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A Needed Insight For Our Time

Beating up others – in violent riots, or violent social media posts, all because others believe differently than you … well, this is the height of social immaturity. May those who call themselves by the name of Christ be grown-ups, so the world can know what a grown-up looks like, and where to turn to find them.

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I saw a disturbing video, and could hardly believe it. A group of “Antifa” protesters beating up on a “Say No to Hate” rally. Beneath the Facebook post of the video were a number of comments about the rightness and (mostly) wrongness of these kinds of actions.

 

It dawned on me: As a populace, we are very weak and immature. Which is why we fight so much.

This according to the Apostle Paul. One of Paul’s major themes in the New Testament is how we should handle our deepest convictions. Paul acknowledges that we all have them, and they are often different.

Example: “For us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. However, not all possess this knowledge (1 Cor. 8:6-7).

The Bible says that knowledge about God and the spiritual world is God-given. Not all have it, therefore not all believe the basics. So, how do we handle having this knowledge when other’s don’t?

“We know that ‘all of us possess knowledge.’ This ‘knowledge’ puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know” (1 Cor. 8:1-3). ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor” (1 Cor. 10:23).

We can have what we think is a better grip on reality, the truer facts of the situation, and a better idea about the next best course of actions. But this isn’t helpful just because it’s “right”. If we’re “puffed up”, we’re not helpful, and do our neighbor no good. Instead…

“I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them … to those outside the law I became as one outside the law that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings” (1 Cor. 9:19-23).

When it comes to the believer’s relationship with the world, it’s not about loving how right we think we are, then insisting that the world become like us. Rather, we become like them in order to love them, honor them, serve them. And hopefully during that interaction God gives them ears to hear and eyes to see … and are saved.

 

“As for the one who is weak, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes [one thing] while the weak person [another].  Let not the one despise the one … and let not the one … pass judgment on the [other]. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls … Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind  … For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God … each of us will give an account of himself to God” (sel. fr. Rom. 14). 

Welcome them. Be fully convinced, that’s fine … but don’t quarrel over opinions. Just don’t! And certainly don’t despise or pass judgment.

“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved” (1 Cor. 10:23-33).

Give no offense! Try to please everyone. Because the issue isn’t who’s right. The issue is what will helps promote the truth, and salvation.

CONCLUSION: When we have sharp disagreements, mature people have the capacity to love their neighbor rather than insist on their own correctness. Mature people keep the bigger picture in view, not the heat of the momentary issue. Mature people humble themselves by crawling into the existence of the other — doing all they can to understand their hearts and minds — so that love will prevail over our contention.

* EO

 

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Ezekiel, Paul, and Hard Foreheads.

My lectionary readings today have me in Ezekiel 2, and Romans 1. Oy.

It seems clear that interest in God is declining in the Western world. This, of course, saddens me, because there is nothing but blessing to be found in coming to the Father through Christ, and being filled with the Holy Spirit. God is nothing but good, and living our lives in re-connection with this good God is, well, fantastic. The church is called to proclaim this opportunity to the world. But the world doesn’t receive it. Instead, they often lash back at the church, calling us ignorant, superstitious, killjoys, and even evil.

Why are people so bent against a revelation from God that is such good news? This still surprises me.

It shouldn’t.

ezeThe word of the Lord has come to Ezekiel in chapter 1. After falling on his face before a heavenly vision of the glory of God, Ezekiel is lifted to his feet in chapter 2, and commissioned to proclaim God’s truths to the house of Israel. “The descendants are impudent and stubborn…whether they hear or refuse to hear, they will know that a prophet has been among them…the house of Israel will not be willing to listen to you, for they are not willing to listen to me; because all the house of Israel have a hard forehead and stubborn heart.” After this warning, it should be no surprise that the people will reject the revealed truths of God.

The Apostle Paul teaches in Romans 1 that man can know, honor and thank God, but instead “they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened…they became fools…they exchanged the truth about God for a lie.” Therefore, “God gave them up” to their lusts, and to debased thinking.

Since Eve passed the fruit to Adam, our world has been broken and bent. There is still glory to be seen everywhere you look. There is still godliness being experienced in the lives of those who believe. But, apart from God’s activity of grace, the brokenness remains imbedded in the “hard foreheads” and “stubborn hearts” of our race.

forehIn short – we’re called to proclaim the good news of God in Christ. But we should have no expectation that people will buy it. Quite the opposite – it should not only not surprise us when we’re mocked and rejected…it should actually boost our faith in the Word of God, which promises this very result.

That’s hard duty. But, as God tells Ezekiel, Behold, I have made your face as hard as their faces, and your forehead as hard as their foreheads. Like emery harder than flint have I made your forehead. Fear them not, nor be dismayed at their looks.”

A hard-headed gospel for a hard-headed world. That’s our call. Let’s roll.

