What does it take to become good at something? By what standard might someone actually be considered great at something? Typically, our standard for measuring the skill, talent, or giftedness of a person is by the results they produce. And if that's the kind of standard we applied to the prophet Jeremiah, we might call him a failure, and we would be dead wrong.
Jeremiah was a prophet to the kingdom of Judah beginning in the year 627 B.C. He was faithful to the Lord's calling on his life. He was courageous in the midst of persecution. He was given a thankless task as he proclaimed the truth to a rebellious people that didn't want to hear what the Lord was saying through him. His message was mocked. He was called a liar. His life was threatened, and the people of Judah did not repent of their sins.
But God gave Jeremiah the task to speak the truth to a dying nation, and Jeremiah relied on the Lord to provide him the strength to accomplish this task. Later in his life, he was taken to Egypt and it's believe that he was stoned to death and buried in an unmarked grave because his message was so despised. Yet we can be confident that he received a rich welcome into the presence of God as one who trusted in Him and poured out his heart and his life trying to point others to the Lord.
Everyone walking on this planet sees their life from a particular lens. We all have a worldview that influences how we interpret our circumstances and surroundings. Our worldview impacts the way we value other people. Our worldview also influences the way we choose to make use of the time we've been blessed with.
At one time in our lives, we lived in ignorance. We were ignorant of some of the deepest realities that we're surrounded with all the time. It's likely that we lived in ignorance to who we were really created to be. We lived in ignorance about the purpose of our experiences. We lived in ignorance toward the suffering of others. In general, we lived in ignorance to the bigger picture of God's divine plan.
But our gracious Lord is kind enough to offer us the privilege to begin to see things in a new light. Through faith in Jesus Christ, our eyes are opened to things that we didn't have the capacity to gain a full understanding of through natural means. Jesus enables us to see things differently, and as He does so, the manner in which we choose to live our lives can't help but be impacted as well.
What does Christ enable us to see differently? What difference does that make?
The other day, I was reading an article about what's currently taking place in Venezuela. Their government and economy has been collapsing. There's a lot of unrest and disorder. People are very low on food. The article mentioned a man who had been a little over 300 lbs., but now, due to the scarce availability of food, his weight had dropped to around 130 lbs. As this crisis continues to drag on, people are fleeing the country. Neighboring nations have started to enact policies on how best to handle this large influx of immigrants who are trying to escape Venezuela while the country appears to be collapsing.
Throughout human history, you can see many examples of leaders and nations that rose to power, but later collapsed. Some nations managed to last a long time. Some didn't. During the 1930's and 1940's, Hitler himself used to promise the German people that he was forming a government that would last 1,000 years, but we all see how that worked out.
Deep down, I believe there's a longing within all of us to be part of something bigger. We want to be part of a strong kingdom with righteous leadership, but even the best historical examples can only give us a partial taste of what that looks like. We will only experience that in its fullness when Jesus rules and reigns on this earth in His righteousness. This Scripture tells us that He leads the kingdom that will never be destroyed.
Years ago, I used to be a news fanatic. I would watch 24-hour news channels every chance I got. I was up on everything that the news told me was taking place in our country and everything they said was taking place in the world. Then, after a season of realizing that my constant diet of the news cycle was becoming more of a downer than anything, I stopped watching it so much, and now I barely watch it at all. I had as much of the bad news as I could take.
Somewhere along the line I also noticed that, even though I don't watch the news very much, I still seem to be on the receiving end of an abnormal amount of bad news, and I've come to accept that reality. When you're a pastor, you're often asked to pray with and for people in times of dire need. Just the other day I was asked to pray for a family from a church I served at in college that tragically lost two children in a fire. It broke my heart and I have been thinking about it every day since.
There is no shortage of bad news in this world, and if we don't possess the capacity to see beyond this moment in time, we can easily become locked in a gloomy perspective. But by the grace of God, we're made capable of seeing what's up ahead. The counsel of His word tells us that there is hope for all who trust in Christ. He is the one who takes our gloom away.
There's a question that I started asking when I was a young man, that I continue to ask today. I wanted to know, "What makes a great leader?" When I was a child, my aunt had an almanac that contained a lot of interesting information, including profiles of every U.S. President. Every time I visited, I used to sit down and read that thing. Eventually, after years of pouring through it, she gave it to me and I still have it. I was fascinated by reading the stories of the leaders it spoke about.
Growing up, I worked in our family grocery store. As a child, I observed the leadership of my grandfather, father, and uncle as they ran the business. I watched them hire, fire, and interact with employees. I observed and participated in the strict and sometimes severe ways they treated shoplifters. It was a very helpful context in which to learn leadership principles.
In the years that followed, I worked in various contexts alongside different bosses. Some were excellent leaders and some were terrible. Some I admired and copied and others I appreciated in a different way because they helped me learn what it felt like to serve under a bad, unethical, or ineffective leader.
You may or may not consider yourself a leader, but if you have any form of influence in the life of someone else, you are, at least to them, a leader. And if the Lord has given you the privilege to influence others at home, in society, at work, online, or in the church, it's worth asking the question, "What makes a great leader?" Thankfully, we find some answers to that question in God's word.
The other day I heard someone tell the story of what his friend once told him was his ideal life. His friend said he hoped to be living on a beach somewhere in Hawaii, with a simple hut that had a satellite dish so he could watch a lot of TV. He didn't want to experience any stress. He didn't want to be bothered with long conversations. In general, he didn't want to have to interact with very many people. This was his picture of stress-free life.
