O Brother, Where Art Thou?

 

In 2000 a movie entitled, O Brother, Where Art Thou? hit theaters nationwide.  It was purportedly based loosely on Homer’s Odyssey, but it came off as nothing more than a farcical account of three lovable rogues who escaped from a chain gang in Depression-era Mississippi.  If there was some sort of message behind the movie, it was likely lost on most moviegoers.

The title, however, raises a significant spiritual issue that is worth considering.  In Eph. 4:11-16, Paul spoke to the church in Ephesus about how God had ordered His church.  He said that God had placed workers of various sorts within it to do the many things necessary to grow and sustain it.  The goal, Paul said, was for the body to be built up by the combined talents and efforts of every part of the body.  Christ is the source by which the body grows, but as Paul said in v. 16, “the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.”  This exhortation to a first century church with whom Paul was intimately acquainted shows us the danger that can overcome even the best church.

The key to the tremendous growth of the first century church was not because there were apostles in it.  It was not because there were eloquent preachers in it, like Apollos.  It occurred because ordinary Christian men and women “went about preaching the word” (Acts 8:4). The powerful miracles and preaching of the apostles were complemented by the daily testimony of the godly lives of Christians all over the Roman Empire.  Indeed, it is likely that many more disciples were made, and more congregations established, by ordinary Christians taking their faith with them as they moved about, than by the work of the apostles.

We may wonder why the church does not grow as it did in the first century, or why it does not grow as it did in the early 20th century.  The answer to these questions may itself be the question, “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”  Somehow through the years many in the church have concluded that the work of the church is actually the work of the preacher, and perhaps the elders.  This very statement reveals the subtle change in attitude that has taken place.  The work of the church is “their” work, as though the individual members of the church are not in any way responsible for it.  The church is “them”, so individual members may or may not get involved.

Many years ago, when schools still taught typing classes, one of the exercises students practiced in order to learn touch typing (i.e., typing without looking at the keys) was to type this statement: “Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their party.”  This exercise helped students learn the positions of the key letters used in most words as it increased their typing speed and accuracy.

As we consider the needs of the church today, it is time to revive and revise this statement to: “Now is the time for all good men and women to come to the aid of their church.”  The church, after all, is not “them”, but “us”.  If the church is going to grow, it will do so only when each of us does what he or she is capable of doing in the Lord’s service.  Too many, it seems, are content to sit on the sidelines, either unwilling to change their lifestyle to be qualified to serve in an official capacity, or just unwilling to serve at all.  Then these spectators complain about the lack of growth in the church.  This is not what the Lord intended, and it simply will not do.  So then, the question remains, “O Brother, O Sister, Where Art Thou?”

Where Do We Go From Here?

 

Someone once said that there are three kinds of people in the world.  There are those who make things happen, those who watch things happen, and those who wonder what happened.  The truth of this assessment is irrefutable.  Some people are proactive in life, while most of us simply react to it.  The rest seem to wake up in a new world each day, blissfully unaware of what is going on around them.

As true as this is, even the most proactive among us sometimes face a situation and wonder where they will go from that point.  This happens because life rarely goes as we have planned it.  Sometimes, in spite of our plans and preparations, and in spite of our best efforts, life throws us a curveball.  When this occurs, we can let the unforeseen or unexpected derail us, or we can take whatever actions are necessary to resume control of our own destiny.  We can wallow in self-pity and bemoan our sad circumstances, or we can take the lemons of life and turn them into lemonade.  It’s our choice.

This is certainly true in the temporal affairs of life, but is even more true in spiritual matters.  None of the heroes of faith became so by having a “woe-is-me” attitude.  Instead, they rose from where life struck them down and got back to the business of serving the Lord.  Two examples show us the alternatives before us.

In Mt. 26:14-16 Judas made his bargain with the chief priests to betray Jesus for thirty pieces of silver.  When the Lord had been condemned by the rulers of the Jews, Judas regretted his actions.  At that moment he had to have wondered, “Where do I go from here?”  In Mt. 27:1-4 we learn the answer.  Judas returned the money and in the depths of remorse went out and hanged himself.  He came to a place he did not expect to find himself in, and he reacted poorly.

Concurrent with Judas’ actions, the second example occurred.  In Mt. 26:69-75 the scripture says that Peter denied the Lord three times as he stood among the crowd watching the Lord’s trial before the leaders of the Jews.  In v. 74 Matthew says Peter even cursed and swore to make his denials all the more emphatic.  When Peter heard the rooster crowing, he remembered what the Lord had said.  V. 75 tells us that he then went out and wept bitterly.  He, like Judas, must have wondered where he would go from there.  The answer is, he went back to the other apostles and resumed his place among them.

Peter chose wisely and was restored to his place among the Lord’s chosen men and was among the first to learn that the Lord had been raised three days later.  On the first Pentecost after the Lord’s resurrection, he was there as the gospel was proclaimed for the first time (Acts 2:14-36).  Peter’s remorse over his situation led him to renewed vigor in serving the Lord.  For this reason he is called a pillar of the church (Gal. 2:9).

