Friday, June 28, 2013

The Rhythm of Life

Today is the final day of our 25th week, reading the Bible together in a year.  Our scriptures today are:  1 Kings 5; 2 Chronicles 2; 2 Thessalonians 3.  

Today is Friday, and that means it's my day off  Today is June 28th, and that means it's also my birthday!  We're taking the kids to Busch Gardens (though they don't know it yet) for a day of fun.  It'll be a day of much-needed rest.  Since we moved to Scottsburg, it's been difficult to establish a pattern of work and rest.  The kids are in summer break from school, which means it's a time of rest for them.  Yet, I've started a new ministry here at Bethel, and it's always important to "hit the ground running."  There's so much to do right at the beginning--beyond everyday ministry, there are business cards to get printed, offices to set up, installation services to plan, not to mention a house to unpack.  So today's recreation is pretty important.

Solomon and Hiram plan the temple together
Today's scriptures are about the balance between R&R and work.  The 1 Kings passage talks about all the workers that Solomon and Hiram employed for the building of the temple in Jerusalem.  Verses 13-14a (ESV) say, "King Solomon drafted forced labor out of all Israel, and the draft numbered 30,000 men.  And he sent them to Lebanon, 10,000 a month in shifts. They would be a month in Lebanon and two months at home."  The lives of these conscripted workers involved a predictable rhythm between rest and labor.  In 2 Chronicles 2, we also read about times of rest.  Verse 4 says, "Behold, I am about to build a house for the name of the Lord my God and dedicate it to him for the burning of incense of sweet spices before him, and for the regular arrangement of the showbread, and for burnt offerings morning and evening, on the Sabbaths and the new moons and the appointed feasts of the Lord our God, as ordained forever for Israel."  This means that part of the purpose of the temple was to provide a place for people to worship on their days off.  People need to have days of work and days of rest--otherwise, they'll burn out.

Even in the story of Creation, we find that God labored six days when He created the universe.  Then He rested in his creation on the seventh day.  When God gave the Law, He told the people to rest on the seventh day, just as He had done.  The Christian church changed the day to Sunday in observance of the Lord's resurrection.  Hopefully our own spirits will be resurrected as we observe regular times of rest and worship.

The Bible commands rest from labor.  But it also reminds us of the value of good work.  2 Thessalonians 3:6-12 (ESV) says:

Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone's bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. 10 For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. 11 For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. 12 Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.

Yet, even as Paul adjures people to work hard at their labor, he also reminds them, "As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good (v. 13)."  Make sure, as you're doing good work, that you don't let yourself get burned out.

I hope that your life has a healthy rhythm between work and rest, between labor and play, between toil and recreation.  I hope that you take regular time off, to recuperate from the pressures of life.  Someone once recommended to me that we "divert daily, withdraw weekly, and abandon annually."  Maybe we ought to add something like "meander monthly, and quarantine quarterly."  In any case, a regular rhythm of work and rest takes the pressure off and enables you to enjoy the life that God has given you.  I pray that you make the most out of the time you have--and sometimes that means work, but sometimes that means taking a break, kicking your feet up, and doing nothing.  

Have a great and glorious day!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Man of Lawlessness

Today is the fourth day of our 25th week, reading the Bible through together in a year.  Our scriptures today are:  Song of Songs 7-8; 2 Thessalonians 2; Psalm 127. 

Mikhail Gorbachev
When I was growing up in the 1970s and '80s, the religious circle that my family was part of was fascinated with end-time prophecy.  It seemed that one leader or another was always trying to predict the rapture, or to identify the reasons why the current political situation was setting the stage for the apocalypse.  Don't get me wrong--I believe it's important to take the Bible seriously, and that we should live each day as if Jesus is coming back today.  It's just that in those days, the interest in eschatology became an obsession.  I remember discussions about the identity of the Antichrist, who surely must be alive on the earth today.  In the '70s, it was a question whether the Antichrist was the Shah of Iran (Mohammad Reza Palavi), or Ayatolla Khomeini, who supplanted him.  In the '80s, the Antichrist was Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who had (purportedly) on his head the Hebrew letter vav ו, "dripping blood."  Of course, history has revealed that Jesus did not return in the 1970s and '80s, and that the Antichrist is still yet to be revealed.  So, given the religious climate of my formative years, you can understand why I'm a bit cautious when we discuss the topic of the Antichrist, whom the book of 2 Thessalonians calls "The Man of Lawlessness."

Still, we need to take the Bible seriously when it talks about such things.   2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 (ESV) says:

Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way.And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming. The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, 10 and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11 Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, 12 in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.

