In addition to being a devoted husband and father, I am a minister at the New York Avenue church of Christ, a staff writer for Apologetics Press, a staff blogger for the Apologia Institute, and an associate for the Associates for Biblical Research. I have taught undergraduate courses for Amridge University, Faulkner University, and the Southwest School of Bible Studies.
People come in all shapes and sizes with many different kinds of dispositions. Some encourage; others criticize. Some build up; others tear down. Some will go the extra mile for you; others couldn’t care less. We all know people from many different parts of the spectrum.
We learn how to observe and evaluate people early in life. Our perceptions become more refined as we age and have more experience dealing with others. A few who come into our lives will be especially difficult. For the very worst, we might use the word, “toxic.” We’ve all seen one, even if we might not use that word. It’s the person who never seems satisfied, who complains about everyone, and who undermines other people. These individuals are best avoided. So how do we recognize one?
They blame others and don’t apologize. Toxic people rarely admit fault or apologize, unless there is something to be gained by it (e.g., looking magnanimous in front of other people they hope to influence – see the next point). They will concoct explanations for failure to absolve themselves of any responsibility and point the finger at someone else. Occasionally, this kind of person will even project their failures onto other people, blaming others for things of which they are guilty. They will not take responsibility for their errors.
They are manipulative. Toxic individuals use manipulation to further their agenda. They understand the principle of dividing and conquering. For instance, a person may try to manipulate an eldership by individually getting each elder on his side separately to ensure he gets what he wants. It is essential to understand that manipulative people serve themselves, and there is probably nothing to be gained by trying to help these individuals achieve their goals. Other people are nothing more than a means to an end.
They are uncaring and unsupportive. Toxic people will not often go out of their way for others unless it is beneficial for them. These people usually do one of two things: play the victim, or grab for power and control. Both are manipulative. The plight of others has minimal impact on them. They don’t care for others. They will tell you about themselves but will show an interest in the life of someone else. They do not like to hear the word, “no.”
They are judgmental and critical of others. Toxic people often criticize other people (it could be any number of things, but often seems to stem from narcissism and jealousy). This is one of the most obvious signs of toxicity. If a person complains about everyone else to you, you can bet they’re going to complain to everyone else about you. If you meet someone who likes to criticize, complain, and badmouth other people, he or she is toxic.
They often lie. A toxic person is manipulative, and the best tool for manipulation is deceit. I’ve seen toxic people lie about colleagues to get them fired (usually motivated by jealousy – see the next point), and then lie about the person afterward to make their firing appear legitimate.
They crave the spotlight. Toxic people are narcissistic and self-serving. They expect special treatment, especially if they have exceptional gifts or talents. A brilliant person may expect everyone else to accept his opinion because of his intelligence. A preacher may think he is better than every other preacher because he has studied rhetoric or teaches classes in homiletics. They expect to be applauded for their work and will go out of their way to diminish the contributions of others. They may abuse a position of authority by getting talented colleagues fired to remove any competition for the praise they desire. Generally speaking, these individuals talk more than they listen.
They interrupt you during conversation. Toxic people care very little about others or their needs. This includes the need for expression. They do not engage in conversation to listen. They are more interested in having you see the merits of their opinion and ultimately agree with them. They like to lecture and give unsolicited advice. This is one symptom of a more significant problem that toxic people usually have: the need for control.
So how do we deal with toxic people? We have to understand that no one is perfect (Romans 3:23). I don’t believe people are born toxic. They either become that way through experience or discover that toxicity can benefit them somehow. We have to realize that there comes a time when we have to “shake the dust off our shoes” (Matthew 10:14) because the person will not respond positively no matter what we do. We can’t wave a magic wand to stop someone from being negative, selfish, and self-serving. But we can pray for them, and we should do precisely that (cf. Matthew 5:44).
If someone makes you feel bad about yourself, criticizes you to other people, and is generally disrespectful and defensive in conversation, you’re dealing with a toxic person. You may not be able to help them, but you don’t have to sit back and take the abuse, either. It’s best to distance ourselves from them.
