Tribalism is nothing new. Humans have always divided themselves into groups and aligned themselves along certain interests and ideologies. Growing up, I was a Sooner and I wore my crimson and crème with pride. I detested orange clothing, in all it’s shades. This was especially challenging for me as I attended a high school that had orange and black as our school colors.
Sports provides a strong example of tribalism, but even if you don’t find an interest in sports there were other things to align ourselves with. It could be a favorite band or singer, a restaurant, a clothing brand or even the church you attend. It is human nature to put ourselves into groups and to define ourselves by the groups we belong to. For the most part, this type of tribalism has existed as harmless fun. We all know someone who probably took it too far, but for most of us, we just enjoyed good natured ribbing when our “tribe” came out on top.
Advertising executives definitely recognize this and make it a core part of their strategy to get people to identify with their brands in this way. They don’t just want casual customers, they want people who will commit to their culture and influence others to do the same. Influencers is now a career for many people who have mastered the art of marketing themselves and the products they use/promote so well that they can earn a living off of doing nothing but that.
There is one area of tribalism that you may think is missing from what I’ve discussed so far, and that is politics. Politics used to be like some of these other tribes. People used to think about it in November, sometimes only every 2 or 4 years. Some issues were always considered political, such as taxes and the military, but few people who weren’t directly involved in politics spent much time thinking about the impact and influence of politics on our daily concerns. I remember in the 80’s and 90’s having some thoughts about politicians, but only being vaguely aware of whether the people around me were of the same political tribe as me.
It just didn’t matter that much. It didn’t seem like real life. Real life was lived with real people as we went about our business, built our communities, worshipped our creator and generally, enjoyed life. Somewhere along the way, things began to accelerate into a very different direction. It didn’t happen overnight, but in the world today, everything seems political. It bleeds over into our sports, into our schools and even into our churches. Everyone is pushed to choose a tribe and to align with those interests.
We have rejected an opinion-less life in order to have a politically-aligned take on just about everything. Just as we have social media influencers who are pushing us to want to use certain brands and products, there is a huge industry out there pushing us to align with the opinions of others, to join their tribe and unfortunately, to condemn, make fun of and reject those with differing opinions. This is fueled by the distance of the Internet, where we can judge everyone, including those in our neighborhoods, communities and families at a distance. We have the freedom to cast out anyone whose allegiance to our tribe seems to buckle with an inappropriate post on social media.
We’ve just finished an incredibly divisive last 2 years. Most likely, there are people who you consider to be members of other “unclean” tribes today that you weren’t even aware of even a few years ago. The ability for you to live your life daily in a way that is glorifying and honoring to God and loving to your fellow travelers has been damaged by all of this. The divisions that exist are deep, but they don’t have to be permanent.
Some people act like a politician they are defending on social media is some rich aunt and uncle and they are trying to earn a spot in their will. Seriously, why do you care so much about all of these things? Why are you willing to break a real relationship that you may have had for most of your life, for the sake of someone who wouldn’t give you the time of day if they passed you on the street. It’s okay to care about these things. It’s okay to vote for your convictions, but defining our lives by political tribalism is a destructive way to live. Do any of these things really bring joy into your life as believers?
In 1 Peter 2, Peter writes:
9 But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light. 10 “Once you had no identity as a people; now you are God’s people. Once you received no mercy; now you have received God’s mercy.” 11 Dear friends, I warn you as “temporary residents and foreigners” to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against your very souls. 12 Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world.
As followers of Jesus, we are different, and we are called to be recognizable as a different kind of tribe. We are not an earthly tribe, but a tribe defined by God and His ways. This is the identity that has been given unto us. While we live on this earth, we have opinions and preferences. We will have favorite bands and sports teams. We will find the policies of some earthly leaders to seem more true than others, but in all of this, we are not to be defined by those things. We are called to live honorable lives as temporary residents and foreigners in a foreign land.
As we identify with this “tribe”, the tribe of Jesus Christ, we have the opportunity to have an impact that does matter. It matters in our own life, in the lives of our family and in the lives of everyone who we encounter, because if our lives are truly pointing to Christ, then we are pointing people towards the only tribe they can join that will have an eternal impact. Remember that as you journey out into the tribal landscape.
During times of personal crisis, it is common for us to lose hope. When that is combined with crisis on a greater scale, it is even easier to find ourselves heading towards depression. This beautiful poem, written on Christmas day in 1864 and later turned into a song in 1872, is well known to many, but most people know it from the song, which added further verses. It is usually sung without the middle stanzas of Longfellow’s poem. That leaves out an important part of the journey through despair to hope again.
Longfellow had fallen into depression with the loss of his 2nd wife Frances when her clothes caught on fire while sealing envelopes with hot wax in 1861. Henry had tried to smother the flames, first with a rug and finally with his own body, but the burns were so severe that she ended up dying the next day. Longfellow, who was also badly burned, was so ill that he was unable to attend her funeral. Their 18 years of marriage had been the happiest time in his life and after her death, he all but abandoned his creative work for a time, instead supporting their family by translating other works.
That Christmas Longfellow would write in his journal, “How inexpressibly sad are all holidays.” At Christmas time in 1862 he would write, “‘A merry Christmas’ say the children, but that is no more for me.” Many people can relate to those expressions when they have experienced loss. Family gatherings can be marked more by the absence of loved ones than by those who are present.
1861 would also be a year of national tragedy with the start of the American Civil War. Over the course of the next 4+ years, every American family would feel the impact of this conflict. Longfellow’s family would be no different. His daughters would serve as caregivers to wounded soldiers, and in 1863 his son Charley would go against his father’s wishes and enlist in the Union army. His son would have to leave active service first because of illness and later in November of 1864, when he would be severely wounded in battle. On December 8th, Longfellow would arrive home with his son, where he knew he would spend months trying to help with his recovery.
In the midst of so much ongoing trouble and despair, it would have been expected that Longfellow could lose all hope. Depression is often a journey through a black, dense forest with very little light breaking through the darkness. On Christmas Day of 1864, Longfellow would hear the bells and be inspired to write the words above. The poem contains scenes of both hope and despair, perhaps reflecting the author’s daily struggles since the loss of his wife and in reading the news of the day related to the war. Perhaps because of the recent reelection of Lincoln or the possible nearing end of the war, Longfellow found the hope to end his poem with the words:
These recent days have been trying for us all. When we look at the news of the day it would be easy for us to proclaim that there is not peace on earth, but instead proclaim that “hate is strong”. Reviewing the interactions we see around us, we might feel right to proclaim that there is no “good will to men (or women)”. Hostility and division are common place and highlighted. We are encouraged to join man-made tribes that would define others as our enemies and undeserving of any good will.
Into this world, we once again take time to celebrate Christmas. Once again, we hear the bells of Christmas ringing. Christmas is a song that is different than what the world is singing to us. The world sings of hate and despair, division and impending doom. The message of Christmas is the message of hope. It is the message that was proclaimed to those shepherds long ago:
The angel didn’t offer hope because of the birth of a great military leader, an earthly king or a great teacher. The hope rested in a baby in a manger, who would be the fulfillment of God’s plan. The hope was not for this earth, but for eternity to come. On this earth, we see glimpses of that hope, but it is only fulfilled in the life to come. “In this world, we will have trouble.” (John 16:33) We will see wars, we will face disease, we will face loss that seems avoidable and unnecessary, and we will suffer grief that may seem impossible to face.
Putting our faith in these things will lead us to the answers of this world and will only lead us further into depression and despair. A life built on all that this world has to offer us is a very fragile life built on a house of cards. The reason the angel declared, “peace among those whom he is pleased” was that it was a peace based on the hope of a better world. It was a hope based on eternity.
How do we find this eternity? It is only found in Jesus. Today is the day when we all may find hope fulfilled through God’s son, Jesus Christ. In Romans 10 it says:
Hope comes as we look beyond ourselves and resist the temptation to put our trust in governments, people or things. These things will ultimately collapse as they are completely unable and unworthy to bear the weight of true hope. In moments of true despair, it is easy to proclaim that there is no peace on earth and no good will toward men, but God’s message is a different message. It is the message of “good tidings of great joy that will be for all people.” All people, regardless of nationality, upbringing, or present circumstances. The Gospel is a message of Hope that brings ultimate equality as all humanity, unworthy though they are, finds the secret to their ultimate value through the complete worthiness of Jesus. Today is the day of your salvation, you have but to “declare Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead.” There is no better way to celebrate Christmas.
Confession – I enjoy Eric Metaxas’ writing. His biography on Dietrich Bonhoeffer makes my top 10 all-time book recommendations for people. His other biographies are well worth reading and he is a gifted story teller, whether he is recounting tales from his own life in Fish Out of Water, telling us about the life of Martin Luther or the history of Squanto and the Miracle of Thanksgiving. I have read the majority of his books (or listened to the audiobook versions). I know what Eric Metaxas is capable of. All of that to say that it pains me to write the opening of this review. Is Atheism Dead? might be the most important book that Mr. Metaxas has written, or at least the 2nd most important after Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, but it is not a great book.
In reading Is Atheism Dead?, you can feel the author’s enthusiasm for the subject. He is passionate for communication of the truths contained. He has chosen to divide the book into 3 sections. The first one, “Does Science Point to God?”, is a very helpful introduction to the progress that science has made in the modern age. In this section Eric firmly establishes the incredible improbability of life existing on earth or anywhere in the universe. What some refer to as the “Goldilocks principle” meaning that there are many things that can go wrong in either direction and have rendered life impossible, but the universe exists in a very specific way that is “just right”, allowing for life to exist. He quotes Paul Davies, the English physicist in saying:
This section is the strongest section and does an excellent job of laying out the “evolution” 😉 of the argument over recent history. This works both as a case for the existence of some kind of catalytic intelligent designer behind all of these coincidences as well as showing the degree of misplaced faith that is required for someone to believe that all of this just happened. Simply, it requires a great deal more faith to believe in the alternatives than it does to believe in some kind of intelligent design behind all of this.
