I Don’t Like Being Bullied, Intimidated, Or Maligned


Friendly_InternetI wish I had a better sense of humor. I don’t think anyone handles criticism better than InsanityBytes. She routinely writes blog posts about the unkind things people say that end up in her spam folder, and yet she treats them with lightheartedness (see for example “Lost In Spam” or “Back Talking Spam.” She makes some astute comments along the way, so she makes me laugh all the while making me think. Maybe when I grow up, I’ll be more like her.

In the meantime, I’m stuck not liking it when someone bullies me via the Internet (or in person), says things to try to make me back down from an opinion I hold, or vilifies my character. I’m pretty sure, of the three, I’m bothered most by the latter.

The little issues I faced recently have made me think about people who face real opposition, continually—the kind that restricts their freedom (such as being sold into the sex trafficking trade or married off to an Islamic terrorist) or threatens their life (such as Christians in Iraq or Sudan). Ultimately I’ve thought of the Lord Jesus Christ and those men and women who formed the first Church.

Jesus was bullied and intimidated and maligned. The Jewish leaders singled Him out because they were jealous of Him. That was Pontius Pilate’s assessment of things when Jesus stood before him and he wanted to release Him (Matt. 27:18). No, the crowd said. Not that man. Crucify Him and release Barabbas. Why did they turn against Jesus? Because the Jewish leaders, motivated by their envy, convinced them to.

I think jealousy and envy are behind a lot of bullying and intimidation. The Jewish leaders didn’t like it that this upstart carpenter didn’t bow to their rules or back off when they challenged Him. They didn’t like it that He did things they couldn’t do—like heal lepers and restore sight to the blind or raise dead people back to life. Mostly they didn’t like the fact that people followed Him and basically wanted to make Him the king.

After all, they were the leaders. The Jewish people were theirs to rule, for all practical purposes. Sure, sure, the Romans were over them, but when it came to the day-to-day things and anything having to do with religious law, the Council of seventy elders, led by the High Priest, was in charge.

So they tried to trap Jesus into saying something or doing something for which they could legitimately arrest Him. They didn’t realize they were dealing with the perfect Son of God. They were never going to catch Him in a sin.

Finally they resorted to lies, claiming outlandish things such as that He blasphemed. In other words, they maligned His character. But they’d been doing that for days and days, even accusing Him at one time of being in league with the devil. They said He was a drunk, a party-er, a Sabbath-breaker. Anything He did, they tried to turn into a reason to have Him arrested.

Jesus’s followers experienced the same treatment. Peter and John were thrown into prison though the rulers and elders and scribes had no charges to bring against them. After all, the only thing they’d done was heal a lame man and preach about the resurrected Christ. The Council released them the next day but threatened them and ordered them to stop preaching in the name of Jesus. Yep, that’s straight from Intimidation 101: “Stop what you’re doing, or I’ll make sure you stop for good!”

But what did Peter and John do? In this instance, they answered the leaders by saying, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge” (Acts 4:19b). Then they joined a prayer meeting.

It’s interesting to think about the fact that they didn’t have the end of the story. They didn’t know if they’d be killed the next day or if God would miraculously save them. So they joined their companions and prayed:

Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Your bond-servants may speak Your word with all confidence, while You extend Your hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of Your holy servant Jesus. (Acts 4:29-30)

Clearly we can see on this side of the events that God answered this prayer. Peter and the other disciples did in fact speak with boldness, and God did continue to heal through them and produce signs and wonders through the name of Jesus.

Of course, Peter was arrested again and miraculously saved, but eventually, according to Church tradition, he died for his faith. We could look at the Apostle Paul and see a similar trajectory. Preaching and healing, followers, leaders in opposition, arrest and/or death threats. He was kicked out of towns, stoned and left for dead, beaten. In Greece he was forced to escape alone and head for Athens. In Damascus he got away in the middle of the night by hiding in a basket lowered over the wall.Inernet

Yes, the early Church knew a thing or two about being bullied, intimidated, and maligned. I may not like being treated badly, I may not like being misunderstood, but really . . . I sure haven’t “resisted unto death” yet.

It would help if I grew a sense of humor about such things, but it would also help if I followed Peter and John’s examples: choose to do what God says rather than giving in to intimidation; and pray.

Upon This Rock


Mount_Hermon_IsraelMy pastor, Mike Erre, just got back from a trip to Israel. Sunday he began teaching a special sermon series on the Church and started by looking at the text containing the first of the use of the word, ekklēsia in the Greek—Matthew 16:18. Here’s the background Pastor Mike shared.

Jesus took his disciples to the area around Caesarea Philippi—a city at the base of Mount Hermon once known for the worship of Baal but later, of the fertility god Pan. One notable landmark was the temple Herod built to honor Caesar. This was situated at the foot of a large rock face with a cave, out of which flowed the headwaters of the Jordan River. The rock itself was called the Rock of the Gods and the cave was known as the Gates of Hades because the traditional understanding of the river source was that it came from “down under,” the home of the gods.

