Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Strange but true, the words of the 1964 Barbara Streisand hit, “People,” were wafting through my mind this past week.
Now I’m not a huge lover of Babs, but I do appreciate the way she infuses her songs with such emotion. You can’t listen without feeling what she’s singing—she’s that good in connecting with others through song.
As I was thinking about the “people who need people” message, my mind was drawn to Scripture and how the Gospel is really about people in fellowship with their Creator and others. People need God, and we also need ... people!
No greater example of a person who needed people—and was someone other people desperately needed—is Jesus. As I flipped through the pages of Matthew to refresh myseIf on how Jesus purposefully sought to connect with people, I was reminded of how our Savior’s ministry was always focused on doing the will of the Father while reaching others ...
Jesus went in search of people. The Son of Man came to earth to connect with people. And, as in the case of Peter’s sick mother or the ruler whose daughter died, he went into their homes and then healed them. It all started with the calling of the first disciples in Matthew 4. He went to where they were, identified them and one-by-one invited them to follow him.
Jesus always shared Truth. Jesus didn’t mess around. The time he spent with others was meaningful. His words were substantive and reached into people’s lives to comfort and convict. Like the crowds in Matthew 7, people were always riveted and some (maybe not the Pharisees) wanted more. Everyone who took his words to heart was changed.
Jesus knew his audience. If you know Jesus, then you know he spoke in parables when teaching crowds. As with the stories of the mustard seed or the workers in the vineyard, Jesus knew the crowds needed something a little simpler at first which would effectively illustrate Truth. Since we’re all at different stages in our spiritual growth, it’s important to meet people where they are on their faith journeys as well, as we share from the Word.
Jesus made himself available. I’m sure Jesus got tired of being around people, just like we do from time to time. Ministry can be very draining. But the bulk of Jesus’ ministry shows that he was often surrounded by others as he went from town to town. This was his calling. And this is our example to follow as God equips us—and empowers us by the Holy Spirit—to do his will.
Jesus established a support system. Jesus didn’t have 1,000 disciples; he only had 12. And likewise we need a close network of people who we can regularly be in touch with for prayer and support. Jesus also saved his most intimate, revealing conversations for the disciples. And then he invited them to join his personal ministry as he delegated responsibility in reaching others. The feeding of the five thousand in Matthew 14 is a great example of this; Jesus gave bread to the disciples, and they were then called to give it to others.
Jesus had alone time but was still available. Sometimes we can go overboard in being available to others. We need some quiet time to recharge and be with the Father. Jesus was no different. He may have gone away for a solitary moment from time to time, but his whereabouts were still known (by the disciples, as well as sometimes the crowds) in case he was needed.
Jesus reached out even in his darkest hour. While in agony and hanging on the cross, Jesus was between two thieves. Matthew 27 notes this, but Luke shares even further how Jesus (Luke 23:41-42) forgave one of these men who asked him to “remember me when you come into your kingdom.” “I tell you the truth,” Jesus responded. “Today you will be with me in paradise.” What a wonderful example of our Savior, understanding and experiencing the pain of separation from God, yet still reaching out, comforting, and bringing people to the Father!
Yes, Jesus is a tough act for any of us to follow. But following his example doesn’t mean we have to be perfect as Jesus was. It just means we have to try ... being people who need people.
Intersecting Faith & Life:
John 1:14 says that “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” How are others seeing this “glory of the One and Only” in you today as you dwell among them?
“For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?”
About a month ago I saw a performance of Into the Woods. This Stephen Sondheim musical won a number of Tony Awards several decades back, but I had never seen it in person.
As I watched the performance and the familiar fairy tales (including Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, Rapunzel) all converging in one brand new tale, I could hear the small orchestra accompanying from backstage. I knew they were there and could detect their presence by the notes being played, but I never saw any of the musicians on the other side of the curtain.
I’m sure there was a lot of other activity going on behind the scenes as well, but it wasn’t visible to me. I was concentrating on the actors and the staging and the story being told through song. Yet in order for the show to go on as I was seeing it, I know there had to have been a lot going on backstage.
