Why We Cannot Be Switzerland.

switzerland

Do you remember the childhood pacifist response to confrontation, “I am Switzerland!”  You could listen sympathetically to two friends who were mad at each other for any reason, but when a quarrel would break out in a large group the peace keepers would refuse to take sides, claiming to be neutral – like Switzerland always is – and just wait for the conflict to be resolved and everyone to be happy again.  This is a fairly safe method of conflict management for seven year-olds because rarely is the offense worthy of a life-long feud and while the reconciliation process might be lacking, the conflict is quickly forgotten by distraction.

What does last, however, is the implantation of the worldly worldview that it is best not to intervene.  Our young minds were molded into pacifism, cowardice and selfishness all because we were never trained to rightly and Biblically handle confrontation and sin.  We think if we bury our heads in the sand, someone else will figure it out.  We think that it is not our problem or business, so we turn our backs and ignore the situation.  We do not recognize the eternal consequences of the situation and just wait around for things to work themselves out.  We do not want to pick sides, try to befriend both sides, and end up with nothing in the end.

Does the Bible have anything to say about all of this?

Yes, actually.  It has a lot to say.  First of all, we must approach life, relationships and conflict in humility.  If we have been saved, then we have recognized our own sin, we have recognized the weight of that guilt, we have confessed our sins (and are continually confessing them) to God and to close friends, we are repenting of our sins, and we are forgiving those who offend us (Matt 6.12, 18.22).  If we all were capable of dying to ourselves at every moment and in every situation – putting one another first the way Scripture commands – this would be a non-conversation.

“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.”

 – Phil 2.3-4

Secondly, we must approach life, relationships and conflict in love.  It may feel like the loving thing to let people do whatever they want, but we all know that sometimes love intervenes.  Loving parents do not let children put themselves in harm’s way.  “Friends don’t let friends drive drunk”, right?  And we all know the intervention that is required to help a friend who has been allowed to destroy themselves for years.  But more importantly, we recognize that when someone’s heart has been hardened against repentance, his eternity is at stake (Heb 10.26).  This is why Scripture commands us to confront sin in one another, pushing one another on to holiness, and holding one another accountable.

“If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.  “But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed.  “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”

 – Matt 18.15-17

“Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.”

 – Gal 6.1

“…and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds…”

 – Heb 10.24

Notice here, that Jesus does not say “If a brother sins against you”, but rather “if your brother sins”.  We often try to excuse ourselves from responsibility because we are not a part of the conflict.  But Jesus says no matter what, confront him so that we might see him repent and be restored and pulled back from the snares of the devil!  It is the loving thing to address sin, so as to help one another along the way to salvation.  We do this with greatest humility and tenderness, knowing that we ourselves are not perfect or above temptation:

“Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.”

 – Gal 6.1

“Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”

 – Matt 7.3-5

Thirdly, we will be convicted to approach life, relationships and conflict when we understand God’s expectation of us:

“Son of man, I have appointed you a watchman to the house of Israel; whenever you hear a word from My mouth, warn them from Me.  When I say to the wicked, ‘You will surely die,’ and you do not warn him or speak out to warn the wicked from his wicked way that he may live, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand.  Yet if you have warned the wicked and he does not turn from his wickedness or from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered yourself.  Again, when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and I place an obstacle before him, he will die; since you have not warned him, he shall die in his sin, and his righteous deeds which he has done shall not be remembered; but his blood I will require at your hand.  However, if you have warned the righteous man that the righteous should not sin and he does not sin, he shall surely live because he took warning; and you have delivered yourself.”

 – Ez 3.17-21

If we do not confront sin in our brothers and sisters, their blood is on our hands.  If love and compassion for our brother who is toying with his Spiritual walk and eternity will not drive us to say something, then perhaps the direct commandment from God and the consequence of forever having his blood on our hands will.

“Silence in the face of evil is evil itself:  God will not hold us guiltless.  Not to speak is to speak.  Not to act is to act.”