I’m not sure about that last part. From my study of Greek and Roman literature, I don’t remember any god but one being from down under, but setting that aside, apparently the name of the cave is accurate. Why it was called that . . . still up for grabs, I think.

At any rate, in this pagan place, known for orgies that included bestiality—the copulation of humans with “sacred” goats (Pan, you may recall, was half human and half goat, and he is pictured in any number of archaeological findings seducing nymphs, or minor female deities)—Jesus chose to make His pronouncement about His Church:

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”

And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.”

He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”

Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. (Matt. 16:13-18)

Down through the centuries there’s been much discussion about this passage of Scripture, mostly hanging on Jesus’s meaning of “this rock.” It’s almost as if Jesus pointed to the rock that he was referring to, but we’re left to wonder, was He saying Peter was the rock, which is the view of the Catholic Church. Or was He saying the confession Peter just made that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, is the rock? Or something else. The Greek word means “a rock, cliff or ledge; a projecting rock, crag, rocky ground; a rock, a large stone; or metaphorically, a man like a rock, by reason of his firmness and strength of soul.

Pan's_CaveSo, was Jesus perhaps saying, as my pastor suggested, that the rock face in front of them, known as the Rock of the Gods, was where He’d found His Church—on the very pagans, the Gentiles, if you will, that seemed so far from God at that time.

I tend to think the location does add a great deal to understanding what Jesus was saying, but it seems to me, He generally used objects as metaphors to convey a deeper spiritual meaning.

So he talked about wheat and tares, but they were metaphorical for people, some who followed Him and some who didn’t. He talked about a fig tree (which He cursed), but it was metaphorical for those who didn’t bear fruit. He talked about a vine and branches, but that was metaphorical, referring to those who are His followers. He talked about providing living water when He was standing at a well discussing the needs of the Samaritan woman. Immediately after feeding the crowd of thousands with a few loaves of bread, He declares Himself to be the bread of life.

On and on, Jesus made these kinds of connections between the physical thing and the spiritual truth He wanted people to understand.

So I’m thinking, in front of them was the Rock of the Gods, but Jesus says, This rock—the Christ, the Son of the Living God, as opposed to that rock—is the foundation of the Church. We have other scriptures that refer to the Church as a building, with Christ as the foundation or as the cornerstone, so I think this understanding makes a lot of sense.

What’s more, with the cave in front of them, the one known as the Gates of Hades, Jesus said this metaphorical image for the entire pagan belief system of worship of these false gods would not prevail against the Church.

I think He wanted to get this across to His disciples because He then began prepping them for His death. He wanted them to know that when He was crucified, that was not the enemy winning. That the Church would still be built.

Too often today we Christians wonder about the future of the Church. We see false teachers and false religions growing and flourishing. We see people mock God without fear. We see persecution on the rise—both the violent kind that takes the home, freedom, and lives of some believers; and the shaming kind that turns people against Christians who stand for what they believe. Our tendency might be to think that the Church is crumbling.

We hear this more and more frequently. Attendance is dropping. Young people are leaving the church. One atheist even said as we evolve, humans are renouncing the idea of a god because we no longer need such a crutch, that in the future religion will become obsolete.

But no. We have Christ’s word that the Church is built on a rock.

Throughout the Psalms God is referred to as a Rock:

The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer;
My God, my rock, in whom I take refuge,
My shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold (Ps. 18:2)

Perhaps in the instance in Matthew Jesus was referring to something else besides Himself as a rock, but I don’t think so. For one thing, I think Scripture not only made sense to the original audience, but it makes sense to all the rest of us, too. Yes, understanding the place and time can only enhance the meaning, but I don’t think it turns the meaning on its head.

Second, understanding Jesus as the rock is consistent with the rest of the Bible. A key to interpreting Scripture is to understand verses that have several possible interpretations in light of passages with clear, straightforward meanings.

Clear, straightforward: The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer!

Published in: on May 4, 2015 at 6:49 pm  Comments (4)  
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Jesus, The Servant Savior


Painting_of_the_Foot_WashingIt seems one of my online atheist friends, violetwisp, took umbrage at my characterization of marriage and the role husbands are to play which I spelled out in my article article “Headless Families, Headless Church.” As she read my depiction of the Biblical role of husbands as the self-sacrificing head who mutually submits to his wife, she saw an unintelligible tangle of contradictory ideas:

Let’s ponder this utopian vision for one second: “mutual submission even as she recognizes his responsibility as the head”. He’s the boss, he’s in charge, he’s the head … but he’s not a patriarchal dictator, because he loves selflessly and mutually submits (but is still the head). Anyone spotting a jitter on the nonsense-o-meter (NOM)?

And why wouldn’t she think the idea of a sacrificial head was contradictory? Who else has modeled this kind of leadership other than Christ?

