Hardly Anybody Does This, But Everyone Should

Most people are concerned about their own interests, and it is hard for any of us to think much beyond them.

I remember one pastor had a plaque on his desk with a saying on it, “People are not against you. They are for themselves.”

As the Apostle Paul thought about the churches he had planted, he lamented, “Everyone looks out for his own interests, and not the interests of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 2:21).

Isn’t this true? How many of us are really able to think beyond our own prosperity and comfort? How many of us can sacrifice for a cause that is truly bigger than ourselves?

As a Pastor, I need to ask this, too. Would I care about the prosperity of the church I serve if I was not its Pastor? How much do I care about church in general? Do I participate in church activities when I’m not being paid?

If we’re honest, as Pastors, a lot of our interest in church is more self-interest than we realize.

Truly, everyone looks out for his own interests and not the interests of Jesus Christ.

Why are we so obsessed with our own interests?

One answer is pride. We think of ourselves as the center of the universe and make our interests more important than anything else.

Everyone has this tendency. That’s why there’s so much conflict in the world. We are battling it out to see who gets to be the center of the universe and whose interests will predominate.

Another answer is anxiety. Pride and anxiety generally intertwine more than we think. We are worried that if we don’t give attention to our interests, then no one else will. So, we’ve got to look out for # 1.

Of course, there is no end to anxiety because we are finite. We can always put more money in savings. We receive applause, but then we want more. We always need more security. This keeps us focused on our own interests.

American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr described this trap. He wrote, “without freedom from anxiety man is so enmeshed in the vicious circle of egocentricity, so concerned about himself, that he cannot release himself for the adventure of love.”

How can we escape from this “vicious circle of egocentricity”? Trust in God’s goodness. God promises in the Gospel that He will “supply all our needs” (Phil. 4:19, cf. Mt. 6:25–34). When we know that God will care for us and love us perfectly, then we can let go of trying to desperately make sure our interests are satisfied.

Beyond that, we need to extend our imagination to think beyond our own interests.

Do we ever ask, what are the interests of Jesus Christ?

Let’s think about this for a minute, and let’s start with my county. What does Jesus care about in my county?

Here’s just a few things that come to mind:

  1. He cares about having a relationship with the people of my county.
  2. He cares about the churches of my county and that they would love one another and serve together as much as possible. His interest is the unity of the church.
  3. He cares about the marginalized: the elderly, the poor, and the fatherless.
  4. He cares about justice and that we would treat others well and live in peace as much as possible, living as good neighbors (i.e., love your neighbor as yourself!).
  5. He cares about truth. He wants to promote those things that are true and lovely and good.
  6. He cares about the creation. He wants it to be treated well, enjoyed, and beautified.
  7. He cares about families doing well and being a blessing to all those involved.

These are some of the most important interests of Jesus Christ.

What would happen if people really cared about those things the way Jesus did? What if people had a passion for helping people find a relationship with God, with making sure the elderly were cared for, with making things beautiful and good, not just getting a paycheck? Wouldn’t that give us a very different world?

People would be cared for much better than they are now. People who need love and care would not be forgotten. The world would be a much more beautiful place.

But we are all very busy. Sometimes we’re just trying to keep our head above water. How can we move out of the daily grind into concern about the interests of Jesus Christ?

Here are a few suggestions:

  • Pray bigger (see the Lord’s Prayer on this one!). Pray for your community, other churches, and the broader church assemblies. Take the newspaper and pray for the institutions and events mentioned in it.
  • Get involved with something bigger. Go on a mission trip. Get involved with a cause. Visit another church, not to change churches but to get to know what others are doing. When we get involved, we will begin to get a vision of what God is doing and want to be involved.
  • Step out of your comfort zone where you are. Even in your daily life, you run into people who are different from you and represent different interests. Get to know a variety of people. This will help us begin to think about what God is doing in the world.
  • Take inventory of your gifts and consider how you could use them on a bigger scale. This may simply mean volunteering to do something at your church. You may have something to offer your community or school or business. Just think bigger than where you are.

