Setting Priorities as Adults

By Kevin Cauley

In the late 1970s and early 1980s the bus ministry was a really strong work among churches of Christ. On many of the buses would be a sign that said, “J.O.Y.” It didn’t take long to learn that J.O.Y. stood for Jesus-Others-You. “Jesus first, others second, yourself last” was the popular mantra. It was a good way to teach a basic set of priorities to the kids. This is still a great reminder for us today about where our priorities should be. But we’ve grown up now. As Paul said, “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” As we’ve grown older and learned more about the complexities of the world, we’ve learned that there is a plethora of distractions that we face each day that, in essence, challenge that basic priority structure. The mound of items through which we sift only grows larger as we gain more responsibility in the world and increasingly distracts us from true priorities. In order to survive in such a din we must move beyond simply knowing the mantra to identifying our behaviors and appropriately prioritizing our time and tasks.

Several years ago I had the privilege of studying the Stephen Covey course “The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People” and also studying his course “First Things First.” There are three illustrations that I took away from those classes that really exemplify the need to set priorities in our life. 1) The clean and green story about how Mr. Covey sought to get his son to keep the yard in good shape. It taught that you’ve got to have clear goals and break bad personal habits to get things accomplished. 2) The rocks in the container story about how you put in big rocks in a container first so that you can fill what’s around them with the little rocks. The big rocks were the important things in life. The little rocks were simply little unimportant things that just took up time. The only way to get the big rocks in is to put them in first. 3) Answering the telephone in front of someone in your office when you don’t know who it is simply tells them that an unknown entity is more important than they are. The most important person is the one who you are with.

So, what do these things have to do with priorities? God must be our first and most important priority ( Matthew 6:33). God wants us to be “clean and green” and that means not sloughing off on the job that we have to do as Christians but having clear goals and objectives to work toward ( Romans 12:11). God wants us to set priorities in our life and then organize our time and our tasks so that they reflect those priorities and not allow the little details to overwhelm us ( Colossians 3:1-17). Those things can wait until some other time when a priority comes around. Finally, God wants us to understand that the most important person is the one that we are with, Him! He’s with us all the time ( Hebrews 13:5). Of course, when we are with other people we need to let them know how important they are to us as we seek to teach them the gospel as well ( Philippians 2:3). We can just as easily impress them with how unimportant we think they are by our bad behavior as we can by our good behavior.

Behavior is really the key here. We behave like we believe. If we put other things before God, then we betray what our true beliefs are. Our behavior has to change when it comes to setting and keeping priorities priorities in our lives.

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The Christian System and Government Healthcare

By Kevin Cauley

There are occasions when politicians appeal to Christianity as a reason for why they have voted for a particular bill. They might say that it is the “Christian” thing to do. I have a problem with politicians appealing to Christianity, whether Republican or Democrat, to justify some governmental action because they often fail to demonstrate how Christianity demands one sort of legislation or another. Most justifications used are taken out of context. That’s not to say that legislation can’t be either moral or immoral. However, I believe that many times when religion is called upon to support some particular piece of legislation its not the moral consequences of the legislation that are under consideration, but rather, votes for politicians.

The recent 60 billion dollar health care legislation that was passed and which President Bush vetoed is a good example of what I’m talking about. I suppose many would say that such legislation was “Christian” in that it helps poor working families. My family would be a beneficiary of that legislation were it to pass and so would several families with children in many churches. In fact, a family of four with a combined annual income of $80,000 a year could qualify for the benefits of this legislation under 2007 poverty guidelines and benefits for children would be extended to age 21. Is that a “Christian” thing?

There’s no doubt that the Bible talks about helping the poor. Paul said of the apostles in Galatians 2:10 “Only they would that we should remember the poor; the same which I also was forward to do.” The apostle John in 1 John 3:17 states, “But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?” We read of the generosity of the early church in Acts 2:45 who “sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.” We are especially to be concerned about those on the fringe of society. James wrote, “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world” ( James 1:27).

On the other hand, Christian support of the poor and those in need doesn’t come without condition. Paul told members of the church at Thessalonica, “For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.” Paul’s instruction about the support of widows required family members to provide first: “But if any widow have children or nephews, let them learn first to show piety at home, and to recompense their parents: for that is good and acceptable before God,” “But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel” and “If any man or woman that believeth have widows, let them relieve them, and let not the church be charged; that it may relieve them that are widows indeed” ( 1 Timothy 5:4, 8, 16). The order of support is from family first and then from the church.