– Dietrich Bonhoeffer

But how do we know?

Ok, so now we know that we are commanded to confront one another and it is the loving thing to do, how do we know what to say and when to say it?  To oversimplify, we take note of the unrepented sin.  As redeemed and forgiven children of God, we should not walk around looking to beat people up for mistakes and sins that they have committed.  Rather, when we observe that someone has given in to any sin, they have made peace with it, they are not changing from it.

What this means, first and foremost, is we must know what God calls and considers sin.  He is God, and He gets the final say.  Everything from murder to sexual immorality (lust, fooling around with someone and sex outside of marriage, pornography, adultery), to lying, to bitterness, pride and selfishness.

“Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are:immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

 – Gal 5.19-21

Secondly, this means that we recognize repentance is the key.  We will all stumble and fall into sins at times, we will all willingly choose to partake in sins at times, but the determining and damning factor is our response to that sin.  Do we make peace with it?  Do we enjoy it and continue in it?  Or do we recognize it, confess it and repent from it?  If you see someone repeatedly participate or give in to a sin, then we lovingly confront them and walk them through repentance holding them accountable.  If we see two friends fighting, and they are unable to come to resolution, then we confront the pride, bitterness and division – walking them through repentance and holding them accountable.  The expectation of God is not for us to simply point out sin in one another, but to actually enable and walk alongside one another to maturity.

We also understand that God is sanctifying us all differently and we are at different points in our Spiritual development and maturation.  So when we breach a topic of sin, we first pray and rely on the Holy Spirit’s leading, then we bring the Scripture with us – because the person may not yet know that his actions are indeed sinful!  The Holy Spirit might not have gotten there yet with him.  The person may not be hardened in sin, but immature.  This is no excuse, and it is still our role as brothers and sisters to confront and walk alongside.  This is also much easier than dealing with someone who has given in to sin and has hardened his heart against God and Scripture.

Finally, this means that we do take sides.  We take sides against sin.  So often we gloss over confrontation and division and desire to remain neutral, but Scripture teaches us that division itself is a sin (Gal 5.20).  Has a husband abandoned his wife?  That is a sin.  We stand up against that sin.  Has a wife had an affair on her husband?  That is a sin.  We stand up against that sin.  Is someone stealing from the Church or their job?  That is a sin.  We stand up against that sin.  Is someone proud, sleeping around, unforgiving or a gossip?  These are all sins.  We stand up against those sins.  It is very rare that a conflict is based purely on one person’s sin.  It does happen, though typically there is guilt on both sides.  What then?  We stand up against all sin, and we forgive, overlook and hold accountable the repentant.  Our hope and prayer is that all parties repent.  Our instruction is to push all parties to repentance, and to maintain the purity of the body by removing the unrepentant from among us.

Sin is no laughing matter.  It is, in fact, what merits our eternal damnation.  We must, in love, push one another on to holiness and for the sake of our own conscience and confront sin.  We do not want blood on our hands.  We do this all in love, all in humility, and all to the glory and honor of God, hoping that we maintain purity and holiness in our families, churches and communities.  Let us consider one another – better than ourselves – and hold one another accountable!

Jesus doesn’t want you to give up facebook.

LentCloud

We are now one day into the Lenton Season.  I wrote yesterday briefly on the history and overview of the fast and its prevalent, and relatively new intermingling of adherence amongst denominations.  I crossed paths with people who had ash on their foreheads yesterday, and heard many declarations from friends around the world about their personal vice which they were sacrificing this season.  The Pope himself spoke out on the topic, stating that fasting alone is not enough but it must be by nature benevolent to the needy.  And while I agree with him, that Jesus has commanded us to take care of one another both within the body and also to serve the poor in our community and around the world, I whole-heartedly disagree with him and unashamedly proclaim that our personal Spiritual disciplines should be preformed unto the glory of God alone, and the Biblical teaching on fasting is choosing to abstain from food in order to devote the time spent on meal preparation and eating in prayer, and to depend on God for sustenance, all while growing closer to Him personally.  Jesus Himself interacted with and served no one except God during His forty days of fasting, and we cannot and must not overlook that fact.