Here we have to do something that is very, very difficult: give up not only the need to have an apology but also the need to be right. If a toxic person has hurt us, we may need to be willing to accept the fact that we’ve been wronged and move on. This is especially difficult if the wrong involves back-biting, slander, criticism, and malicious gossip. I know how hard it is to walk away after being unfairly maligned. Alas, it has to be done. We have to find peace in knowing that God knows the truth, even if no one else does.
If you are emotionally drained after dealing with someone and dread seeing them, you are probably dealing with a toxic person. The best thing to do here is to minimize your contact with them. If he or she is a significant other, get out of the relationship. If it is a working relationship, reduce your time with him or her. Nothing can be gained by throwing pearls before swine. Eventually, you run out of pearls, and the pig has no interest in being anything other than a pig.
Aristotle once said, “one cannot love whom he fears.” The Bible claims that the “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 1:7), yet also that, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). So which is it? Do we love God, or fear him? Basic reason says that it cannot be both. Or can it?
Modern critics often like to pounce upon passages like these, usually pitting two verses taken out of context against each other. Some of the best examples of this kind of irresponsible criticism appear in Self-Contradictions of the Bible by William Henry Burr (a book endorsed by militant atheist Sam Harris). Published in 1860, this book offers over one hundred examples of alleged contradictions in the Bible, much like the one I’ve provided here. Most of these examples grasp at straws, while others ignore the context of the passages considered. All of them can be reconciled by investigating the passages under consideration.
We all know what it means to love God, but what is it to fear him? Biblical authors used the word “fear” (Hebrew yare’) in a variety of ways. Some of its uses include reverence or awe (Psalm 33:8), which is how we should interpret the passage in Proverbs. It is connected to righteous living (Exodus 1:17, 21; Deuteronomy 10:18-20; 25:18; 31:11-12). It describes the respect given to one’s parents (Leviticus 19:3) and also applies to religious worship (Joshua 22:25, where the ESV translates the term as “worship”).
While we often think of “fear” as a negative emotion associated with apprehension and terror, this is not how the term in the Hebrew Bible should be understood. When examined in context, the term means to offer respect, honor, reverence, or worship. A great example is the opening verse of Psalm 112, which says, “Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who greatly delights in his commandments.” Naturally, a person cannot delight in something that induces fear and dread.
To fear God in the biblical sense is to give him the honor and respect he deserves. It means to have a deep reverence for him and his awe-inspiring majesty and holiness. This does not conflict with the love we have for him. If anything, it deepens it. That such a God would choose to love such minuscule and error-prone creations is something to celebrate.
Marijuana has been legalized in over thirty states. Many users tout its alleged benefits, while others denounce it as harmful and even dangerous. While the legal debate is over, how should Christians treat the use of marijuana? Is it just a harmless recreational drug, or is it sinful to use?
The Bible has many prohibitions against excess and drunkenness (Romans 13:13; Ephesians 5:18; Galatians 5:19-21; 1 Peter 4:3). Even if something is legal, it is not beneficial (1 Corinthians 10:23-24). We might say this is especially true for substances that cause us to behave in ways that can endanger others. Nevertheless, some have tried to use the Bible to justify marijuana use by using the following texts:
Genesis 1:12 – “The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.”
Genesis 1:29 – “And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food.”
The plants described in these passages are those used for food, which not describe the cannabis plant. No one eats marijuana leaves because they’re a tasty snack. Even in brownies, marijuana users consume it for the effect it has on the human body, not for its flavor.
The Bible denounces the kind of behavior produced by intoxication, whether by alcohol or by marijuana. But is it bad for our bodies? Proponents of marijuana use often argue that there is nothing physically harmful about using it. They tout the numerous benefits of the drug, particularly for the economy in terms of tax revenue. It is not uncommon to hear users claim that it poses no health risk, has no adverse side effects, and that its misuse—unlike that of alcohol—does not result in hospital visits, life-threatening emergencies, or car crashes. According to some, marijuana is a miracle plant with no ill effects.