So it dawned on me that the husband who loves his wife like Christ loves the Church and gave His life for her, would not make sense to someone who doesn’t know Christ. All the more reason, of course, for Christian men to step up and be the image of Christ to their neighbors and family and friends and coworkers in the way they love and serve their wives as the head of their home.

But there I go again, giving the same contradictory image. Maybe the best way to explain this “leader-servant rolled up in one husband-package” is to look more closely at Christ. What do we know about Him—specifically about His character—you know, things husbands can emulate?

First, He was humble. Paul spells this quality out in Philippians:

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who although He existed in the form of God did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant and being made in the likeness of men. (Phil. 2:5-7)

God, yet willingly taking the form of a bond-servant. With His disciples, Jesus showed Himself as their rabbi, willing to take the job of a lowly slave when He washed their feet

Jesus was also obedient. Paul again:

Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Phil. 2:8)

Obedient to whom? The Greek word used here, hypēkoos, only appears two other times in the New Testament, both times referring to obedience to God.

And who else would Jesus obey? Hebrews says He who was God’s Son “learned obedience from the things which He suffered” (Heb. 5:8).

I don’t think it’s a reach, then, to say that a husband, if he is to be like Christ, is obedient to God.

Jesus was also self-sacrificial.

For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS ANY DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. (1 Peter 3:21-24; emphasis mine)

In another passage, we’re told Jesus, for the joy set before Him, despised the shame of the cross. The joy would be the salvation of believers. His own shame and humiliation meant nothing to Him in comparison to the restored fellowship with His people.

One more, though there are any number of other things we could say. Jesus loves. It is His love for the Church that husbands are to emulate. In Ephesians Paul elaborates on the connection between how Jesus loves the Church and how a husband is to love his wife:

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, 30 because we are members of His body. (Eph. 5:25-30)

One thing should be pretty clear: Jesus being the Head of the Church means He goes all out for us. He’s not selfish or domineering or harsh or demanding. His role as Head looks nothing like patriarchal tyranny. That kind of behavior comes straight from the pit of hell.

Don’t forget, Satan knows Scripture, as he proved in his confrontation with Jesus in the wilderness, and he’s not above twisting it to make people think God is saying something He’s not saying. It’s the same tactic he used against Eve.

So atheists can think all they want that the Church has changed our tune because of the feminism of our times (something Violetwisp alluded to), but it’s not true. Sure, professing Christians have got a lot of things wrong down through the ages, but that doesn’t mean God had it wrong. If I misunderstand Him, it’s not His fault. It’s mine. If I ignore one command in favor of another, that’s on me; it’s my sin, not an evidence that God has a poor plan.

But this approach toward God is also not new. Adam tried to pin his sin on God—“the woman You gave me,” he said, implying that had God only got it right, Adam himself would have kept away from sin.

All these accusations against God are spurious. Jesus proves Himself to be humble, obedient, sacrificial, loving and He wants husbands to follow His example and treat their wives the same way.

The thing that confuses people, I guess, is that Jesus is . . . well, Jesus. You know, God! The King, Sovereign of the universe. “He is the head over all rule and authority,” Paul says in Colossians.

So the King washes feet? God dies? The Sovereign learns obedience? Yes, yes, and yes.

It’s shocking, really, so much so that it’s probably easier for people to discount it as make-believe. Because who else acts like that?

But that’s why it’s so important for Christian husbands to get it right: by treating their wives with the love Christ modeled, they are, in turn, showing the world a picture of Christ.

It’s maybe the best way, and perhaps the only way for some, to let people know Jesus.

Published in: on March 11, 2015 at 7:38 pm  Comments (5)  
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Headless Families, Headless Church


Headless_Horseman_(9404828919)It seems to me that professing Christians here in the West are trusting God less and less. We say we trust Him, then declare that the largest part of the Bible is myth or that parts of it aren’t relevant to our culture today. That we’re angry at Him for what He’s done or what He didn’t do.

I think there’s a reason for this waywardness.

We as a society have moved away from the husband as the head of the home. In too many homes, the husband is either a yes-man for feminism or a patriarchal dictator. Neither of those represents the kind of marital partnership—with the husband as the head, loving his wife selflessly and the two of them entering into mutual submission even as she recognizes his responsibility as the head—which the Bible describes.

I guess the popular term for the marriages today that don’t follow the Biblical model is egalitarian. So, with partners who are equal, there’s no head.

No surprise, then, that Christians haven’t learned to bow to the headship of Christ.

Instead we want to dictate to Him how things should be. God shouldn’t be wrathful. Everyone should go to heaven. Everybody who’s sick should be healed. In fact, why not do away with child abuse and sex trafficking and drug addiction and murder. And wars! Wars should have been dealt with a long time ago. If I were God . . .

The thing is, people who describe this miraculous place that they believe they could create are describing the way God originally made the world. He didn’t bring sin into the mix. Adam did. Then Cain introduced murder, and things went downhill from that point on.

