Role Model

Read 1 Kings 3:1-15

Role models play a valuable role in life. By observing positive behaviors and attitudes in others, individuals can improve choices made in life. These role models may be teachers, mentors, neighbors, family members and/or community members. We might know them personally or only be able to observe them from a distance. Learning from their lives, we are able to be shaped and guided as we journey through our own lives. Choosing our role models is a very important decision because it can influence the direction our life takes into the future.

In the Bible, we observe a large variety of role models. One of the purposes of the Scriptures is to share stories of the people of God so that there is an availability of role models for us in our life and faith journeys. The passage from 1 Kings presents Solomon as a role model. Solomon has recently become the king of Israel, succeeding his father David. This story is a vision in which Solomon is asked by God what God may be able to give Solomon. The vision may create in our minds the image of a genie in a lamp giving the lamp’s new owner three wishes. Faced with the opportunity to request anything, Solomon begins by humbling himself before God and expressing gratitude to God. The one request which Solomon makes is for wisdom to rightly govern God’s people. Because of the attitude of and the request made by Solomon, God indicates that wisdom will be given and promises a long, wealthy and honored life for Solomon if Solomon follows God.

Whether you have been placed in a leadership role or are facing everyday decisions of life, what Solomon models in this story can serve you well. There is benefit to humbling one’s self in the face of opportunity. Realizing the great fortunes of life which has allowed the opportunity to be presented is a great starting point. Acknowledging the limitations of knowledge and skills reminds the person that no one achieves alone. Then seeking the wisdom to choose and act in a way which not only benefits self but others aligns a person to live in an beneficial manner. This follows the example of Christ as well as Solomon.

Choosing One

The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.”

But Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears about it, he will kill me.”

The Lord said, “Take a heifer with you and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what to do. You are to anoint for me the one I indicate.”

Samuel did what the Lord said. When he arrived at Bethlehem, the elders of the town trembled when they met him. They asked, “Do you come in peace?”

Samuel replied, “Yes, in peace; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord. Consecrate yourselves and come to the sacrifice with me.” Then he consecrated Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.

When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord.”

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Then Jesse called Abinadab and had him pass in front of Samuel. But Samuel said, “The Lord has not chosen this one either.” Jesse then had Shammah pass by, but Samuel said, “Nor has the Lord chosen this one.” 10 Jesse had seven of his sons pass before Samuel, but Samuel said to him, “The Lord has not chosen these.” 11 So he asked Jesse, “Are these all the sons you have?”

“There is still the youngest,” Jesse answered. “He is tending the sheep.”

Samuel said, “Send for him; we will not sit down until he arrives.”

12 So he sent for him and had him brought in. He was glowing with health and had a fine appearance and handsome features.

Then the Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; this is the one.”

13 So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David. Samuel then went to Ramah.

1 Samuel 16:1-13 (NIV)

Choosing a leader can be a challenging task at times. The first step is to determine the qualifications and traits which will be sought in a candidate. Then a pool of potential candidates must be collected. This is followed by examining each candidate’s qualifications and traits against the list of sought ones established at the start. When a potential leader aligns closest to the desires, then the declaring of the new leader can occur.

The passage which has been read for today presents the story of choosing a new king for Israel. God had become displeased with Saul for Saul’s unfaithfulness to God. God sends Samuel to anoint Saul’s replacement as king. Samuel is to go to Bethlehem, to the house of Jesse. Jesse brings his sons before Samuel when Samuel arrives. As each son presents himself before Samuel, God indicates that each is not the right one even though they appear to be by human standards. When it seems all have come before Samuel but not any are accepted by God, Samuel makes sure that there are none remaining.  Jesse indicates there is the youngest one who is tending the sheep. Samuel sends for him and when he arrives God tells Samuel to anoint him as king.

We learn from this passage that God looks beyond the obvious human traits in choosing the right person for the job. The human qualifications of appearance and stature are not what God uses to determine the qualified one. Instead God looks for the spirit, attitude, and personality of the correct candidate.

As humans, we too often get dazzled by a person’s appearance. Physical traits and charisma play too large of a role in our choosing of a leader. We also disqualify ourselves or others because we are unable to see the traits of a true leader. This story of Samuel, David, and God cautions us to look beyond what is visible and seek to understand the spirit, attitude and personality of a potential leader.

Commonality

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, so that the promises made to the patriarchs might be confirmed and, moreover, that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written:

“Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles;
    I will sing the praises of your name.”

10 Again, it says,

“Rejoice, you Gentiles, with his people.”

11 And again,

“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles;
    let all the peoples extol him.”

