Despising Youth


McCainFatherandGrandfatherWhen I was young, I loved Paul’s counsel to Timothy not to let anyone look down on him because of his youth. Now that I’m likely in Paul’s generation at the time of his writing that letter, I’m less certain it’s such a good idea for young pastors to lead the elders.

Of course it was a great idea in Timothy’s case. Paul described him like this to the Philippians:

But I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you shortly, so that I also may be encouraged when I learn of your condition. For I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare. For they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus. But you know of his proven worth, that he served with me in the furtherance of the gospel like a child serving his father. (Phil. 2:19-22)

Timothy was Paul’s kindred spirit. He was genuinely concerned for the welfare of the church in Philippi. He didn’t seek after his own interests, but those of Christ Jesus. He’d proven his worth in the past, publicly. He’d served with Paul to advance the gospel. He’d worked for Paul the way a child would for his father.

Those are a lot of pluses, but there’s more. In Paul’s first letter to Timothy he tells him to

remain on at Ephesus so that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines, nor to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies, which give rise to mere speculation rather than furthering the administration of God which is by faith. (1:3-4)

Young though he was, Timothy could discern between strange doctrine, myths, endless genealogies, speculation and the truth about God. He wasn’t fooled, though apparently men his senior had fallen into such error—people Paul had “handed over to Satan.”

In fact, Paul told Timothy to be an example to others by his speech, conduct, and quality of godly living.

Is it so hard to imagine that young people today might not have the same qualities Timothy had?

I don’t think Timothy was one of a kind, but at the same time, I don’t think his validation in Scripture is cause for the church to rubber stamp someone because he is young.

In other words, in the same way Timothy’s youthfulness was not to be a reason for people in the church to discount what he said, his youthfulness was not the reason they were to pay attention to him, either. Rather, Paul was saying Timothy had a spiritual gift and had served with him and had the ability to discern error. Because of his godliness and service and work for the gospel, his youthfulness wasn’t to prevent him from ministry.

In Colossians Paul said that in the family of God there is neither Jew nor Greek, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Sythian, slave, or freeman, but Christ is all and in all. In Ephesians, he added male and female. In many ways, though he didn’t list it, he was making a case in 1 Timothy for old and young being included with the others.

Today I see a sad turn of events in the church—division based on age. Maybe I spent too many years teaching junior and senior high schoolers, but I happen to enjoy the Timothys of the church. As I’ve heard from several sources lately, they aren’t the future of the church; they are it’s present, just as much as I am.

Age divisions aren’t new. I experienced the “generation gap” when I was growing up. It’s simply ridiculous, as if youths have nothing to contribute because they haven’t lived long enough and older folk have nothing to contribute because they’ve lived so long.

Isaiah says that “vigorous young men” can stumble badly and that those who are weary and tired can gain new strength by waiting on the Lord.

In other words, old age is not an excuse to retire from Christian service, and youth is not an excuse to avoid it. Older saints serve an important role in the church—they are “like fathers” and “like mothers” to younger members. But youths play an important role too, some, in fact, as significant as Timothy.

More important than the believer’s age is their heart-attitude. Timothy was Paul’s kindred spirit. Any young person who thinks like Paul and cares like Paul and serves like Paul should most definitely not be despised because of his youth.

Published in: on July 14, 2014 at 5:53 pm  Comments (1)  
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Christians Dying For Their Faith


Christian_child_sufferedwithburnwoundsThe news doesn’t carry reports of Christians dying very often, but believers are facing persecution in all kinds of places. Sudan hit the news some years ago, but believers in Nigeria have also faced attack. Coptic Christians in Egypt have been targeted, and reports came out of Iraq months ago that terrorists were targeting Christians. I can only imagine that things are worse now for believers, not better.

In fact, The Catholic Herald has called upon us to provide sanction for persecuted Iraqi Christians.

One organization, Prisoner Alert, has identified 40 countries in which Christians are being persecuted:

In more than 40 nations around the world today Christians are being persecuted for their faith. In some of these nations it is illegal to own a Bible, to share your faith Christ, change your faith or teach your children about Jesus. (“Persecution Worldwide”)

This is not some fabrication by extremists or by an organization with an ax to grind. Media outlets as diverse as Fox News and the Huffington Post have recently reported the atrocities committed against Christians.

Perhaps the most straightforward report, however, was the recent article in the Christian Post:

For at least three reasons, the contemporary persecution of Christians demands attention: It is occurring on a massive scale, it is underreported, and in many parts of the world it is rapidly growing.