The traditional teaching on Lent, however, sums up the vast teaching of the Catholic church and erroneously (heretically) teaches followers that they can gain merit with God.  The truth of the Gospel is simple:  There is none righteous and all of our righteousness is worthless before God (Rom 3.10, Is 64.6).  We have all sinned, and because of that sin we all deserve to spend eternity in Hell (Rom 3.23, Rom 6.23).  But Jesus came to the Earth and lived a perfect life, but was murdered and sent to Hell in our place (Rom 5.8).  After three days He rose back to life, defeating death and having paid our penalty can offer us forgiveness for our sins (1 Cor 15.55-57).  We cannot earn His forgiveness, in fact if we try we actually diminish the gift!  It is free grace alone (Eph 2.8-9).  Therefore, if a person sins and confesses that sin to a priest, and the priest prescribes a way to atone the sin (pray so many “Hail Marys”, serve penance, etc.), this is not only a slap in the face to Jesus’ sacrifice, but also heresy because it adds to the Gospel.  Paul teaches us that no one can add to the Gospel, not even the Pope:

“I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.  But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed!  As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!”

– Gal 1.6-9

Lent can be kept with a God-honoring heart and motivation, or it can be kept under a false pretense of earning merit with God.  Choosing to abstain from a vice of disposition, however, is not the call of Jesus.  When Jesus called Matthew, the tax collector, He did not implore him to simply give up his greed or pay back the money he had stolen.  He demanded his life.  Matthew quit his job, left the comfort of home, and followed Jesus with everything he had.  When Jesus called Peter and Andrew, He did not simply ask them to change their vocation from fishermen, He called them to die to themselves.  Bonhoeffer says it like this:

“When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.”

– Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Jesus is not pleased if we simply give up one sin, one distraction or one time-sucker.  He wants our lives.  He wants our hearts.  He wants everything.  In fact, He said plainly,

“No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

– Matt 6.24

Jesus must be our master, our Lord, our authority in every aspect of life:  our work, our free time, our familial relationships, our service, everything.  If He is not, then we are serving another master and not Him.  Because of this level of devotion and calling, John teaches us:

“Do not love the world nor the things in the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.  The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.”

– 1 John 2.15-17

Evangelist Bill Piper echoes the sentiment:

“Every Christian who indulges in the sinful pleasures of this world is a compromiser and a stumbling-block.  No danc­ing, theater-going, card-playing, gambling Christian can hope to be a soul winner or have a testimony for God.  If men see this world in you, you will never point them to the next.”

– Bill Piper

Now, obviously his sins of choice might cause you pause as a renown fundamentalist, but his point is convicting:  if we love the world as Christians, we are at best compromisers and stumbling blocks who cannot point others to Heaven because we are consumed with this world.  At worst, Jesus says, we are not Christians.

So the call is simple, and the call is clear.  If you are feeling convicted to give up an aspect of your life that is not glorifying to God this Lenton Season, then by all means give it up!  But die to it fully, not only for forty days.  If you are feeling called to devote yourself to prayer or service to the glory of God, then serve Him with everything you have.  If, however, you have been deceived to believe that by fasting from facebook or giving extra money to the local homeless shelter that you are earning favor with God, hear me clearly:  God does not want your money or your good deeds.  He wants your heart.  And He wants your full heart.  There is nothing that you or I can do to catch God’s attention or work our way into His good graces.  He has already done it all by offering His son to pay our punishment for sin, and all we need to do is repent of our sins and believe.  He wants way more than your facebook.  He wants your everything.

