Mark 1:1-8 shows us that Mark is all about the gospel of Jesus.
When we are truly changed, we will seek to serve others and proclaim the gospel.
Mark 1:1-8 shows us that Mark is all about the gospel of Jesus.
When we are truly changed, we will seek to serve others and proclaim the gospel.
As I sit here writing these words, it is Easter Sunday morning. For the first time in my life I attended Easter worship in my pajamas, watching a livestream from my couch. It was easy, comfortable, and convenient for me and others viewing the service via my church’s Facebook page. My father gave an excellent sermon as he always does, and as the live video came to an end, all viewers were able to quickly continue with our days and whatever plans we have with our families.
Despite this apparent ease of our new routine, I feel a strong conviction from the Lord this morning. A verse that has continually worked itself into my mind this morning and in recent days is Matthew 25:40, which reads “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me,” the least of these being the hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, and imprisoned. This verse puts on full display to me how ease and convenience are antithetical to our collective calling as followers of Christ. As the church, we like helping the poor, the needy, those who need our help, and it is a beautiful thing when we are able to meet the needs of our community. However, too often our participation in service to others only extends as far as it is convenient for us to do so. We will serve at a food bank on our saturday off, or serve the homeless during a regularly scheduled church meeting, or go on a mission trip during a free week in the summer. This brings the question: Would we only serve within our comfort zone if it was Christ himself we were serving?
My guess is no. We would go above and beyond, sacrificing time, money, and energy in our dedication to the Savior. This would be a show of reciprocity that is rightfully earned by His sacrifice on the cross. But when it comes to other people, we are hesitant to give beyond our bare minimum time, money, and effort because, let’s face it, what have they done for us? They haven’t made the ultimate sacrifice, they aren’t Jesus, so we don’t have an incentive to go above and beyond for them. In rationalizing this, we fail to remember that the reason Jesus came in the first place was because WE are “the least of these.” We are the ones that are so desperately in need of saving, and Jesus made a painful, inconvenient sacrifice on the cross, not because we were worth saving, but because of an overwhelming, all-encompassing love for His people.
It is that same love that we should aspire to give our fellow sinners, not because they deserve it, but because it is what we are called to. Mark 12:31 says to “love your neighbor as yourself.” That does not mean love your neighbor according to what they have done for you, or treat them as you would like to be treated, but love them to the same extent that Jesus loved you, to the point of bloodshed, torture and death. This kind of love is self-sacrificial and requires faith to the point of reckless abandon of ourselves for the benefit of others. Our love is not a calculation of debts owed, but an extension of Christ. Our culture tells us that the condition of our lives is somehow earned, that the comfortable deserve their comfort and those who struggle haven’t been good enough to be in better circumstances, but I can personally say that that is not true. I have been blessed with comfort, a loving family, the good fortune to attend my dream college, and countless other things that I was lucky to receive, but did not earn.
The reality is that all any of us has earned in our lives is condemnation, but God has given us a way out because of love. When we accept that, it becomes easier to relinquish what we have been given on earth. Any earthly privilege we have is given from God so that we may use it to help His people. That means that if we are lucky enough to live lives without poverty, without oppression, without abuse, we should do everything in our power to assist those that have. It is our calling as Christians, not to mention just as human beings. I acknowledge that I often fail in this. I am selfish with my money, time, and privilege. I am consumed with my worldly image, striving to meet earthly measures of success.But just because we fail does not mean we cease to try. We cannot just stop loving the poor, the homeless, the incarcerated, and the abused simply because it is difficult. The cross was difficult too, but it gives us hope and life, and that outpouring of love is what we ought to emulate with our words and our efforts as we go forward.
Thank you and God bless
When I was young, I played soccer in Wichita Falls. My coach began to call me “Nate the Great”, based off some popular detective books for children. That didn’t stick for very long, and I began to go by the name given on my birth certificate, Nathan.
All throughout my childhood, teenage, and college years, I went by Nathan (or in college, Papa Roach).
After I graduated and moved to Phoenix, I decided one day to start going by Nate. This was not a deeply thought out decision, it just kinda happened.
What that has now led to is the confusing reality that anyone who has met me in the last four years calls me Nate, but my family and wife still call me Nathan.