So it’s a little baffling that people today think they can do a better job of healing the ills of humankind than God has done, He being perfect and all. Us being sinners, finite, fallible, mortal.

Nevertheless, we feel it’s perfectly right for us to shake our fists at God and tell Him how mad we are at Him for . . . oh, I don’t know. You name it. Pretty much anything that we don’t like, we blame on God.

I suspect God does far more than we know but far less than we blame Him for. Someone we love gets cancer or dies, we break our leg or get in a car accident or lose our job or . . . What’s the first thing out of our mouths more often than not? Why, God?

But did we think to thank God for our health or for that of our friends? Did we think to tell Him how grateful we are that He put this or that loved one into our lives? Have we thanked Him for protection from accident or injury, day after day after day? Do we tell Him how awesome He is to have provided us with a job, with food, with clothing?

God is so merciful and kind. He is forbearing in His treatment of us. Sort of like how He was with Israel on their march through the wilderness to the promised land. It wasn’t until they got there and refused to enter that God said, You don’t want to enter? Fine! You won’t enter.

YIKES! It’s actually scary when God gives us what we want. It’s so much better when He gives us what He wants to give us.

But we don’t understand that because we’re a generation out from husbands/fathers being the heads of their families. It’s from a home in which the dad takes responsibility for his family and for sacrificially loving his wife that all of us (the dads included) learn that God is the head who takes responsibility for His children who He loves sacrificially. He wants to give to us, to protect us, to provide for us. But more than anything, He wants to form us into the image of His beloved Son.

Sometimes that process of forming us means He will nudge us by withholding a blessing. Sometimes that process of forming us means He will answer prayer in miraculous ways, over and over again. God is the One who knows what we need, what will move us closer to Him, what will give us the opportunity to trust Him more.

Take Joni Eareckson Tada, for example, who has trusted God for forty-eight years of quadriplegia. In the process, He’s molded her into a person who reflects His glory, who offers Him praise, who points others to the Savior. She can say what few others can—that God is with her through twenty-four/seven suffering. For her, the end of suffering will be the day she enters God’s presence. And while she freely admits she’s looking forward to the day she can dance, she lives now without the whining and complaining and angry fist-shakes at God that mark so many of the rest of us.

As you’d expect, Joni didn’t arrive at her confident faith overnight. She wrestled with God, but ultimately she bowed in submission to Him who is head of His bride, the Church.

As a result, as Philippians says, Joni has proved to be blameless and innocent, a child of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation among whom she appears as a light in the world.

She and her husband Ken—to whom she joyously submits, as he self-sacrificially loves her.

Actually heads are good things. We all need our heads, including the heads of our families and the Head of the Church.

Puzzle Masquerading As Aslan


Puzzle pretending to be Aslan

The donkey Puzzle pretending to be Aslan

If you’re a fan of C. S. Lewis’s children’s fantasy, The Chronicles Of Narnia, you’re probably familiar with a line often quoted about Aslan, the Christ-like character in the world of Narnia. In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe the four children protagonists learn from Mr. and Mrs. Beaver that Aslan, the king of Narnia, is a lion. Then this exchange:

“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver. “Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the king, I tell you.”

As it turns out, this description of Aslan becomes important in the last book of the series, too. In The Last Battle, a greedy ape cons a weak-minded donkey named Puzzle to wear a lion skin and pretend to be Aslan.

When the imitation Aslan, through his spokesman the ape, begins to make demands on the Narnians that are contrary to all they expected based on the old stories, they remind themselves that Aslan is not a tame lion.

But the ape and his allies, the Calormenes, soon use that same line to explain the changes they attribute to Aslan’s orders—things like conscripting dwarfs to send to Calormene to work in their mines.

When Tirian, the Narnian king, rescues a contingent of dwarfs being marched away, he finds them less than excited about helping him expose Puzzle as the false Aslan:

“Well,” said the Black Dwarf (whose name was Griffle), “I don’t know how all you chaps feel, but I feel I’ve heard as much about Aslan as I want to for the rest of my life.”

“That’s right, that’s right,” growled the other Dwarfs. “It’s all a trick, all a blooming trick. … We’ve no more use for stories about Aslan, see! Look at him! An old moke with long ears!” …

“Which of us said that was Aslan? That is the Ape’s imitation of the real Aslan. Can’t you understand?” [said Tirian.]

“And you’ve got a better imitation, I suppose!” said Griffle. “No thanks. We’ve been fooled once and we’re not going to be fooled again.”

“”I have not,” said Tirian angrily, “I serve the real Aslan.”

“Where’s he? Who’s he? Show him to us!” said several Dwarfs.

“Do you think I keep him in my wallet, fools?” said Tirian. “Who am I that I could make Aslan appear at my bidding? He’s not a tame lion.”

The moment those words were out of his mouth he realised that he had made a false move. The Dwarfs at once began repeating “not a tame lion, not a tame lion,” in jeering singsong. “That’s what the other lot kept on telling us,” said one.