The second section is entitled, “The Stones Cry Out”, and it deals with the archeological evidence that supports the Biblical record. In this section, the author chronicles some of the most significant discoveries that support the authenticity of this record. It is interesting to see so many of these gathered in one place, and the evidence presented can be very encouraging for believers who are not familiar with the strength of this support. The quote that opens this section is a statement that might be surprising to those who have attended liberal-leaning universities anytime recently:
Rabbi Glueck is one of many prominent archeologists quoted in this section. In addition, the author introduces his readers to some historical textual criticism techniques which point to the validity of the Biblical accounts. The Bible goes out of its way to include strange details, quirky specific accounts and many records that cast the followers of God, including those who held the pen at different times, in a most unfavorable light. This section is helpful, but lacks flow and is better read piecemeal rather than front to back.
The last section is entitled, “What is Truth?”, and has a difficult time finding a focus for what it is trying to accomplish. Much like the second section, there are pieces here that are very helpful in processing different thoughts on atheism, faith and belief in God, but the section doesn’t lead the readers on a clear coherent path to the answer of the question laid out in the title. Instead, the author starts with an analysis of prominent atheists and some of the limits of their arguments. He asks some relevant questions, such as, “If what they believe is true, why do they care so much about what other people believe?” Why should these atheists care so much that people believe in God?
The answer for many of them seems to be in that they have made a great deal of money by arguing their points and have become very famous as well, but again, what is fame and money if life is without meaning and in the end, we only return to dust, matter in another form? The author presents 3 prominent atheists who genuinely sought truth out of the meaninglessness of atheism, Sartre, Camus and Flew, and as well looks at both historical scientists and scientists of the modern age in order to demonstrate how closely science and faith have always existed, calling them BFFs. The pursuit of meaning and truth is natural for those who hold a Christian world view and a history of scientific progress supports this thoroughly.
I especially enjoyed the author’s research on analysis on the “legend” that it was people of faith who were the most opposed to the heliocentric world view proposed first by Copernicus and later by Galileo. This notion is described by the author as the “Founding Myth of Atheism”. For most of us, the church’s blind opposition to these men’s scientific research was presented to us that proof that the organized church has always stood against science. The reality is nothing could be further from the truth. By contrast, “Galileo was no enemy of the Church—and far from it. He was a deeply serious Christian who saw no disparity between what the Church taught—or what the Bible said—and what science revealed.”
“Copernicus, like Galileo, lived at a time when all truth was one. What he learned via science could never compete with the truth of the Scriptures, any more than science could compete with mathematics. For him, God was the God of all truth, whether scientific, philosophical, mathematical, or theological. So to divide faith and science as we often do today was inconceivable, and Copernicus could never have dreamt that his astronomy might be troubling to the Church, which he—being a clergyman—revered.” Both of these men operated within the support of the mainstream of the Church and were people of faith themselves.
Ironically, the opposition to their theories did not come from people of faith, making an argument from the Bible, but from educated people who resisted the theory because it differed from what they had learned from the teaching of Aristotle. Within and outside of the Church, there were those who came to hold the teaching of Aristotle on equal and in some cases greater ground than the Bible. In fact, many within the Catholic Church had as much a problem with Martin Luther over his non-Aristotelian thinking as anything else. It was these die-hard Aristotelians who refused to look through Galileo’s telescope and see his evidence. The author points out throughout history it is often those with hard-wired bias based on previous scientific thought and discovery who are the most adamant opponents of new discoveries, not scientists with true Christian faith.
In the last chapter, the author closes his argument by taking a step back once again and looking at what it actually means to live a life without meaning and no greater moral standard of accountability. To take the religion of atheism to its ultimate conclusion is a very dark destination. Most of the modern atheists don’t go there, nor do they lead others, perhaps because they know that no one wants to buy a book based on such a nihilistic counterfeit worldview. Contrast that with the opposing viewpoint, the other side, the people who find their hope in a world that was created for purpose and meaning.
“You get to be a part of giving others genuine hope in the genuine God who is the author of life and hope and goodness and truth and beauty. It is what you were created to do, but perhaps until now you didn’t understand this as you do now. That only means that you can now live as the one who made you made you to live. You can begin now. And this is not merely a poetic or a nice idea; it is true. The God of the universe wants you to spread goodness and truth and beauty wherever you go, to his glory.” This is not just a better sale’s pitch, but it is a more rational, truthful path. The world continues to sell us a message of despair, but this is not the message that God has for you, this is not the life we were created to live.
As I stated in the beginning, this book is not a perfect book. The construction of the book is flawed. Many of the ideas don’t build on what is written before and some details included could have been developed more and others left out, but it is an important book, a significant book and a book that you or perhaps someone in your life could benefit from reading. There are many truths which can serve to reinforce the faith of Christians fighting against a torrent of misinformation. There are some significant arguments that could help turn a true seeker on the right path. Is Atheism Dead? True atheism may have never had a leg to stand on when faced with a rational approach to engaging observable truth, but the scientific discoveries of the last century have moved it firmly into the land of myth, rather than the realm of reality.
Six years ago, the author wrote an article which appeared first in the New York Times on this topic, entitled “Science Increasingly Makes the Case for God.” If you are interested in this topic, read that first and if it that peaks your interest, I would recommend picking up Is Atheism Dead?.
Disney and Marvel certainly know how to make money. They own most of the entertainment content that has been profitable on TV and at the movies in recent years. Their latest release is a new branch in the expanding Marvel universe, simply entitled, Eternals. The one sentence description reads, “The saga of the Eternals, a race of immortal beings who lived on Earth and shaped its history and civilizations.” That sounds pretty significant, doesn’t it? These beings by their actions have made key differences throughout the history of our world. This is a fantasy that calls to the core of our lives, the desire for our lives to matter, to make a difference.
God created us with that desire. We were made for meaning. Everyone wants their lives to matter. The irony of this is that movies like this are a part of the society we’ve created which encourages us to live our lives in anything but a meaningful way. Our lives are flooded with opportunities to spend our time on things which add little value to our own lives or the lives of others. The focus is on living a life centered around entertainment and self-service. Whether it be videos, games, or personal experiences, much of the world we live in today is built around people as individuals or in groups pursuing these kind of diversions.
This topic has been written about extensively, and one of the best books on the subject (which turned out to be quite prophetic) is Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death, written way back in 1985. Another vision that is worth mentioning comes from Disney again, in the Pixar film, Wall-E. In the film, humans had to abandon earth and survived on board a spaceship where every need is automated. The humans on board have gradually become overweight blobs who do nothing but sit in floating chairs, eating and watching screens. This being Disney, we are spared any exploration into how their other biological processes might be dealt with.
Recently, as Mark Zuckerberg unveiled his vision for the future of his company, now known as Meta, I couldn’t help but see a connection to the future we see in Wall-E and other science fiction novels and works of fiction. The idea of alternate realities have dominated science fiction in recent years. One of the earliest visions for this was Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, first released in 1992. Stephenson coined the term “metaverse”. I wonder if Zuckerberg is paying him anything for that turn of phrase.
In the future environment that is imagined in many of these works, man’s existence is boiled down to very simple terms, usually presenting an idea that what people need to survive is little more than food, water, shelter and entertainment. Work is only done for pleasure and enjoyment, if at all. In most of these visions, it is similar to being on a long international flight that never ends, but without having to share an armrest with someone or to worry about being crammed between narrow seats.
Even if we have the most comfortable chair, the tastiest food and the best entertainment (Wall-E’s vision) is this really all there is to life? Unfortunately, even though the answer to this question should be an obvious “no” for everyone, we aren’t offered a much better alternative if we look at what is emphasized on many platforms today. This is part of the reason depression and drug use is on the rise. The pursuit of nothing but self-gratification is a disappointing path even for those who are mostly successful in this for a season.
As I mentioned in the beginning, we were created for much more than this. We were created to live a life that matters. A life of purpose and meaning. Giving our lives to gain more likes, score more points, attract more followers or have more fun doesn’t fill the void inside of us. Not anymore than the fruitless pursuit of money, power or fame might have done for future generations. Meaning comes from doing, from building, from creating, and most of all in investing in the future. True meaning is not found in artificial pursuits, but in reality, in the opportunity to impact eternity.
The true eternals live all around us. Every person you meet is an eternal soul. They will live on forever after passing from this earth. We can impact eternity every day through our interactions with our fellow ‘eternals’. 1 Peter 2 is a wonderful passage on meaning, especially found through Jesus Christ.
What does this passage say about God/Christ?
Christ is the cornerstone of our faith, upon which everything is built.
Christ was rejected by humans, but chosen by God.
What does this passage say about us?
We are living stones
We are a holy priesthood
When we trust in Him, we are never put to shame
We are a chosen people
We are God’s special possession
We are the people of God
We have received mercy
What does this passage tell us to do?
Offer ourselves as spiritual sacrifices
Believe in Him
Declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light
This passage is filled with the affirmation of who we are in Christ. It tells us that we are a part of what He is doing, we are living stones in the Kingdom that He is building. It tells us that those who don’t believe will stumble over His teaching.
Living stones was a strong contrast to all that people knew of religion in the Gentile-dominated world that Peter lived in. They worshipped all kinds of God’s, but nothing quite like Christ. He is the living cornerstone, upon which everything rests. We are living stones, with which He builds His Kingdom. What that should tell you is, if you build on His foundation, your lives are spent well. If you build on your own, there is no way to know the value of our labors.
