Shame of Doing Nothing

The evangelist Billy Sunday told a story about a Christian who got a job in a lumber camp where the workers had a reputation for being ungodly. A friend, hearing that the man had been hired, said to him, “If those lumberjacks ever find out you’re a Christian, you’re going to be in for a hard time!” After a year, the man decided to return home for a visit. While in town, he met the friend who had predicted that he would receive ridicule and persecution from the workers in the lumber camp. “Well,” asked the friend, “did they give you a hard time because you’re a Christian?” “Oh, no, not at all,” the man replied. “They didn’t give me a bit of trouble—they never even found out!”

There is such a thing as an undercover Christian. Jesus himself said, “If anyone is ashamed of me and my message in these adulterous and sinful days, the Son of Man will be ashamed of that person when he returns in the glory of his Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8.38). In other words, it’s shameful to be a secret Christian. Shameful, but apparently, not impossible. The most famous incognito disciple was Joseph of Arimathea. All four Gospels tell us about Joseph. Matthew tells us he was rich, that he wrapped Jesus’ body in a long sheet of linen, and that the tomb was Joseph’s own.

Mark emphasizes that Joseph was an honored member of the Jewish High Council (the Sanhedrin), and that he was waiting for the kingdom of God. He says that Joseph took courage in approaching Pilate. Luke calls Joseph a good and righteous member of the Sanhedrin, who had not agreed with the decision and action of the council to condemn Jesus. John comes right out and calls him a fearful “secret disciple.” What was Joseph afraid of? The opinions of his peers. Their judgment, perhaps.

He was afraid he could lose status, his social position. Having seen the unjust rush to execute Jesus, Joseph had real reason to fear physical danger. Nevertheless, he was on the council itself—he was in the position to make an actual difference, if anyone could. Had Joseph taken a public stand for Jesus, would it have changed the outcome? Probably not. But at least he would have taken a stand.

He finally reached the point where he would rather face the public danger of coming out for Jesus than to face the private shame of doing nothing. So he steps forward. Coming forward when he does and asking for the body took courage, because in doing so, he was declaring his love for Jesus. The word used in the Gospels indicates that Joseph had to beg for Pilate’s permission. A condemned man had no right to burial—that was part of the shame of crucifixion. It’s shocking that Pilate even allowed it.

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Holiness is To Be Set Apart


Holiness. It means to be “set apart,” to have a purpose determined by God. How much is holiness worth to you? They say that a thing is only worth what someone is willing to pay. Craig was a young man, fresh out of college and buried under a mountain of student loans. Having just begun his first job in the city, Craig began flirting with a woman at work. Of course he was a country boy way out of his league—she looked like Heather Locklear on Melrose Place, and he looked like Screech on Saved by the Bell.

One day the woman mentioned how much she loved sushi. She said she wanted to try this new sushi restaurant downtown. Realizing his opportunity, Craig asked if she would want to go there for lunch with him. It was a date. Craig’s first sign that things were not going to end well for him was when the menu came without any prices listed. The woman ordered some kind of sampler platter with one of everything; Craig just pointed to some Japanese word on the menu without trying to pronounce it. At the end of the meal, the ticket was delivered: $150. At the time, Craig was living on a weekly food budget of $30.

Afterwards, he said that no woman was worth it, that no meal was worth $150, especially when the whole meal was nothing but cold lumps of rice and raw fish. What’s your holiness worth? Jesus of Nazareth died at the age of 33, having lived approximately 12,000 days. The Gospel writers devote most of their work to the last 3 years of his life, or about 1100 days. But the real focus is a single day, his last day—24 hours—beginning Thursday evening after sunset and lasting through Friday.

If you knew you had only 24 hours to live, what would you do? Jesus chooses to eat his last meal with his 12 closest followers, and as you can imagine, there are things Jesus really wants to say to them. He pours out his heart in what will be his final words to them, and then he prays. What does he pray for? What is Jesus’ dying burden?