In the New Testament, we hear of a man named Saul (Acts 7:58). He was a Pharisee, of the tribe of Benjamin, and he was persecuting the church. First he stood idly by while Stephen was stoned, then he began a systematic persecution of the church, traveling from town to town and taking all who belonged to ‘the Way (of Jesus)’ into custody.
In Acts 9 we see his insane conversion. We see him go from a persecutor of the church to a man who would be used by God to reach the Gentiles with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
I was reading this morning in Ephesians, and we see something interesting.
Paul an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. - Ephesians 1:1-2
The man who approved of the stoning of Stephen is now writing letters to the churches in Ephesus to encourage them in the gospel.
But there’s something else there.
Did you see it?
He addresses himself as Paul.
Now, most people in church understand this. They understand that the Saul we read about in Acts and the Paul we read about (also in Acts starting at 13:19) are the same person. But here’s the reality. I believe that the majority of us have a complete misunderstanding about why this name change took place (including myself for a very long time).
God did not change Saul’s name to Paul.
There is a very popular misunderstanding of what took place with Saul. So many people believe that God changed his name to signify his new life in Christ.
This isn’t heretical by any means, but it’s not true.
If anything I think it’s not nearly as cool as what actually took place.
Now, let’s acknowledge together that God has done the name change thing before. He does it a lot as a matter of fact. We see Him in conversation change Abram’s name to Abraham and Sarai’s name to Sarah. We see Jesus do the same, changing Simon’s name to Peter. These things certainly happened in Scripture. That’s because in ancient cultures, names had a profound impact, significance, and meaning. Today, that’s not always the case (I’m looking at you North West).
But in the case of Saul/Paul, that’s not what happened at all (Dr. Seuss should’ve written books on Scripture).
Saul started referring to himself as Paul, in order to reach the Gentiles with his Roman name (Paul was a common surname and it may or may not have been in Paul’s family).
Do you grasp that?
God didn’t change his name.
Paul changed his name to better reach the people that he was on mission to reach.
He was by no means a perfect man. He was angry, discouraged, anxious, lonely. But he knew Christ, and that led him to give his life fully over to Christ (Philippians 1:21).
When Paul accepted the Christian faith and began his mission to the Gentiles, he identified with his listeners by using his Roman name. In all of his letters, Paul identified himself with his Roman name, linking himself with the Gentile believers to whom God had sent him with the gospel of Christ.Life Application Bible Commentary: Ephesians
Saul’s name was a big deal. It harkened back to the days of the first king of Israel, also a dude named Saul. King Saul was a Benjaminite (of the tribe of Benjamin), just like the New Testament Saul. That means that New Testament Saul had a very significant, honorable, glorified name. And he gave it up for the people he was seeking to reach. He gave up that honorable name.
Paul is an example all throughout the book of Acts of a man who gave up his rights for others.
Like seriously, he was a Roman citizen. This means he was not supposed to get beat like he did all over the place. And yet, Paul only uses that right twice (once to avoid a flogging, once to appear before the Emperor to talk about Jesus).
In a culture like our own obsessed with rights, we can learn something from what Paul did.
To reach others, maybe you need to give up your ‘right’ to comfort.
To reach others, maybe you need to give up your ‘right’ to put your opinions about any number of things on Facebook.
To reach others, maybe you need to give up your ‘right’ to use your money for yourself.
Fill in the blanks for yourself.
Saul changed his name to reach others for Jesus.
What are you willing to do to reach others?
In His Name,
I saw the film Just Mercy a few weeks ago with my wife and some friends. The entire film, following the work of Bryan Stevenson, was a sobering and somber reminder of the injustice that often takes place in our midst. The whole film has been rattling around inside my mind, but one scene in particular has kept me enraptured mentally.
One of the men that Bryan Stevenson represented was a man named Herbert Richardson. Richardson survived an attack in Vietnam that killed his entire platoon, leaving him with major PTSD. This led to his bombing of a house, leading to the death of a young woman. While this was an action that he took, his PTSD was never considered and he was not given a just and fair trial.