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life finds that Christians are suffering persecution in more places today than any other religious group; between 2006 and 2012, Pew says, they were targeted for harassment in 151 countries-three-quarters of the world’s states. Similar findings are reported by the Vatican, Newsweek, the Economist, and the 60-year-old Christian support group Open Doors.

These numbers dwarf the ones put out by Prisoner Alert, and the incidents of persecution are well-documented, though not well-known here in the West.

The question is, what are we to do once we know about how our brothers and sisters in the faith are being treated? Some advocate putting pressure on our government and the other governments of the world to censor these countries practicing religious intolerance. Others want to see the US implement economic sanctions.

I have yet to read a report that says we should pray. That, I believe, is the most powerful thing we can do, and it is the most effective and immediate. In so doing we are interceding on behalf of those who are members of our body. What’s more, we’re taking their situation to the One Who can actually do something for them:

Do you not know? Have you not heard?
Has it not been declared to you from the beginning?
Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
It is He who sits above the circle of the earth,
And its inhabitants are like grasshoppers,
Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain
And spreads them out like a tent to dwell in.
He it is who reduces rulers to nothing,
Who makes the judges of the earth meaningless.
(Isaiah 40:21-23, emphasis added)

Besides, Scripture can guide us to specific ways we can pray for those facing persecution. Here are just a few which I posted earlier in a comment to friend Mike Duran‘s Facebook update which spurred these thoughts:

* That Christ shall even now as always, be exalted in their body, whether by life or by death (Phil. 1:20).

* That they may be delivered from perverse men (2 Thess. 3:1).

* That they might not fear intimidation and not be troubled (1 Peter 3:14).

* For physical protection and deliverance (Rom. 15:30-31).

* That they will love their enemies (Luke 6:27ff).

* That they will be comforted (2 Cor. 1:3-5).

Here are some others:

* That they might grow in grace and the knowledge of their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18).

* That the name of the Lord Jesus may be glorified in them (2 Thess. 1:12).

* That God will protect them from the evil one (2 Thess. 3:3).

* That God will strengthen them so that they may attain steadfastness and patience (Col. 1:11).

* God will equip them in every good thing to do His will (Heb. 13:20-21).

* That they will not enter into temptation (Luke 22: 39ff).

* That they will rejoice that they are considered worthy to suffer for His name (Acts 5:41).

May God raise up a mighty army of prayer warriors to shoulder the burden of those who appear helpless to the world. They are not. God can, if He chooses, intervene with legions of angels. He can shut the mouths of lions, stop rivers, calm storms, blind the eyes of the enemy, rout thousands and thousands with a few hundred men. God is mighty to save, and for some reason, He delights in including us in His work. May we faithfully be on our knees.

Christian Superstars


Ted DekkerSome years ago, I went to the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference when author Ted Dekker was the keynote speaker. I was impressed by his humble, heartfelt recognition that God had opened the door for him to receive his first publishing contract. And yet, in between sessions and at meals, conferees treated Mr. Dekker like a superstar.

I’ve seen the same reaction to agents and editors. But this response is not confined to the writing world. If in doubt, think Tim Tebow. Christians who openly profess their faith and who hold highly visible roles in society become Christian superstars.

This is not something new. On the apostle Paul’s first preaching and teaching mission, he and Barnabas were called by the Holy Spirit and commissioned by the Church to do the work God had for them.

Along the way, they arrived at a place called Lystra. As Paul was preaching, he saw a man in the audience who couldn’t walk. In fact, he’d never walked in his entire life. In some supernatural way, Paul recognized that this man had the faith to be healed, so he told him to stand up.

It’s hard to fathom how great a miracle this was. I imagine the man’s legs had never developed properly. Any muscle he had would have atrophied. And yet, he got to his feet. And then he started leaping and walking. It’s a phenomenal scene.

And the people who were standing around watching reacted as you might expect. They thought Paul and Barnabas couldn’t possibly be normal human beings. They concluded that two of their pantheon of gods had come down in human form to visit them. Barnabas they concluded was the chief of the gods, Zeus himself. Paul, the one who was doing most of the talking, they concluded was Hermes, the messenger.

All this discussion was taking place in a language that Paul and Barnabas didn’t speak. Certainly they knew the miracle had caused a stir, but at this point they didn’t realize the direction it was taking. Only when the priest from the temple of Zeus showed up with garlands and oxen to sacrifice to Paul and Barnabas, did they get the picture. The people of Lystra wanted to worship them.