The lesson for each of us is that life will not always go the way we expect it to.  Judas likely did not expect to see Jesus condemned.  Peter certainly did not expect to deny the Lord.  Yet both found themselves in an unwanted position.  Their choices made the difference in their respective destinies.  So it is for us, as individuals or as a congregation of God’s people.  When the unforeseen or unexpected happens, we can overcome it by not giving up.  If we continue to trust in the Lord, and if we are willing to do whatever is necessary to glorify Him, then no obstacle is unsurmountable.  If we fix our eyes on Jesus (Heb. 12:2), and if we each do our part for the good of the church (Eph. 4:16), then we will make the right choices, and we will always know where we are going.

Godly Fathers

Too often on Father’s Day the focus is on all the ways in which fathers need to improve in order to be what God expects them to be.  Lost in such an exercise is that a man need not be perfect to be a godly father.  The scriptures are full of men who are worthy of our praise and respect.  Yet none of these men was perfect.  However, this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t work on improving ourselves.  On the contrary, we must strive to become godlier every day.  The point is that godly fathers do not get as much credit as they should for the good influence they exert.

One of the most revered men in all of scripture, David, was not the best example as a father.  Not only did he have problems with his son Absalom, but he also had issues with his son Adonijah, who appointed himself king when David was old.  The difficulties with both of these sons no doubt stemmed from what is said about David’s attitude toward Adonijah.  In 1 Kgs. 1:6 the scripture says, “His father had never crossed him at any time by asking, ‘Why have you done so?'”  In other words, David did not properly discharge his duties as a father in this regard.

Even so, all the kings who ruled Israel and Judah thereafter were judged on how they measured up to David.  The evil kings were said to have walked in the footsteps of their “father” Jeroboam, son of Nebat.  The good kings were said to have reigned as their “father” David had done (2 Kgs. 18:3).  So David became the standard of what a good king should be and he was a “father” to all the good kings who followed him.

This is where and how we should praise our own fathers.  None of them is perfect.  Neither are we.  Still, a man may be a godly father if he seeks the Lord with all his heart, like David.  When he does so, his imperfections and failures will be overcome by the Lord, so he may instill the attitudes in his children which will help them become what they ought to be before God.

Godly fathers take seriously the charge of Paul in Eph. 6:4, where he said, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger; but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”  This is the only way their children will have the opportunity to know the Lord and to be saved.  They will not do so perfectly, but if their heart is in the right place, the Lord will reward them with success.

Godly fathers will also model their faith in word and in deed, so their children have an example worthy of imitation.  Paul said, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1) . Godly fathers may say the same thing if they follow the Lord.  It doesn’t take perfection.  It just takes dedication and humility.

Most fathers generally do a far better job than we give them credit for, and we need to praise them for the good that they do.  Therefore, fathers, for all that you do, and for all you have done, to lead your children to the Lord, we say, “Thank You” and “God bless you.”

Persevere

The Legendary Runner of the Battle of Marathon

To persevere is defined as, “to continue doing something in spite of difficulty, opposition, etc.”  In the christian faith some have distorted this term to stand for the man-made doctrine of “once saved, always saved”.  John Calvin, the father of this idea, called this the perseverance of the saints.  The scriptures neither teach nor imply such an idea, but rather warn that a Christian may sin in such a way as to forfeit eternal life (Heb. 10:26-31; Gal. 5:4).

In its correct meaning, however, perseverance is an essential part of our faith.  In Heb. 12:1 the writer said, “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance, the race that is set before us.”  The image of the Christian life as a race coveys the idea of perseverance, especially since the inspired writer said we must run “with endurance”.  This term suggests to us that our race is a marathon, not a sprint, and the difference is significant.

In a sprint, the runner sees the goal from the starting blocks.  He knows that he need only exert himself for a short time to finish his race.  He works very hard over that distance, of course, and he uses a tremendous amount of energy as he does so, but he only needs to work over the short term to achieve his goal.  On the other hand, in a marathon the runner cannot see the finish line from the starting point.  In fact, he cannot even see the entire course he will run.  He will not run as fast as the sprinter, but he will expend more energy over the long haul.  This imagery best fits the Christian life.  Our race lasts a lifetime.  There are no rewards for a quick start followed by a rapid burnout.

Paul spoke of this principle in his own life.  In 2 Tim. 4:7-8 he said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.”  Paul’s confidence about his eternal reward was because he knew he had persevered to the goal.  He had indeed “finished the course”.

It is the same for each of us.  Paul promised that we can receive the same reward he expected to receive.  To receive it we each must fight the good fight, finish the course, and keep the faith, just as Paul did.  This means that we must not give up the struggle to live for the Lord until our life ends.  Each day we will face challenges to our faith.  Some will involve temptation to sin.  Some will involve facing ridicule or persecution from unbelievers.  Some will involve conflict with brothers or sisters in Christ.  Whatever the challenges, however, we must persevere in our faith and obedience until we reach the goal.  There is no other way to receive our eternal reward.

In Rev. 2:10 the Lord told the church in Smyrna, “Do not fear what you are about to suffer.  Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days.  Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” We will not be tested as sorely as the Christians in Smyrna were, but if we persevere in our faith we will receive the same reward that was promised to them.  Nothing in life can compare to this reward.  Therefore, let us persevere to the goal.