Loneliness in the Church

grieving

Christianity today, by in large, has missed the boat on the topic of sin.  As a culture we have determined that everyone has not only the ability, but the right to define truth and their own morality.  Consequentially Christians are no longer defining the problem of sin and damnation as that form which we need saving, but simply offer Jesus and salvation as a bonus and eternal security.  Gone are the days of preaching Hell, fire and brimstone, and now are the days of the prosperity Gospel.  We believe that we are fundamentally good beings and adding Jesus into our lives will secure success and happiness.

Such a worldview and belief system leaves us exceptionally lonely, however.  Because when we come to Jesus for salvation, the Holy Spirit takes up residence within our lives, and the role of the Holy Spirit is to convict us of sin and righteousness and live through us so that we die to our sin and become more like Jesus, more holy, throughout our daily lives.

“And [the Spirit], when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment…”

– John 16.8

So we all have a sin problem, and the Holy Spirit is revealing that problem to us daily, but yet we are left in a situation where we are unable to confess that problem and find accountability and comaraderie in working through it.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer said most profoundly:

“It may be that Christians, notwithstanding corporate worship, common prayer, and all their fellowship in service, may still be left to their loneliness.  The final break-through to fellowship does not occur, because, though they have fellowship with one another as believers and as devout people, they do not have fellowship as the undevout, as sinners.  The pious fellowship permits no one to be a sinner.  So everybody must conceal his sin from himself and from the fellowship.  We dare not be sinners.  Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is suddenly discovered among the righteous. So we remain alone with our sin, living in lies and hypocrisy. The fact is that we are sinners.”

-Bonhoeffer

We are all sinners.  “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom 3.23).  And while we are constantly fighting against our sin by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are given the body – the Church – to help us along in that fight.  We are commanded to confess our sins to one another:

“Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.”

– James 5.16

We see throughout the New Testament that there are still times when people are suffering illnesses and even death because of their sin.  Paul taught that many were sick and dying for taking the Lord’s Supper with the wrong heart (1 Cor 11.30), and Ananias and Sapphira died for lying about the percentage of revenue that they gave to the church (Acts 5).  And James teaches us that the confession of sin and the prayer of the faithful brother can heal and restore one who has sinned.

We know that when we do sin that we have an advocate in Jesus Christ who stands before the Lord and declares that sin covered by His blood:

“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.”

– 1 John 2.1-2

But until we confess to one another our weakness, our failures and our sins, we will never find the level of intimacy and accountability that Christ expects from the body.  We are playing games and we are lying to one another.

Now, I am not saying that we need to be unwise with our emotions and hearts.  Scripture also teaches us to guard our hearts diligently:

“Watch over your heart with all diligence,
For from it flow the springs of life.”

– Prov 4.23

There are people in the Church who are non believers – wolves in sheep’s clothing – who will destroy the church.  There are those who will gossip, those who will not forgive and harbor bitterness, and those who will take your confession and condemn you.  Jesus has forgiven us our sin, and in Him there is no longer any condemnation:

“Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

– Rom 8.1

Therefore, we must be confident that the person in whom we are confiding is one who will hear our confession as Jesus does:  condemning the sin, forgiving the believer, and helping to establish methods for keeping the penitent from falling into the same sin again.

“Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness;each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.  Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.  For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.”

– Gal 6.1-3

This accountability is beautiful and of utmost importance.  Our souls depend on it.  Scripture teaches us that if we continue in sin after claiming Jesus for salvation, there is no hope for us:

“For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries.”

– Heb 10.26-27

But if we find brothers and sisters in Christ whom we can trust, confess our sins to one another, pray for one another, hold one another accountable, then we can fight well the fight of faith as a body and as a community.  Until that point we will remain alone.  We will be blinded to some of our sins.  We will believe the lies that others around us do not struggle with sin, and we will either condemn ourselves or justify ourselves – neither of which finds favor with God.

So let’s get real.  Find those friends.  Engage in a body of believers and open up.  There is healing.  There is community.  There is accountability.  And we will find strength and encouragement by helping one another press on to the goal of righteousness and godliness.  And the love of a Christian brother will cover and encourage us.

“Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.”

– 1 Peter 4.8

Fighting Sin: The Battle within the Mind

this means war

When we become aware of our sinfulness and the consequences of those sins and in response turn to Jesus for salvation and forgiveness of those sins, we begin down the path of eternal life.  Sanctification.  Salvation.  God takes out our heart of stone that is dead and opposed to Him, and gives us a heart of flesh on which is written His perfect law, and we feel convicted of sin and long to obey Jesus out of love.  We begin the difficult battle of dying to ourselves and killing our sinful desires in order to grow in Spiritual maturity and holiness.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer taught us, in quite simple vocabulary:

“When all is said and done, the life of faith is nothing if not an unending struggle of the spirit with every available weapon against the flesh.”

– Dietrich Bonhoeffer

John Owen, upon reflecting upon the book of 1 John warned us,

“Do you mortify? Do you make it your daily work? Be always at it whilst you live; cease not a day from this work; be killing sin or it will be killing you.”

– John Owen

Scripture teaches us that our bodies and our desires are at war with the Holy Spirit that now indwells us:

“For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.”

– Gal 5.17

Fighting sin is a difficult discipline.  We speak little of it within the church and amongst believers because we are afraid to define sin and potentially hurt someone’s feelings.  We also have made peace with much of our own personal sin and are not interested in vetting it from our lives.  Sin is dirty, it is something that we keep hidden from one another, and without strong discipleship, we will not develop the disciplines of defining and seeing sin within our own lives and fighting it.  But we must!  If we are comfortable with sin then we are denying Jesus.  We, as Christians, must learn to see sin, identify it, and take steps to remove it from our lives.

Once we have entered into relationship with Jesus, we have the Holy Spirit within us whose job is to convict us of sin and righteousness.

“And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment…”

– John 16.8

He will inform us what sin is, and it will always be aligned with Scripture.  The Spirit is sent out into the world to remind us and convict us of what Jesus taught.

“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.”

– John 14.26

Therefore, we must study the Scriptures to know what Jesus taught.  The Bible unashamedly teaches us the desires of God and what He defines as sin.  When we understand what sin is, the Holy Spirit reminds us and convicts us of sin in our own lives.  And then we begin the battle of fighting it.

Where does this all begin?  It begins in the mind.

Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.  And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

– Rom 12.1-2

Our goal, as believers, is to present our entire selves to God as a living and holy sacrifice.  Holy and acceptable means that we are fighting sin and making our lives reflect the worth and value that we believe God to have.  In order to not be conformed to the wold, we are transformed by the renewing of our minds.  We learn the Scripture, we understand what God says – and by daily getting into the word and knowing God, we are able to discern the will of God.  We understand what is good, acceptable and prefect.

Then we have to put it to action.

“We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ…”

– 2 Cor 10.5

Once we are relatively comfortable in our Christian walk, many of our sins will be on the heart and mind level.  These – in my opinion – are the most difficult sins to fight because they rarely come to a fruition that others can see.  Pride, lust and envy are things that we can mask and maintain without ever having another notice and call us to accountability.  This is why Paul teaches us that we need to take every thought captive.  The moment that a proud, lustful or envious thought runs through our minds, we must stop that thought and replace it with one that honors God.

Our goal in sin fighting is not simply to stop sinning, but it is to grow in holiness.  That means taking the sin out of our lives and replacing it with something that gives glory to God.  Therefore, when an envious thought enters our mind, we should squash the thought and replace it with thankfulness for what we have, and praise God for blessing that other person.  When an arrogant thought grips our mind we must stop and humble ourselves before the Lord, purposefully dying to ourselves and acknowledging the worth and value of the person who is the object of our wicked thoughts.