Here’s the key part of the story. Rather than standing humbly by as the people proceeded to treat them like gods, the apostles did something that mourners did—they tore their robes. Then they rushed into the crowd to stop what was to them egregious—the crowd was crediting them with what God had done.

“Men, why are you doing these things? We are also men of the same nature as you, and preach the gospel to you that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, WHO MADE THE HEAVEN AND THE EARTH AND THE SEA AND ALL THAT IS IN THEM.” (Acts 14:15)

Happy ending, right? Paul and Barbabas stopped the people from treating them like gods. They did, but the ending wasn’t what you’d actually call happy. With some prompting from angry Jews who followed them to Lystra, the crowd ended up stoning Paul and left him for dead. If he did die, God raised him. At any rate, he got up, and he and Barnabas continued on.

The point is, resisting the crowd was the right thing to do, but it cost Paul.

I don’t think the treatment people today give Christian superstars is so different from what the crowd wanted to do for Paul. Sure, no one is preparing a sacrifice, but we’ve got our own rituals. We want autographs and we want our picture taken with Important Christian, as if somehow proof of us standing beside him makes us a little more important too.

I can’t help but wonder if we aren’t responding in this way because we, like the people of Lystra, are crediting the Christian author or football player or agent with what God has done. Would we rush for an autograph if we thought, Wow, God is so great to use someone just like me to write books that reach hundreds of thousands.

On the heels of that thought, I wonder how many stones of envy might come out.

In the end, it seems to me that the culture of celebrity in which we live is unavoidable, but we as believers can resist treating each other the way the world treats their own. The success of other believers should give us cause to sing God’s praises, not those of the clay pots He chooses to use.

And a few pots would benefit from tearing their robes and rushing out in the crowd to stop the wrong-headed acclaim being thrown their way. No, no. We’re just human. The power, the ability, the strength—that’s all from God. He’s the superstar. He’s the one deserving of the praise.

Christians And Immigration


Tijuana-San_Ysidro_border_crossingFrom time to time I think Christians get on the wrong side of certain issues, not because of our theology but because of our opposition to those who typically take positions we disagree with. Take environmentalism, for example. Apart from the ridiculous extremes that put Humankind as subservient to nature, Christians should be doing all we can to preserve and protect creation. That’s the job God originally gave us.

Immigration is another such issue. Christians are taking an unbiblical stand on immigration much of the time. Here’s what God’s position on immigration is:

For the LORD your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God who does not show partiality nor take a bribe. He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing. So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. (Deut. 10:17-19)

No bribes? Good, good. We’re all for no bribes. Justice for orphans? Absolutely! Protect the orphans! For widows? Well, OK, though it sounds a little like welfare. But aliens? Love for aliens? Come on, don’t you realize . . . They might be here illegally. And we can’t condone illegal behavior. We simply have to maintain the rule of law.

I get the illegal issue, but I think that’s perhaps secondary. I think first Christians need to be front and center loving aliens and strangers—especially in America where we or our ancestors were most likely at some point aliens and strangers.

In fact, we celebrate and give thanks for the love our forefathers received when they were aliens and strangers in a holiday called Thanksgiving.

Now we’re in position to welcome, to show love toward, people who are new, who are learning the language, who . . . OK, I heard that . . . something like, But they AREN’T learning the language. Well, just maybe if we talked to them, we’d give them a reason to learn the language.

But think about being in a foreign country, where you don’t know how things work exactly, where you might be ridiculed for no other reason than that you came from somewhere else. Immigrants need love. They are precisely the neighbors Jesus said Christians are to love.

Yes, I think illegal immigration has muddied the waters. I do think we should be a land that believes in the rule of law. I do think people entering the country illegally should face some consequences.

But first, what we’ve been doing, isn’t working. Too many people who are sent back across the border because of their immigration status find a way to return.

Then, too, more and more people who have grown up in the US and who know no other home because they came here with their parents illegally as children, are facing the consequences of a decision they didn’t make and over which they had no control.

So what are we to do? I think Christians should become the vocal minority pushing for immigration reform. We need some brave lawmakers to step up and work out a fair law that will bring illegal immigrants the hope that they can become naturalized citizens without discouraging legal immigrants and without encouraging a new flood of illegal border crossings.

We also need to reach out to immigrants without worrying whether or not they are illegal. We should offer English as a second language classes and we should offer mentors who immigrants can go to when they have questions.