12 And again, Isaiah says,

“The Root of Jesse will spring up,
    one who will arise to rule over the nations;
    in him the Gentiles will hope.”

13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Romans 15:5-13 (NIV)

Over the years of my life, I have been fortunate to encounter individuals who are not a part of my tribe. For those who may not be familiar with the contemporary use of the word tribe, this word is now used to describe a group of individuals who hold things in common. What is held in common varies depending on the tribe; i.e., ethnic background, career, viewpoint on a subject, leisure activities, faith, etc. I have greatly enjoyed learning about tribes which are different from my own. Often I discover more similarities between my tribe and someone else’s than I ever find differences. There clearly are differences but not as many as the commonalities.

Paul writes to a group of Christ followers located in Rome. Some of these followers were Jews and some were Gentiles. All of them are also facing Jews who are not Christ followers. In the passage today, Paul is addressing the uneasiness the followers are having caused by the combining of Jews and Gentiles. The Jewish tribe carries with them the history of being a persecuted group of God’s people, usually at the hands and mercy of Gentiles. In addition, the historical understanding of the Messiah was God would be sending the Messiah to save the Jews. The Gentile tribe carries with them the sense of constant rejection by the Jews and what they see as the arrogance of the Jews who declare they are God’s chosen ones. It is easy to see why there are significant differences between these two tribes of people that can lead to conflict. 

Paul has chosen to address this uneasy division among believers. He calls them all to have the mind and attitude of Christ. He challenges these followers to accept one another in the same manner Christ has accepted them. Throughout Jesus’s ministry we see him display an embracing of both Jew and Gentile, continually breaking through the cultural norms to reach out to all. Then Paul uses words from Hebrew Scriptures to show that Jesus came to fulfill the promises God made to the Jews but also God’s plan to incorporate the Gentiles.

We live in a time when tribes of people are inclined to build walls to keep other tribes out. Instead of different views and experiences living in harmony, people would rather divide and conquer. Paul’s words speak loudly to us in the Christian faith. His words remind us that we have commonality in Christ. These words challenge us to adopt the mind and attitude of our Lord. A mind and attitude of acceptance without diminishing our differences. The church gives us a place to practice this so that we can learn to live it with tribes outside of the Christian tribe.

Scarcity Versus Abundance

13 When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

15 As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.”

16 Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”

17 “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered.

18 “Bring them here to me,” he said. 19 And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. 20 They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. 21 The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.

Matthew 14:13-21 (NIV)

During my professional career, I have attended many conferences and even helped plan a few. One of the challenges for conference planners is making sure there is the correct amount of space for the number of people who attend. This requires making projections and estimations. A colleague of mine used to always comment when we were in a room too small that the planners did not properly plan for success. Another way to look at situations like this is an attitude of scarcity versus an attitude of abundance.

The attitudes of scarcity and abundance are visible in the passage from Matthew today. Confronted with a resource supply issue, the disciples recommend that Jesus send away the crowd. They tell him that having only five loaves of bread and two fishes is not enough to meet the needs of the people. The disciples are focused on what they are lacking, an attitude of scarcity.

Jesus has a completely opposite analysis of the situation. When addressed by the disciples, he responds that they should take care of the people’s needs. In Jesus’s view, the disciples have everything necessary. When the disciples are unable to see the abundance of their resources, Jesus steps in and demonstrates this reality.

Like the conference planners and the disciples, we can easily fall into the trap of adopting a scarcity viewpoint. As we attempt to evaluate needs and then balance those against our perceived resources, we can tend to identify why something will not work instead of why it can work. We must be practical yet that does not mean we have to limit possibilities.

Another key factor which is present in Jesus’s example of an abundance attitude is the God factor. The God factor is the certainty that God is able to take what we have available and use it to meet the needs which are before us. Initiating this factor is possible through prayer and trust. Prayer is our communication of the need of which we are aware. Trust is belief that God is able to provide for the need. When the God factor is put in play, we discover we have abundance.

Reaching

In our home we have a few houseplants. We are fortunate in this house to have windows to the south and windows to the east which provide excellent locations for some of our plants. Every few weeks, I have to turn the plants at least forty-five degrees. The reason for needing to turn the plants is that they tend to grow towards the window so by turning them I am able to keep them pretty evened out. Of course, the reason they grow toward the window is due to the fact that they are growing toward the source of the sunlight. If you remember from your basic biology class, plants need sunshine in order to trigger photosynthesis which allows the plant to grow.