We are to labor to build on the foundation of Christ, so how do we do that?
How do we spend our lives for eternal value?
What has eternal value? God, His Word, human souls. We spend our souls for eternity by knowing Him and making Him known. Do you know Him, is your relationship with Him living and active and can you introduce Him to others that you meet?
We have different strategies, different best practices, but if they don’t involve us spending time with the Lord and spending time with people to share about the Lord, then we are probably not using our time wisely. Let’s look at these verses again in the Message translation:
This is a high calling. We are God’s instruments, telling others how once we are nothing, but now we are something, in Him. Telling them how once we were rejected, but now we are accepted, in Him. Or, as it said in the translation we looked at earlier, “Once we were not a people, but now we are the people of God.” You were created for purpose, for meaning, for your life to matter on the landscape of eternity. As you wake up each day, you can choose to engage with the unreality of Meta, the Matrix, the Metaverse or whatever trendy name arrives in the future for popular distraction or choose that day to invest in the reality that we live in, the only reality that matters in the scope of eternity. This is our eternal opportunity to be “living stones.”
Our world is filled with calls to action. Many people seem to have the perfect idea of how to solve all the world’s problems. We are called to change for social and racial injustice. We are called to change to prevent a climate catastrophe. What many of these calls have in common is they seek to generalize the problem in order to bring the problem into the lives of everyone. These problems are something we should all care about. Don’t think you are a part of the problem? Well, that is just because you don’t understand the real problems that exist beneath the surface of it all. It seems that only paid experts, politicians and bureaucrats are the only ones who can offer the solutions to these problems.
Regular people are often told they can’t understand the issues. We need courses, classes and professional agencies to study these problems at a deeper level and then these experts will come back to us with solutions that they will then recommend to countries and corporations to implement. There are many problems with this structure, but perhaps the greatest problem is many of those involved only have a job if the problems continue. When you have people who only get paid if the problem exists and/or their solution is the right one there is no incentive to ever come up with a true solution.
One example came recently when the Executive Director of the U.N. World Food Programme stated to CNN that billionaires such as Elon Musk could donate “$6 billion to help 42 million people that are literally going to die if we don’t reach them.” Elon Musk responded with a tweet that said, “If WFP can describe on this Twitter thread exactly how $6B will solve world hunger, I will sell Tesla stock right now and do it,” the billionaire posted to Twitter on Sunday. He later said in a reply that the proof “must be open source accounting, so the public sees precisely how the money is spent.”
Elon Musk is a capitalist and a pragmatist but he, like many other wealthy individuals, often give a great deal of money to help with humanitarian causes. I note this story not to promote the rich or to specifically criticize this one person or agency, but just to point out that implementing solutions to big picture problems on a large scale is complex and the bigger the solution provided by large organizations like the UN, the WHO, and federal governments, the more potential there is for abuse and waste. Activism can be a positive thing, but real change and real impact is always best carried out for the greatest impact on the local level.
There is a passage in James that has troubled some theologians who are trying to walk the balance beam of being saved by grace and living in obedience to what we have been taught. It is true that salvation is by faith alone. We are saved by grace through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, but we are not saved to be experts who now have a special status that is elevated above the rest of the world, but to make a difference in our world, first and foremost by proclaiming the truth of salvation through Jesus Christ alone, but also by being the kind of people who make a profound impact on our communities. James talked about this lifestyle in James 1:22-27.
22 But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. 23 For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. 24 You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. 25 But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it.
26 If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless. 27 Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.
We are different from the world in many profound ways and we are called to live according the difference of Christ living in us and through us and the transformation that this will bring as we live in the world. Historically, Biblical Christianity and in recent days specifically Protestant Christianity has brought about community transformation that has impacted those communities in ways far beyond the spiritual realm.
In a peer-reviewed article published in American Political Science Review, Robert Woodberry examines the impact of Protestant Missions on several areas of development. Some of the impact is summarized by the following:
“The influence of conversion for populations is significant, but Woodberry explains that missionaries tended to have a positive influence beyond evangelism.
Christianity is a religion of the book, therefore Christians tended to teach people to read and write. They often brought in printing presses so they could publish religious literature. In some cases they invented alphabets for previously unwritten languages. This led to societal advances that enabled more people to prosper.
Not only did they educate people, but missionaries brought in the concept of private property so traders wouldn’t take advantage of them. They taught new skills, like carpentry and advanced agricultural techniques. Missionaries introduced new crops to countries, which gave indigenous people opportunities to engage in trade with products that were desirable in Europe.”
Dr. Andrew Spencer in the summary linked to above explains this impact in the following way: “As we seek to live as God’s people in our world, we need to keep in mind that the gospel is not just good for our eternal destiny, but it has implications for the world around us. The gospel leads us to fight human trafficking, to seek healthy solutions to poverty, and to be good stewards of our physical environment. It also leads us to be honest in our dealings at work, kind to our coworkers, and diligent in our duties. These things bring about healthy competition and will lead to a better world around us. If the gospel is effective amid colonial imperialism, it can certainly have an impact in our lives today.”
As followers of Jesus Christ, most of us aren’t missionaries in the traditional sense, but we are missionaries who are called to have a Kingdom impact wherever we are found. You have a role to play in your community. Through your presence and the presence of your local Church, the Gospel should be proclaimed in word and in deed so that people might know the truth of its message. Here are 4 specific ways that we as local believers can practice “pure and genuine religion in the sight of God our Father”.
Impacting your community through action, not just activism. Activists tell other people what to do and expect others to change their behavior. We must look for real needs in our community such as homelessness, helping refugees, adopting and fostering children, tutoring kids falling behind in schools, creating jobs that can support a family, and sponsoring/counseling those with drug addiction and mental health issues and be ready to step up and meet those needs. In this way, action will always trump activism.
Impacting the environment through action, not just activism. Make lifestyle changes in your sphere of control that will help the environment and lead efforts to teach others about these practices. Buy less and buy local. Support local farmers. Use less disposable items. Practice recycling, repurposing, reusing things. Use less electricity and live a simpler lifestyle that is not defined by the stuff you have and the trips you take, but by the depth of your friendships and community. Real environmentalists act like it in their daily lives, they are not elites who fly to conferences on private jets or live in mansions with electric bills greater than some communities.
Impact your government by being a moral people, not legislating morality. Immorality is a tax on society. Broken homes, marriages and families impact everyone. Living a life where you treat yourself and others with respect and conduct your daily life according to Biblical values is transformative. Some of the greatest challenges to the Christian faith in history has come when people mixed up their religion with their government. We should want our government to function in a moral fashion, but it starts with a moral people who are not hypocrites, but true followers of Christ.
Impact your world by beginning with personal responsibility and standing up and leading versus calling for others to be forced to comply with your viewpoint. The Christian faith is based on free will and our greatest impact on society is our ability to make changes in our own life for the better and then lead others to do the same. People want to practice the “pursuit of happiness”, and will run towards those who demonstrate the joy that is found only in Christ. By taking responsibility for our own lives and beginning with our local community, we have the greatest impact. Christians of all people should recognize the blessing of following a God who gave us the option to say no to Him. Everyone should want the wonderful life that is available to a follower of Christ, but God destined it that we would each have a choice. We “lead others to Christ”, we don’t twist their arm and force them to our viewpoint.
I would encourage every Christian to a call to action. It is easy to advocate for a position or viewpoint online or with your vote, but that is not where real life is lived out. Instead, we are called to live as salt, which brings flavor to everything it touches and light that shines into the darkness. Be the city on a hill in your community, pointing people on to the one source of our only hope, Jesus Christ, while we live the transformative life that comes from following Him.
Every day is a new day and we start each day with a somewhat fresh slate. We get up and go about our daily activities, going to work, headed to school, some of us interacting with many different people and some with only a few, but at the end of the day a common question that we often hear is something like, “How was your day?” Such a simple question and we often offer up a very simple answer that is not really reflective of the truth of our day:
This is a simple scale of polite responses. Sometimes, we take the time to rehash the ends and outs of our day with a spouse or close friend, but most of the time the default response is to offer up a basic summary that is the AM Radio version much more than the 4K version of reality. But the truth is, we all have good days and bad days. Whether we would speak it out loud or not, if forced to do so, we could give each day a rating that may or may not make a passing grade.
So, the question of this article is, “what determines whether you have a good day or bad day?” Usually, the answer to this question falls into one of 3 categories:
Circumstances can be pretty broad, but for our purposes here, we’ll just say these are things that just happen to us on a certain day. There isn’t a bad guy or gal to blame. You didn’t make a dumb decision. Another person’s selfishness didn’t directly mess up your mojo. Instead, these are the days where mayhem reigns down upon us, when nothing seems to go right. Your car won’t start, the bus is late because of traffic, the milk you just bought is already sour, or the meteor falls out of the sky and just happens to land on your neighbor’s trampoline, which flings it through your back window (not scientifically possible, but a vivid picture). When these days happen, it is easy to feel like we shouldn’t have gotten out of bed. From such days are born the ideas of bad luck, karma and a lot of sitcom episodes I watched growing up.
If we are honest with ourselves, we have to admit that most of our bad days aren’t like this. For the majority of us, these kind of bad days where everything seems to go wrong are few and far between. However, while they may be rare, what they are is memorable. Chances are, you can still remember a day or two where one circumstance after another seemed to line up in a symphony of catastrophe. Because they are so memorable, these “Murphy’s Law” days are considered a lot more normal of an occurrence than they actually are. Instead, most of the days we define as bad are a result of the other 2 categories.