Peter says that we need to “gird our minds for action”:

Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

– 1 Peter 1.13

During these days people wore long flowing robes with a belt tied around the waist.  In order to run or moved quickly, the men would grab the back of the robe and pull it up between their legs and tie it to the waistband.  Essentially they would turn a dress into running shorts.  This would give them mobility and the freedom to run and move quickly.  Peter says that this is how we are to prepare our minds – put running shorts on our minds so that we can move and be agile.  We are to keep sober in spirit and look completely in hope to our coming salvation.  That means remove distractions and sin.  Do not numb your mind with TV, with the vanities of life, with sin – but instead renew it daily with the Scripture and the promise of the coming end.  Live daily with the intention of making an eternal impact and storing up treasures in eternity.

When we do this, when we understand what sin is, and when we develop the discipline of identifying it in our lives and hearts, and when we replace the sin with a thought that glorifies God, then we have one of the most beautiful promises in all of Scripture:

“You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.”

– Is 26.3

When we set our minds on God, and keep sin out, even on the mind/heart level, God will keep us in perfect peace.  Do you have a lack of peace in your life?  Examine your heart to see if you are allowing any sin of the mind or heart to take root.  Bitterness.  Envy.  Anger.  Lust.  Pride.  Few will be able to see these sins until you verbalize and act on them.  But the Spirit within you will reveal it to you if you ask Him, set your mind on God, and learn what God defines as sin within His Word.

Set your mind on Him today and experience that perfect peace that passes understanding.

Should Christians Stay Out of Politics?

church and state

As history marches onward, one anthem rings louder and louder in an ever-increasingly poly-religious nation:  we must maintain the separation of Church and State!  And while it is most certainly true that we desire to have the freedom of religion, and that we do not want the state regulating how we run our churches and conduct our worship services, it is also true that within the democratic federal republic mindset, the government should represent the values of her people.  Laws should define right and wrong, and because we are citizens we have a say.

So should we leave our religion at home when we consider presidential candidates, new laws and our submission to the government as a whole?  Is our religion simply for the well being of our soul, while our nation is for the well being of our livelihood?

The Bible tells us the history of the people of God, from the beginning of time, through the choosing of the people of Israel – their successes and failures, to the coming of the Messiah and welcoming of all nations into the Kingdom of God and the command to draw people in from every corner of the Earth.  The Biblical and godly form of government exemplified for us in Scripture is a Theocracy.  God set up the nation of Israel as one who had no king except Him.  Eventually the people rebelled and wanted a human king, and after only three, the kingdom was divided and the nation suffered for replacing God’s leadership with man’s.  The nation crumbled and suffered many oppressions and captivities.  By the time Jesus came, the Israelites were under the rule of the Roman Empire, and as governments have come and gone over the last two-thousand years, there has never been another Theocracy as God established for Israel.  There has never been another government that was perfectly aligned to God’s will, and there has never been another “Christian nation” or “nation of God”, even though many erroneously believe The United States to be just that.

Jesus and Paul both gave very clear instructions for living under worldly governments:

Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.  Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.  For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil.  Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake.  For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing.  Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due;custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.

– Rom 13.1-7

Even though Theocracy no longer exists, there is no government throughout history or around the world which God has not placed in power.  God is sovereign over kings and rulers, just as He is over the wind and the seas.  In this passage, Paul is speaking directly to the average citizen who has no say in the government.  Laws that have been established by the government must be obeyed, if they do not contradict God’s moral and perfect Law.  We know from history, from Biblical examples, that it is good and right to disobey the government when it seeks to establish worship for the leader (Dan 3), and it is also good and right to stand up to authorities who would silence or witness of the Gospel (Acts 5.29).  But as a citizen who has no ability to impact the making or enforcement of laws, we should subject ourselves and honor the government that God has in place – even if it is a dictatorship or oppressive regime.