There aren’t any scriptures, however, where New Testament church leaders expected the government to relieve them. Such thinking is conspicuously absent from the New Testament. The role of government from a Christian perspective is simply to punish evildoers and praise those who do well ( 1 Peter 2:14). The vast majority of passages that mention the Christians’ interaction with the government speak of the Christian monetarily supporting the government, not vice versa. See Matthew 22:21, Mark 12:17, Luke 20:25, Romans 13:6-7, and 1 Peter 2:17. It is extraordinarily out of context to suggest that some government entitlement program is “Christian.”

Moreover, such government programs may be contrary to Christianity. Being a Christian is about bettering one’s self. Christians are individuals who have been converted from a life of sin and pledged to a life of righteousness ( Romans 6:12-18). Such requires personal sacrifices and efforts. Christianity is about living for Christ on a daily basis ( Galatians 2:20). For the government to step in and supply what the Christian is supposed to provide for himself undermines the genius of the call of the Christian religion for personal sacrifice ( Philippians 2:17, 4:18).

Such governmental programs also supplant the benevolent arm of the church in her mission to edify the saints and evangelize the lost. If the religion-neutral government takes upon itself the task of caring for the poor, who among the poor will turn to the church for aid? That was one of the great reasons why the church grew in the first century. The poor saw the church as a place where they could receive legitimate help. Such help could also be appropriately regulated by the church. The balance is evident when properly considered. The church isn’t merely a benevolent society because there are some conditions for aid. The poor aren’t simply receiving unconditional handouts because they are exhorted to change their lives for the better so that they too can help others ( Ephesians 4:28).

Such does not mean that the Christian may not accept any help whatsoever in times of difficulty or due to economic circumstances beyond his control. However, it isn’t a God-less uncaring bureaucracy that is providing the aid. It is a loving and caring family that has the best interests of the recipient at heart.

What is the answer? It is counter productive to morality for the government to become a charitable aid society. We’ve seen this to be true in the failed welfare system of the two previous decades. At the same time, it isn’t unreasonable for government to help families who are contributing to society when their families and the church don’t have the resources to help. In that regard, Christianity doesn’t favor broadly and indiscriminately placing well-paid working families on the roles of government health care. Such families can provide for their own needs ( 1 Timothy 5:8). Failure to do so would be an act of infidelity to Christ. Christianity, would not, however, reject conditional and limited governmental help to families who are in challenging economic circumstances. Such is still not ideal because such families receive no remedial education for what got them into such circumstances to begin with (i.e. crime, immorality, neglectfulness, laziness, etc.). Only the church can provide solutions in this area.

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A Picture of Hell

The picture showed multiple columns of smoke billowing into great clouds of flame, ash, and dust behind what would typically be considered a sprawling urban neighborhood with houses lined up one after another. In the distance a helicopter could be seen flying in front of the roiling tumult showing the magnitude of the raging fiery torrent. The caption read, “Hell’s Doorstep,” an apt description.

The word “hell” is used today to describe anything from stubbing one’s toe to engaging in a combat operation. Frequently the word is used lightly with little or no gravity at all in respect to its subject matter. Comedians have used it routinely; the word is sprinkled generously in movies; and television hesitates not the slightest to throw it out if it will generate a mild guffaw.

In stark contrast, however, the use of it to describe the recent fires in California seemed appropriate. The intensity of the flames, the smoke enveloping darkness, the completely dismal portrait painted, all testified to exactly the kind of place described in the New Testament that awaits impenitent sinners.

Hell is not a popular subject. While a majority of Americans believe in heaven and believe they will go there, a far fewer number believe in hell. And even if they believe in hell, they don’t believe in a hell like the one described in the Bible. For many, the concept of hell is like some ill-advised fraternity where you’ll be mercilessly hazed for the rest of your life. While such a concept isn’t pleasant, it nowhere near approaches the truth the Bible reveals about hell.

Hell is described in Revelation 21:8 as “the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.” Mark 9:43 describes it as a place of “unquenchable fire.” 2 Peter 2:4 describes it as “pits of darkness.” Matthew 25:46 says it is a place of “eternal punishment.” Jude 1:7 calls it “the punishment of eternal fire.” 2 Thessalonians 1:8 says that it is Christ’s “vengeance” “in flaming fire” upon those who “know not God, and that obey not the gospel.”

The pictures out of California this past week were stark. That is the exact image that we should consider when contemplating a life in rebellion to God. Let us not think that we can live rebelliously and escape God’s eternal retribution. While we extend our sympathies to the people who lost loved ones and property, let us, with sober minds, consider what kind of place hell truly is.

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