The second category is the most common one we will blame our bad days on, people. “Honestly, you wouldn’t believe what ‘________’ did/said”. If we were to summarize all of the evils inflicted upon us by our various bosses/co-workers/neighbors/family members/fellow citizens, you would think we had found a new level of hell to descend to. The modern age has expanded this without limits as now we don’t just have the people we encounter face to face in a given day, but we can get upset and potentially have our day ruined by something that we only read or saw, whether on social media, the news or maybe even based on a meme/hearsay that was passed around. Because of this environment, it is possible for every one of us to find something every day to get upset about. The less of a connection we have with someone, the easier it is to assume the worst.
The irony of this is we often end up letting people we don’t even particularly care for determine whether we have a good day or not. For many people, they allow the speech and the actions of a public figure to destroy their state of mind and their ability to enjoy life with the people they do life and work with. Whether this involves people in the same room or people on the other side of the country, it is a horrible idea to tie our joy and happiness to something so volatile as the actions of others.
Who do you want to control whether or not you have a good day? Do you want to give that power to a politician? Do you want your boss at work to continue to live in your head, long after you leave work? There is an expression that has been going around these last few years that talks about letting someone “live rent free in their head”. With our constant access to worldwide information, this is an even more foolish endeavor. It is shocking to see how many people in America have put Obama/Trump/Biden/etc. in charge of their lives. The irony is people are often giving the people they seemingly dislike the most, the greatest amount of power over their happiness.
This doesn’t just stop there, but spills over into other areas of their lives. The digital world means most people don’t have divisions between our work and home, between the outside world and our personal lives. This means that if we are not disciplined in how we engage with these things, we will allow them to dominate every area of our lives. We see a lot of misery in this world today. A lot of unhappiness, and in some people, a complete absence of joy. This is in complete contrast to the life God would have for us.
This brings us to the 3rd category about what determines the outcome of our days: our personal choices. Sometimes, if we are honest, a bad day is bad because of the decisions we made to steer our day in the wrong direction. We respond inappropriately. We take a shortcut that we shouldn’t have taken. We get up late and miss the bus or miss our first meeting. The common denominator in all of our bad days is us and truthfully, we have a lot more to do with most of them than we are comfortable admitting. The driver of our life’s bus is usually us and we are the one who determines more than anything where we start and stop. More importantly, if you are a follower of Christ, our choices are not just in what we do to determine our direction, but in how we respond to the people and circumstances that we deal with each day.
As followers of Jesus, we have a choice to:
Be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to become angry – James 1:19
Do the right thing – James said it before Spike Lee – 4:17
Set our minds on things above – Col. 3:2
Think about what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent and worthy of praise – Phil. 4:8
Bear with one another in love – Eph. 4:2
Not grow weary in doing good – Gal. 6:9
Love our neighbor as ourselves – Matt. 19:19
Choices like these are the ones that will impact your day for the better. Often we lay the foundation for each day by the frame of mind we are in. Starting each day in God’s Word and in prayer can center our joy in Him, and not in our present circumstances. Each new day brings its own challenges and adventures and I would advise against putting other people in charge of your personal joy. Only God is able to give true joy, regardless of circumstances. I guarantee it is a better place to look for your daily hope and fulfilment than anything you will find in this world.
Choosing to surround yourselves as much as possible with people who pursue this same way of living is pivotal as well. We can’t choose who we spend all of our time with, but we can choose whether or not to immerse ourselves in spending time online or in our free time with those who drag us down. Be the kind of person who is salt and light in the lives of others. Bring the light of Christ into their daily lives and season your conversations with Truth that builds up, rather than words that tear down. Make careful choices about who you let ‘move into your head.’ Don’t allow the media or social media to dictate your day. Keep your days grounded in reality and grounded in the truth of God’s Word.
Real life is lived with real people and we shouldn’t allow our bad experiences to isolate us from real life interaction. Find a good church and take the risk to invest in relationships with others. You can still have bad days, but by intentionally making better choices, we can limit both their frequency and their impact.
I’ve recently finished two excellent short little books that are related to the topic of this article. I highly recommend you consider reading them. The first one, Who Am I?: Identity in Christ by Jerry Bridges provides a good basic overview of what Scripture says about who we are as followers of Christ. The second book, Sanctification: Transformed Life by David Campbell is a Biblical exposition on how we grow into that which God would have us to be as His followers. Here, I will provide a brief overview of this, but I do suggest you check these books out for yourselves. The quote above is a good summary of what I want to emphasize today: Be what you are.
Much of our trouble as Christians comes from bad theology and a poor understanding of the basic tenants of Scripture. In a sense, we are spiritual schizophrenics, living and making decisions that do not align with who we are in Christ. God is not a warden, policeman, judge or gatekeeper for Christians, but is a loving Father, who provides a wise counselor in the form of the Holy Spirit in order for us to live an amazing life according to all that God has created us to be. It is to our folly when we depart from that life, pursuing a different picture of reality defined by the world, the flesh or the devil.
You would be well served each day to take time to remind yourself of the truths of God’s Word and what they say about you. In them, we find the truth of who God is and who we are in Him. In contrast to the old SNL skit with Stuart Smalley and his daily affirmations, our best source of hope for who we are is not in ourselves or in what others say about us, but rather in who God says we are and who we are to be. In your daily time with God, you can focus on the truth that our sufficiency and worth are centered in God’s infallibility and not in our own weakness. Here are just a few of the essential truths that God shares with us.
You are a created being, created in the image of God. Genesis 1:27 – God created us, but we are above the rest of creation. Of all the things He created, only mankind is created in His image. As created beings, we are dependent on our creator and it is important to remember that as we go through life. We need Him, physically, spiritually, psychologically. We were created to find our purpose in Him. When we do that, we experience the life that God intended for us as His greatest creations.
You are in Christ. 1 Corinthians 15:22 – The term in Christ is used over and over again in the NT, most frequently by Paul. Our new status as Christians is secured in Christ. All that it means to be a follower of Him is because of what He did, not anything specific about us. This status is what takes us from being spiritually dead, enslaved to sin and the objects of God’s wrath and assures our new status before God, which is defined by all of these terms, summed up by “in Christ”. Also read Romans 5:18-19.
You are Justified. Galatians 2:15-16. Justified is a legal term that means we are treated as being in right standing according to the law. The law would bring punishment and death to all who have sinned (everyone), but in Christ, we are treated as those who are righteous before God. The law doesn’t change, the punishment for breaking the law doesn’t change, but Christ paid the price for our sins, so we are now treated as if our slates are completely cleaned. Our ledger now has Jesus’ 33 years of perfect righteousness in our favor. We are justified by our faith in Jesus Christ.
You are adopted children of God. Ephesians 1:4-5. Galatians 3:26-29. God doesn’t stop with changing our status for all time to being “saved” or justified, He brings us into His family. Even if we never experienced a loving parent on this earth, we now have the most loving, caring Father that we could possibly have. God takes people from every background on earth and brings them into his family. In Biblical terms this also means that we are His heirs. We are given a future hope as people who can now look forward to the eternal inheritance that we were granted access to through God’s loving adoption of us into His family.
You are a new creation. 2 Corinthians 5:17. We are given a new heart, we are a new person. Only the transformative power of Christ through His sanctification can explain the changes brought about by the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of people like us. In Romans 6:1-14, Paul describes the struggle on this earth as who we now are in Christ struggles with who we used to be, but the promises of God are a reminder of the change. 6:14For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace. The power of living as a new creation on this earth is still a battle, while on this earth. Dr. Bridges described it this way, “You and I are now engaged in a spiritual guerilla warfare against remaining corruption within us, and that warfare has real consequences-for ourselves, others, and the glory of God-depending on how we engage with it…Though we have been delivered from absolute bondage to sin, we have not been freed from its presence or influence.” In heaven, it will be impossible for us to sin, but on this earth we live with full access to the ability to live as new creation’s in Christ. We should live as we are.
You are a saint. Colossians 1:11-13 – This is a word that can be misunderstood and some would only want to apply it to those existing in a special category of Christian, but as you read through the NT, you find that it is the norm to refer to all followers of Christ as saints. A saint is one who has been sanctified and we are in the process of being sanctified, but it could also mean “set apart” and that is who you are. As a follower of Jesus Christ, you are set apart as His. As the saying goes, we have been bought with a price. This does not make us slaves, but rather free men and women, our freedom was bought with a price. We are now saints living our lives for God’s glory. 1. Corinthians 10:31. Our sainthood “does not come in its fullness in a once-for-all experience. It is an ongoing experience with a beginning, an end and a long in-between.” (Campbell)
You are servants of Christ. Colossians 3:22-24 – We are now followers of Christ and we find our truest joy in serving Him and the purpose of God. This doesn’t mean that we all leave our jobs and become full time ministers, but it means that wherever we are and whatever we do, we serve the purposes of God. We are serving the Lord Christ when we work at our job, serve in our church or minister to our family. We serve in each of these roles according to who we are in Christ, not who we are in the flesh and by this we bless all those who regularly interact with us. In every endeavor, we have the opportunity to serve the purposes of Christ, thus we can be called as Christians to any vocation, as there are opportunities to act as His servants in any of those positions.
You are not yet perfect. Philippians 3:12 – We are to stay in touch with our own imperfection. In this life, we will still struggle with sin and makes mistakes and yet we glorify God through our imperfections. As we openly and honestly reflect on and deal with our continuing imperfection, we reflect the power of a redeemed life in reality and demonstrate the power of Christ all the more as we confess our need for His help. We preach the Gospel to ourselves daily, reminding ourselves that we have no justification for feeling self-righteous, but only righteous before God through Christ. This helps us to remember that we are not performers, but frail creatures of dust that will only be perfected in Christ in heaven.
You are loved. Romans 8:37-39 – Many passages tell of God’s wonderful love for us, but this passage assures us that nothing can separate us from that love. In spite of our imperfection, in spite of our sin, God loves us and our testimony to the world is of confident adopted children who should never doubt the continuing, never finishing love of our Heavenly Father. We live as those who are loved by the one who understands who we are at a deeper level than any human ever can.