Living in a society where the individual is valued and every citizen is given a voice to contribute, however, we have a unique circumstance through democracy.  Our voice can still be heard!  We have a legal right to stand up for what we believe, and laws that protect us in verbalizing what we believe.  So then, as a Christian, to whom do we credit all morality?  God.  God has revealed Himself to everyone through creation and conscience (Rom 1), and therefore everyone has the basic moral and ethical law of God written on their hearts.  Some have dulled their senses to these elementary truths through a variety of means, but we believe that God is the author of morality and thus there is an absolute truth when it comes to basic human actions.  Murder.  Theft.  Adultery.  Lying.  These things are all morally reprehensible because God said so, and most of humanity would agree.

The intricacies of how these truths apply to government can be difficult.  But many have given their lives to the discipline of Biblical interpretation and governmental application.  William Wilberforce is one such man.  And we as Americans are encouraged to speak up to impact our nation.  Therefore, we as believers, not only have the platform but the right to be the voice of Christians nationwide in our government.

When a government breaks God’s moral law, we then have the expectation upon us to disobey.  “We must obey God rather than men” should be our life theme (Acts 5.29).  If the government condones the murder of babies, then we must stand up to protect the defenseless (Ps 82.3).  If a government becomes so corrupted that it is using the full force of it’s national influence to murder and entire ethnic group, then we must oppose the government as a whole, such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer did during World War II in Nazi Germany.

So in short, should Christians keep their faith to themselves and stay out of politics?  Most assuredly not.  We understand that no man can come to salvation except for the drawing of the Holy Spirit in His life, and therefore we cannot and should not command or expect a person to become a Christian by any force, especially governmental (John 6.44).  We must also be careful to not affiliate governmental power with religious piety, else we will be overrun with false converts who are seeking power and not God – much like the Roman Empire did after the reign of Constantine.  But we, as Christians, must uphold God’s moral law and since we are given the opportunity to impact our government by becoming a part of it, by voting, and by speaking out against injustices, we most assuredly should get as involved in politics as possible:  all to the glorification of God and upholding of His law.

Are you a Spiritual wimp?

wimp-kid

Today is a day for introspection.  We have hit 80 degrees a few times over the past two weeks, and right now it is 34 degrees outside and the snow is dumping on us.  My husband and I haven’t had a vacation since September and we can feel the weight of the mundane wearing on us.  Small things are irritants, life is dull, you know the feeling – the “we need a vacation” feeling.  And then I stop and consider the calling on our lives and the reality which so many Christians around the world are living:  The call to come and die.

‘When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.’

– Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I once was on a mission trip.  We had gone out into a Muslim county where it is illegal to evangelize and were intentionally seeking opportunities to talk about Jesus.  We had been in a community for nearly a week and seen three people come to faith when we got word that there was severe persecution happening just a community away:  people’s houses were being burned down, brand new baby Christians were being put in “reindoctrination camps” and people were fleeing for their lives.  The boss over the Americans said that we had to get out.  Safety was their primary concern.  The nationals who had accompanied our team, however, were committed to the work and had given their word that they would baptize these new believers the next day and they said to us tearfully, “You go ahead, we will stay behind”.  We spent the evening in prayer over them, the new believers and the community suffering persecution, and shamefully, we left them behind.  They followed us just twenty four hours later, safely, having kept their word to baptize and follow up with these new believers, and we Americans cowered in the safety of our hotel in the big city.

I have thought back on that situation with shame and regret many times.  It was decided by my superior that we had to leave, so sometimes I like to blame shift.  I also had responsibility for a handful of people, so I justify the flight with the excuse that I could not make the decision for everyone that they were willing to suffer the consequences, should they come.  But those national partners who were committed to the mission, no matter the cost, have forever inspired and left a mark on my soul.

Jesus Christ did not suffer so that you would not suffer, but so that when you suffer you might become like him. The Bible/Christianity/The Gospel does not promise you better life circumstances, it promises you a better life.

– Tim Keller

We have built for ourselves such comfortable little bubbles that the inconvenience of the internet being slow can ruin our day and attitudes.  We believe the lie that we should all be happy, comfortable and well fed that we get irritated and argue over who should put the ice cream away.  Working forty hours a week is a drain and all we want to do is have the weekend to ourselves.  Right?