You may be wondering why I have attempted to give a brief lesson regarding plants and photosynthesis. My reason is that while adjusting the plants the other day, I thought about how they reach for the sunlight. How they must have the sunlight for their survival. These thoughts caused me to ponder how I have a similar need. I am the type of person who does not do well on consecutive days of cloudy skies. After a few days, I notice shifts in my attitude and a reduction of my energy level. I am a person who needs regular days of sunlight.

I also began to consider how this applies to my faith. I have a need to feel a connection to God. When I sense this connection, my attitude is more of a positive attitude. Feeling surrounded by the Spirit of God, I experience a movement forward in my life. When going through a dark time in my life, my natural instinct is to reach out toward the Lord. Like the plant reaches toward the sunlight, I reach toward God so that I may receive what I need to survive and grow.

Between the impact of COVID-19 and the call for racial justice, there seems to me a greater need for us to reach out. A need for us to reach out to one another. A need for us to reach out to God. There we will find that life-giving source which will sustain us and help us to grow.

Expressing Gratitude

This month every year in the United States, people are encouraged to pause in order to express thanks for blessings which have occurred in their lives over the year. A specific day has been set aside to do exactly this. The roots of Thanksgiving Day are found in the story of English settlers experiencing their first harvest in the new world.

Prayers of thanks and special thanksgiving ceremonies are common among almost all religions after harvests and at other times.The Thanksgiving holiday’s history in North America is rooted in English traditions dating from the Protestant Reformation. It also has aspects of a harvest festival, even though the harvest in New England occurs well before the late-November date on which the modern Thanksgiving holiday is celebrated.

Pilgrims and Puritans who emigrated from England in the 1620s and 1630s carried the tradition of Days of Fasting and Days of Thanksgiving with them to New England. The modern Thanksgiving holiday tradition is traced to a well-recorded 1619 event in Virginia and a sparsely documented 1621 celebration at Plymouth in present-day Massachusetts. The 1619 arrival of 38 English settlers at Berkeley Hundred in Charles City County, Virginia, concluded with a religious celebration as dictated by the group’s charter from the London Company, which specifically required “that the day of our ships arrival at the place assigned … in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetually kept holy as a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God.” The 1621 Plymouth feast and thanksgiving was prompted by a good harvest, which the Pilgrims celebrated with native Americans, who helped them pass the last winter by giving them food in the time of scarcity.

Wikipedia

Thinking about the upcoming celebration of Thanksgiving once again in three weeks prompted me to consider what it means to be thankful and show gratitude. To be a bit more specific, I have been thinking about gratitude in the light of my faith. Especially since the above words found in Wikipedia make mention of prayers and ceremonies among almost all religions.

There exist a variety of ways to express gratitude. Most often we think of using words to express gratitude. This may be as simple as saying, thank you, or may be longer by expressing exactly what prompts us to be thankful and how our life has been impacted. At other times, actions we take may be an expression of our gratitude.

So how do we go about expressing gratitude to God?

As a Christian, I believe that all I have and all that I am are gifts from God. God has chosen to bestow material items, means to purchase material items, talents I use, and knowledge which I have obtained upon me. God gives to me even the breath which I take and the food which sustains me. Nothing in my life exists except through the giving of it to me by God. So how do I express gratitude for my very life and everything within it?

Scripture contains suggestions which might be helpful:

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

Micha 6:8

Then the King will say to those on his right, Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. Then the righteous will answer him, Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.

Matthew 25:34-40

Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

John 4:11

Many other passages can be found which prompt us to give thanks to God. I lift these passages up to you because they talk not about words, or even worship, but about attitude and action. God warns the people that they can do all forms of worship and abide by the sacrificial laws which existed for ancient Israel but that without the correct actions and attitude, their expressions are hollow. (See Isaiah 1:10-18) This warning leads me to think that the best way to express gratitude to God is through our actions and attitude. I think God finds this most pleasing.

So as you pause this month to consider those aspects of your life which generate gratitude in your heart towards God, I encourage you not to just express your gratitude in words but more importantly in actions and attitude.

Bumper Sticker Christians

When I was growing up, my dad always refused to let us put bumper stickers on the car. His reason for this was that they are difficult to get off and always leave a mark. He said that when he was ready to sell the car he did not want to get less for it because of the bumper stickers. I am really not sure why he used that as his reasoning since I never recall dad selling any of our cars. He always seemed to drive them until they would not run anymore. Whatever his true reason may have been, the truth is that I was never allowed to put any type of bumper sticker on the car.