The Marriage Struggle is Real


In the Gospel of Matthew, after Jesus teaches about the bond of marriage, the disciples respond with their conclusion, “It’s better not to marry” (19.10). Jesus doesn’t disagree. In 1 Corinthians, after Paul answers questions about marriage, he adds, “If you do not have a wife, do not seek to get married. But if you do get married, it is not a sin” (7.28).

Try writing that verse at the bottom of your next Valentine’s Day card. Everybody seems to know that the Bible is anti-divorce; verses like these make the Bible sound anti-marriage, too. It’s not a sin to get married, Paul says, but it’s probably better if you never do.

Why does he hold such a tepid view of Christian marriage? Two reasons, and the first is spiritual. It’s not that Paul thinks marriage isn’t a good thing—for some people, at least. It’s that marriage for Paul is clearly not the most important thing—not even for married people (7.29). Serving Christ is best. Even if you are married, he says, you mustn’t focus only on your marriage; pleasing the spouse matters, but pleasing Christ matters most. Your life is not about marriage—it’s about Christ. The second reason Paul points believers away from marriage is practical. He explains, “Those who get married at this time will have troubles, and I am trying to spare you these problems” (7.28).

In other words, marriage is hard. It can be a lot of trouble, which comes as a surprise, since the bridal magazines and wedding planners never tell a couple what it means to promise “for worse.” When things actually get worse, the lovers are bewildered. If the misery lasts for very long, the pain can become overwhelming. Many wives and husbands finally end the marriage just to relieve the pain, having also never been told that divorce brings its own form of pain.

Don’t say Paul didn’t warn you. Simply speaking, marriage involves pain, because life involves pain. Of course as a society, our pain tolerance is very low. Our great-grandparents came through World Wars and the Great Depression, but we can’t get through a normal day without some form of medication or escape. The wedding vows handed down from previous generations are honest about the old sources of pain in marriage: poverty and sickness.

Those external threats were what couples used to fear—the threat of debilitating illness, the challenge of putting food on the table. Truly, little irritations don’t matter when you don’t know where the next meal will come from, or when you have Nazis. Lacking such fears, married couples now have the luxury and liberty to turn against one another over issues less-related to death and life— internal threats related to relational dysfunction or bad habits. For the man and woman who can’t even keep their friendship alive, the marriage struggle is real.

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Spur One Another

Sisters and Brothers, As kids, it was easy for us to find out what the future would hold. We just asked the Magic 2-ball. The ball always seemed to know, although it didn’t always give a clear word for moving forward. Sometimes, the answer was downright non-committal.

No telling how many times I asked a question, and the same, aggravating response floated into the window: REPLY HAZY TRY AGAIN. I’ve been alive long enough now to know that the future always looks hazy. You and I never know what will happen next. We can’t know—and not knowing can make us anxious. Knowing how everything turns out would make all the difference, but that knowledge belongs only to God.

The problem is, since I don’t know what’s going to happen next, I’m inclined to forget that God does know. He sees it all from beginning to end, like a magnificent parade from above, all at once. The future belongs to him, and he determines what happens next. We can trust him with the future, because God is always and forever the same. His holiness, his perfection, his purposes never change. Even so, that doesn’t make God predictable. He is beyond us, infinitely greater and wiser, and we’ll never figure out his ways. We know he is always going to do something good, always going to rescue and bless us. Still one thing is for sure: God will surprise us every time. He’ll always do something new, never being much for repeating himself.

God loves to create and do new things— Why? Because he can. A friend taught classes in country line dancing. She loved to teach dancing, but she had one major frustration. Whatever single dance she would teach first, that’s the dance the class would want to do all night long. Apparently, rather than learn another new dance, people would rather do the one dance they know over and over again. Forever.

The problem with sticking with what we know is that all we know is past; yet we serve a God who is ever calling us forward into a new future. God says, “Do not remember the former things. Forget all that. I am about to do something new!” (cf. Isaiah 43) Are you ready for God to do something new in your life and in our life together at church? Ready or not, if we’re going to walk with the Lord, he only leads us in one direction. Forward. This is why the church’s theme for 2017 is Live Forward. We want to spur one another on toward living out of expectation (and not out of memory).

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