How can we refocus our hearts to remember the things of God?  How can we get committed on the level that we love and serve God even when we are tired?

“Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession; He was faithful to Him who appointed Him, as Moses also was in all His house.”

– Heb 3.1-2

We need to continually consider Jesus.  Yes, I know it is cliche to say, “Jesus is our perfect example”.  But what do we really mean by that?  Is He your example in how you go to work?  In how you love your spouse?  In how you serve your friends?  In how you sacrifice for the Gospel?

“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.  Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

– Phil 2.5-8

Jesus left him home in Heaven, as king, to live on Earth and to be a servant on the Earth.  He never had a home of His own, He suffered persecution and hatred and was murdered.  Is that your example?  Humility, sacrifice, and patience through tribulation?

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation.  If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.

– 1 Peter 4.12-14

For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ.

– 2 Cor 1.5

More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.

– Phil 3.8-11

Jesus calls us to take up our cross.  He calls us to put one another before ourselves.  He calls us to love as He loved, to His glory and honor. He calls us to live and sacrifice for the cause of the Gospel.  He bids us come and die.  How are you doing today?

The life of faith.

offering

What is the point of Christianity?  Is it to find eternal life so that we do not have to go to Hell when we die?  Is it to live forever?  Is it our peace and comfort?  The old catechisms answer the first question, the meaning of life, as this:

“The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.”

– Westminster Catechism

This is the first question we ask when considering the meaning of life and faith, namely Christianity.  What is the purpose or “chief end” as they used to say.  If the fathers of our faith understood Scripture correctly in stating that our purpose is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, how do we do that?  Some people would argue that God is most glorified in us by our pleasure in Him.  God’s glory is not contingent upon us or our making much of Him, but He is made much of (glorified) when we praise, honor, enjoy, proclaim, love and obey Him.

Starting down this path of glorifying God and enjoying Him begins with new birth:  regeneration.  We, at one moment in our physical lives, are given Spiritual life.  And then begins the life of faith.  And it is at this point that we need to develop our tool belts to be able to glorify God.  God does not simply sit up in Heaven and say, “Enjoy me however you want”.  He does not have unconditional approachability.  I am aware that this rubs our American individualism the wrong way.  “I am who I am, and Jesus loves me just the way I am”.  We assert God’s approval on ourselves and expect everyone else to approve us just because we are people.  We no longer have the right to make value statements on actions.

Now, there is a place for preaching unconditional love.  We cannot earn or merit God’s forgiveness or love, and the moment that we come to God for salvation we cannot clean ourselves up before coming to Him.  We are dead, dirty, wretched, wicked and completely undeserving of His grace and there is no way we can make ourselves presentable unto salvation.  However.  Once we have been made into new creatures, we have started down a lifelong path of being made more like Christ and obedience.  Jesus said,

“If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him.”

– John 14.23

Life is a season of putting to death the deeds of the flesh and living in obedience to and in the glory of Jesus.

“When all is said and done, the life of faith is nothing if not an unending struggle of the spirit with every available weapon against the flesh.”

– Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Jesus Himself was so serious about dying to sin that He said,

“If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.  If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell.”

– Matt 5.29-30

Jesus stated that we will be thrown into Hell as consequence for sin, and if we cannot control our bodies, it is better to cut a part off than to go to Hell!  He took sin extremely seriously.  Not only that, but He taught that if you are on your way to church (or to pray, or to have a quiet time, or to interact with God) and you remember that someone is angry at you or you have an unresolved issue with someone, you need to go make that right before you try to worship or pray:

“Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.”

– Matt 5.23-24

The life of faith is dying to sin, dying to the flesh, dying to ourselves and living to Christ.  And He enables us to do that.  God does not give us salvation to live like hooligans, He expects us to obey and to grow.  To make war with our flesh and our sin.  Not to earn His salvation, but to love and enjoy Him.  So let’s get about enjoying Him by living in the freedom of obedience!