What a clear picture of false teaching. Some of the Narnians believed in the re-imaged Aslan—Puzzle in disguise—and others decided to believe in neither the pretend nor the real Aslan.

The only difference I see from Lewis’s imagined description of false teaching and today’s real life version is that, instead of exploiting the not safe or tame aspect of Aslan’s character, today’s false teachers capitalize on the “but he’s good” part of God’s nature.

But God is good, so of course he wouldn’t send judgment.

But God is good so of course he wants you to be rich and healthy.

Two different lines of false teaching but from the same perversion of one aspect of God’s nature.

Though the thread running through both is different from the one Lewis imagined, the effect is still the same—Puzzle is masquerading as Aslan.

This post originally appeared here at A Christian Worldview Of Fiction in February 2010

Martin Luther King And Racial Divide


Martin_Luther_King,_Jr_.svgIn my community dominated by Hispanic Americans, I’m an ethnic minority. Perhaps that’s made me sensitive to the plight of Hispanics in America, especially with immigration reform having become such a hotbed issue.

Young Hispanic males are just as apt to be stopped by police and viewed with suspicion as African-Americans. The Oscar nominations that everyone complained about being so white, didn’t seem to have any Hispanic actors to consider!

The point is, while so much of the focus in the press here in the US has been about confrontations between police in Ferguson and New York with African Americans, the racial divide is much more complicated. Then too, it’s probably more accurate to call it splintered than divided.

Yesterday, my pastor pointed out as part of his sermon, passages in the New Testament that had radical overtones in first century Judea. When instructing the Church, the apostle Paul undercut the splinters and the divides separating people along racial, ethnic, gender, or economic lines. There is no Jew or Greek, he said, no slave or freeman, no male or female.

Obviously the Church had a wide variety of people, Jewish and non-Jewish, husbands and wives, rich and poor, so what was Paul going on about? He explains in his letter to the churches in the region of Galatia that believers in Jesus Christ experience a oneness, no matter what our outer circumstances might be:

For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal. 3:26-28)

Christians are family. There isn’t going to be the Japanese church and the Irish church and the Russian church and the Brazilian church in heaven. We won’t congregate around the throne of God, situated according to our skin color. In fact, we won’t be ostracized by our language either.

Revelation tells us that no language or people group will be excluded:

“You [Jesus Christ] were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.

“You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.” (Rev. 5:9b-10)

Peter reinforced this Christian identity:

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; for you once were NOT A PEOPLE, but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD; you had NOT RECEIVED MERCY, but now you have RECEIVED MERCY. (1 Peter 2:9-10).

I don’t see a racial divide there. Or a fractured family. Not in the hereafter, certainly, but not in the now either. John wrote emphatically that no one could say he loves God but hates his “brother”—another person belonging to Christ.

James called out those who were treating the rich in special ways and ignoring the poor or pushing them off to the side. His words were very much intended for instruction to Christians in the here and now.

All this to say, the Reverend Martin Luther King spoke of his hopes for America, and he led peaceful protest intending to draw attention to the changes that needed to be made. Today we commemorate him for the courageous steps he took—ones that cost him his life.

But in reality, the Church should already have been blind to the color of our skin, the differences in our ethnicity and our finances and our education. And whatever changes still need to be made should be made in the Church. Now.

How can we expect to spend eternity with people we don’t even want to sit next to in church?

Prejudice in the Church should be the greatest oxymoron imagined.

The watching world should look at the Church and see how we love one another.

How can those Jews and Arabs get along like that, they should be asking. How can those African-American and those Asian believers help each other and go to those Bible studies together? How can rich people and poor people find so much in common?

The answer ought to be this: we are simply mirroring the actions of our Savior who loved indiscriminately, who made provision to win the nations, who declared His work at the cross to be all-encompassing—in fact, for the world.

God’s plans were always for His people to represent Him on earth: Adam, Israel, Christ, the Church. As cliche as it has become, today we are His hands and feet.

Which leaves no place for racial fractures or divides.

Hateful, Mean Christians


Anti-Christian_sign_in_Federal_Plaza_ChicagoMore than once I’ve read the charge that Christians are hateful and mean. It goes along with the idea that God is a wrathful tyrant. The concept started with the idea that He is, and therefore we are, a kill-joy. But it’s gone far beyond that notion.

Now Christians are considered hateful because we who adhere to the Bible’s clear teaching, oppose same-sex marriage. How unkind to deny people a meaningful, loving relationship that everyone else gets to enjoy simply because of their sexual orientation.

Christians are also haters because they want to deny women the right to choose for themselves what they do with their own bodies when it comes to pregnancy. This language is, of course, euphemistic speech for the right to have an abortion.

Christians are haters because they send people to hell for the smallest things, like telling little white lies or drinking too much at the New Year’s Eve party. In fact, they assign people to hell if they don’t believe in their Jesus as if there’s only their way or the way to hell. How hateful can they get?