I’m sure there are many, many ways Christians can reach out to immigrants. My church makes a concerted effort to contact foreign students who are studying in our local universities. They are away from home, in a foreign country, adjusting to a different culture.

Sound familiar? Immigrants are going through those same things, so why shouldn’t we reach out to them in the same way, or more so? I mean, they’re staying, so we have a chance to build into their lives on a long term basis.

There are so many good things that would come out of Christians taking a stand to love immigrants. But above all, we’d be following the dictates of Scripture, and that ought to be enough.

It ought to be.

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Photo credit: © BrokenSphere / Wikimedia Commons

Sex And The Bible


Samson004I’m not sure where the idea has come from that Christians are prudish as opposed to moral. I don’t see the two meaning the same thing, and neither does the New Oxford American Dictionary. But what about the Bible? Is it prudish?

Not quite. No sooner does the writer of Genesis recount the creation of Adam and Eve but he reports, “And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed” (Gen. 2:25).

Some people unfamiliar with the Bible have the strange idea that the first sin had to do with sex. I think that myth is reflective of a sex-crazed society, because it has nothing to do with reality.

Sex was part of creation which God declared to be good. In addition, His first command, even before “From the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat,” was “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.” Translated, that means, Have sex with your wife and have kids.

After Man sinned and God removed humans from the garden, sex remained as much a part of the historical record as any other human activity. In Genesis 4, for example, the Bible notes that Lamech took two wives—presumably the first to have bigamist relationships.

After the flood, when Noah and his family landed on dry land, the Bible notes that Ham, his youngest son, “saw the nakedness of his father” while Noah, drunk from wine, was passed out. Something happened, clearly, because when Ham’s brothers learned what he’d done, they “covered the nakedness of their father.” Noah awoke and “knew what his youngest son had done to him.”

Not a clear picture of what kinky thing happened in this family, but the event is not omitted either. Neither are the homosexual desires of the men in Sodom and Gomorrah who wanted to rape Lot and the two angels who had come to take him out of the city.

The Bible doesn’t shy away from revealing Sarah’s attempt to “help God out” with the son He’d promised Abraham by giving her husband Hagar, her servant, as a mistress, since she herself was beyond child-bearing years.

Then there’s Jacob and the trickery of Laban which put Leah in the wedding tent the night Jacob thought he was having sex with Rachel. A week later, after completing his sexual obligation to his first wife, he then married the woman he loved. But throughout the years, Jacob’s sex life is about as open as . . . oh, say, David’s.

First, though he loved Rachel, he continued to sleep with Leah, as evidenced by the four sons she birthed. Rachel, on the other hand, was barren, and demanded Jacob give her sons. He responded by saying, Am I God who has closed your womb? Notice, he didn’t say, OK, I’ll move back in with you. Apparently, Rachel’s barrenness was not due to a lack of sex between her and her husband.

Rachel’s jealousy led her to give Jacob her servant as a mistress. He didn’t object and had two sons by that woman. Leah didn’t want Rachel to get ahead of her, so she gave Jacob her servant as mistress. In the course of time she delivered two sons as well.

But Jacob still loved Rachel and apparently was now living with her exclusively. Except one day Rachel asked Leah to share the mandrakes one of her sons had found in the field. Leah ended up agreeing . . . if she could sleep with Jacob that night.

And Leah once more got pregnant. And again. And again.

But at some point Jacob went back to Rachel because God opened her womb, and she gave birth to a son named Joseph.

Joseph—this would be the boy whose jealous brothers sold him into slavery in Egypt where he fended off the advances of his master’s wife and landed in jail because of it. Let me be clear. This was not some mild flirtation. The Bible says Potiphar’s wife approached Joseph day after day and said, Lie with me.

Then there’s Joseph’s brother Judah, whose daughter-in-law tricked him into sleeping with her (he thought she was a prostitute—so much more upright!)—and had twins by him.

Should I go on to the gang rape and murder Judges records or the mass kidnapping of women the Israelite leaders engineered so the men of Benjamin would have wives. Then there are Samson’s exploits with various women and David’s adultery.

I’m sorry. If someone thinks Christians are prudish it’s because a) they don’t know what’s in the Bible; or b) they’re talking about professing Christians who don’t read the Bible and are formulating their attitudes about sex from some other place.

