William Carey, a shoemaker in England, preached a sermon on, "Expect great things from God, attempt great things for God." It revolutionized the missions in the world. Like Carey, we too must set some expectations. A destination with a road map is only good if I get on a train that shall take me there. It is a journey that requires my presence and activity. Recently, I was pleasantly surprised to hear a minister speak on works as the evidence that we are saved. In fact, God saved us for the intent to do good works. He ably connected works with grace; still, he left me with the impression that grace was sufficient (Eph. 2:8-10). Grace, for far too many of us, has become a destination and not a beginning. Grace, in Christ, came for the purpose to lead us back to God; but we better be on it, otherwise it shall become void. At the destination where we are headed, we shall be asked what we have contributed to our journey of grace (Ro. 2:6-8; Rev. 20:12).
One of our grandsons joined a junior soccer team. I watched one game where one of the lads stormed up and down the field and made everyone else on his team look bad. Our boys did not win. The other team had more teamwork and they won. I, too, was a boy one time and made myself obnoxious and an older lad shut my mouth with his feast. I tried to excel as a student and teachers used me to motivate others and that did not made my fellow students like me. We are pleased when we have children with special aptitudes, but not when they continue to show off as adults. Again, I have done it and rubbed people the wrong way. Even as a minister, I have been inadvertently overbearing. I carried good things too far in public.
The word "selfish" has and is getting bad publicity. Jesus, Paul and James had encounters with materially selfish people. At the same time, Jesus did not mind being supported by wealthy women, Paul by Philemon and James by Joseph Barnabas who sold his property to help the first Christians. I am married to a lady that was born in poverty. She buys and collects things. She refurbishes some of the items and gives them to people that need them. I asked her many times why she was bringing home things that I would not touch. Her answer is this quote, "If we do not gather, we cannot scatter." The Preacher said this: "Cast your bread on the waters, for after many days you will find it again. Give portions to seven, yes to eight, for you do not know what disaster may come upon the land" (Ecc. 11:1-2). There was and still is a crucial reason why God commands that we bring a tenth into his storehouse (Mal. 3:10). It was not meant to feed God or the preacher or the religious edifices, but the very people that saved the tenth for a time when a harvest failed.
I have, and so did you take on more than we can handle. Jesus had some very somber advice for us on projects overestimating our ability and strength. "Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, 'This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.'" "Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand men? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple." "Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out. He who has ears to hear, let him hear" (Lk. 14:28-350.
We are not alike, particularly in strength. The strong among us have a tendency to step on the weaker ones. Jesus had a heart for the little people. He called them "His little ones." "Things that cause people to sin are bound to come, but woe to that person through whom they come. It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin" (Lk. 17:1-2). "And if anyone gives a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward" (Mt. 10:42). When some of the disciples tried to assert themselves, Jesus told them that service was the way to elevation and not being lords or masters over others (Lk. 22:24-26). Apparently, the followers of Jesus did not get the message on equality. The Jerusalem Christians had a severe trouble with the rich trampling on the poor (Ja. 2:1-7). That problem has continued to plague Christians to this day. It was also strengthened by the assumption that material success was an endorsement of God (Mt. 19:29).
I still drive and take others where they need to go. Some passengers keep their eyes on me and some on the outside beauty God and men have made. Those that watch me miss out on the good things that they could enjoy. I am not the best passenger. I see too many faults in other vehicle operators. Many would lose their license if I had a say. It would not be a bad thing to get the careless drivers off the road. Please, understand that I did lose a friend when I was ten and a brother when he was ten. It was not the drivers that were at fault but the victims that did not look where they were going. I have run into things and did not see it before I hit it. My mind was not on what I was doing and it blocked my vision from getting there. Believe it or not, test yourself, I do detect tiny faults in others before I become aware of the big ones I have. How often have we criticized and assaulted individuals with more responsibility than we have? Would we do better if we were in their shoes? Could we improve on them before we correct our own visual impairment?
The tongue so vital to our existence and communication gets us into more trouble than we can possibly imagine (Ja. 3:1-12). A fire hospitalized me for 18 months. After my release from rehabilitation and surgeries, I entered a private school to gain college credentials. During my rehabilitation, an older gentleman with tears in his eyes said aloud to his companions in Russian, "That German is good for nothing." Very likely, he did not take into account that I was familiar with his language. One of the compassionate students said to my face, "If you put horns on, you look like the devil." Some Christians regarded my accident as a punishment of God. It did raise my guilt level and I had no angelic look any longer. But, it would have been much easier to bear had the Creator installed filters in our mouths to control what we say. "Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing" (Prov. 12:18). Fortunately, there were more people that encouraged me to look beyond my scars. These persons were a blessing for filtering what they were saying to me and about me. What we say about each other in secret, our tongue will embarrass us in public (Mt. 10:27).
Preferring is a serious obstacle in becoming a better person. It is a weakness we all share. When we choose one over another, we create harm. When Eve preferred the clever serpent to her husband, trouble began in a big way. Jacob pampered Joseph and his brothers sold him into slavery. Even God may have had a touch of it when He chose David over his brothers and King Saul, but for good reasons. "There is no preference of persons with God" (Ro. 2:11). We humans do our preferring on likes and dislikes, on color and skin, on race and religion, and on issues and politics. Issues and politics are the two worst culprits because they invade, not just a person; but, more so a community, a nation and all religions. Preferring is like a leaven that permeates our life. Jesus warned that even He would disrupt families and nations over His teaching (Mt. 10:34-39). In my own family, we have differences that could split us up like so many do over partiality. Even my wife likes listening to solicitors that rub me the wrong way. None of these things have disrupted our family ties because the peace of Christ overshadows them. Christ for us has changed the rules by which we preference when we have to. We do and must, at times, choose not based on feeling, likes or looks, but on values that do not hurt us or anyone else.