The thing that people who take these views don’t realize is that Christians don’t send anyone to hell. God Himself doesn’t send anyone to hell. Rather, hell—or death, not just physical but spiritual and relational—is the consequence of the sin God warned Adam against.

Furthermore, God put into motion His plan of redemption to rescue us from hell. But telling people about this bailout, this merciful deliverance from the destiny we’re heading toward, is considered hateful.

It makes no sense. Would a good neighbor see a fire across the street and do nothing? Would a good parent watch his child drink bleach from the cleaning supplies and not intervene? Would a good citizen watch a kidnapper force a young girl into his car and not at lease call 9-1-1?

In all these circumstances, the minimum action a person would take is likely to raise the alarm. And if possible, the person might even step in to stop the harm that’s underway. Parents are even expected to do this and would be considered negligent if they didn’t prevent a child from ingesting that which is harmful.

But when it comes to raising the spiritual alert, Christians are considered hateful. It makes no sense.

Western society has gotten to this place in part because we’ve moved from instructive action to preventative action when it comes to the next generation. By that I mean, we are less likely to show young people why and how than we are to pass rules against.

For instance, when it comes to abortion, we’re quick to preach abstinence until marriage and to reinforce the fact that the product of conception is life and therefore should not be killed. These are preventative measures.

But how good are we at coming along side unwed pregnant women and helping them financially or emotionally? What kind of counseling are we giving to the scared and confused teen caught in her own sin? Are our actions and attitudes the equivalent of picking up stones in judgment of the sinner?

Except, in that situation the one who dies is the baby, not the mother whose sin resulted in the little life she thinks she has to terminate.

The Church should come along side sinners and offer the same grace that has been offered and is being offered to us. And the next generation should be involved in the process. This kind of modeling is instructive.

Yes, we should talk about purity, but a healthy marriage will instruct young people in a far more effective way than telling them when to start dating and how much or little sexual activity is OK.

Christians should not stop shouting warnings to a world sliding away from God. Life without Him is dark and riddled with instability and insecurity. It’s meaningless and fraught with conflict. We most certainly should charge across the street and shout fire or rip bleach bottles out of little hands or scream for someone to stop the kidnapper as we lay hold of the young woman to wrestle her out of his control.

We see the danger awaiting our friends and family and neighbors. We know what they need in order to move from darkness to light. Why would we stay silent, even though any number of bystanders may misunderstand and mis-characterize us as haters?

Which is worse, to be misunderstood and slandered or to do nothing to point others to Jesus Christ? When we tell others about who Jesus is, we are doing the most loving thing possible. But in this day when evil is called good, and good, evil, it’s no wonder that our loving actions are misunderstood as hateful.

Of course pretenders who claim the name of Christ, but who live as legalists, don’t make things easier. They accumulate negative press while the thousands upon thousands of Christians who go about serving their neighbor, loving them as Christ would, receive very little recognition.

We don’t put legs to our faith in order to gain accolades or to create good photo-ops. But perhaps we should be more vocal—giving God praise for what He does through His Church. In the Old Testament, the recurring motive for what Israel did was so that the people would know that the Lord is God.

Maybe that needs to be the motive behind what we Christians do—not on the sly, but openly, boldly. “I’m spending time at the homeless shelter, not because I’m a nice guy, but because Jesus is Lord, and I wanted the opportunity to tell you that”—that sort of thing.

Hateful? Christians ought not be hateful. It’s a test, in fact, according to John, a measure of who is a Christian. How can we say we love God and hate our brother? The two are mutually exclusive.

But maybe we’ve forgotten how to show our love. Then again, maybe our love will look like hate in the eyes of those who have rejected Jesus. The first, we need to fix, the last we need to let go.

Identity


American_flag-1342516-mMuch is made of identity theft these days, but a new consideration has come up with the terrorist attacks in France. This identity issue was something discussed on a news program. The question is whether Muslims identify most with their nation or with their faith community.

Supposedly a high percentage (80% if I remember correctly), said they first thought of themselves as Muslims, then as French citizens, or British, or whatever. I shook my head at the news, then thought, But wait. Don’t Christians think the same way? Or shouldn’t we?

To be honest, I think a lot of Christians and even more professing Christians think being a good American is a requirement for someone to be a good Christian. I don’t know what they think about Christians from another country.

The distinct feeling I get is that Christians ought to work hard to get this nation turned back to conservative values. Then all will be well.

First, America, for all the wisdom of its founders and the blessings we’ve enjoyed during the first 200 years of our existence, has been deeply flawed from its inception. I could enumerate the problems, but that’s not my intent here.

The second, and perhaps more pertinent issue, is that God never intended to create an earthly kingdom—not after Man sinned, and not on this world that was under the curse of sin. Jesus Himself spelled this out more completely right before He was sentenced to be crucified:

Therefore Pilate entered again into the Praetorium, and summoned Jesus and said to Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?”

