From the time I first became a follower of this Jesus guy I’ve heard the phrase, “Be in the world, but not of the world.” It’s a thought gained from some verses in the bible. Praying to the Father Jesus said, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.” (John 17:15-16). John notes, “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them.” (1John 2:15) Cool phrase and thought but what does that look like? Do we completely tune out the things of this world and live in our own little Christian bubble? Absolutely not! That’d be impossible. For sure there are some things we know we need to let go of and avoid. For a quick hit list read Galatians 5:19. Paul mentions things like hatred, jealousy, drunkenness, and envy.
But what about things that aren’t necessarily sins? Is it okay to enjoy stuff like football, creating things with your hands, watching Netflix, or kids soccer games? Recently some friends went on a road trip to the races. I’ve recently learned it something they are passionate about and have been for some time. However now they have a child. When they posted pictures of the races I noticed there were more pictures of the child than of the races. Interestingly enough when there were pics of the cars it was less about the car and more about their child in the car!
For me this is a great illustration of "in, but not of." They absolutely enjoyed the races but their primary focus was the child. You see, it is okay to enjoy the things of this world that aren’t sinful but the focus in all things we do must be Jesus. When I hike my focus from the beauty of creation to seeing His hand in the beauty of creation. It is a shift from time alone to time alone with Him.
We must measure our ‘in but not of’ life. It’s okay to be in the world but we must remember our first love.
Back in my BC days there were two things I liked to do. Find my way to the front row at a rock concert and gain access to off limits places to explore. At concerts it began with a study of the arena. Which seats are empty? Where is security stationed? Then after a few songs we’d begin to weave through the crowd. Scurrying through seats and jumping over the wall that separated the seats from the floor. Most of the times were met with success. Sometimes we would get caught and to rewind and try again. Another game Joy and I would play with our friends was to explore a city and try to make our way into off limits buildings or find doors that would give us access to the roof or upper levels. We find an old church and want to get in to admire its beauty and gain the view from the rooftop. Bottom line is we were trying to gain access to seats we didn’t pay for or locations only accessible to authorized personnel.
Growing up I said “God bless you’ when someone sneezed, prayed for the occasional meal, helped people when I could, and attended church on occasion. I knew who Jesus was and what He did. Even prayed to Him once in a while when I needed out of a jam. Surely when I surveyed my life I had done enough to satisfy entrance to heaven.
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus addresses guys like me. “Not everyone who says to me “Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21) Jesus said one day people will tell him all the stuff they did in His name (7:22) and He say ‘Who are you?” (7:23).
You see, it’s not about the stuff we do, that’s easy. We can’t finagle our way by sneaking through a door of good works. The way is secure and accessible only through the work and person of Jesus Christ. “I am the way, the truth, and the life” He would tell His disciples “no one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6).
It’s about Him! He is the narrow gate (7:13) through which we gain access. It is His work, period!
In my younger days I spent some time living in an apartment complex just outside
Atlanta. At the center of the complex was a basketball court. When time permitted
and the court wasn’t being used I’d spend some time shooting hoops. Jump shots, foul
shots, three point shots, dribble shoot, baby hook, and fade away I did them all. Mostly
unsuccessfully, but I did them all. I wasn’t half bad, at least I thought to myself.
However, there was a group of guys who played there from time to time. THEY were
good. If I looked out the window and saw them on the court I didn’t venture that way. If I
was there and saw them coming, I was out of there.
One particular day I was on the court shooting away not paying attention to what was
going on around me. You can guess what happened, they guys showed up. And they were
a man short. I acquiesced to their request to participate. Man, those guys were good.
Conversely I learned how NOT good I was. But I stuck it out. I endured blocked shots
missed passes, steals, and losing my man. But I stuck it out. And I played with them
again and again. I learned playing with those guys improved my game significantly.
If you want to get better at whatever you are doing I’ve learned to find someone
better than you and work with them. I’ve learned don’t go it alone. It’s remarkable
how my stride count increases when someone is on the elliptical next to mine.
If you want to grow in relationship and knowledge of God, don’t go it alone. Show up
for church, connect with a small group, find someone to study with.
I think intimidation is ultimately fear of humility. It’s an unwillingness to want to put
ourselves out there and admit we don’t know what we don’t know or can’t do what we
want others think we can do. I’ve learned to surround myself with people with more
smarts and skill than I, even in my current profession. Doing so challenges me to up
my game and makes me better for it.
Bonus points if you know where the title originated.
This morning I began reading 1 Samuel as part of my devotions. I was struck by the
encounter Eli has with Hannah in chapter 1. Hannah is desperate for a child yet
remains barren. She is in the temple “praying in her heart, and her lips were moving
but her voice was not heard.” (1:13) Eli the priest misinterpreted what he saw. He she
said to her, ‘How long will you keep on getting drunk? Get rid of your wine.” (1:14). He
saw the headline and made a snap judgment. Fortunately for Eli, Hannah corrects him
and he is able to see the situation for what it really is. Through her correction he was
able to see beyond the headline.
It is easy to see someone and, based on outward appearance or behavior, make a snap
judgment. Unfortunately most of the time we do not put ourselves in a place to hear
the story behind the headline. There is always more to the story than the headline we
create; crackhead, idiot, punk, bum, etc. Our confirmation bias assesses, dismisses,
and walks away.
Before we dismiss based on the headline we create for someone perhaps it would be
good to see beyond the headline and realize that is a real person with real issues that
may need you to help rewrite the story of their lives.