 
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Posted by on January 8, 2015 in Discipleship

 

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Twelfth Day of Christmastide ’14

Number 12 coolWe finish our Christmastide journey through Romans 12 and 13 by coming full circle back to Advent.

Jesus came at Christmas … and He’s coming again soon.

“Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armour of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarrelling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” (Romans 13:11-14)

79 percentThis surprised me: Most people believe Jesus will return! Well, they did in 2006, anyway, which isn’t that long ago. In a Pew Research survey taken that year of thousands of American adults, 79% said they believe in the literal second coming of Jesus.

This surprises me, because people don’t live like it. They hardly talk about it. It certainly doesn’t seem like people are preparing for it. That’s why I’m just not sure we’re ready for it.

Almost everybody missed the first Christmas. Zechariah, Elizabeth, Mary, Joseph, some shepherds, Simeon, Anna, and some Iraqi astrologers…that’s who got it. The prophecies were out there. The timing of His coming was spot on (see the book of Daniel). Still, it was an anonymous event.

10 virgins

Then, Jesus told His disciples often that He would come a second time in glory to judge the world. In many of those stories, he describes people who simply were not going to be ready, and who would miss it.

Now, here in Romans, Paul says that there is a position to be taken in light of the upcoming return of Jesus. It’s a moral agenda – the mortifying of sinful desires. Frankly, it’s the opposite of our usual Christmastide agendas, which are fixated on indulging our desires. My wife Karen works at a daycare, and has been asking the kids if they had a good Christmas. The response is almost always a listing of gifts received. A “good” Christmas is a profitable one, not a righteous one. As Benjamin Franklin quipped, “How many observe Christ’s birthday! How few, his precepts! O! ’tis easier to keep Holidays than Commandments.”

Define Good XmasI hope this has been a “good” Christmastide for you all … in the goodest sense of the word “good”! I pray that your meditation on the incredible gift of the Holy Christ has moved you to want to give your life as a living sacrifice to Him in return. To put on Christ. In thanks for His first coming, we prepare ourselves for the second.

The (second) day is at hand! We believe it. Let’s be ready for it!

Merry Christmas … and a blessed Epiphany season beginning tomorrow.

 

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Tenth Day of Christmastide ’14

Number 10 fence

Christmas … and politics? Do we have to?

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgement. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but alsofor the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honour to whom honour is owed.” (Romans 13:1-7)

The first Christmas was more politically charged than ours is today. The Jewish people, with their long, proud heritage of freedom fighting and military rebellion, were under Roman occupation. The ongoing hope was for the promised Messiah to come, who would lead them to their political emancipation.

magiherodThe birth story itself is soaked with politics. The very reason Joseph and Mary were in Bethlehem was because of the Empire-wide taxation program (you think signing up online for Obamacare is tough duty – try a 50+ mile donkey ride during your 9th month of pregnancy!). Jesus spent some of his childhood in the hated next-door-nation of Egypt because the local ruler felt threatened by religious prophecies. Then, Jesus grew up in Galilee, which was predominantly Hellenistic, unlike the conservatives in Judah, who would find the simple-minded “liberals” from down the hill to be at best pitiful, at worst repulsive.

It was impossible to keep from being embroiled in politics in first century Palestine.

globes ornamentsThis is good for us to hear today. Jesus came into a political situation, and lived a politically-aware life. And the incarnate one gave specific guidance for living out this reality. Be good citizens. Pay your taxes faithfully is you the payer … and if you’re the payee, please collect only what is properly due. And here, Paul echoes these counter-revolutionary ideas: Subjection. Do what is good. Have appropriate fear of the magistrate. But even more than that, it’s attitude! Respect and honor!

Merry Christmas! God has come, and has made it very clear: Life in light of Christmas leaves us inescapably in the politics of our lands … where we, like Him, will be blessed to live honorably. This is a gift of God! For it is “for your good.”

 
 

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Ninth Day of Christmastide ’14

Number 9“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honourable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ To the contrary, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:14-21).

sermon-on-the-mount-copenhagen

We celebrate the birth of Jesus because He is absolutely and wonderfully good. He never sinned. He never did anything to hurt anyone. He loved everyone, especially the unlovely. He provided food. He healed. He even raised people from the dead. A nicer person has never been known, and a more magnificent life has never been lived.

But, as we all know, Jesus’ life was marked by antagonism. From His rocky birth story (road trip, manger, refugees in Egypt, escaping infanticide) to His adult years (theological controversy, political disagreement, execution, abandonment, doubt), this good man was constantly dealing with bad responses.

V - ScroogeWhen Jesus began his teaching ministry, one of the first things He said was “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:10-12).

V - PotterIn other words, this is no surprise. It’s written in stone. Good comes into our fallen world, and the natural reaction is that it gets beat up.