How accurate are these claims? Not very. Now that marijuana has been legal in Colorado, we have a few years to look back with perspective. What has marijuana done for this state since its legalization in 2013?
A study in the Review of Economic Studies found that “college students with access to recreational cannabis on average earn worse grades and fail classes at a higher rate.” An experiment in Maastricht, Netherlands showed that students who lost access to legal marijuana saw their grades improve.
Similar statistics can be found for the states of Washington, Oregon, and Alaska. Outside of Colorado, the health and psychiatric risks of marijuana use are clear, especially for youth:
A study by the University of Montreal found that marijuana had more damaging effects on teenager’s long-term cognitive abilities than alcohol. Even after the students stopped using marijuana, their abilities did not improve. The impairment they suffered from marijuana seems to be permanent (partially, at least).
Another study published in JAMA Psychiatry by scientists from the University of Pennsylvania found that youth who used marijuana were more likely to have lower scores on tests involving memory, learning new information, problem-solving, and processing information.
Health problems resulting from marijuana use include psychosis, depression, anxiety, suicidal tendencies, and cardiovascular problems of various kinds. Despite claims that marijuana is not addictive, studies have shown that changes in the brain resemble those of addicts. Also, heavy users may go through withdrawal symptoms. Studies have also shown that marijuana users are much more likely to use opioids and that teenage suicide victims testing positive for marijuana has increased.
Any substance that poses such risks to users cannot be considered good. Non-harmful derivatives such as CBD oil have proven very effective at treating a number of things from anxiety to epilepsy, but recreational use of marijuana is dangerous to one’s health, can lead to the endangerment of life, and is ultimately denounced by Scriptures forbidding the use of substances that cause us to lose control of ourselves.
In Luke 19:1-10 we find the well-known story of Jesus’ encounter with Zacchaeus. Unable to see because of the crowd, the tax collector climbs up into a sycamore tree to get a better look at Jesus. To the surprise of the people gathered there, Jesus tells Zacchaeus that he must spend time at his house that day. The crowd grumbles in response. Zacchaeus then tells Jesus that he will offer restitution to those whom he has defrauded, up to four times the original amount. Jesus responds, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost.” Did Zacchaeus purchase his salvation?
Because of the promise he makes, some might be tempted to interpret the text to mean that Zacchaeus’ monetary gifts saved him. By donating his goods to the poor—and perhaps also to Jesus’ ministry—Zacchaeus’ charity has put him in good standing with God (cf. Luke 18:24; 1 Timothy 6:18-19). But is this what Zacchaeus intended?
The text seems to be telling us that Zacchaeus promises to remedy his past wrongs. The minimum for restitution included an additional 20 percent penalty (Leviticus 5:16; Numbers 5:7), with a maximum of 400 percent or 500 percent when the theft involved sheep and oxen, respectively (Exodus 22:1; see also 2 Samuel 12:6). Zacchaeus is offering many times more than the recommended amount of restitution, nearing the maximum level the law prescribed.
It appears that the reason for Zacchaeus’ commendation from Christ is not due to the value of the possessions he would give away, but the change in his heart. We gather this from Jesus’ own words: “the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10). Scholars see this story as one of genuine conversion. We might interpret Zacchaeus’ promise to return his ill-gotten gain as a public repudiation of the past wickedness that would have separated him from God (see 1 Timothy 6:6-10).
A despicable man, his life changed by Christ, makes a public confession and promises to rectify his past wrongs. Zacchaeus—whose name means “clean” or “pure”—
offers us a great example to imitate.
In a famous story in the Synoptics, a rich young ruler comes to visit Jesus. He asks, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 18:18). Jesus responds, “Why do you call me good?” (Mark 10:17; Luke 18:19). At first glance, it appears as if Jesus is creating a distinction between God and himself. Does he deny his goodness here?