The Spirit of even in the church
I have no doubt that in the end times (whenever those may be), there will be a "Man of Lawlessness," just as the Bible says.  However, since I don't presume to predict the times or seasons, I'm far more concerned with the Spirit of Lawlessness than I am with the Man of Lawlessness.  You see, whomever the Antichrist may be in the future, he will be a man possessed by the Spirit of Antichrist...and that spirit is certainly alive and well today!  This is a spirit that works in the world to oppose the church, and the gospel for which it stands.  It is the spirit that works even in the church to quench the work of the Holy Spirit, who desires the hearts and minds of God's people.  

I believe that the only reason why the Spirit of Lawlessness can't have full control is that the church is restraining him by the Holy Spirit's power (vv. 6-7).  Throughout the centuries, little antichrists (or, would-be Antichrists) have arisen, only to be defeated by the faithful, as they have been empowered by God.  Without trying to identify these antichrists in the future, or in history, I'll simply say that these people have operated by mystery and delusion, so that people will believe what is false (v. 7, 11).  One day, The Antichrist, or The Man of Lawlessness, will be revealed.  But until then, it still has to deal with men and women of lawlessness, empowered by the spirit of antichrist.  

How can you avoid falling into delusion?  How can you make sure that you're not led astray by false teachers and leaders?  James 1:5 (ESV) says, "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him."  Verse 12 (ESV) says, "Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him."  Verses 16-17 say, "Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers.  Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change."  Beware of those who would try to change the Gospel.  With God and His true message, there is no variation or change.

How do you avoid delusion?  Seek God--more than anything else in your life.  James 4:6-8 (ESV) says, "But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, 'God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.'  Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.  Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded."

In the end, even the church won't be able to stop the Man of Lawlessness from coming into the world.  But we can say, "Not on my watch!"  We can stand for truth in this generation.  I pray that you'll stand for the truth, so that when delusion comes, you'll be found faithful, holding the banner of love and sharing God's message of life and peace.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Gracefire and Peacestone

Today is the third day in our 25th week, reading the Bible through together in a year.  Our scriptures today are:  Song of Songs 4-6; 2 Thessalonians 1.

People are never neutral about the subject.  Either they're critical or delighted that I'm not a hellfire and brimstone preacher.  Those who are delighted often say, "God is a God of love, not of judgment."  Those who are critical say, "God's Word declares judgment for sinners, and you need to warn people about it."  Who's right, and who's wrong?

Let me say again--I'm not a hellfire and brimstone preacher.  That doesn't mean, however, that I never talk about judgment and hell, and people's need to avoid them by receiving Jesus as their Savior.  I just don't believe in using scare tactics to coerce people into heaven.  Today's culture doesn't respond to a screaming, pacing-up-and-down, spitting, stomping, Bible-thumping, hellfire-and-brimstone-threatening preacher the way it used to.  Sixty years ago, when it might have been correctly said that we were a Christian nation, even non-Christians had spiritual assumptions that they gleaned from their believing friends and family members.  So when the unchurched person came into the revival service and sat on the back row and heard a hellfire and brimstone sermon, he took it to heart.  Today, most unbelievers respond to threats of damnation by getting up and leaving, muttering under their breath, "That preacher's a judgmental (you fill in the blank)."  They turn the message off because of the hellfire and brimstone message.

I'm not a hellfire and brimstone preacher, it's true.  But my accusers would be wrong if they said I never talk about these things.  I simply don't scream about it angrily from the pulpit.  Personally, I wish there were no such thing as Hell.  Many authors have suggested that damnation is just a threat made by the medieval church.  Yet those "scholars" have neglected God's Word itself.  Today's passage in 2 Thessalonians takes the topic of Hell quite seriously.  Verses 5-12 (ESV) say:

This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering— since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, 10 when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed. 11 To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, 12 so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

You can't get much more plain than that.  Hell is real, and people need to be warned.  But people don't need to be screamed at.  There's the difference.  I do talk about Hell--but a message that's as offensive as Hell needs to be delivered with a sane and rational disposition.  Otherwise, your audience might think you relish the idea of them burning for all eternity.

Of course, there are people who fall into the opposite extreme of thinking that Hell should never be mentioned.  They much prefer the opening words of 2 Thessalonians 1:

Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy,

To the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing. Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring.

A gospel of grace and peace sure sounds nice to an audience that wants no personal responsibility and all the warm-fuzzies and platitudes of meaningless faith.  We all want to be the kind of people that the saints brag about.  Grace and peace to us from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ--these things make us grow abundantly and increase in love for one another.  