As a member of the audience, we watch as Herbert Richardson was walked from death row into a waiting area, as the guards prepped him for death by electrocution. We watch as they shave his body, give him his last meal, and strap him in. All this takes place while the song “Old Rugged Cross” plays over the loud speakers, the song he chose to be his last listen.
Man, my heart was in my throat.
As I sat there watching this scene, I couldn’t help but think of the injustice and brokenness in my own community. I couldn’t help but think of my indifference to it. As a pastor, I’m at church every Sunday. I sing songs just like the Old Rugged Cross about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Yet at the same time I too often ignore the needs of those around me.
In the book of Isaiah, God speaks through the prophet Isaiah about what is on His heart, about what He despises.
And here’s the message. God despises those of us whose lips claim allegiance to Jesus, but whose hearts are indifferent to the needs of others around us.
That definitely convicts me.
I hate your New Moons and prescribed festivals. They have become a burden to me; I am tired of putting up with them. When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will refuse to look at you; even if you offer countless prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are covered with blood.
Wash yourselves. Clean yourselves. Remove your evil deeds from my sight. Stop doing evil. Learn to do what is good. Pursue justice. Correct the oppressor. Defend the rights of the fatherless. Please the widow’s cause.
“Come, let us settle this,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are crimson red, they will be like wool.” – Isaiah 1:14-18
God despises when I attend Sunday school, pray, read my Bible, evangelize, tithe, sing hymns, and teach Scripture, but don’t care for those in need around me.
The church should unashamedly stand for the value and dignity of every human life, from the fetus to the foster child to the foreigner in our midst.
How many times have you sung the hymn “Jesus Paid It All”? I’ve probably sung that song a thousand times throughout my life. And only this weekend did I realize that the context of this passage, and thus that song, is not primarily about sin in general. It is about the stain and blemish on me when I dare to ignore the call of Christ to care for ALL people.
In the scene I opened this blog with, as Richardson is being executed, those on death row are banging against the cell doors and yelling “We’re right here! We are with you! We’re right here! You’re not alone!”
And honestly, again, as I was watching it I wondered what those in need in my community were hearing from me. Maybe they’re hearing “I don’t have the time for you” or “I don’t have any resources with which to help you”. Maybe worse yet they’re hearing “you put yourself in that position” or “I don’t trust you not to use and abuse the system”.
Am I proclaiming “We’re right here!” to those in need?
To be candid, they’re probably not hearing that from me. It’s easier for me to sit in my ivory tower studying and proclaiming the Word of God than it is for me to get my hands dirty in acts of service to meet very real needs in my community. God forgive me for that.
This final verse we looked at together is encouraging and full of the gospel. God will wash me white as snow. The beauty of that verse is not only that God will forgive my indifference which is despairingly sinful. God also promises to wash the crimson stain of my indifference away.
That means that as I ask God, He will give me a greater heart for those around me.
Church, we will close our collective doors if we keep standing above those in need.
Church, we will miss the heart of Christ if we don’t go to meet the needs of all people.
Church, we will push our communities away if all they see from us is the decrying of sin in a sinful culture, constant outrage and outcry, and no heart for the souls of men.
Church, our God despises our religious traditions devoid of a passion for justice.
Church, our mission is to rule and reign, dispensing the justice and MERCY of God.
Jesus did not come decrying the sins of Roman culture.
He came decrying the sins of the religious like me.
Jesus did not come to avoid service.
He came to serve and give His life as a ransom for many.
Jesus did not come trying to change a culture.
Jesus came to save the world.
My greatest witness is not my moral high ground (I don’t know about you but I’ve got some very wicked private sin in my heart). My greatest witness is humble service.
My community doesn’t need my religious outrage.
They just need mercy.
In His Name,
I don’t own rights to the picture above, and no copyright infringement is intended.
I just need to work on myself right now. I need to care for myself. If you are ‘toxic’, or negative, then I’m done with ya. If you aren’t on board with helping me care for myself, then I’m done with ya. Forget the nay-sayers. I’m doing me.
I have seen a ton of these types of posts on social media as of late. Like at least one each week.
Our culture, and unfortunately our Christian sub-culture, is all about individualism and living one’s best life. So the fact that these type of posts show up from Christians and non-Christians alike is not all that surprising.