Critics have long interpreted this passage to mean that Jesus not only denies his deity but contradicts other passages showing the connection between God and himself (Matthew 22:41-45; 28:18-20; John 10:30), as well as Trinitarian beliefs that date back to earliest days of the church. Muslims interpret this passage to mean that Jesus denied any divinity, claiming he makes it clear that he is not as good as God—meaning that the two must be different persons. Many other non-Christians hold the same view.
The most natural reading of the passage is to see Jesus testing the man because he has too simplistic an idea of what goodness is. The rich young ruler is not ready to address Jesus as “Good Teacher” until he has a more thorough understanding of both goodness and Jesus’ deity. This becomes clear when we observe that the man states that he has kept the law of Moses from his youth (Luke 18:21). It appears the young ruler believes being good is so simple that a child could do it. Jesus rightly challenges the man’s rather simplistic satisfaction with his achievements.
It would be a mistake to interpret Jesus’ words as a denial of his deity. First, no one in the early church would have put these words into Jesus’ mouth. The first Christians taught the deity of Jesus, a fact supported by all of the earliest available Christian writings we possess. No one would have invented a story that contradicted other biblical authors.
Second, the story of the rich young ruler is found in the same documents in which Jesus expresses his divinity in other narratives. Numerous passages depict Jesus receiving worship and making no attempt to stop the individuals from revering him (Matthew 28:9; John 9:35-38). The Gospels portray Jesus receiving worship even when he was a small child (Matthew 2:11). After his resurrection, Thomas flatly states that Jesus is both Lord and God (John 20:28). Earlier, Jesus said that anyone who had seen him had seen the Father (John 14:9). Why would the ancient authors fail to harmonize their work?
The episode between Jesus and the rich young ruler is one in which the master teacher questions his subject to get past the assumptions the latter is bringing to the conversation. To read this as Christ denying his deity is to miss the natural interpretation of the passage.
The early chapters of Exodus are some of the most exciting in the Bible. Not only do they record the action-pack story of the Hebrew departure from Egypt, but they also feature numerous connections between ancient Egyptian culture and the Hebrew Bible. Let’s explore some of them.
The Pharaoh who Knew Not Joseph. The pharaoh who lived close to the time of the exodus—who name we will never know—saw the Hebrews as a threat, and for a good reason. The Hyksos (mostly Semitic invaders from a couple of centuries before) had taken over and ruled Northern Egypt for about a century. With the Hebrews living on the northeastern border, they could have easily aided potential invaders from Canaan. The king was right to be worried.
The Presence and Absence of Names. Egyptian sometimes refused to record the names of enemies. This was a way of magically destroying or annihilating their foes. By leaving out the pharaoh’s name from the text, Moses is not using magic (as it is denounced later in the law), but rather following a custom of not naming enemies. This highlights the names of three others: the two Hebrew midwives and God himself. The midwives are remembered for their righteousness just as the king is “forgotten” on account of his villainy. Refusing to name the pharaoh further highlights the disclosure of God’s name, particularly in Exodus 3.
The Birth Story of Moses. Many critics claim that some unknown biblical writer plagiarized the birth story of Moses from that of Sargon of Assyria. It is true that the stories bear some similarities, but that is to be expected. In riverine cultures like Egypt and those of Mesopotamia, families who could not afford another mouth to feed might put a newborn in a basket and set it adrift upon the river and pray that the gods watch over the safety of the child. In the West, it would be something like putting a baby on the doorstep of a church or an orphanage.
The Serpent Sign. The transformation of Moses’ staff is highly significant. First, it plays upon Egyptian stories of transformation. The message is that Moses could do what the Egyptian magicians could accomplish only by sleight of hand (they could make it appear that they had transformed staves into serpents—a trick depicted on the backs of ancient Egyptian scarabs). There is another message here, however. When the staff swallows up those of the magicians, it was sending a specific message to the king. To consume something in Egypt meant to claim its magical power. The swallowing of the other two staffs communicated the superiority of God’s power in a way that would make sense primarily in an Egyptian context.