You are blessed. 2 Corinthians 9:8 – We are spiritually blessed. God has given us many wonderful gifts, the greatest of which is our salvation, but He has also given us each other, in the Church. He has given us wonderful spiritual gifts and resources to use to accomplish His purposes. Spiritual gifts like: Ephesians 2:10, 1 Peter 4:10-11, and Romans 12:4-8.
Our call today is to live as Christians who believe the truths about what God’s Word has said about us. We are not defeated. We are not prideful. We are not despondent. We are no longer slaves to our sin. We are not dependent on our own strength. We are not hopeless in the face of a culture without God. We are sanctified sinners who serve the All-Mighty King of all creation and in Him we find our life and hope and have our being. You are a child of the King, you are an Heir to the Kingdom. You are the Saints of your generation, carrying forward the faith of previous generations on the strength of His wings. Live like that today and every day and start each new day with this reminder.
In a time not so long ago, and in a place not so far away there was a great grand piano. It was a magnificent piano from which beautiful music flowed for all time. Within this piano lived a large family of mice. For the mice, the piano was all of their entire world. They were born, raised and lived their entire lives within this piano world. Their lives were filled with the wonderful music that penetrated every corner of their world.
This family of mice was much like any of your own families, and they had a very loving, very old, very sweet Grandmother that like to tell the children stories. The most treasured story of all for them to be told was the story of the Great Player. On nights when the piano had grown slightly cold they like to snuggle up close to Grandmother in one of her quilts and listen to this story told over and over again.
Now three of these young mice were especially inquisitive and they were constantly drawing near to Grandmother to hear the story. Their names were Charles, Newton and Lewis and they were brothers.
“Now settle down children,” Grandmother would start, “I’m going to spin you a story ’bout how things were long ‘for any of us is born.” This would instantly draw them quiet, because it was this story that they had waited to hear. (I say quiet, but what I mean is quiet for these little mice, for we all know that being totally quiet just isn’t part of being a child.)
“Way back yonder in the olden days, before any of us mice was ever around, there was no music to fill the world. All was silent and quiet, unlike anything any mouse has ever heard. The whole of this world was empty, with nothing to see and nothing to hear. Ya’ll never known a world quite like that one. In those days, the world was a lonely place, with nothing but darkness and emptiness.”
“It sounds so scary,” exclaimed Lewis, “I sure wouldanna wanted to live then!” Lewis was the youngest of the mice and he was the one who loved Grandmother’s stories the most.
“Now hush up and listen,” Grandmother began again. “Sure it sounds scary, but all of that is what makes what happened next so wonderful. For you see it was into this world that the Great Player came, and with His coming came the beautiful music that is all that you have ever known. The Player and His music drove away all of that emptiness and darkness and filled the world with warmth and happiness.”
“But where did the mice come from?” asked Charles, for he was the type of mouse that always wanted to know the reasons behind everything.
“Well child, I’ll tell ya. For you see it was after the music had filled every corner of the world that the first mice were born. The music that had brightened up all of the dark places also gave them life. They arose at once and began to dance to the harmony of the sound. Wonder filled these first mice as they marveled at this new world that they had been born into. It was a true joy just to be alive, and they knew of and were in awe of the Great Player, who produced the music.”
“How did the Player make the music?” asked Newton, for he was a very practical mouse, always wanting to know how things worked.
“The important thing is that the music came from the Player, Newton. The Player can choose to make the music anyway He desires. Anyway, back to the story. This new family of mice grew and lived here before us, raising their children and grandchildren under the music which the Player continued to play. This music not only filled their halls with warmth and light, it was a great comfort to them. The music was a constant reminder of the Great Player who continued to play out of His great love for them.”
“But how did they know about the Player?” asked Newton, “Did they ever see Him?”
“Well child, no, they never did see the Player, but I can tell you about Him because I’m just as sure of Him as you are of the music you hear every day of your life. The Player was a part of their lives in the beginning and He’ll be a part of our lives ’til the end. You see, it is the Player that makes the music. You can never see Him, but He’s always close to you. He’ll never leave you because all He wants is what’s best for you. The music’s the proof. Without the Player, there would be no music, and without the music there would be no life.”
As Grandma said this last, she settled back into her rocker again and smiled. All of the little mice were quiet now as they considered all that they had been told. It seemed so much to think about that it made them all quite tired. It was starting to get late and they slowly began to break away and go to bed, but Lewis did as he often did at these times. He crawled up into Grandma’s lap so she could rock him to sleep.
“Oh Grandma, I’m so happy to have the Player to watch over us,” yawned Lewis softly as he closed his eyes.
“Me too child,” whispered Grandma into his ear, “me too.”
It was the very next morning when the three little mice awoke to the familiar sound of the music. Even the hardest and most bitter person would have to admit that this was a wonderful way to start your morning. It was very difficult to have any bad or angry feelings with the joyful sound of the music constantly surrounding you. You couldn’t help but feel a sense of peace and contentment as you went about your daily life in this place.
Though all held true to the belief of the Great Player, there were some to whom He was a little less real. Not all of the adults and children held so strongly to their beliefs about the Player. Sure, if you had asked them about Him, they would have responded with all the proper and right responses, but the joy of the music did not fill their hearts, as it was blocked by other thoughts.
It was on this wonderful, lovely day that Charles, Newton and Lewis arose to the music and set out to finish their daily chores, so they might have the rest of the day to play. This was what they did almost every day because, like most children, they liked to play more than anything else. Usually they played lots of fun games like chase, hide and seek, and cowmice and cats, but today Charles had a different idea.
“I’m tired of playing all of the same old games we always play, I want to go on an adventure!”
“What’s an add venturr Charles?” replied Lewis, for he was ever so young and had never heard of such things before.
“It has excitement and danger and you fight dragons and find gold and in the end you win a princess!” said Newton. Newton had read many books of adventures since he was first able to read and often dreamed of being a knight himself one day.
“Not that kind of adventure,” Charles told them, “I mean a real adventure that we can do right now in real life.”
“But what kind of adventure can we do,” frowned Newton, “we’re just little mice and there is no danger here.”
“I want to go on a quest for the one thing no one has ever seen,” said Charles.
“What’s that?” they replied.
“I’m going to find the Great Player and see Him for myself!” cheered Charles, and with that the other two mice all but fell down, for such an idea had never occurred to either of them, and they didn’t know quite what to think. This was an idea that Charles had thought long and hard on and he had been hoping to try for weeks. Now with all the talk about the Player the night before, he finally had the nerve to try it.
“But Grammy always said we didn’t need to see the Great Player to believe in Him.” stammered Lewis. “He’s just there and no one has to see Him.”
“But just imagine what it would be like to actually see Him Lewis,” exclaimed Charles, “then we could know for sure and tell everyone what we have found and we will be famous.”
“Well, it doesn’t sound like a good idea to me,” said Lewis, “I don’t want to go.”
“Suit yourself,” said Charles, “you coming Newton?”
“Well, I don’t know,” answered Newton, “I would like to find out where the music comes from. Why don’t I wait here and you can tell me what you see when you get back. Then I could go and see for myself after you know the way.”
“Okay, but you guys are really missing out by not coming,” said Charles, and with a nod he turned and was off on his way to find the Player, the source of the music they heard.
Now there are some things you should know about Charles before I tell you about his journey. Charles was a very smart little mouse. He had always been able to figure things out quicker than any of the other little mice. He learned quickly and he was always hungry to find out new things. He always dreamed that one day when he got older he would be a scientist and would be able to discover many things that no one else had ever known.
He did this for two reasons. First, he really did have a legitimate desire to know things that might help out, but secondly, Charles liked to know more than others so that he could do a bit of showing off. He thought that finding the Player would make him famous and important and every one would like him the best. This was the bad thing about him searching for the Player. Even though Charles was a good little mouse, he wanted to be better than his brothers.
Since Charles had thought about this moment so often, he knew immediately the path that he must take in order to go on his search. It led away from the village and towards the place where the music was loudest. From this hole above poured a pleasant light that filled you with a warmth that was better than a cup of hot chocolate on a cold winter’s day.
Charles had ventured close to the hole before and he knew that there were little holes which he could use to scamper up into it. He now placed his paw carefully in the first hole, preparing to start his climb to the top.
What lay ahead was something that he knew nothing of, a place that was only a part of his imagination that was about to be added to his reality. It was the unknown. Now, it might not seem like much for you and me. We know that it was a piano that was their world and we have a pretty good idea about what lay ahead, but for Charles it was just like every time you looked in a dark cave, or visited a haunted house. The fear was real, and it took a great deal of courage before Charles was ever able to take that first step.
He finally raised up his courage and ran quickly up into the hole. Once he was finally there, the warm, pleasant feeling overcame a little bit of the fear that had filled Charles. He had to push through, because he had developed a round little body from sitting out too many of the mouse games. It wasn’t that tight though, and soon enough he was getting to the end of the tunnel where it opened up.
Charles cautiously peeked his head out of the hole, and found nothing but the sound of the music floating to him down a long hallway. Slowly he crept out of the hole and stared down into the shadowy, glowing light. It was brighter here, and much more mysterious. Not like any of the light that he had ever seen in his village. Still, he couldn’t help but enjoy the wonderful feeling that seemed to be coming down the tunnel towards him. Further along, he could see that the tunnel continued on a ways into the darkness.
It was an easy choice as he headed out, down towards the light. After all, his journey was to find the Player, and if Grandma were right, the best way to do that was to follow the light. The tunnel seemed to carry on for quite a ways and it was slow going as Charles wouldn’t allow himself to move very fast. He took his time and enjoyed the trip as he moved towards the ever increasing sound of the music. By now, it was very loud, and the sound seemed to vibrate through Charles’ entire body. He delighted in the sound and it really made him forget about any dangers which might lie ahead.