Because, yes, many of the examples I mentioned above are not what we’d call ideal examples of a sexual relationship. But that’s part of the point. The Bible doesn’t pull any punches about sex or any other topic. Jesus Himself had some clear instruction about lust, and He didn’t shy away from telling the Samaritan woman precisely what her marital status was (You’ve had five husbands, and the man you’re living with now isn’t your husband).

He didn’t camp on her sexual failings, however. He didn’t tell her to marry the man she was living with and then come back to see Him. But He also didn’t hesitate to tell the woman caught in the act of adultery that she should sin no more.

Prudish? The Bible is not prudish. People who read the Bible will see the good, the beautiful, the disturbing, the vile within its pages. A Christian who pays attention to what God says about sex through the lives and decrees and admonitions in Scripture can hardly have a prudish attitude toward sex.

The Bible doesn’t shy away from the topic of sex, but it also never presents sex as mankind’s problem. But don’t take my word for it; read it yourself.

Published in: on May 1, 2014 at 6:32 pm  Comments (2)  
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Free Speech Dumped, So Bring On The Light


FedEx_Trucks_AlaskaThe NBA commissioner has ruled. Donald Sterling, owner of the LA Clippers, will be fined 2.5 million dollars and banned from NBA basketball. What’s more, the other team owners are being encouraged to vote him out as the owner of the Clippers. Apparently, they have the power to do so according to their constitution.

Never mind that Sterling made his racist comments in a private conversation without the knowledge that he was being taped. The commissioner responded to that fact by saying, The remarks are public now and they express what he thinks.

So there you have it. If someone says something offensive in private, he can be punished.

I cry over this. I hate that an eighty-year-old real estate mogul and sports team owner has horrible, racist attitudes. How many people has he hurt over the years with his money and power and influence? Even one is too many.

I also hate that this case of racism in high profile places sets a precedent for punishing speech because it is offensive to society. Truly, most people may not realize it, but free speech died today.

It’s horrible, I think, that something so clearly wrong—racist comments—should be at issue. But agreeing with or hating what Sterling said is not the issue. Free speech says the person holding a minority view has the right to voice his opinion. But apparently not any more.

I also hate the fact that this high profile case involving racist language has taken front stage. People died in a string of tornadoes in the Midwest and multiple people have lost their homes. A young man walked into an Atlanta area FedEx and started shooting, eventually killing himself. This just days after a boy in England stabbed his teacher to death.

Ukraine is facing the possibility of civil war, the Middle East peace deadline expired, an explosion in Syria killed dozens, gunmen stormed the Libyan parliament, over a hundred people have died in Saudi Arabi of the Mers (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) coronavirus, and the Yemen army initiated an offensive against al-Qaeda.

All I can think is, how dark is the world, how much people need the light.

The light is not a list of moral imperatives. It’s not a return to the values of our Constitution. It’s not even a love-your-neighbor campaign.

The Light is the Light of the world. And Christians have been called into that light, called to proclaim that light

But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9)

Believers have been called out of darkness, but even more, we’ve been rescued from it:

For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Col. 1:13-14)

Every person we know is either in the domain of darkness or the kingdom of light. There is no neutral territory. Everyone in the domain of darkness needs to be rescued. Granted, it is God who does the rescuing, but remarkably He earmarks those of us in His kingdom to be a part of the process. Here are ways God uses believers.

  • We can all pray—that God will send more workers into the harvest, for one. But also that He would open the spiritually blind eyes of those who do not know Him.
  • We can live life in a countercultural way that pleases Jesus.
  • We can be ready to give an answer to everyone who asks us to give a defense of the hope that is in us.
  • We can go into the world and make disciples, starting next door, down the block, across the street.
  • We can support those who take up the mantle of missionary and move to the inner city or to a country in the 10/40 window or wherever God calls.

Above all, it’s time for Christians to step up, not to hunker down. It’s tempting to duck when battle rages around us. And make no mistake—we are in a battle:

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. (Eph. 6:12)

But we are equipped, and we have our marching orders:

Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. (Eph. 6:13)

Yes, free speech has been dumped today, but more’s at stake—the eternal destiny of . . . well, everyone we know. So while it’s yet day, we’d best be about our real business.

Are Christians Insiders?


E Free church

From time to time, those who have reason to criticize the traditional church pull out the Pharisee-accusation card. The idea is that Christians in the traditional church are the new Pharisees.

At times, the accusation can refer to legalism and at others to self-righteousness or to exclusivity. The idea is, a la the Pharisees of the first century, these traditional church people believe themselves to be in the know; they get it, do it right, and separate from those who do it wrong. They are insiders and proud of it.