The Ten Plagues. Each of the plagues targeted areas that the Egyptian gods were thought to control. Osiris and Hapy cannot keep it from turning to blood. The frog-headed fertility goddess Hekhet cannot keep the frog population from raging out of control. The powerful sun gods could not keep the sky lit. Finally, the pharaoh—who believed himself a god among men and called himself the “Living Horus”—could not even protect his son. God exposes the deities of Egypt as non-existent creations of human imagination. He also humiliates the arrogant and evil pharaoh who supposedly had the power to keep peace and order in the country.
Parting the Red Sea. This miracle provides the escape route for the Hebrews but is also reminiscent of a famous story about a lost necklace. A pharaoh goes out sailing one day with beautiful women to entertain himself. One of the women accidentally drops her necklace into the water. To keep the pleasure cruise from being soured, a priest named Dja-Dja-em-ankh parts the waters to retrieve the lost item. The difference between this story and the Red Sea crossing is the sheer power of God can accomplish in reality what could only be done in a fictional tale.
One a final note, we have to be wary of the sensationalism generated by amateurs who claim to have discovered evidence related to the Hebrew exodus. Movies like Patterns of Evidence have duped many viewers into adopting a fringe view of history and the Bible. Others have attempted to find the real Mount Sinai by looking in Saudi Arabia. Recent examples include the thoroughly-discredited Ron Wyatt and also the Doubting Thomas Research Foundation, the latter of which was recently featured briefly on the Glen Beck Program. Their efforts contradict the Bible and ancient Egyptian evidence and should be given no consideration whatsoever. Even more outrageous are the contentions that chariot wheels have been discovered on the bottom of the Red Sea, which appears to be a total fabrication as no such evidence exists.
In looking at materials produced by atheist apologists, it is fascinating how many of them repeat the same old objections that have been around for years. According to these writers, the Bible endorses slavery, subjugates women, teaches an anti-scientific view of the world, and commands the faithful to wage holy war against the unbeliever. In spite of untold numbers of articles, books, web pages, blog posts, podcasts, lectures, seminars, and other sources produced by Christians refuting these allegations, criticisms persist. The Christian’s job is never done.
Jude 3 states, “I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” This charge applies to Christians today just as much as it did nearly two millennia ago. Throughout history, critics of the Christian faith have done very little work in trying to understand the subject of their criticism. They feel that Christianity is a naïve, simple-minded faith not worth understanding. Examples are legion, but we’ll take one specific example: Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion.
In the London Review of Books, Terry Eagleton said the following about Dawkins’ work:
Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology. Card-carrying rationalists like Dawkins, who is the nearest thing to a professional atheist we have had since Bertrand Russell, are in one sense the least well-equipped to understand what they castigate, since they don’t believe there is anything there to be understood, or at least anything worth understanding. This is why they invariably come up with vulgar caricatures of religious faith that would make a first-year theology student wince. The more they detest religion, the more ill-informed their criticisms of it tend to be. If they were asked to pass judgment on phenomenology or the geopolitics of South Asia, they would no doubt bone up on the question as assiduously as they could. When it comes to theology, however, any shoddy old travesty will pass muster.
Unfortunately, this is often the case with the irreligious. But, I will quickly add that it can be true for almost anyone. Even Christians tend to spend very little time learning about other views that we criticize. We learn just enough to start making attacks and leave it at that. This cannot be the case for faithful Christians. If we are going to contend for the faith, then it is incumbent upon us to do our homework. I have seen too many caricatures of other religions or non-religion made by believers in the attempt to defend biblical Christianity. Unfortunately, these efforts usually wind up looking more like an Achilles’ heel.