It should not surprise us that God’s entering His own world through the incarnation should end with conflict. It should also not surprise us that, in as much as God abides in and sanctifies us, we are destined for adversity, too.

V - BurgerSo, Paul’s words today are an appropriate Christmastide reminder. Life on the planet is full of fighting, much of it over limited resources which leave us hungry and thirsty. As the arrogant attack one another, it leaves us in tears. These are the conditions of Jesus’ coming to Bethlehem, and they remain the conditions of our day-to-day experience.

V - FarkusHow will we mange these conditions? Is there hope? For Jesus, it ended in death. Will it be the same for us? If so, is Christmas really a good thing, or is it just getting into a fight that we’re destined to lose? The last words of the verse give us our hope: “Overcome evil with good.” It’s possible.

V - GrinchIn fact, it’s promised. It won’t happen completely until Jesus returns. In the meantime, we attempt to live our lives well … as well as Jesus did, that’s the goal … knowing that, for now, we’ll experience Jesus-like reactions. But, like Jesus, along the way, there are moments of wonder, of redemption, of glory for the Father.

Merry Christmas! Christ has come. Now, put on your armor…it’s more dangerous out there than ever.

 

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Sixth Day of Christmastide ’13

Number 6“Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord” (Romans 12:11).

Zealous. Fervent. Enthusiastic. Excited. Ardent. Emotionally involved. The Word says that these are to be characteristics of Jesus’ disciples, and we shouldn’t lose them.

I think we would all agree that being excited is great. New gifts are initially exciting. A new friendship, new job, first day of school, opening day of the new movie release … exciting stuff is usually new stuff. 

I’ve been a part of “exciting” churches. They are usually exciting because there’s a new engaging speaker in the pulpit, or a new facility, or the buzz of lots of new people attending (growth). All of those exciting places are no longer exciting. Most have leveled off to a consistent “normal” … others have become, frankly, dreary. That’s because churches are eerily the same as the rest of our lives – normal day bleeds into normal day. 99% of our lives is the “same old same old.”

Can you imagine "Christmas for People Who Don't Like Christmas?"

Can you imagine “Christmas for People Who Don’t Like Christmas?”

So, like the world, churches try to “spice things up.” A new hire. A new building. New music. A new program. A new sermon series. New service times. A new logo. But, it’s amazing … in a world that has more change-to-excite than ever, there is more boredom than ever. And we blindly think that these contemporary means to re-titillate ourselves actually work … are are appropriate in the church.

It has dawned on me this year that I find Christmastide exciting! Every year! And it’s not because it’s new and different. It’s because it’s old and the same! For several weeks each year, our world eases into a set of rich traditions, full of meaning, and most everyone says these are the best days of the year, and … well, why can’t it be Christmas all year ’round?

As a spiritual orphan, I’m coming to an important realization. If I was to become a part of a new family, the first thing I would want to do is become acquainted with and immersed in that family’s traditions. That’s what would give me identity, and make my new family-life exciting. But, if that family has abandoned all of its own traditions, and is ceaselessly trying new things to amuse itself, there would never be any experience of family to which to connect.

Christmas traditionsSo, bring on the music. The pine. The ornaments. The lights. Those cookies. The stockings. The movies. All the red and green. The train under tree. The family gathering. The hymns. The liturgies. The readings. The eucharist. The kisses of peace. The presence of Christ among His people gathered.

I’m excited just thinking about it!

 

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Fourth Day of Christmastide ’13

Today’s Christmastide verse speaks directly into my orphan-ness: Number 4

“For as in one body we have many members (and the members do not all have the same function), so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.”

A holiday favorite in our household is Santa Claus is Coming to Town, the classic claymation Christmas story that explains the origins of Santa Claus. Key to the entire story is the Kringle family, who have been toymakers for generations. Their problem? They make great toys, but they can’t get them into the hands of children, so the toys aren’t played with. Thank goodness Kris Kringle, the orphan addition to their family! Once old enough, Kris decides he’ll make the risky trek to Sombertown to get those gifts delivered.

toys piling up

The church is like the Kringles’ workshop. We have received the grace of God, which has not only saved us, but has also gifted us. We are swamped with gifts! But, I fear our churches look much like the Kringles’ back stoop, with disheartened family members tossing unused gifts into an increasingly large pile.

Christmastide – the ultimate season of gift-giving. If only the world could experience the incredible gifts that we have to give in our church communities! First, we should be hives of amazing attitude – zeal, cheerfulness and generosity! Then, our “deliveries” to the world – our acts of service, words of clarity, encouragement, exuberance, kindness – should be turning our somber world into a place of joy.

Christmastide is here! Jesus has come, and “He rules the world with truth and grace.” Through graces given, he extends His Christmas touch to the world through His people, through us. With a proper self-assessment, a renewed mind, and a life of self-sacrifice, the gift of the incarnation can continue to give through the church all year ’round.

 

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