At long last, he reached the end of the tunnel. This end curved up and around into another area above. It was from here that all of the sound seemed to be coming. Charles braced himself for the long awaited encounter with the Player. This was something he had dreamed and hoped for, and finally it was going to happen. Slowly, he peeked his head up and around this last corner, but just as quickly he darted it back.
It was an amazing sight! He moved all the way back around to get a better look. There were the most beautiful strands of gold, and it was from these that the music flowed. Charles was dazzled by the beauty and the power of the sound. He leaned up against the wall and looked back and forth at the many different strands. For they were different, Charles saw that they were all of different lengths and a slightly different sound vibrated from each one. “Oh what a wonder!” thought Charles, “I shall have to tell everyone the truth of the music.”
Charles sat there a bit longer in awe of the beauty and majesty of these magical gold strands. After a while, he picked himself up and rushed back the way he had come. He couldn’t wait to get back and tell all the others. He could even tell Grandma what he had seen and how there really was no Player after all. It was all in the magic of the strands that the music came from. “Now, I’ll be a hero for sure,” thought Charles, and he dreamed of all the wonderful things the others would say and do for him after he told them his secret.
Now it was nearly time for bed again when Charles came storming in with his big news. He was all out of breath and couldn’t speak when he ran up to the room he shared with his brothers. Instantly, Newton was at his side wondering whatever it was that could make his brother run so hard to get to them, for Charles was not known to run unless it was to the call of dinner. “What happened Charles?” asked Newton, “Did you see a dragon?”
“Did you see Him?” squealed Lewis, “Did you see the Player?
“Hold on, let me catch my breath,” panted Charles. They stood beside him and waited, though the excitement within them was almost more than they could bear. Finally, after what seemed like forever Charles began to tell them his tale. He spoke slowly as he worked his way back over the entire journey, adding details that he knew would scare and impress his brothers. Newton and Lewis interrupted often, not wanting to miss a single thing.
Charles eventually made it to the huge room filled with golden strands. His brothers were amazed. It was like nothing they had ever seen or heard of. Charles ended by saying, “Now we know the truth. There is no Player. The music comes from the strands of gold. They are magic that brings us heat, light and life.
“But that can’t be it!” cried Lewis, “Grammy said that the Player made the music!”
“I saw it with my own eyes, Lewis!” replied Charles. “You know that no one has ever seen the Player, but the strands of gold, those I’ve seen. What do you think Newton?”
“I’d like to see for myself before I say,” said Newton.
“Then you will see Newton,” said Charles. “I’ll tell you how to get to them and you can travel there tomorrow.”
“Can’t you come with me Charles?” asked Newton.
“Don’t be silly,” answered Charles, “It isn’t that far and there is no real danger as long as you go the same way I did. What about you Lewis? Don’t you want to see where the music comes from?”
“I don’t care what you say,” cried Lewis. “There is a Player, and He is where the music comes from. I believe Grammy. She knows the truth and I do to.” And with that, Lewis rolled over and cried himself to sleep. Newton and Charles stayed up later planning Newton’s trip to see the golden strands the next day. Even after all the rest of the house had gone to bed, including Newton, Charles could not sleep. He could only think about all the grand things that would happen tomorrow when he shared his knowledge with the rest of the village.
When sleep finally claimed him, Charles dreamt dreams filled with great rewards and honor. All the adult mice and their children came before him to tell him how wonderful he was, even Grandma came to him and said, “I’m so proud of you boy, it is because of you that we finally know the truth.”
The little sleep that Charles had the night before kept him in bed a little longer than his brothers, so by the time that he got up, they had already finished the daily chores and Newton was preparing to leave.
“Aren’t you gone yet, Newton?” said Charles. “You should really get going so you will have lots of time to enjoy looking at those beautiful golden strands.”
“I’m going right now,” said Newton, “I was just waiting for you to get up so I could say good-bye.”
“Don’t worry Newton,” said Charles, “you’ll get back all right and then you can help me tell everyone about what I found out.”
Newton headed out down the path that Charles had told him about and followed along the same way that he had told him to go. It still took him a good deal of time before he was walking along the tunnel towards the light, because it is one thing to be told something is safe, and quite another to have to believe it is safe enough to put your own tail on the line. Still, it wasn’t too long before Newton was ducking his head around that final bend that led to the room that contained the golden strands.
Newton, just like Charles, was amazed at the dazzling wonder of the golden strands. He stood hypnotized by their enchantment, unable to avoid the loveliness and power of the music that emanated from them. After who knows how long, Newton began to look around the gigantic room which contained these marvelous golden strands. He saw that there was a slim ledge that ran all the way around the room, leading from the point at which he was standing and continuing away as far as he could see.
Newton thought, “Surely it is not just magic that makes these wondrous strands work, there has to be something to strum them to get them to vibrate like they do.” Newton was a very practical mouse and his curious nature demanded to find out what it was that made these amazing golden strands vibrate the way they did.
Newton began to edge himself out around the ledge, and as he did he saw that is was actually wider than he had thought. He soon was making his way at a quick pace around the rim of the room. Still the music and power filled him as the giant room was unable to contain so much sound. The pleasure was so great, Newton thought he might burst, but he continued, led on by his great curiosity. He soon saw a great row of gigantic things beyond his description. It seemed to Newton that it was these things that held the golden strands in place, and perhaps it was them that caused the strands to vibrate.
When Newton moved closer, he could see that the ledge he was on did not end at these great things. It carried on underneath with just enough room for Newton to slide under. As he did, he felt a great rumbling and the vibration was as much as it had ever been. He looked up and saw that the golden strands continued on this side of the barrier, but that wasn’t all he saw. There, to his bewilderment, were great hammers which plunged down upon the strands, sending vibrations throughout them.
This was the key to the music! The hammers hit certain strands, and those strands produced the different notes of the melody. What a spectacular mechanical device this world was that they live in. It wasn’t magic after all. It was a machine, the most wonderful machine there ever was or ever would be. Newton couldn’t wait to tell the others what he had discovered.
He was so happy to have found out the music was made by a machine, because he loved machines himself, and one day hoped to build great ones. Newton examined this machine closely, then he hurried back the entire distance. He knew it must be getting late and he dared not be home later than bed time. How surprised the others would be to hear this stupendous news that he couldn’t wait to share.
What Newton didn’t know is that all day long while he had been away, Charles had been telling everyone his news. Everyone in the village knew what a bright little mouse Charles was, so they were not quick to dismiss his story, as adults often are. Some believed in the Player above all else, and they dismissed Charles’ findings. They all agreed it was a wonderful story whether it was true or not, and many of those to whom the Player was not so real began to accept the news.
They liked his idea. They felt it more sensible than the story of the Player, and by the end of the day, they were ready to believe in the golden strands that Charles had seen. These seemed so much easier to believe in than in the Unseen Player. Strands of gold were something that was real. They knew about such things in their own world and they understood how they could create music.
By the time Newton came running into the Town Square, most of the family had gathered there in the evening to listen to Charles tell once again of his journey and discovery. Newton came rushing into the group, urgent to share his own discovery. When he did, the crowd accepted it all the more. “Of course!” they thought. “How simple! How could we have ever believed in something as foolish as the Unseen Player.”
This was not all the village, but there were a growing number who were coming to believe in these theories. It was something that seemed more real to them than the story of the Player. A solid core of believers remained, among these were Grandma and Lewis. As Lewis watched the crowd, he vowed to find out for himself and not stop until he had seen Him.
Lewis left that very night, as soon as everyone had settled down for bed. This might be seen as a very foolish thing for a little mouse to do, but he couldn’t wait until morning. He had to find the Player now. He knew the Player was real, and he couldn’t stand it that so many of the others were turning away from Him. He would find the real Player, and when he had the proof, he would come back and tell them all that the Player was real and it was from Him alone that the beautiful music flowed.
Lewis crept out of the room and down to the front door. Silently, he slipped out and headed towards the soft music and dim light that always came with the night. He had heard all of what Charles had told Newton, so he knew the way that would lead him to the golden strands. It was darker at night, and this made for an even scarier journey up to the hole that led to the tunnel. Lewis was much smaller than either of his two brothers, but very agile. He was able to scamper up into the hole very easily.
When he leaped into the tunnel a warm and powerful burst of air and music that was more like a wave rushed over him. As this washed over Lewis, he was filled with a sense of calm and peace and was no longer afraid. He knew that the Player was real, he just knew it. He walked quickly down the tunnel heading for the light that he knew would lead him. As he reached the end, he had to pause before moving on. The excitement was great in his heart and he could feel it pounding against his chest.
He moved around the turn and saw it. There in all the glory and splendor were the golden strands. “How beautiful,” said Lewis to himself. He sat down to experience the music as it floated down to him from above. The soft melody reached his pounding heart and calmed it. After a time had passed, Lewis realized this was only the first step in his journey. He looked and found the ledge that he had heard his brother speak of almost instantly. Then he was racing, flying around the ledge, with the beat of the music increasing and driving him on. He was near his goal now. He could feel it!
Lewis slowed as he reached the great barrier. This whole room, everything, was bigger than he could even imagine. It was a vast landscape that spread out before him, and here was the barrier, right ahead. He slipped under it and found himself in a smaller room. This room had a noise that was both grand and mysterious, and then he saw them. There, above him. There were the hammers that Newton had spoken of. Truly, they were magnificent, really too big to be called something as simple as a hammer.