Critics who fail to do their research will continue to flounder in their misunderstanding of Christianity. They may even win over others who are just as incapable of applying critical thought to the issue. This does not mean that Christians should shrink back, try to score cheap points, or create strawmen to knock down. We cannot honor Christ with half-hearted efforts or dubious arguments. Christ deserves better, and so do our critics.
Christianity has always had to contend with other worldviews. This is clear even in the New Testament when Jesus faced opposition to his teaching. The situation continues in the book of Acts and beyond, all the way to the book of Revelation. Decades after Christ’s crucifixion, churches still had to contend with difficulties that presented themselves. Revelation 2-3 addresses the seven churches of Asia, all of whom had to contend with their fair share of problems. The three that stand out most clearly still exist today.
Persecution. The early Christians had to endure numerous challenges, one of which was persecution for their faith. At first, the Jewish religious elite, who probably saw the early Christians as an unacceptably sectarian movement were the main culprits. The New Testament makes it clear that religious leaders provided much of the opposition to the church, even though the first followers of Christ were also Jewish. In time, the Roman authorities stepped in. They seemed to have viewed Christians as being under the same umbrella as many other sects within Judaism (e.g., Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, etc.). Before long, they realized that the Christians were distinctive, and posed a particular threat to Roman peace of mind (and possibly national security). By refusing to honor Caesar or worship the Roman gods, Christians ran the risk of provoking the ire of the gods.
The congregation in Smyrna seems to have had difficulty along these lines. Even though early persecution was local and sporadic, persecution is not a reality for Christians in the West today. Contrary to what we may like to believe, there is no war on Christianity (or Christmas, for that matter). There is a kind of discrimination leveled against Christians in some places (e.g., in some areas of the entertainment industry, by some professors in public institutions of higher learning, by secular groups and publishing houses), but this is not the norm. Other believers in the world have it far worse than we do. In the Middle East, a person may be jailed, killed, or pressured to leave their home if they choose to follow Christ.
Conformity. Christians in Pergamum and Thyatira do not seem to have suffered persecution, but they did have to contend with pressure to compromise. The Roman Empire had no parallel to our modern concept of “separation of church and state.” Residents were expected to participate in religious events. If not, the Romans feared their refusal to honor the gods would incur divine wrath.
Believers have always been pressured to conform, or not stand out quite so noticeably. The religious elite of Jesus’ day would have been quite happy for him to recant. The same leaders tried to silence Peter and John in Acts 4. Others in Acts 23 formulate a plan to murder the apostle Paul. They had done the same with Lazarus in John 12. The same holds today, although the pressures we may feel in the West pale in comparison to those in the first century. Rather than having authorities try to silence Christians using force, we can appeal to the legal system in defense of our Constitutional right to freedom of religious expression.
Pressures today are more subtle, and, consequently, potentially more effective. Christians in the first and second centuries went to their graves rather than renounce Christ. Today, some will conceal or downplay their faith to avoid negative attention in public or the workplace. I often wonder whether early Christians would be more ashamed or astonished if they could see the behavior of some professing believers today.
Complacency. Laodicea seems to be a clear example of a group of believers who did not stand out because they were afraid, but because they were too comfortable. The Christians there didn’t experience persecution. They don’t seem to have been pressured to conform. They did make compromises, but it was because they may have seen little reason to stand out or remain strong in the faith.
Complacency might be one of the most potent enemies of churches in America. We often hear that we live in a Christian nation, founded upon Christian principles, by Founding Fathers who were themselves Christians. The first and last of those assertions are patently false. But because we take Christianity (and our understanding of history) for granted, some see little reason to stand out. Statistics show that the “nones” (those with no religious affiliation) are increasing in number, as are those who identify as secular. Islam is becoming more dominant in many areas of the country. It is fashionable to mock Christianity and use it as fodder for comedy in awards shows and late-night television.
Christ is needed more than ever in our country. We cannot sit back and rest on our laurels as more challenges to the church present themselves. The early church faced many challenges. So does the church of the 21stcentury.