It will not be easy. That’s why hardly anybody does this. But it’s something everyone should do. Jesus and His kingdom and the good of our fellow human beings are worth it.

Let’s pray that this vision comes true: “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed by Thy name. Thy kingdom come . . .”

Why General Assembly?

This year, I attended our denomination’s General Assembly. I don’t plan to attend every year, but I really enjoyed it this year, more than I thought I would.

It would be easy for someone not familiar (or even those familiar with) General Assembly to wonder why anyone would want to go to General Assembly. Why go to a big church business meeting? Why spend all that money? Why take off of work or spend time away from your family and local church?

For those who watch or sit in General Assembly, you can get even more frustrated. At times, it seems like a total mess. Motions and counter-motions and points of order. “No thanks,” you might be thinking.

(Note: you can watch some of the mess here.)

So, why should a local church support the broader assemblies of the church?

Here are a few reasons.

First, it reminds us that the Church is bigger than our local church. When representatives from all over the nation and world come together, it is a good and helpful reminder that God is doing much, much more than we are aware of.
Continue reading “Why General Assembly?”

How to Live by Grace

In Philippians 1, the Apostle Paul tells the Philippians that he prays to God that their love would increase (v. 9). This means that love is a gift of God’s grace, and we should ask Him to give us that gift. We can’t just manufacture love on our own.

This is further confirmed by what Paul goes on to say in the same passage. The fruit of righteousness “comes through Jesus Christ—to the praise and glory of God” (1:11).

In addition, the Philippians can be assured of the grace of God because “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (1:6).

Our virtues are gifts of God’s grace.

This is more controversial than it should be among Christians. One reason for this, I believe, is that people take these truths out of the broader context of Scripture.

So, Christian A will say, “Did you work out your own salvation with fear in trembling, or was it God who was working in you?”

Christian B responds, “I worked. Christianity has not been easy.”

Christian A responds, “No, it was God working in you.” And the conversation spirals down from there. Continue reading “How to Live by Grace”

The Best Part About Boonville

By Brian Carpenter

In the summer of 1994 General Mills moved my wife and I to southwest Indiana. She was in sales, and I was trying to go to seminary. As we looked for a place to live, we decided to purchase a small home in a small town outside of Evansville. The town was called Boonville.

Boonville had several advantages. It was 20 miles closer to Louisville than Evansville was, and I was commuting to Louisville four days a week for classes. It turned a two and a half hour drive into a two hour drive. It was also cheaper. We bought a 2 bedroom, one bath house for something less than $40,000 if memory serves. Continue reading “The Best Part About Boonville”

The Difference Between Secular & Christian Humility

One of the most surprising things about books on business strategy and organization is the emphasis on humility. These books have given me a lot to think about as I consider the application of humility to daily life.

For example, in Marshall Goldsmith’s helpful book What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There, he explains his work with successful people who could not move up any further because of some significant character flaw. Most of these flaws were rooted in pride.

Goldsmith provides a list of 21 character flaws that he has seen in working with various executives. They include:

  • passing the buck–refusing to take responsibility for what happens under your watch;
  • the desire to add value to every conversation by throwing in your two cents;
  • continually beginning sentences with the words “no,” “but,” and “however” in a way that makes people think, “I’m right, and you’re wrong”;
  • feeling the need to answer every suggestion rather than just saying “thank you.”

There’s a lot of simple, practical wisdom in Goldsmith’s list (see the whole list here, and I would encourage you to read the whole book which you can find here).

I have learned a lot from these books. They have shown me very practical ways to show humility that I would most likely not have learned in other ways.

In light of that, it’s worth considering: what is the difference between secular humility and Christian humility? In saying this, let me be clear that I’m not describing the difference between particular secular individuals and Christian individuals. Rather, what different perspective does Christianity provide on the subject of humility? Continue reading “The Difference Between Secular & Christian Humility”

Why There Is So Much Conflict in the World and What We Can Do About It

What causes so much conflict in the world?