Still, the music was there for him, but now it slowed once again, and grew soft. Lewis froze and looked around. Despite its softness, the music seemed to penetrate still deeper within him. He sat in awe of all that was around him. It was all so wonderful, and yet still he must journey on further to find the Player. Lewis saw that the ledge he was on ran into a wall, which seemed to lead up to a place where the light shined at its brightest. He started to walk carefully over to the light. Moving to the slow beat of the music now.
The light grew brighter the closer he walked, yet he could still see everything clearly, more clearly in fact. The colors of the light diffused into a thousand rainbows all around him, all of which seemed to be reaching out to him. It was like looking at the world through a perfect crystal. All things grew clear, not only in the world around him, but in his mind and in his heart. Lewis stopped and stared into the light. He was soaked with the music and the light and the feeling. It was all there for him.
Then suddenly, softly at first, he heard a new sound. This sound was different than the music. It had a different texture and it filled the air even more. Joy hit Lewis like a tidal wave. He fell to his knees and began to cry. Not little mouse tears, but great tears of passion and happiness. Lewis knew what the noise was. The Player had begun to sing. It was a song of such majesty that it could be from no other. The song seemed to carry more meaning than words could hold. It was more like a feeling than a song, and a feeling that surpassed all others.
Then the music and the voice began to pick up pace. This tune was one of celebration. Lewis arose and began to dance. It was a dance that came from the music. He danced and sang and lived, and he knew for sure what he had never doubted. “The Player is real!” yelled Lewis, “You’re real!” Lewis danced on and on until the Player’s voice went silent.
As the song ended, Lewis sank softly to the ground and slept. It was a sleep that was filled with the song. The feeling and understanding that the song brought rested with Lewis throughout his sleep. He slept and rested as well as anyone has ever rested. Dreaming of the Player and all that was the Player. It seemed as if this happy sleep might go on forever, but then the morning came.
“Wake up Lewis, wake up,” said Grandma. “What are you doing down here on the couch when you ought to be up in your bed?”
“What?” said Lewis sleepily.
“I don’t know what’s gotten into you boys,” she said. “You’re always running off these last few days, and your brothers got the town all stirred up with all those stories.”
“He’s real Grammy, He’s real!” said Lewis.
“Who’s real?” said Charles and Newton, who had just walked in.
“The Player’s real!” replied Lewis. “I’ve seen Him!”
“Where? asked Charles. “I’ve been to the golden strands and I haven’t seen Him.”
“Where? asked Newton. “I’ve been to the great hammers and I haven’t seen Him. So tell us Lewis. Where did you see the Player?”
“Don’t you see, “exclaimed Lewis, “you’ve both seen the Player. It is just like Grammy told us. He’s in the golden strands, and He’s in the great hammers. He’s everywhere! Can’t you see it. I have seen Him and so have you, you just haven’t really looked. I don’t guess I had either until I heard His song. That is when I first saw Him. He’s real, right here, right now. The music is from Him and is about Him. The golden strands and the great hammers are just the means that he uses to bring it to us.”
“You do see child,” said Grandma. “Now you truly see. So many are never blessed with what you have, hold on to it tight and never let it go. That is the truth that is in the telling, and that is the truth that makes this life worth living. The music will never end, and it is all because of the Player who never leaves us.”
With this last statement, Charles and Newton walked away, now with more to think about than ever. They didn’t know what to believe now. Grandma knew they would have to work it out on their own between them and the Player. As Grandma sat down in her rocking chair, Lewis ran and climbed back up into her lap.
“Isn’t it all so wonderful Grammy,” said Lewis.
“Yes it is child,” replied Grandma, “yes it is.”
So the mice lived on in their little piano world, with many following Grandma and Lewis in their belief in the Great Unseen Player. Many others chose instead to believe in the power of the golden strands, or in the great hammers. Throughout it all the music continued to flow throughout the piano, both day and night, without end, and the Pianist continued to play.
I wrote this story in 1994 for a class in graduate school. It was adapted from an article printed in London, England more than a century ago. You can see the original text here.
In addition to the many other things in the headlines this year, pro-life/pro-abortion issues have been at the forefront of the news with several events spurring that on. A seemingly pro-life leaning Supreme Court has many on the left feeling quite nervous about the possibility of the Roe vs. Wade decision being challenged or overturned. This last week, this led a Democrat-controlled House to pass legislation that, if it were adopted, would lead the United States to become just the third country worldwide to allow abortion without a gestational limit. They would join China and N. Korea as the only countries in the world to allow the termination of the infant up to the moment of birth.
For China and N. Korea, this is sad, but not surprising. The governments of those countries have consistently demonstrated how little they value individual human rights, but if this were to happen, it would be a shock to see the United States join them in this limited club. Even though some countries in Europe have often led the way in various streams of progressivism, in some ways the US is beginning to surpass them in areas like abortion and the pervasiveness and export of identity politics. For some in the US, they may see this as a triumph of the modern age, but many American Christians find themselves wondering how we arrived at this destination and confused by how to navigate the many human rights issues that are thrown at us on a daily basis, often with a very carefully sculpted political slant.
In this short article, I hope to examine a Christian view of the sanctity of human life and compassion as well as review some of the specific areas that human compassion is often limited by ideology. If you are a non-Christian reading this, I welcome your interest, but given the lack of a common moral/ideological foundation, I don’t expect your agreement. Human life is valued quite differently by different tribes and nations of humans, which is why we find vastly different laws related to the treatment of the unborn, women, special needs children, the old and infirm and minorities of all sorts. By contrast, human life is defined by the Bible in very specific ways that should unify all those who hold to the Truth of God’s Word.
Biblical Definition of Life
Mankind was created in the image of God – Genesis 1:26 – All life has value, but human life has been ascribed greater value than animal or plant life because of this fact and murder was considered a particular horrific crime, as an attack on life and the image of God.
In Genesis 9:6 – the Bible ties murder to the image of God in this way and establishes the principle of the death penalty for murder. “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God, God has made man.”
Human life is present in the womb. Most commonly this is referenced to Psalm 139:13 – “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.” Other verses reference our humanity beginning at or even before conception. Jeremiah 1:5, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.” Paul says in Galatians 1:15 that God “had set [him] apart before [he] was born.” For a Christian, the human soul exists at or even before the beginning of biological life in the womb. This life is a gift from God.
Our physical bodies will perish, but our souls are immortal. 1 Corinthians 15:50-55
In Hebrews it talks about our desire for “a better country, that is, a heavenly one“(11:16) and “for here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.” (13:14) We are created for eternity, and are not created to find satisfaction with our life on earth.
In summary, humankind is the special creation of God, made in His own image. Individual human life begins at or before conception and though our physical bodies will perish, who we are as human souls is immortal.
God’s Compassion and Christian Compassion
In addition to looking at a viewpoint of life, I believe it is important to look at the compassion of God and the compassion that we are called to as His followers.
God’s greatest example of compassion is Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross for our sins. By this sacrifice, we are able to come into right relationship with God and no longer fear eternity separated from our creator, but instead can joyfully look forward to a never ending fellowship with Him. (Romans 5:6-9)
Jesus compassion is noted for the masses – Matt 9:36 – “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”
He healed people out of compassion – Matthew 14:14
God’s nature is compassionate – Psalm 86:15 – “But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” Psalm 78:38-39 – “Yet he, being compassionate, atoned for their iniquity and did not destroy them; he restrained his anger often and did not stir up all his wrath. He remembered that they were but flesh, a wind that passes and comes not again.“
These are all reminders that God knows our weakness, our sinfulness and how much we need Him, and He acts in compassion towards us, beautifully illustrated in the story of the Prodigal Son – Luke 15:20 – “And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.”
Following God’s example, we are given direction to function in compassion towards one another. Ephesians 4:32 – “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
1 Peter 3:8 – “Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.“
Colossians 3:12 – “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”
Zechariah 7:9-10 – “This is what the Lord Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.’”
God values human life. Every human life is precious. He looks upon human suffering with compassion. God acted in the greatest way possible to meet our most pressing need by providing salvation when we could do nothing to earn it. As followers of Jesus, we are to be people of compassion as we interact with this world, but when we look around the world and deal with human issues, we often are shown different values. Let’s look at these principles applied to different issues in the news today.
God’s viewpoint: All human life is precious and created in the image of God and every individual life involved in the situation is worthy of compassion.
Man’s ideas which may limit compassion:
The most obvious limit is that the unborn child is not worthy of life or compassion. This is a clear violation of the created order and violates God’s commandments. The unborn child is only shown compassion if they are wanted, otherwise they are discarded.
Some would show a lack of compassion upon the mother, pushing a mother with an unwanted pregnancy into the margins of society and refusing to show compassion on both the women seeking an abortion and those who are struggling after having an abortion. These women have sometimes found the church to be a community hammer coming against them rather than an agent of mercy.
Some of the architects of the modern abortion advocacy movement operated out of a value system that encouraged abortion in order to reduce the number of births in minority populations, a group which is overly represented in abortion statistics. Some scholars estimate that just among the black community, over 19 million babies have been aborted since 1973.
In many countries and to a growing degree in the US, babies are aborted upon the parents discovering they would be born (or have a high chance of being born) with Down’s Syndrome or other potential limitations. Thus, it is deemed more compassionate to spare the family the complications of a special needs child.
Some would say that legalized abortions limit the number of abortions more than when abortions are illegal and make them safer for the mother. The data on whether it actually decreases the numbers is inconclusive, with each side presenting their own statistics, but regardless of the data, the number of abortions are extremely high in all cases.
Christian response: Since all human life is of equal value, regardless of the race, sex, economic status or health of those involved, followers of Jesus act to preserve life and support life. They invest heavily in ministering to whoever is in their community. They support and encourage all babies to be born and loved and all mother’s to find grace and mercy in the Church. They love those who have had abortions and lead the way in providing support and counseling. The Church acknowledges that we are all sinners and that the only hope for any of us is salvation through Jesus Christ.
