by God (2 Timothy 4:7–8).
Life is a relentless struggle with a fierce, unyielding foe devoted to our destruction. He will resist every effort we make to be like Jesus and to love others. There’ll be a few good wins, and some heart-breaking losses—God knows—but there will no eternal condemnation for those in Jesus (Romans 8:1). If we stand before Him in the merits of God’s Son, each one will “receive his praise" from God (1 Corinthians 4:5).
God's will is sometimes hard. He asks us to do the right things. He calls us to endure hardship without complaining; to love awkward people; to heed the voice inside us that says, You mustn't; to take steps we'd rather not take. So we must tell our souls all day long: "Hey soul, listen up. Be silent: Do what Jesus is asking you to do."
I knew a rancher who lived near Lometa, Texas. His two grandsons were my best friends. We would go into town with him and follow him around while he shopped and chatted with the folks he knew. He knew them all by name and he knew their stories. He’d stop here and there and ask about a sick child or a difficult marriage, and he’d offer a word of encouragement or two. He would share Scripture and pray if it seemed the right thing to do. I’ll never forget the man. He was something special. He didn’t force his faith on anyone, but he always seemed to leave it behind.
The elderly rancher had about him what Paul would call the sweet “aroma of Christ” (2 Corinthians 2:15). God used him to “spread the aroma of the knowledge of [Christ]” (v. 14). He’s gone to be with God now, but his fragrance lingers on in Lometa.
C. S. Lewis wrote, “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked with a mere mortal.” Put another way, every human contact has eternal consequences. Every day we have opportunities to make a difference in the lives of people around us through the quiet witness of a faithful and gentle life or through encouraging words to a weary soul. Never underestimate the effect of a Christ-life on others.
I applied for a position in a Christian organization years ago and was presented with a list of legalistic rules having to do with the use of alcohol, tobacco, and certain forms of entertainment. “We expect Christian behavior from our employees” was the explanation. I could agree with this list because I, for reasons mostly unrelated to my faith, didn't do those things. But my argumentative side thought, Why don’t they have a list about not being arrogant, insensitive, harsh, spiritually indifferent, and critical? None of these were addressed.
Following Jesus can’t be defined by a list of rules. It’s a subtle quality of life that’s difficult to quantify but can best be described as “beautiful.”
The Beatitudes in Matthew 5:3–10 sum up that beauty: Those who are indwelt by and dependent on the Spirit of Jesus are humble and self-effacing. They’re deeply touched by the suffering of others. They’re gentle and kind. They long for goodness in themselves and in others. They’re merciful to those who struggle and fail. They’re single-minded in their love for Jesus. They’re peaceful and leave behind a legacy of peace. They’re kind to those who misuse them, returning good for evil. And they’re blessed, a word that means “happy” in the deepest sense.
This kind of life attracts the attention of others and belongs to those who come to Jesus and ask Him for it.
One evening years ago, my wife and I were making our way down a mountain trail, accompanied by two friends. The trail was narrow and wound around a slope with a steep drop on one side and an unclimbable bank on the other.
As we came around a bend, I saw a large bear moseying along, swinging his head from side to side, and quietly huffing. We were downwind and he hadn’t detected our presence, but he would soon.
Our friend began to rummage around in her jacket for a camera. “Oh, I must take a picture!” she said. I, being less comfortable with our odds, said, "No, we must get out of here." So we backed up quietly until we were out of sight—and ran.
That’s how we should feel about the dangerous passion to get rich. There’s nothing wrong with money; it's just a medium of exchange. But those who desire to get rich "fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction,” Paul wrote (1 Timothy 6:9). Wealth is only a goad to get more.
Instead, we should “pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness” (v. 11). These traits grow in us as we pursue them and ask God to form them within us. This is how we secure the deep satisfaction we seek in God.