All of that activity was being managed by a friend of mine who was the show’s director. I greeted him afterward and told him how much I enjoyed the performance. He is extremely talented and experienced in musical theater, and I could tell everything was in very capable hands.
Another story that was in THE most capable hands of all time is that of Esther 1. God was always working as this story unfolded in the Old Testament, though maybe he’s not as visible here. The Almighty’s every move is not spelled out nor are there scenes where we see him directly speaking to the different characters or them seeking him through prayer. But what we do witness is God’s sovereignty behind the scenes in the lives of Esther, Mordecai, Haman and King Xerxes.
In a nutshell, once Esther was chosen to be the successor to Queen Vashti, she moved into the palace with King Xerxes (but she kept her Jewish heritage a secret). Soon, though, her cousin Mordecai learned of a plot by a high-ranking official named Haman to kill the Jews (since Haman was incensed that Mordecai would not bow down in honor to him).
Mordecai then sent word to Esther in the palace and pleaded with her to help stop this conspiracy. Meanwhile, Haman decided to build some gallows by his house on which he would hang Mordecai. And then meanwhile to that meanwhile, when King Xerxes had a sleepless night he summoned for the official book of the record of his reign for a little late-night reading. And he just “happened” to learn that in prior days Mordecai had exposed two enemies which in turn helped save the king’s life.
What transpired next was just too amazing! The king ordered Haman to honor Mordecai for his past efforts to save the king (which meant that Haman had to robe Mordecai and lead him through the streets on horseback for everyone to see). And then in a series of banquets Esther prepared for both the king and Haman, she finally exposed Haman and his plans to kill the Jews. And as a result, King Xerxes ordered that Haman be hanged on the very gallows this hateful man had built for Mordecai.
And after all of that, the Jews were saved.
Wow! Once you can see all that was really going on “behind the scenes” and how God was moving, aren’t you amazed? If we believe our God is sovereign, then surely we must believe he is always working on our collective behalf. While his ways cannot always be seen, those undetectable works are no less important than his mighty acts and displays of power and glory that we do see.
And in the end, it doesn’t even matter. God wants us to trust him regardless of what we see, because he is always there . . . behind the scenes.
Intersecting Faith & Life:
God doesn’t always dramatically “part the Red Sea” every day in our lives, so to speak. In what smaller, quieter ways have you seen God’s hand move in your life in recent days?
So the king asked me, “Why does your face look sad when you are not ill? This can be nothing but sadness of heart.” I was very much afraid, but I said to the king, “May the king live forever! Why should my face not look sad when the city where my fathers are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?” The king said to me, “What is it you want?” Then I prayed to the God of heaven, and I answered the king, “If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favor in his sight, let him send me to the city in Judah where my fathers are buried so that I can rebuild it.”
“Sadness of heart.” That’s how King Artaxerxes described what he saw when his cupbearer Nehemiah approached him with a cup of wine and a countenance that was not full of cheer.
In Nehemiah’s response in the second chapter of this Old Testament book, we hear that his heart is indeed weighed down due to the destruction of the walls of Jerusalem. In fact, prior to his interaction with the king Nehemiah had petitioned the Lord after he heard about the Jewish remnant who were in “great trouble and disgrace” in the aftermath of Jerusalem’s fall. He tells us in Nehemiah 1:4:
When I heard these things, I sat down and wept.
Then Nehemiah presented his request to God:
“Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, but if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name.’”
Nehemiah then asked the Lord to grant him favor when he went before King Artaxerxes to make this request:
“If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favor in his sight, let him send me to the city in Judah where my fathers are buried, so that I can rebuild it.”
We know in the verses following that Nehemiah was granted his request, and he went on to oversee the rebuilding of the wall around Jerusalem in just 52 days.
Today, the wall surrounding the Church is no different. It has also been broken down, and “its gates have been burned with fire.” We are the members who are “unfaithful” and have been scattered “among the nations.” We have each turned our own way and gone far, far astray.
So astray, in fact, that the impact of the Church is lessening. The saltiness of believers has lost its flavor. It’s virtually undetectable in our society. And the classification of “Christian” has pretty much been watered down to “I’m a good person.” Period.