On Sunday, my pastor, Mike Erre, put forth the idea that Christians are insiders, but our problem is that we act in a prideful way because of it.

I have to admit, I bristle at this idea. I don’t think Christians are insiders. Except, we kind of are.

Let me try to clarify.

First, as I’ve laid out in other articles, Christians are not Pharisees (see for example “Who Are The Pharisees” and “Missio Minded“). Pharisees believed they had the inside track with God because of their birth and because of their rigorous adherence to the Law. In other words, they were entitled to a seat on the inside but they had also earned it.

Christians, on the other hand, recognize that we are part of the “all” in the verse, “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” We don’t deserve right standing with God and can’t earn it. Bottom line, we aren’t special–not in and of ourselves.

Besides our “not Pharisees” status, we also have received a commission to go into all the world and make disciples. “The world” contains people from different religious backgrounds, economic strata, ethnicities, languages, races, nationalities. There’s no exclusivity here. The Church is the least segregated organization on the planet.

Granted, local churches don’t always look like the greater Church, but that’s to be expected. People worship where they live. I don’t have to travel to Japan to worship with Japanese Christians just to put a white face in their congregation.

On the other hand, in the US, particularly in a number of cosmopolitan cities, there is a blend of peoples from different backgrounds. In those instances, the local body should more nearly reflect the great blending we will one day experience in heaven.

But are Christians to separate from the rest of mankind? Jesus said no. We are to be in the world. We are to be light for the world. We are to be witnesses to the world. These are hard things to accomplish if we are off in a corner.

In one respect, being a Christian has nothing to do with me. I don’t have one spiritual provision that every other person in the world can’t have.

So are Christians insiders?

God calls us His children, members of His body, branches on His vine. Anybody can be His child, but only those who go to Him actually are. Anybody can be members of His body, but only those who accept the headship of Jesus are. Anybody can be a branch on His vine, but only those grafted to Him are.

Christians aren’t insiders. We don’t deserve special consideration from God and we haven’t earned His favor. But we are adopted members of His family, invited guests at His banquet. We know Him, are friends with Him, hang out with Him because He’s brought us near. We’ve accepted what He’s made available to everyone.

Are we insiders, then, because we realized the paucity of our own abilities and our great need for a God who could rescue us from darkness?

No, the same information is available to everyone. It’s not exclusive. On this, I trust God’s word:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. (Rom. 1:18-20)

Suppress the truth. That’s the picture of all of us, except at some point Christians relent. We give up and accept the truth instead. We are like people who can’t swim, drowning in the deep end of the pool. We fight the life guard, try to grapple with him, to push him under so we can keep our head above water. But at some point we either give in and let him rescue us, or we drown.

Are we special? No. Are we insiders? No. Are we in God’s family? Yes. And that’s an exclusive group–only those who have stopped fighting God are in.

So Christians aren’t insiders, but we are sorta.

Published in: on March 31, 2014 at 7:19 pm  Comments (1)  
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Christians And Unity


Crowds_in_the_Big_TentOne thing evangelical Christians in particular get dinged about, especially by atheists and liberal or progressive “Christians”–Big Tent advocates–is our lack of unity. If your god was real, the implication seems to be, you’d all be one big happy family, not a bunch of squabbling, self-interested nay-sayers.

There’s some truth in this accusation. Jesus told His followers that their love for one another would be the thing that would draw others to them. And still, the early church was fraught with division.

Some problems were personal. Take, for example, Paul’s rift with Barnabas. We know Paul didn’t want to take John Mark along on what would have been their second missionary journey after he deserted them during the first one. Barnabas insisted. And Paul refused, so they parted ways.

Or what about the two women in Philippi–fellow workers with Paul–who had some disagreement with each other that required the apostle to tell them to knock it off.

James wrote to all the Jewish Christians scattered beyond the borders of Judea, and he addressed the problem of “fights and quarrels among you.”

Besides personal discord, the Church also faced disunity because of personal sin. Corinth is the most obvious example. That body of believers was tolerating a man who paraded his incestuous relationships in the church. A faction apparently was patting their backs for their tolerant attitude toward him, thinking their acceptance was a demonstration of grace.

On top of this kind of personal sin, there was also false teaching. Peter said there would be false teachers who would introduce “destructive heresies” (2 Peter 2:1).