My old dog sits by my side and stares off into space. A penny for her thoughts. One thing I know she isn’t thinking about is dying, because dogs don’t “understand.” They don’t think about future things. But we do. No matter our age or health or wealth, we at some point think about dying. That’s because we, unlike beasts, have “understanding,” according to Psalm 49:20. We know that we will die, and there’s nothing we can do about it. “No one can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for them” (v. 7). No one has enough money to buy himself or herself out of the grave.
But there is a way out of the finality of death: “God will redeem me from the realm of the dead,” insists the psalmist. "He will surely take me to himself” (v. 15) (literally, “He will take me in”). Robert Frost said, “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in. ” God has redeemed us from death through His Son, "who gave himself as a ransom for all people” (1 Timothy 2:6). Thus Jesus promised that when our time comes, He will greet us and take us in (John 14:3).
When my time comes, Jesus, who gave to God the price of my life, will welcome me into His Father's house with open arms.
Years ago my son Josh and I were making our way up a mountain trail when we spied a cloud of dust rising in the air. We crept forward and discovered a badger busy making a den in a dirt bank. He had his head and shoulders in the hole and was vigorously digging with his front paws and kicking the dirt out of the hole with his hind feet. He was so invested in his work he didn’t hear us.
I couldn't resist and prodded him from behind with a long stick lying nearby. I didn’t hurt the badger, but he leaped straight up in the air and turned toward us. Josh and I set new world records for the hundred-yard dash.
I learned something from my brashness: Sometimes it’s best not to poke around in other people’s business.
That's especially true in relationships with fellow believers in Jesus. The apostle Paul encouraged the Thessalonians to “make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands” (1 Thessalonians 4:11). We pray for others and seek by God’s grace to share the Scriptures and occasionally we may be called on to offer a gentle word of correction. But learning to live a quiet life and not meddling into others’ is important. It becomes an example to those who are now outside God’s family (v. 12).
Our calling is to “love each other” (v. 9).
In The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion return to Oz with the broomstick that empowered the Wicked Witch of the West. The Wizard had promised, in return for the broomstick, that he would give the four friends their deepest desires: a ride home for Dorothy, a brain for the Scarecrow, a heart for the Tin Man, and courage for the Cowardly Lion. But the Wizard stalls and tells them to come back the next day.
While they plead with the Wizard not to send them away, Dorothy’s dog Toto pulls back the curtain, behind which the Wizard spoke, to reveal that the Wizard isn’t a wizard at all, He’s just a fearful, fidgety man from Nebraska.
It is said that the author, L. Frank Baum, had a serious problem with God, so he wanted to send the message that only we have the power to solve our problems.
The apostle John in contrast pulls back the veil to reveal the truly Wonderful One behind the “curtain.” Words fail John (note the repeated use of the preposition like in the passage), but the point is well made: God is seated on His throne, surrounded by a sea of glass (Revelation 4:2, 6). Despite the troubles that plague us here on earth (Revelation 2–3), God is not pacing the floor and biting His nails. He is actively at work for our good, so we can experience His peace.
Years ago, I was invited to speak to the residents of a university’s fraternity house. They had a reputation for rowdiness so I brought along a friend for support. They were in a celebratory mood, having just won a football championship. At dinner, chaos reigned! Eventually, the president of the house announced: “There are two guys here that want to talk about God.”
I rose on rubbery legs and began to tell them of God’s love, and the room grew still. There was rapt attention. A vigorous and honest Q & A followed. Later, we started a Bible study there and in subsequent years many found the Savior.
I recall many days like that when I “saw Satan fall from heaven like lightning,” but there were other days when it was I who fell—flat on my face.
Luke 10 tells of Jesus’s disciples returning from a mission to report great success. Many had been brought into the kingdom, demons were put to flight, and people were healed. The disciples were pumped! Jesus replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (v. 18). But then He issued a caveat: "Do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven" (v. 20).
We delight in success. But we may despair when we seem to fail. Keep doing what God has called you to do—and leave the results to Him. He has your name in His book!