But all is not lost. There is a remnant of believers. And God’s Kingdom is not and will not be destroyed, despite its ruined and rubbled walls that are mirrored in our hearts.
Perhaps, as a believer in Christ, your heart is burdened today by what you see around you. Maybe, like Nehemiah, you have “sadness of heart” and want to see God’s people come together and faithfully serve him once again as citizens of a Holy City instead of worshipping empty gods of a dying world.
“You see the trouble we are in,” Nehemiah said to the officials when he first inspected the walls. “Jerusalem lies in ruins . . . come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace.”
Will you help rebuild? Will you join with today’s Nehemiahs—the dedicated leaders God has raised up to rally and bring people together—and do the work that needs to be done to help restore unity and distinction and holiness that is called for in the body of Christ?
Prayerfully consider your response today. And may we all be moved to say, “Let us start rebuilding,” as we yield to God and his working through us to restore his Kingdom in our hearts and in our land.
Intersecting Faith & Life:
Before the rebuilding process, Nehemiah carefully and quietly inspected Jerusalem’s walls. What represents weakness or “ruins” in your heart, making you vulnerable to sin? Ask the Master Builder to do a thorough inspection and fortify you for his glory!
For God is not a God whose ways are without order, but a God of peace; as in all the churches of the saints.
“Off the rails.” I don’t know how many times I’ve voiced this phrasing in recent weeks, let alone this year. But apparently it’s my new favorite saying.
Whether I’ve been referring to the media fire storm surrounding the explosive Trayvon Martin case with defendant George Zimmerman, who seems to have already been considered guilty until proven innocent by the court of public opinion . . .
Or the ongoing U.S. Secret Service scandal in which eleven S.S. members had to be sent home for heaving drinking and consorting with prostitutes during President Barack Obama’s spring trip to South America . . .
Or even in the church and an incident occurring earlier this year where a gimmick-prone prominent pastor/televangelist stayed in a bed with his wife on his church’s rooftop in order to “encourage” Christian couples to have “healthy sex lives” . . .
Whether I’ve been referring to any of these things, I have become well acquainted with assessing a troublesome situation, thinking that “right” has now changed places with “wrong” and seeing that someone or something has gone way “off the rails.”
Granted, our world has been “off the rails” since Adam and Eve went their own way in the Genesis 2 a long time ago. But these days, it seems to be happening more and more and it is sobering to see the world around us so quickly imploding.
As believers, we know that when we abandon the order of Scripture, we embrace the chaos of life. And nothing good ever comes from that. Just think back to times in your life when you were walking in a manner that could not be backed by Scripture.
Now that’s really every day for all of us—especially if we’re in touch with our depravity and our desperate need for a Savior.
But I am also reminded of a specific time period in my life that most vividly displays when I have been “off the rails.” And no good came out of that . . . at least at the time it didn’t. But years later, the Lord used what I thought were poor life choices as building blocks to bring me back closer to him. I learned that my chaos lead to confusion and destruction, while pursuing order leads to life and growth.
Perhaps the latter is why so much time is devoted to the “order” of the temple that Solomon built in Jerusalem. I’ve wondered about that as I’ve been studying in 2 Chronicles 1 recently. Why did God include so much detail for us to read? What is he trying to show us by communicating the requirements for measurements, building materials, layout and personnel? And why did it take so long to complete?
But stepping back . . . isn’t this what is required of all Christ followers who are temples of the living God? Who must build our lives according to the instructions we see laid out for us in God’s Word? And shouldn’t we take on a project like “building a temple” with as much dedication and focus and enthusiasm and order as Solomon did in the Old Testament?
Even though the world is going “off the rails,” that doesn’t mean that you or I have to follow suit. A life lived in faithfulness and obedience to Scripture, a life with steps ordered by God through the power of Holy Spirit, a life built on the promises of God’s Word will not be sidetracked and will glorify God.
Intersecting Faith & Life:
Many of the furnishings and the walls in Solomon’s temple were overlaid with gold. What in your life shimmers like this precious metal so that others can see God’s work reflected in you?