But church, it is concerning.
As of late, I’ve been diving knee-deep into the book of Philippians. I try and listen to it every day in the car, read it a couple times a week, and memorize different portions of it. I want to know it inside and out, letting it permeate my mind and heart. One undeniable theme that runs throughout the entire book is the way that Jesus primarily, and Paul secondarily, model humble, others-first love.
Let’s start with the well-known passage about the descent of Christ, and then let’s look at how Paul modeled the same type of ‘stepping down’ love.
Do nothing out of 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. – Philippians 2:3-7
You’ve likely heard this passage before.
You can see the steps down that Jesus takes (for more on this, read J-Curve by Paul Miller. I’m only halfway through it right now and it has blown up my view of walking with God. In a good way). Jesus forsook the throne for a season, stepping down into the likeness of men, loving the people of this world to the point of death (as the rest of this passage describes). Jesus was a man who put others before Himself.
However, Jesus is not the only example of this in the book of Philippians. Paul also lived an others-first life. Look at what I mean.
It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. – Philippians 1:7
But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, – Philippians 1:24-25
Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. – Philippians 2:17
Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved. – Philippians 4:1
Honestly, this is just a sampling. But I figured I didn’t need to type out the entire book. Paul held the Philippians in his heart. We see all throughout the letter that they financially supported him and that they cared for him. This obviously is not the ‘toxic’ relationships many of us try to avoid. But it is still a reminder of our need to have affection for one another.
Paul wanted to be with Jesus. He desired to be with Him. But he knew that it was likely that he would stay on earth. Why? So that he could help them progress in the faith.
Paul was willing to be literally offered up for the people of this church.
Paul loved and longed for this church.
Jesus is the ultimate example of humility leading to selfless love. Paul followed suit.
So, what does this have to do with toxic relationships and working on ourselves?
Let me boil it down for us.
0. If You Are In An Abusive Relationship, Seek Help and Get Out
Let me start by introducing this huge caveat. If you are in an abusive relationship, Scripture does not teach you to suck it up and take it. Seek help. Get out. Go to a friend or pastor.
With that very important truth out of the way, let’s look at how we should treat others.
1. If Someone Is ‘Toxic’, Love Them
I put the word toxic in quotes here, because oftentimes we use hyperbole and exaggeration to state the simple fact that someone is hard for us to be around. Yes, a lot of times it’s deeper than that, but in my experience, we like to call people toxic or negative simply because their world doesn’t revolve around us.
Love them! In Miller’s book, he talks about how we have taken a therapeutic view on most of our relationships. If we don’t feel loved or appreciated by others, or valued or served, we see the friendship as pointless, or in this case, ‘toxic’. But the call of Scripture, the call of Christ, is to love those who may make our lives more difficult.
2. If Someone is ‘Toxic’, Serve Them
One way to show love for someone is to serve them. Have you done that? Have you sought to serve the person you’re thinking of right now that is difficult for you to be around? Have you modeled the humility of Christ, stooping low, giving up your rights, to serve them? Guess what. Service and love may not result in restoration or perfect relationships. You may get nothing out of it. We’ve made relationships transactional, and that is not the way of Christ either. Serve.
3. If Someone is ‘Toxic’, Pray For Them
Have you prayed for them? I’m not talking a “God help them” kind of flippant or sarcastic prayer. I’m talking an intentional, genuine, Christ-centered prayer for them. Again, the book of Philippians is not a model of dealing with ‘toxic’ people (although chapter four sheds light on some tension in the church), but what is cool is how Paul’s prayers for them are about gospel growth, not circumstantial changes (1:9-10 for instance). Do you pray for those ‘toxic’ people in your life?
4. If Someone is ‘Toxic’, Confront Them
My biggest pet peeve in the church (or one of my biggest), is how we just drop people that we’re frustrated with or annoyed by. If someone bothers you, you drop them, because it’s too much work.
Have you confronted them? I’m talking about a real honest talk where you tell them why there’s tension or frustration. Now, we don’t like to do this, because we’ve misunderstood the implications of the gospel in our communities. We think that to believe the gospel is to forgive to the point of not acknowledging wrongdoing.
