Who is the greatest?

I love coaching basketball. From 4th grade all the way up to 8th I coached my oldest son’s teams.  During those years, the boys were in that magical age range where they weren’t too cool for school yet and even though I was an adult, I was still considered a pretty cool guy.

The best part about the coaching experience is the deep and meaningful conversations after practice is over.  Like, who is the greatest NBA basketball player?  Is it Lebron James, or Kobe Bryant?  Lebron James was the odds on favorite at that time with his high flying dunks and super-human athleticism.  However, some of the boys felt that Kobe was the best because he was the smartest player.  I tried to make a case for Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, or Michael Jordan, but judging by the blank stares on their faces, my players were a little too young to remember any of those guys.

That’s the thing with greatness; it’s so fleeting.  As Solomon says, “there is no remembrance of men of old, 
and even those who are yet to come 
will not be remembered 
by those who follow.” (Ecc. 1:11)  Ouch!  Have you ever felt that way?  That nothing you have accomplished in life really lasts.  During the first practice of the season, the boys wanted to know what my coaching credentials were.  I explained how I had played college basketball and briefly described to them one of my best performances.  They were mildly impressed.  It was just enough to get them to do their defensive slide drills because I knew what I was talking about.  However, a few minutes later I was demonstrating a lay-up and it clanged off the side of the rim.  The looks on their faces said it all.  “The glory had departed.”

Jesus had some amazing things to say about greatness.  “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the last, and the servant of all.” (Mark 9:33)  Based on our ingrained, human value system this statement makes no sense at all.  I’m tempted to just ignore it all together, but I know that whenever I don’t understand Jesus, I am in the dark and I would rather live in the light.  Thankfully, there’s another way of looking at these words of Jesus.  Maybe greatness isn’t something that is attained in this life.  Jesus also said, “store up for yourselves treasures in heaven.” (Mt. 6:20)  Having this view of greatness causes us to drastically change the way we define the word.

If greatness is a treasure that we store up for ourselves in heaven, then it is not defined by accomplishments, wealth, social status, or the praise of men.  Those are the common things that we attribute greatness to in this life.  If we want to live a great life, we need to have an eternal focus.  What does that mean?  When God’s people live in light of eternity, values change. They use their time and money more wisely, they place a higher premium on relationships and character instead of fame, or wealth, or achievements and their priorities are reordered; keeping up with trends, fashions, and popular values just don’t matter as much anymore. Paul said, “I once thought all these things were so very important, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done.” (Phil. 3:7 NLT).

As I am working through the various decisions I have to make today, the actions I need to take and the way to prioritize my time, I want to be mindful of what is worthless.  Let’s be honest, a lot of things we are deeply invested in don’t really matter a whole lot in the grand scheme of things.  We worry about what people will think, how much money is in our bank account, or if we have what it takes, but those are momentary troubles and God wants us to broaden our view to see our lives in the light of eternity. Let’s live our lives more eternally minded and give priority to the things that really matter.

 

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Nomination Nightmare

A few weeks back my son asked me when the next presidential election was to be held. I explained to him that it was still close to a year away. He seemed confused and rightfully so. With all of the media focus on the nomination process, it feels as though the election should be right around the corner. Nowadays, it’s difficult to discern when we are in the midst of an election year as one election season blends into the next. His next question, however, was much more penetrating. While we were watching one of the debates he asked, “why do these people all hate each other?” As if to answer his question, the nomination process once again dominated today’s headlines. The emphasis was upon how the campaign ads were becoming more fierce and could possibly be the “most negative” of all time – And these people are supposed to be on the same team? I cringe at the thought of what the general election process might devolve into. It makes me wonder, “How are we supposed to hold our leaders in high regard, as the scriptures admonish us to, if they are constantly tearing one another down and bringing out the worst in each other?”

Recently, I read a bumper sticker that heightened my level of concern.  It uses scripture of all things to ridicule the current president of the United States. It simply reads: “Pray for Obama, Psalm 109:8.” It seems innocent enough until you actually read the passage. “Let his days be few and brief; and let others step forward to take his place.” I guess we could all have a good laugh at the thought of another Biblical passage being hijacked out of context, but that wasn’t my reaction. It made me angry. Essentially the slogan is calling on Christians to leverage the words of God to pray for something God is expressly against. As believers, who take the Bible seriously, we should consider carefully how we are instructed to respond to leadership so that we don’t fall into the pattern of this world.

Pray for your leaders
The scriptures clearly teach us to pray for our leaders. 1 Timothy 2 says it most clearly, I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior.” Notice that the desired result of these prayers is that we would live peaceful and quiet lives. How many of us live in anxiety and fear because of political issues? How many of us resent our leaders? How many of us incite each other to fury over policies we are passionate about? Are we living in peace? The Christians living under the leadership of Rome at this time didn’t picket the emperor. Their only recourse was to pray for him.

Submit to your leaders
Romans 13
“Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.”

We might be tempted to think that doesn’t apply when the president, or governor is not our preferred choice for the job, but Paul is writing this at a time when there was no choice. To make matters worse, Paul wrote this portion of scripture at a time when Nero was emperor of Rome. In addition to burning Christians alive like human candles, he’s the guy who fed them to wild animals in the Coliseums. All of the sudden, ObamaCare doesn’t seem so bad!  I’m not suggesting we blindly follow our leaders when they violate God’s word, or lead us into actions that are expressly contrary to the ways of God, but we can spend our days hopelessly lost in debate over how and why this policy is Godless and that law is contrary to what the Bible says and miss Paul’s entire point – pray for and support your leaders.

Hebrews 13, “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.

It’s most likely the writer of Hebrews intended this passage to be applied to spiritual leaders, but that shouldn’t exempt us from following the same principle in regards to our civil leaders.  Imagine what the president could accomplish if he/she felt like the people in our nation were actually behind him/her placing their confidence in them as God’s appointed leader. It goes both ways whether the president is Democrat, or Republican. What if Christians everywhere were known as those who respected and supported their leaders? Something tells me this would be good and it would produce a lot more fruit than the constant barrage of criticism and personal attacks!