As I became an adult, I also followed dad’s rule with most of the vehicles which I owned. My reason for not putting a bumper sticker on the car was much different from my dad’s. I did not want bumper stickers on my car because then I felt everyone would know something about me and that I would have to be representative of whatever the bumper sticker was about. If I placed a bumper sticker for a political candidate on my car, I thought my actions while driving would then represent that candidate. This was a pressure I did not want to place on myself since sometimes my driving habits are not always the best.

I have been observing a lot of vehicles with bumper stickers which have faith statements or the name of a church or a reference to God upon them. Seeing the various bumper stickers, or more accurately today there are as many window decals as bumper stickers, has caused me to ponder two questions. The first is, why have they chosen to attach that to their vehicle? The second is, do their actions stand as a fair representation of what is on their sticker or decal?

Why the first question is important to me is because the motivation behind placing a sticker or decal on the vehicle may say a lot about the type of person who attached it might be. What I mean by this statement is that if the motivation was to encourage others to investigate the thought, church, or God statement, then it serves a purpose of invitation. However, if the motivation is linked to a desire to let the world know what a good Christian the person is, then there is a major issue.

A passage from Scripture addresses this when Jesus is teaching about giving to the needy and prayer:

Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

Matthew 6:1-6

Here Jesus clearly states what type of attitude is expected of his followers. We are not to seek reward for our actions which we do in faith. We are to do whatever we do as a response to our faith. If placing a sticker or decal on a vehicle is intended to get people to think better of us, then it definitely goes counter to what Jesus says above.

The other concern which I have is that some drivers which have faith stickers or decals attached to their vehicles are not always demonstrating the teachings of the Lord. Through gestures, driving behaviors, and other actions, they choose to not represent a loving attitude. I know that I am sometimes guilty of these things, so I do not place faith stickers and decals on my car. I am afraid that I will misrepresent God through my actions and will be unable to seek forgiveness from those whom I might offend.

Let me throw some caution out to those who might be what I am terming, bumper sticker Christians. Be aware that by placing that sticker or decal on your vehicle, you are representing your faith and your God in a very public way. Know your motivation behind doing so. Make sure your actions truly are representative of a loving God who offers forgiveness to all people.

Purpose of the Church – Part 3

If you have been following my posts about the purpose of the Church, you know that I have identified what I view the Church as not being and what I view the Church as being. (If you have missed them, here are the links: Purpose of the Church – Part 1 & Purpose of the Church – Part 2.) Today, I will share my final post dedicated to this specific topic.

At the end of Part 2, I quoted a passage from the Gospel of Matthew. Here it is again:

“And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

Matthew 16:18-19

I indicated that the Church has the responsibility to look after the welfare of all people. But how do we live out being this Church? There are 7.7 billion people and a finite amount of resources. What aspects of an individual’s welfare should we be addressing? What do we do about those who do not even believe in God? How about people who are not Christian, do we have a responsibility to them? The Church exists for those who are members, does it not? Questions that are nothing more than a smoke screen of excuses.

Like a multitude of aspects of life, we tend to complicate that which is truly very simple. We spend so much time identifying the hurdles to whatever we may be called to do that we miss the opportunities which are right before our eyes. We think only within what we know and not what could be.

I believe that living as the Church means living where we are now. By that, I mean that we address what is around us and not what is out of our realm of touch. A friend of mine used to always do a benediction which included a line that reminded all the hearers that we are where we now are for a reason. If each of us who claimed to be part of the Church took a good look around ourselves, we would find individuals who have needs which we are uniquely qualified to meet. This does not require us to develop some new talent or skill, we already have been given that talent or skill to address that specific need. We may need to strengthen the talent or skill, or learn how to apply it better to the situation before us. Yet the core is already present within us.

Imagine if each participant in the Church applied themselves each day. The impact we could have in our community and neighboring communities could be tremendous. If this happened in every place and each day throughout the world where people claim to be a part of the Church, the Church would have a global impact which exceeds any of the world’s NGO’s today. The multiplied effect of individuals practicing this simple guidance could change the course of human existence.

Another positive reality of the Church living out its purpose is that when two or more individuals join together to follow this plan, their efforts are even stronger. This is why the Church exists as a community of people on a journey of faith together. Jesus said, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:20) I believe that Jesus was not only talking about being together in worship or in a class, Jesus was talking about gathering to live as the Church. We support and strengthen one another as each of us lives out our purpose within the Church. The Church gains its purpose from the ones who join together in looking out for the welfare of all people.

If this is truly the attitude which we take as the Church, then all the excuses mentioned above drift away. The resources needed have already been provided. The belief system of the one in need has no bearing on our actions. The ones who claim to be members of the Church are having their needs met as they join in fellowship and work with each other.