It’s not pleasant to confront. But brother or sister, if you have dropped a friendship or relationship without telling the other party why the distance occurred, you are not absolved of guilt (so to speak). To do your part is to go to the source and confront.
5. If All Else Fails, Love Them Some More
And if all else fails, keep loving, keep engaging, keep relating. In Miller’s book, he quasi-addresses the whole “Don’t be a welcome mat for people” mentality. He says that life itself is a fellowship in the sufferings of Christ. To be a follower of God is to intentionally take on difficult relationships. To be a follower of God is to focus on others, not ‘working on myself right now’.
Church, let us be men and women who live for others. Not ourselves.
That has been my anthem as of late. I’m a son, saint, and slave of Christ. I’m only still here to live for others. Yes, I’m going to enjoy my life and do things that I enjoy (like going to play golf once a week). But I’m not called to ‘work on myself’. I’m called to engage all people, even the ‘toxic’ ones, for the sake of Christ.
In His Name,
My bedroom here in Phoenix is adjacent to a relatively quiet street. Yet every late evening and early morning, cars come flying down it with their engines revving and their music blaring. I’ve tried every single trick imaginable to drown out the noise but alas I’m almost always woken up by it. In these moments of frustration I always have thoughts run through my head of how much better life would be for me if they weren’t around, if these humans that enjoy loud and fast cars in the wee hours of the night just went somewhere else.
This is a small example of how often my mind has an us vs. them mentality. Too often we have feelings of fear towards others or we perceive others to be but a burden on our life or society. Search your own hearts. Are there individuals, people groups, religious groups, families, or other various groups of people that you see in such a light? Maybe it’s a co-worker. Maybe it’s those involved in criminal activity. Maybe it’s people who have differing political views than you do. Maybe it’s the ‘burden’ of financially and physically caring for the elderly or your own children (this is seen on a societal scale but maybe not personally).
We are sinful. We struggle to see ourselves as Christ sees us. We also struggle to see others as Christ sees them.
I overthink. One thing I overthink is God’s calling on my life. In that I mean I overthink what God may be calling me to do. Yes I believe it is Biblical to wrestle with what God may be calling you into in the future. Yes I believe it is Biblical to try and discern what God may be calling you to do as a next step. Yet God’s calling on our lives while we wait for the return of the King of Kings is pretty simple. It is to love God and love our neighbor. Right now. Where you reside. This can happen via a lot of different routes or specific callings that you may have. But all we do should come out of our love for God and our desire to love our neighbors.
We are called to love God and love neighbor. Jesus Himself made this abundantly clear.
Jesus replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” – Matthew 22:37-39
Loving God can be pretty easy sometimes when I meditate and consider all that He has so graciously and mercifully lavished on me in my day-to-day life. Loving my neighbor isn’t nearly as easy. My neighbors aren’t like me. As I write this at my kitchen table I am acutely aware of the religious, financial, ethnic, and lifestyle differences between me and my immediate neighbors. Christ has showered love onto my life, and I in turn should be a conduit of His love to my neighbors.
Every good and perfect thing that I have in my life is from above (James 1:17). God is not served by human hands and He doesn’t need anything from me (Acts 17:24-25). He is enthroned on high, being praised forever by the multitude of saints who have gone before, and the great celestial beings. Yes His mercies should result in a desire to worship, but He doesn’t need me to. He is not any less than Himself in the absence of my praise. Those blessings He invests into me each day should go somewhere, and they go horizontally to those in need around me, to my neighbors.
I’ll let Michael Horton bring us home:
In Christ our perspective on other people is transformed. We no longer see people as barriers to our happiness or as people to be feared. Through the lens of the gospel we see them as our neighbors, as part of a mutual exchange of gift giving, and not as threats to our well being.
I pray today that God would continue to convict me in the times where I have an us vs. them mentality. I pray that God would give me an us for them mentality. I pray that I would joyfully labor daily for the good of my neighbor, whoever that may be, in light of the mercies of Christ and the way that God sees my neighbor.
As followers of Christ, it’s not about us vs. them.
It’s about us for them.
Go in peace.
– Nate Roach
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