Victims of violence – In recent years, some crimes have been highlighted because of the circumstances surrounding them, including the race of the participants, who committed the crime and whether or not the crime fit a narrative that serves a political/societal agenda.
God’s viewpoint: All human life is precious and created in the image of God and every individual life involved in the situation is worthy of compassion. It is just to punish those who act in violence to take another human life, regardless of their station. The government has been appointed to serve in that role as the administrator of that justice. No human life is worth more than any other.
Man’s ideas, which may limit compassion:
Because of injustice, some deaths are more noteworthy than others, and it is felt that it is important to highlight those deaths and leverage them to initiate social change. This is complicated by the fact that some of these victims may in fact be criminals themselves and highlighting them often shows a lack of compassion on their own victims. It also minimizes other deaths, in which lives are lost which do not serve the cause of special interests. Example: minority deaths originating from street/gang/criminal violence are often minimized and ignored, despite the devastating impact on their communities. See this thread of children killed in street violence this year.
Corrupt police or courts may allow police who are responsible for injustice to escape punishment and to reinforce fear and mistrust in those communities, thus leading to growing discord and despair. Hopelessness may exists in communities where this has become a pattern.
Generalization of events can bring radical changes to communities that would otherwise not have been directly impacted by these tragedies. With hopeful reform and cooperation on both sides, perhaps future tragedies might be prevented, but often the attention brought by special interest groups and the media can lead to escalating conflict between authorities and suspects or overall disengagement at the expense of the most vulnerable in the communities.
Christian response: Since all life is valuable, regardless of who is involved, Christians should stand for justice where all loss of life is found. When there are victims in our neighborhoods, churches should be the first ones to reach out in compassion to help those victims or their families. Churches should be active in working in their communities to prevent violence, initiating and participating in programs and leading the way of pointing others towards peace. Christians should be staunch defenders of justice and advocate for the government to fulfill their role as the arbitrators of God’s justice for victims and the innocent. This justice should be applied fairly to each person regardless of standing or station in the community. Christians should recognize that those without Christ will often act in selfish, evil ways and realize that the greatest need of all involved is salvation through Jesus Christ.
The Refugee Crisis – refugee immigration has been around as long as I can remember. Christian friends of mine were helping refugees resettle in DFW when I lived there from 1993-96, but in recent years it has become increasingly politicized.
God’s viewpoint: All human life is precious and created in the image of God and every individual life involved in the situation is worthy of compassion. God’s love for the orphan, the widow, the needy and the foreigner is documented throughout scripture. God has appointed for nations to have responsibility for their affairs, including their borders and the management of their borders. In Scripture, the community of faith is primarily responsible for caring for the needs of others, not the government.
Man’s ideas, which may limit compassion:
Acting to end injustice as a government by military action may often create more long term suffering if the impact of those actions is not taken into account. Most refugees are refugees due to the actions of governments, both their own and others.
Helping refugees requires a longer term commitment than many people are willing to give. Many want to give funds or volunteer once at a program, but the long term help that is needed is in short supply and intermittent or fading help can leave refugees dependent on help that is no longer there. Helping them establish themselves in a new community is much more difficulty and time intensive, but more helpful in the long term.
Governments can offer help that they are not equipped to give. Sometimes refugees can become political pawns between governments and political parties within a national government. Because of changing policies, refugees lives can be completely changed on a politician’s whim.
Generalizing refugees as terrorists or with other labels because of their ethnicity or passport country is unfair to the majority of refugees, who are often fleeing from terrorists and other bad actors in order to avoid suffering at their hands.
Refugees often come from countries with a high standard of hospitality and the lack of compassion towards them upon arrival leads to isolation and in the worst cases, radicalization.
Christian response: Since all lives are valuable, regardless of race, ethnicity, sex, economic level or country of origin, Christians must act with compassion to be on the frontlines to help wherever there is suffering. Christians should be the first ones in their communities to welcome refugees and should be leading and cooperating with others to both meet the many physical needs of those refugees upon arrival and to show them the love of Christ through word and deed as long as they are in our communities. Christians should recognize that the Great Commission may be fulfilled in their generation by God bringing immigrants and refugees into their communities from the least reached corners of the world. Christians should advocate for compassion and justice for refugees from others, including the government, but should not abdicate their Christian responsibility to others to help those the Lord brings into their areas.
In all of these areas and more, Christians lead the way to be defenders of the sanctity of human life and bringing compassion to bear wherever possible. For many of us, the best thing we can do is set aside our right and desire to argue about these things on the internet and instead start asking, “where can I help?” with those who are suffering in our town. We are “salt and light” and that doesn’t happen with our votes or with our likes, it happens with our hands, our feet and our voices.
I would guess that some of you grew up in large families. My dad grew up in a large family, with 8 brothers and sisters. Our family has 3 kids, 1 girl and 2 boys, and I can testify that they didn’t always get along. I never fought with my siblings, but that’s because I’m an only child, so I never really experienced what it was like to have a sibling. I had cousins that I spent a lot of time with, but cousins are definitely not the same as brothers and sisters.
One of the greatest miracles of the Bible is one that we don’t often talk about, but I think any of you who have brothers and sisters can probably appreciate it more than I can. This miracle is the conversion of James, the brother of Jesus, into a follower of his half-brother. If you think about your brothers and sisters, can you imagine what it would take for you to believe they were God or the Messiah? The same brother and sister who you might have fought with over things around the house, is now being proclaimed to be the son of God, the Messiah, the hope for all people. Now, I’m sure Jesus was a perfect brother, but that might have be an issue all its own. We don’t have details about what that might have been like, we can only imagine, but maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that Jesus’ brothers were skeptical at first. John 7 tells us the following:
This doesn’t seem to imply active opposition to Jesus, but more of a disagreement with his methodology and a lack of understanding of His true purpose, which was common among many of Jesus’ followers at this point. It does seem clear that Jesus’ brothers were not fully Jesus’ followers at this time. They saw Jesus, as their brother and as a teacher, do many amazing things, miracles even, but as far as we know, they were not His followers even up to the time of Jesus’ death. So, the greatest miracle in history is Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, conquering death and providing victory over sin and death for all who believe in Him, but another miracle at that time is that James accepted this and became His follower.
What changed James’ mind? In 1 Corinthians 15:7 – Paul tells us, “Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.” Paul is referring to the resurrected Jesus. James either saw Jesus crucified and buried or would have heard about it directly from their mother, Mary. He would not have doubted that Jesus had been dead. He knew that as a definite fact. So, when Jesus appeared to James, walking around, alive as anyone else that no doubt had a profound impact. Most likely, that was the moment when James fully believed in his own brother as the Son of God, the Messiah, His Savior.
James, like Jesus’ other disciples, would have heard Jesus talk about many things, including predicting His own death and resurrection. In Mark 8:31, Jesus says, “And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.” It is one thing to hear someone teach something like that, but quite another to believe that Jesus would actually be able to pull it off. After seeing Jesus do just that, James was one of many who believed.
James must have been like the other followers of Jesus. We have it recorded that they were scattered, scared and in hiding after Jesus’ crucifixion. From a human standpoint, this makes perfect sense. They had put their hopes in Jesus, the great teacher, the one who did miracles and they may have had many different ideas of what would come next. Some might have thought He would be more of an earthly King, leading Israel to overthrow Rome. Others might have believed that his teaching was so powerful that soon everyone would believe and turn their lives to Him, as they had done, but that isn’t what happened.
Jesus was crucified and they went into hiding. It was only after He was resurrected that their perspective completely changed. That was when they went from hiding to proclaiming. That is when they became willing to give up everything in order to tell others what they had seen and heard. James was no different.
From there we know that James was with the other disciples at Pentecost and James would go on to be primary leader of the Jerusalem Church. He is referred to as an apostle by Paul in Galatians 1:19 – “I saw none of the other apostles—only James, the Lord’s brother.”
James was the one who Paul and Peter went to for wisdom on the requirements of Gentiles who were joining the faith. James was obviously a respected leader. In Galatians 2:9, Paul calls James, along with Peter and John as the pillars of the Church. He was known as a man of prayer, called in some historical documents as “Old Camel Knees” because of the thick calluses on his knees from many hours spent in prayer. He was also called “James the Just” because of his fervent advocacy for the poor.
According to church tradition, James was martyred for his faith, after testifying to a crowd that his brother, Jesus, was “at the right hand of God and would return someday.” According to a historian, many believed based on James’ testimony and the Jewish religious leaders threw him down from the temple, stoned him and he ultimately died from a blow to the head by a club thrown at him. James gave up his life to testify that his brother, wasn’t just a brother, but something much, much more.
This is why I call the conversion of James a great miracle. You have a brother of Jesus, who became a follower of Jesus’ teachings, a leader in the local and greater first century church and someone, like the other apostles, who was willing to proclaim the truth about Jesus, even though it meant his own death. When you open the Bible to read the letter written by James, the brother of Jesus, you should understand that this is not just a letter in the Bible, but a letter written by a true follower of Christ. One who seems to have begun as a skeptic, but gave his whole life for the sake of his faith in his half-brother, Jesus Christ.
When we say the Bible is true, we are not just saying that this book, written 2000 years ago is true. What we are saying is that this book, which was written by the divine inspiration of God, based on the testimonies and firsthand accounts of those who knew Jesus personally and like James, transformed from a scattered flock at the point of Jesus’ death into a bold and growing church that proclaimed the truth of this Gospel up unto the point of most of them giving up their lives for the sake of the Gospel. That is the New Testament. It is the faithful testimony of men like James, the brother of Jesus and it should be treated as such. That is what it means when we say that we have God’s very Word to us in this current time.