When you think about it, it’s not that hard to figure out. “Where there is strife, there is pride . . .” (Prov. 13:10).

Behind the conflicts we see all around us lie human conceit and selfishness.

Conceit is thinking more highly of ourselves than we should. For example, we believe that we deserve extra attention or resources, that things should never go wrong for us, that we are more competent than we are, or that we are always right.

Selfishness is when we value our own interests at the expense of others. This means that our attention is centered on our own prestige, security, and profit. This sets me up for conflict with another person whenever my desire for prestige, security, or profit collides with his.

The Apostle Paul pinpointed this problem and suggested a solution: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3–4).

If pride is the source of strife, then humility is the way of peace. Continue reading “Why There Is So Much Conflict in the World and What We Can Do About It”

Saying One Thing & Doing Another

Eliza, in the musical My Fair Lady sings:

Words, words, words!
I’m so sick of words
I get words all day through
First from him, now from you
Is that all you blighters can do?

Don’t talk of stars, burning above
If you’re in love, show me!
Tell me no dreams, filled with desire
If you’re on fire, show me!

Eliza is right. What really matters is not so much what we say but what we do. We can tell our children we love them, but if our work consumes us, the words matter very little.

The Apostle Paul was continually concerned that the churches he loved and served would not only talk about the Gospel but live a life that was appropriate and consistent with the Gospel. “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” (1:27, cf. Eph. 4:1, Col. 1:10, 1 Thess. 2:12, 2 Thess. 1:11). Their walk needed to match their talk.

What would a life worthy of the Gospel look like?

  • They would live in humility, recognizing that they were sinners saved only by the grace of God.
  • They would live in trust, recognizing that the same Father who gave up His only Son would not fail to give them all other things as well.
  • Continue reading “Saying One Thing & Doing Another”

Would You Prefer to Die?

“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). Rather shocking words. Death, according to the apostle Paul, could actually be a good thing.

Some people feel this way because life is so bad that they want escape from it, but that’s not what Paul was thinking at all.

He was not tired of life, and he had no morbid fascination of death. Instead, his desire for death was based in his firm belief that death would bring him closer to Jesus. He loved Jesus so much that he could say that being closer to Him would be “better by far” (1:23).

Paul’s thinking may seem rather strange to you. Why would anyone think this way?

In order to understand his thinking, let’s ask this question: what makes life worth living at all?

Let me suggest that it is primarily one thing: relationships. Whatever else we may enjoy, without relationships, they are pretty much worthless. We desperately need people.

However, people can never satisfy us. Even at their best, they cannot supply the love we truly need. This points us to a more fulfilling relationship with our Creator.

Jesus Christ is a human being, born 2,000 years ago, but He also claimed to be the eternal God and proved it by His resurrection from the dead.

Because Jesus is no mere man, we are not talking merely about devotion to an historical person. We are talking about a human who is also God. This is the basic claim of the Christian religion.

In light of that, here are a few reasons why someone might consider death “gain” to be closer to Jesus.

  • He is our Creator. He made us and wants to have a relationship with us.
  • He is the ruler of the universe. There is no one who can do more for us than Jesus Christ to whom “all authority and power in heaven and earth” have been given.
  • Continue reading “Would You Prefer to Die?”

What Really Matters

What really matters to you? And is your life aligned around it?

Two crucial questions that have the power to re-shape our lives.

For many of us, our life is cluttered with things that are not really that important.

Living a fulfilled life is about learning to clean out the clutter and focus on what really matters.

There are two types of things that really matter to us. The first category consists of things that make us personally feel good and whole. These include economic security, intellectual stimulation, rewarding work, mutually beneficial relationships, and physical health.

But there is another category. You find this category by asking the following question (read it slowly):

What is the thing that could cause you to have joy, even if things don’t go well for you personally? Continue reading “What Really Matters”