The Temptation of Lesser Opportunities

For a time (a brief time) I had the fanciful idea that a life in the political arena might somehow be in the cards of my future. In college, I worked for several politicians and led the college’s conservative political organization where I studied. 

While I enjoyed my work, it was certainly not the calling that I know the Lord had placed in my heart as a teenager. One election cycle was enough for me. Political work is certainly important work and like so many other professions, we need believers in this profession to be light in darkness.  

When we consider our modern political atmosphere in the United States it is full of deceit and lies. Political leaders change their ethics, morals, and stances depending on the winds of public opinion. It seems that few are principled and most will do or say that which is necessary to maintain their position of influence. I believe I would struggle to develop a list of those willing to make difficult decisions and stand up for truth if it meant alienating their base. 

We obviously need better. I am not sure a society founded on freedom can long stand when those who lead are of the type we currently employ. 

However, I do not live my life in the political arena. I have been called to be a shepherd. I am called to shepherd my family and my church. While I have the privilege of other titles such as seminary instructor and denominational leader, my calling is to shepherd.  

It is too easy to lose sight of this calling. Maybe we don’t lose complete sight—we don’t have it totally out of mind, but get distracted. Other “opportunities” tempt us. Lesser callings catch our eye and we look away—even if ever so slightly—from the mission in front of us.  

I was reminded of this danger during a recent perusal through social media. As I often do, I saw pastors who come across as more concerned with outside ambitions than they do shepherding their people. We can be enticed to plan and work toward the next opportunity, taking our eye off the calling. None of us are immune from this temptation. As I scrolled through each post, these three realities came to mind: 

Personal ambition for political power within the church and a denomination of churches always destroys, even if takes years to happen 

Many years ago I sat in a theology class taught by a professor who had been on the wrong side of the Conservative Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention. He and I had different views on a number of theological issues. He was clear in his thoughts about the entire process that occurred among Southern Baptists—it was all political. I just felt like he was as sore loser. However, time has helped bring my understanding into focus. The colossal shift that happened in my denomination was clearly theological, but some of the tactics were clearly political. This was in many ways necessary to change the system. However, it provides us a question we all have to ask, “What is driving us?’ We witness in both history and current events how personal ambition for power in the church and across our denomination has led to destruction. Yes, sometimes the person or group of people you set out to destroy go down. Maybe you achieve a temporary win or gain some foothold of power. But the long-term results are sobering. Men who contend for the faith for the sake of the Kingdom often lead for generations. Those who don’t, often find that what historian James Bryce alluded to is true—light is the great disinfectant. More often than not, when you destroy for personal gain, the destruction sweeps you away as well. 

Seeking to destroy others you disagree with has a strong tendency to end in self-destruction  

Disagreements are not abnormal. In fact, sometimes they are helpful. Dialogue about differences of opinion can breed stronger results in planning and vision. Debates and discussions with those who think differently than we do provide us an opportunity to better understand their positions. I have found these discussions have helped me to strengthen my own understanding of my position and why someone might hold to the contrary view. Too often the goal is not to understand or even to persuade. The goal of too many is the destruction of all those who hold to a different view of the world. Instead of recognizing and acknowledge that well-meaning people can disagree about issues—even important ones—and still remain civil, we seek to destroy the people with whom we have disagreements. We malign their character, question their motives, and seek to end their ability to minister to God’s people. If you find yourself participating in such activities, be warned, too many who have chosen this path have found it a road to self-destruction. There may be temporary “wins,” but the end is a dark place. This method can gain Twitter followers, but ends in isolation and broken relationships.  

The biblical command against being unequally yoked with unbelievers (2 Cor. 6:15) does not come with an exception for those unbelievers with a just or noble cause.  

Christians are called to be a caring lot. We are to love our neighbor and our enemy. We seek to help those who are hurting, oppressed, or denied justice. We must, however, ensure we do so with the ultimate goal of redemption. We can seek justice and goodness without being yoked to those who need it in such a way that we are brought away from the purpose to which Christ has called his church. We are advocates for the lost while remembering that they can be the recipients of common grace while not partaking in the common grace of Christ. 

This in no way removes our responsibility to be advocates for those who are in need or who have been deprived of justice. Jesus, our great advocate, went to the cross while we were still his enemy. If He could advocate for us in our sin and depravity, we can certainly advocate for those who are at the same time far from God and seeking help and justice. We simply must be wise as we do so. 

Jesus, in John 2:24-25, did not entrust himself to men because he knew what was in them. Yet, He went to the cross for those very same people.  

Something More 

I’m always internally confronted with questions like “What am I working for?”; “Who am I working for?”; “Who do I want to please?”; “What is my purpose?” Do you notice how all of those questions are about me? I constantly struggle in my mind and my heart about how God wants to use me. I struggle to join with Paul in the contentment in all things that he reflects on in his letter to the Philippian church (4:11). I believe a struggle with contentment can lead us to fall into the temptation of “lesser” opportunities. We seek recognition and affirmation—at least I do. I can promise you it is never enough. If being confirmed in Christ, covered in His blood, and gifted an eternal inheritance is not enough, what will be? If we are not content in Christ, no amount of other gains will ever satisfy. No amount backbiting or naysaying or virtue signaling will suffice. The approval of a church, your family, the world, your denomination, or social media will not quench the desire within you. The Living Water who gives life to the world is the only one that can do that. 

So the next time you see posts like I saw on my recent voyage through the electronic town square of social media, have a bit of compassion. Have some sympathy for those who are struggling with contentment. Pray for them and then checkout your own heart, mind, and digital timeline. You may find you’ve got some issues with contentment yourself. 

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