Jesus answered, “Are you saying this on your own initiative, or did others tell you about Me?”

Pilate answered, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests delivered You to me; what have You done?”

Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.”

Therefore Pilate said to Him, “So You are a king?”

Jesus answered, “You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.”

Pilate said to Him, “What is truth?” (John 18:33-38)

Yes, Jesus is a king. No, His kingdom is not of this world. So why do His followers try to set up “heaven on earth”?

To recap, America is flawed, God never intended to create an earthly kingdom, but there’s a third factor. No kingdom of God is possible in the here and now.

The bottom line is this: no matter how perfect a government a group of people might set up, it is still going to have sinful people in places of power. What’s the old adage? The best of men are men at best—meaning they are flawed, incapable of making perfect, selfless decisions one hundred percent of the time. It will take a perfect King to rule a perfect kingdom—and that’s what Jesus intends when He returns.

In the meantime, the idea of America or any other country being God’s country, is mistaken. Since Christ first came, God has gone in a different direction, away from the idea of a nation as His representative, which Israel operated under. Rather, He’s chosen followers which He fits into a new embodiment of His design for humankind.

This precious value, then, is for you who believe . . . 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; for you once were NOT A PEOPLE, but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD; you had NOT RECEIVED MERCY, but now you have RECEIVED MERCY. (1 Peter 2:7a, 9-10)

Additionally, Colossians tells us God “rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col. 1:13-14).

In other words, this kingdom of which we’re a part, this holy nation, is something all of us who have redemption are a part of. It’s not something unique to Americans! Which ought to go without saying, but apparently some people need to have it spelled out. Which is fine. The Bible does a fine job of spelling it out.

Paul agrees with Peter, not only in his letter to the church in Colossae, but also to the one he wrote to the church in Philippi: “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:20). According to Strong’s, the Greek word “citizenship” isn’t ambiguous. It has these meanings:

  • the administration of civil affairs or of a commonwealth
  • the constitution of a commonwealth, form of government and the laws by which it is administered
    • a state, commonwealth
    • the commonwealth of citizens

One commentator explains our real identity is that of aliens:

If we are citizens of heaven it means that we are resident aliens on earth. Foreigners are distinct in whatever foreign land they go. Christians must be so marked by their heavenly citizenship that they are noticed as different.

In fact, the Philippians would have understood this analogy well. Though they lived far from Rome, they were still citizens of Rome, with rights and privileges as well as responsibilities of their citizenship. They were to represent Rome well.

So, too, we Holy Nation people are to live with our rightful identity in mind, our true citizenship, aware of our rights and privileges, but not forgetting our responsibilities. We are to represent God well. Which was what He’s intended all along!

Hope And The Here And Now


westcoast sunsetWhile I acknowledge that this world is filled with disappointment, I also recognize the beauty of God’s handiwork. Yes, there is sadness, but there are also joys. People get married, and babies come into the world. People get promotions and book deals and raises. People go on vacation and spend an evening with friends.

There are so many joys, I can’t help but be hopeful about today.

There are friends, too, bringing laughter and acceptance and companionship. How about family and loved ones—people who don’t care what our hair looks like in the morning and aren’t afraid to tell us if something is hanging from our nose. They love us in such everyday ways we sometimes overlook them, but when we list what we’re thankful for, they come to mind first.

snow_road-winter-xsYes, the joys and the people are part of God’s handiwork, but of course the natural world can’t be left out. Which of the beautiful things tops the list—the white-capped Rockies, the sunset over the Pacific, the snow-dressed forest, the green and golden fields, the woods clothed in autumn finery, the dew-kissed rose, the yellow-breasted song bird . . . the list is endless.

Joy, people, creation. God’s fingerprints are everywhere, and each one brings hope. If things are this good today, can’t tomorrow be just as good? Or better?

The greatest present hope is God Himself. The amazing truth is that God IS, though all else fails. God is the greatest treasure, so I may be poor in this world’s estimation, but if I have Jesus, I am rich. I may mourn, but joy comes in the morning. I may feel defeated, but Christ is the victor. I may be grieving, but not without hope.

Though the fig tree should not blossom
And there be no fruit on the vines,
Though the yield of the olive should fail
And the fields produce no food,
Though the flock should be cut off from the fold
And there be no cattle in the stalls,
Yet I will exult in the LORD,
I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.
The Lord GOD is my strength,
And He has made my feet like hinds’ feet,
And makes me walk on my high places. (Hab. 3:17-19a)

God, in His great mercy, gives us memorials so that we don’t lose sight of hope. He gives us sun after the rain, spring after winter. He gives us comfort in the midst of sorrow, kindness from unexpected places.

He tells us to remember Him in the broken bread and shared cup at Communion. He established His Church as the “chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession.” He gave us the Lord’s Day and reminded us to continue gathering together then.