Jude referred to people who

are hidden reefs in your love feasts when they feast with you without fear, caring for themselves; clouds without water, carried along by winds; autumn trees without fruit, doubly dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up their own shame like foam; wandering stars, for whom the black darkness has been reserved forever. (1:12-13)

Later he said they are ones “who cause divisions,” are “worldly minded,” and “devoid of the Spirit” (v. 19).

I think it’s significant that in the first two instances, personal squabbles and personal sin, the Church was instructed to take steps to correct the situation. The fighting fellow workers were to stop, those lacking unity were admonished to be of the same mind, to look out for the interests of others, to bear with one another, forgive each other. Brethren were instructed not to judge each other or complain against one another.

At the same time, the Church received instruction not to tolerate sin. The brother living like a non-Christian was not to enjoy the fellowship of the Church, but the purpose was to draw him into repentance and restoration. The “disunity” then, was purposefully and temporary.

The situation with false teachers was different. Jesus Himself warned of “false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (Matt. 7:15). Paul went so far as to say those who were “rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers,” needed to be silenced because they were “teaching things they should not teach for the sake of sordid gain” (Titus 1:11b).

In other words, there is no plea for unity with these divisive false teachers. They, in fact, were the cause of disunity, disrupting and scattering and devouring the sheep, as wolves are wont to do.

The mistake, I believe, evangelicals have made is trying for a false peace. We are in danger of becoming like those Jeremiah spoke of:

They have healed the brokenness of My people superficially,
Saying, ‘Peace, peace,’
But there is no peace.

For some reason, we have no desire to pretend unity with a hateful group like the Westboro Baptist cult, but we turn around and gloss over the blatant misuse of Scripture from any number of others. Who are we to judge? we say.

But the fact is, universalists like Paul Young (The Shack) or Rob Bell (Love Wins) can’t be right if Jesus said the things the New Testament recorded about separating sheep from goats and sending wicked slaves into outer darkness.

I don’t think we need to be unkind or snarky or offensive. I mean, the point of silencing false teachers in the church is not to come out looking superior or more knowledgeable or highly spiritual. It’s to keep their teaching from gaining traction and spreading. We’re not standing in God’s place to judge them. At best we can pray, “The Lord rebuke you.”

Nevertheless, we ought not seek unity with those who say they are Christians, but who do not believe what the Bible teaches about God, His Son Jesus, and what He did at the cross in order to make a way for humankind to be reconciled with the Father.

So why is there disunity among evangelicals? First because we are sinners–saved by grace, yes, but prone to wander, and in our wandering we do disruptive things that require discipline and forgiveness and restoration.

Second, there’s disunity because people who aren’t believers say they are. They believe something, surely, but it is a different gospel, a result of “taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind” (Col. 2:18b).

rose-1441525-mAre we to pursue unity with these wolves in sheep’s clothing? Not while they are trafficking in heresy. But that judging question comes up again. Who are we to judge?

We aren’t judging when we call a spade, a spade or a rose, a rose or false teaching, false.

Discernment and judging are two different things.

Life Isn’t Complicated


Jesus_the_Shepherd004Too often, in the harried lives we live, with tablet in one hand and cell phone in the other, with polarization in our political arenas and terrorist concerns banging into school shootings, we think life is overwhelming. Some people want to escape, and do so in happy hour or party time or whatever thrill the weekend holds.

Others–Christians, for example–dive into a sweet Amish romance or steep themselves in fandom, whether of their favorite sports team or movie star. Still others live to be involved in their children’s lives. They are the soccer moms who man the snack bar or bring the team treats or drive them to pizza after the game. But they’re also the Little League moms, the AAU basketball moms, the Pop Warner football moms.

Today I was listening to a sermon on the radio by Phillip DeCourcy (Know the Truth) about child rearing. He said, surprisingly, it’s not all that complicated. As he laid out his position from the Bible, I got what he was talking about. And I think it applies to all of life.

Yes, this world changes. There are new technologies to learn, new challenges for parents and children alike, new global circumstances.

But God is the same.

His word is the same. (“The grass withers, the flower fades/But the word of our God stands forever” [Isaiah 40:8]) I tend to think life gets complicated when we start looking at the wrong things. In his letter to the church in Colossae, Paul said,

Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. (3:1-2)

That’s not particularly complicated.

We seek the things above by reading the Word given to us from above. We set our minds on the things by praising God–for who He is, what He’s done, for His plan and purpose, for His care and protection, for His counsel and guidance.