The world has already embarked upon a new year. 2018 is in the books, and 2019 is a story waiting to be written. We have a full year of opportunities and responsibilities ahead of us. So how will we use it?
The start of the year is a time for making resolutions. Some are serious, like the resolution to lose weight and live a healthier lifestyle, read the Bible, or be more spiritually active. Others are less serious and even comedic. Some examples of the latter from Twitter include the following:
“My New Years resolution is to overcome my OCD My New Years resolution is to overcome my OCD My New Years resolution is to overcome my OCD” (At least he’s identified the problem.)
“My New Years resolution is to be more assertive if that’s okay with you guys?” (Baby steps.)
“Just burnt 2000 calories. That’s the last time I leave brownies in the oven while I nap.” (That’s just bad stewardship)
Here are some helpful tips to keep in mind while we’re identifying our goals for the new year.
Start Planning. The apostle Paul gives us an example of this in Philippians 3:12-14 when he talks about forgetting what lies behind and striving ahead. Forgetting the past doesn’t mean dismissing it as irrelevant—both success and failure can be valuable teachers. We can’t rest on our laurels or allow past mistakes to dictate our future. Further, we have to keep our eyes forward, like a runner in a race. An athlete doesn’t take time to focus on the scenery or look at other runners. He or she focuses on the finish line.
We Can Do Great Things. Greatness is within reach of every human being because true greatness is not competitive, but cooperative. The world says we have to outdo, outperform, and outshine everyone else in our pursuit of excellence. The biblical examples of greatness include things like the humility of John the Baptist, the tenacity of Paul, and the servanthood of Christ. Anyone can be dedicated, charitable, loving, and faithful. These are the true signs of greatness in life.
New Beginnings Don’t Come Once a Year. We often make New Year’s resolutions but are less adept at keeping them. Statistics suggest that as many as 80% of New Year’s resolutions are broken or abandoned by February. The problem is, we get into a habit of accepting failure and resigning ourselves to waiting until the next January to make new resolutions. We have to realize that failure is a part of life. The real test is not whether we fail, but how we respond to it. Give up, or get back up? That choice is ours.
God is a God of new beginnings. There are times when we all need a fresh start, and this time of year is a reminder that sometimes we need a clean slate. What are you going to do with it in 2019?
Human society has always identified certain people—or types of people—as “the other.” We tend to marginalize those who are different. We form our groups of like-minded individuals and exclude those we deem as unacceptable. These individuals are not welcome in polite company. They aren’t included.
Outsiders populate the stories in the Gospels. These people received scorn, ridicule, and judgment. People like Zacchaeus, a tax collector and Jewish turncoat. Or the Samaritan woman, who was nearly as untouchable as a person could get—almost as much as lepers quarantined in colonies of the living dead. These people meant absolutely nothing to anyone else. They were nothing. But not to Jesus.
So how did Jesus treat the outsiders he encountered in his time on earth? He displayed a genuine interest in them: healing the diseased, dining with Zacchaeus, spending time during the heat of the day talking with a Samaritan woman—none of whom anyone else wanted. He spent time with them, even though it would prompt objections from members of polite society. Best of all, he wanted them to know him.
Part of the glory of Christ is treating others as God intended. When we look at types of discrimination such as sexism, misogyny, ageism—all the ways we turn someone else into “the other”—these are not primarily sins against other people, even though they are profoundly sinful. First and foremost, these things are a challenge to God’s authority. When we look down on someone because of the way God created them, we do not merely criticize the person; we condemn their Creator. We denounce his motives, pour scorn upon his designs, and wag our finger at his foolishness.
At some point, every human being is an outsider to the kingdom of God. The apostle Paul says, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Ephesians 2:1-3).
We are all spiritual exiles seeking a home. Beggars who found a buried treasure; malnourished who discovered a splendid feast; orphans who found the world’s greatest Father. For those of us who have found the way, isn’t it criminal not to want the same for everyone else?