He gave us His word that is sharper than any two-edged sword—the perfect weapon against the false teaching our adversary throws at us. He taught us to pray and gives His Holy Spirit to interpret when we don’t know what we ought to say.

This is the same Holy Spirit that lives in us—which is why we can truthfully say we are never alone. He is the One Jesus sent when He left earth, promising that it was to our advantage that He go.

God’s presence in the form of His Spirit, His communication with me through prayer, His word, His fingerprints all over the world—these are things I have now that fill me with hope.

Though our society is far from God, why not revival, I think. God changed my heart. He can change anyone’s heart, even atheists putting up anti-church billboards—Nebuchadnezzar was just such a man, and God brought him to his senses. Even people killing others in some mistaken view that they’re doing God’s work—the Apostle Paul was just such a man, and God opened his blind eyes.

With God, there are no limits.

Do you not know? Have you not heard?
The Everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth
Does not become weary or tired.
His understanding is inscrutable.
He gives strength to the weary,
And to him who lacks might He increases power. (Isaiah 40:28-29)

To him who lacks hope, I daresay, He gives that, too.

Published in: on December 4, 2014 at 5:30 pm  Comments (1)  
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The Foundation Of Hope


AdventCandles

I don’t know much about Advent. Here’s what the always helpful Wikipedia says about it:

Advent is a season observed in many Western Christian churches as a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas. The term is an anglicized version of the Latin word adventus, meaning “coming”.

Latin adventus is the translation of the Greek word parousia, commonly used to refer to the Second Coming of Christ. For Christians, the season of Advent anticipates the coming of Christ from two different perspectives. The season offers the opportunity to share in the ancient longing for the coming of the Messiah, and to be alert for his Second Coming.

I like that!

I didn’t grow up in a church that treated Christmas as a season, much less as one with an organized, scripted approach to the lead-up to the Big Day. Until lately my church didn’t do much, if anything, with Advent.

So this year we are forging a new tradition. Apparently liturgical churches have certain Scripture readings that go with the each of the four Sundays leading up to Christmas. We aren’t a liturgical church, so instead we’re receiving devotions centered on a particular weekly theme. Any guess what we’re focusing on this week? ;-)

I’ve been thinking a lot about hope in preparation for writing my blog posts. To be honest, this is new territory for me. I’ve studied faith and thought a great deal about love and grace and trust. But hope?

Now I’m alert to the topic and have begun to see how frequently Scripture addresses it.

The thing that keeps coming back to me is that line from Romans 5 about hope not disappointing. I looked at Hope And Disappointment yesterday, but in the devotion my church sent, the contrast came up again. The truth is, a lot of Christmas is about disappointment.

Maybe that’s because a lot of life is about disappointment. When you’re young, of course, you don’t realize the permanent nature of disappointment. Yes, permanent. You didn’t win the high school football championship, so you say, We’ll get it next year.

But eventually there is no “next year” for high school football, and that disappointment about missing that block or dropping that pass or fumbling that punt return will just be there.

This is true about pretty much everything. Husbands and wives, who love each other dearly, nevertheless discover that their spouse is not perfect. That she doesn’t bake cakes like Mom did is disappointing, or that she has gained a few pounds or wants to stay home instead of pursuing her career and bringing in a second income is disappointing.

He, on the other hand, doesn’t take care of the yard the way Dad did, and he doesn’t like to go out or have friends over for dinner. Instead, he seems glued to the TV every weekend. It’s disappointing.

But kids, well, there’s nothing disappointing about our children, is there? I mean, they are so cute and cuddly and innocent and sweet. So precious. Until they begin to cry. At 2:00 AM. Until they poop in the diaper you just changed. Until they take longer to walk than you thought they should. Until they tell you no. Until it’s hard to potty train them. Until they don’t like to read, and you’re a bookaholic. Until . . .

You get the picture.

What in life isn’t disappointing? Sure, there are successes—like winning that high school football championship. But that was high school. What are you doing now? And how will you top it tomorrow?

There’s always a new goal, something else that we need, someone else we wish were here. It’s a great time, but if only . . . then it would be perfect.

Along comes the Bible announcing a hope that does not disappoint. There’s a specific reason why this hope is different from all others:

and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. (Rom. 5:5-6)

The passage goes on to explain how Christ’s death for sinners accomplished something we need: reconciliation with God. So here are the twin foundations of the hope that does not disappoint: God’s love (which is as eternal as He is), and the relationship Jesus made possible for us to have with God.

The one Person who loves perfectly has lavishly poured out His love and He did so, not because of anything worthy in us. Just the opposite. He gifted us when we had nothing of value to give Him.

All we bring is our imperfect selves. What He brings is a robe of righteousness—the clothes fit for a king, bought and paid for by Jesus with His broken body and shed blood—which He gives to us who believe.

And those are things—God’s love, Christ’s sacrifice—that don’t change and won’t dissipate or fade away or need to be replaced. They are forever gifts—the foundation of hope that does not disappoint.

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