If you were given the ability to carve out the ideal version of your earthly life, what would you want it to look like? Would you be by yourself or are other people included in your vision? What are some of the stresses that bother you now that you would make certain to not include?
As fun or interesting as it may be to try to imagine what an easy life might look like, the reality is that isn't something we've been promised on this earth. In fact, when you look at what Scripture tells us, we're encouraged not to be surprised or discouraged by our trials. These things will come and the Lord has a purpose for them.
What else does His word tell us about the trials and difficulties we might experience as those who trust in Jesus Christ?
The other day, out of the blue, I received a brief note of encouragement from someone who used to attend our church, but moved away. I appreciated it and I made sure to tell her that. I also told her that in my opinion, she seems to be one of those unique people that has a gift for encouraging others. In fact, after mentioning that, she confirmed that encouraging others is something she takes great delight in doing.
Isn't it nice to have a few people like that in your life? Why do their actions tend to stand out as special to us? I think one of the reasons they stand out to us is because they're so different from what we experience in many other areas of life. In many contexts, we're forced to deal with people who care more about themselves than they care about others.
Driving can be one area where this becomes apparent. We're in the process of helping my daughter, a new driver, practice the skill of driving. Recently, I told her that the way people drive tends to be an extension of their personality. Gracious drivers tend to be gracious people. Aggressive and dangerous drivers tend to be selfish people that can't even be bothered to think about the safety of others when they're on the road.
Jesus isn't selfish, and His desire for the body of Christ is that we reflect His heart in the ways in which we interact with and treat each other. He invites us to look after each others' needs. He invites us to make sacrifices for the benefit of those we care about. His word teaches us what it looks like to live an others-centered life in the midst of a self-centered world.
Take a look at some of the principles the Holy Spirit inspired the Apostle Peter to share about this subject with the church.
Think back to when you were twelve years old. What was life like for you then? Was that an easy time of life for you, or was that season of life more on the awkward side? I know for me personally, that was a challenging year of my life. I was in a new school. I was trying to figure out who I was and how I wanted to carry myself when I interacted with others. I was easily impressionable and many of my personal influences were not very good. The things I valued were, for the most part, unhealthy.
Over the next few years, things changed. The context that I lived in didn't change, but the people and the values that I allowed to influence me did. By God's grace, He put people in my life that had the desire to honor Him. Some of my greatest influences during the second half of my teen years were people who were just a few years older than me and they blessed me with a highly visible picture of what it meant to trust in and follow Christ.
During that season, I remember drawing a line in my life. I had an extremely strong desire to no longer live according to the faithless, worldly mindset I had welcomed into my life for far too long. I wanted to move beyond that manner of living and experience what it meant to be a fully devoted follower of Christ because I became convinced that that's exactly what God wanted for me.
And when we look at the content of 1 Peter 4:1-6, we can see that that's exactly what the Lord desires for all of us. He invites us to draw a line in our lives and to move forward as His family, instead of drifting backward into the mess He rescued us out of. So how can that be done?
Imagine attending a church worship service and never hearing the message of the gospel taught or proclaimed. Sadly, there are many contexts where that has been an issue historically, and it's also a concern in some contexts during present day. It can be a little too easy for us to lose sight of who Jesus really is and what He has chosen to accomplish on our behalf.
When we read the Scriptures, sometimes we have the benefit of learning something new. Other times, we have the benefit of being reminded of something we already know that we haven't necessarily thought about in a while. The portion of Scripture that we're about to look at probably incorporates both benefits. As we think about its content, some Christians will learn something new while others will be reminded of things they haven't thought about in a while.
What would our lives be like without Jesus? What kind of future would we be currently looking forward to if He hadn't intervened on our behalf? Sometimes, it can be far too easy for us to become complacent in our understanding of what He has accomplished on our behalf. We're so used to the benefits He brings to our lives that we don't consider the kind of mess we'd be in without Him.
This portion of Scripture helps us gain a better glimpse of some of the obvious and some of the behind-the-scenes things Jesus accomplished for us. The work He has done on our behalf is of far greater significance and far greater effect than we often realize.
Do you consider yourself easy to intimidate or not easy to intimidate? Are there certain personality types that produce a certain level of fear within you when you encounter them? Are there people in your life that you care a little too much about their opinion than you really should?
One of the most common fears we face on a regular basis is the "fear of man." Sometimes, we're afraid of what people might say about us, think about us, or do to us. I have also learned that those who try their best to convince me that this isn't something they struggle with, are also wrestling with this kind of battle (often on a deeper level than they're willing to admit).
Truthfully, it isn't hard to see why people become fearful of other people. In this world, who has hurt you the most... rabid dogs, great white sharks, poisonous snakes, or other people? We all have the same answer to that question. Other people may have slandered us, caused us physical or emotional pain, and may have intentionally conveyed a stand-off attitude toward us that keeps us at a distance.
Because of what we've experienced in the past, it's reasonable to be concerned about what people might have the potential to do to us in the future. That's certainly something the early church that Peter wrote his letters to would have been wrestling with as they experienced persecution, suffering, and disdain in their culture. But becoming overly fearful of other people isn't Christ's desire for His church.
So, if we've been wrestling with the fear of other people, what kind of counsel do we find in God's word to help us overcome that struggle?