When it rains, we thank Him for the rain. When it doesn’t rain, we ask Him to bring rain, but also to work His purposes through the drought as we wait on Him.

God is omnipresent. He is fully engaged with His creation. It is we who ignore Him, not He who ignores us.

God is also infinite. There’s no limit to His knowledge and understanding. “Who has directed the Spirit of the Lord,/Or as His counselor has informed Him?/With whom did He consult and who gave Him understanding?” (Isaiah 40:13-14a)

Paul also said in Colossians that “He rescued us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (1:13-14)

Really life boils down to one thing. As my pastor said on Sunday, how I live either feeds the darkness, from which I’ve been rescued and to which I own nothing, or feeds the light, the reflection of the image of His Son. I am either living for God or for a false, apostate substitute, which might even be me, myself, and I.

Choose for yourselves this day, Joshua said, whom you will serve. And then choose again tomorrow and again on the day after that and the one after that. Not complicated. But not easy either.

It means loving God more than these, whatever these are today. It could be my desire to be right, to put someone else down, to brag about some accomplishment, to whine and complain about whatever circumstances God has given me, or any number of other things. God wants me to love Him so much those other things fade to nothingness and I simply want to please Him more.

Thanks be to God that He doesn’t abandon us or forsake us, that He gives strength in our weakness.

So, no, life’s not complicated. It’s a matter of letting the Good Shepherd gather us in His arms and carry us in His bosom and gently lead us where He wants us to go.

Published in: on March 11, 2014 at 7:54 pm  Comments (1)  
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Thinking Biblically


Bible-openThinking Biblically ought to put Christians at odds with our culture. How could it be any different? Western culture says humans are their own masters, captains of their own fate. Christianity says, God is our Master and, in fact, Lord of all.

Western society is an odd mix of democracy and equality tangled with one-upmanship capitalism. We’re all equal, which means we don’t care who we step on as we climb our way up the ladder of success. Christianity, on the other hand, has no such confusion. We are to share with the needy, give no bribes, play no favorites.

The world in which we live says we are to protect what’s ours. Build fences (which make good neighbors), sturdy banks, efficient security systems. The Bible says we are to trust God, love our neighbors, give our shirt when someone takes our coat.

Our culture says there’s a drug for all your needs. Feeling a little anxious? Try something to calm you down. Need more sleep? Take a sedative. Not alert in the morning? How about some caffeine in a cup? God says, let your requests be known to Him. Don’t be anxious. Make Him your refuge and your strength.

I could go on and on–about our attitudes toward people of different races or ethnicities, toward those in governmental authority, spouses, parents, bosses, toward discipline, money, enemies, borrowing, work, education. There are a hundred ways Christians should stand out as different from our culture.

The point is, believing God to be omnipotent, sovereign, good, all knowing, and my personal friend ought to change the way I do things. But it seems there’s too much noise drowning out God’s voice, too many activities to crowd out time with our sure Counselor.

I think the bottom line is this: none of us can think Biblically if we don’t read the Bible. Regularly. As though the answers to all the problems we face day after day are within its pages.

I remember one particularly difficult year when I read the book of 1 Peter every day for a week or more. I wanted to hear what God had to say and it seemed like that book had the answers. But as each day wore on, I found myself back with my same attitudes and worries. So I’d dig into 1 Peter again. I wish I’d been better at putting what I was reading into practice, but I hadn’t learned to pray with those things in mind.

I knew God would hear and answer prayer according to His will. I just hadn’t figured out that the Bible told me at least a part of His will. So when He said, “casting all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you,” I didn’t draw the conclusion that God’s will for me was to cast my anxiety on Him.

It seems rather obvious now. But my learning to think Biblical was and still is, in process.

To be honest with you, I’d prefer to be in the social center rather than at odds with society. I don’t like feeling like an outsider, a misfit, someone who doesn’t belong. I spent too many years as the new kid who’d just moved into town and had to find a way to be accepted.

Now as an adult I learn I don’t fit because my citizenship is in heaven. I have a different mindset, a different allegiance, a different hope, a different strategy, a different goal.

Part of me would like to pull in and find a comfortable place with like-minded people where I’m understood and secure. Except, then I’m not positioned to accomplish my goal or live out my strategy or demonstrate my hope or allegiance.

In short, thinking Biblically isn’t easy. It puts me at odds with my culture. And that’s actually as it should be.

Published in: on January 28, 2014 at 6:34 pm  Comments (4)  
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