We should celebrate this grace and peace...but not at the expense of real warnings about the coming judgment.  We should warn people about the perils of damnation that await those who have not received Jesus as their Lord.  But not at the expense of grace and peace.  

The Good News isn't good news without the bad news.  But the bad news is only bad news unless you also give people the Good News.  

We need to remember that the same author (penned by Paul, but inspired by God) who said "grace and peace" also said "eternal destruction."  Don't forget that the same author who said "flaming fire, inflicting vengeance" also wished that "Jesus may be glorified in you."  

So, let's have a balanced message of the Gospel.  I suggest a little Gracefire and Peacestone preaching, because only the whole message can truthfully communicate God's full plan.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Church's Job Description

            It has now been almost a month since we moved from Scottsville to Scottsburg (both in Virginia), where I am now the pastor of Bethel Baptist Church.  If you live in the area, I hope you’ll come see me at my new church.  We’re looking forward to a wonderful ministry with God’s people here in Halifax County.  This past Sunday in an evening service, we celebrated the beginning of my ministry here with an installation service.  At that service, we signed a pastor-church covenant, and much was said about my job description.  So at the morning service on Sunday, I spoke about the church’s job description.  I’d like to share with you the things that God expects of His church.  If we do these things, I know our Lord will find us faithful.

            Acts 2:42 (ESV) describes the activity of the early church:  “And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”  If we want to understand what kind of church God blesses, all we must to is model ourselves after those first believers.

            And they devoted themselves…  This means that they were dedicated, committed, and passionate about practicing their new faith.  Too many Christians today lack zeal, and would rather put the world’s distractions above their commitment to Jesus.  If we want God’s blessing, we need to devote ourselves to the things of God.

             To the apostles’ teaching…  No doubt, your church has at least one or two great teachers.  When God’s people follow their job description, it means they avail themselves of opportunities to learn more of God’s word, from people who are gifted to teach.  When Christians learn and grow, they eventually become teachers themselves, and continue the cycle of learning for generations to come.

            And the fellowship…  In order for the church to grow, it needs to be made up not only of people who come together on Sunday mornings, but also of folks who are friends throughout the week.  A thriving church means getting to know others within the Body of Christ, and supporting one another in good times and in bad.

            To the breaking of bread…  This refers not only to times of fellowship, but more specifically to times of worship.  In ancient times (as in some denominations today), the Lord’s Supper was celebrated every week.  Here, the breaking of bread refers to worship.  Too many Christians attend Sunday school but skip worship services altogether.  But worship is the Christian’s response to God’s goodness, and a balanced believer will make sure to incorporate time of worship in his or her life.

            And the prayers…  Don’t forget the deeper spiritual life of prayer!  Christianity isn’t all about being social and learning the Bible.  It’s also about engaging God in meaningful times of prayer—both in private and together with God’s people.

            These five things make up the church’s job description.  You might say, “Wait a minute—I don’t see missions listed here.”  The fact is that if the church does these five things, a missional heart with necessarily follow.  Verses 43-47 say that the results of a church following its job description are a sense of awe coupled with God performing signs and wonders among the people.  Also, believers with glad and generous hearts will share with those who have need.  People’s attitudes will be transformed as they learn to praise God together.  Neighbors around them will see this transformation, and believers will have favor with all the people.  And finally, God will add daily to the number of those who are being saved.

            I hope that you’ll be one of those Christians who knows his or her job, and that you follow your job description to the letter.  Not because you have to, but because you want to.  I hope that you’re devoted to these things, because through your devotion the church is blessed, and new believers are brought into the Kingdom.

Song of Songs - Falling in Love with God

Today is the second day of our 25th week, reading the Bible through together in a year.  Our scriptures today are:  Song of Songs 1-3; 1 Thessalonians 5; Psalm 72.

This morning, I want to introduce to you the The Song of Solomon, AKA The Song of Songs, AKA The Canticle, AKA The Canticle of Canticles.  Many have wondered just why this book is included in the canon of scripture.  Due to its erotic nature, parents and church leaders throughout the centuries have discouraged children and even unmarried adults from reading this book.  As a youth, I remember coming across these pages in my Bible and thinking, "Oh ho ho--what is this???"  There may be two answers as to why we find such a titillating love song in the Bible.

First, there's much to be said for the sanctity and beauty of romantic and sexual union between husband and wife.  It's something worth celebrating.  Married couples who are struggling with intimacy issues should read this poem together with fresh eyes and ears that are open to hear God's will for their ongoing romance.

Next, many scholars believe this poem to be analogous to God's love for His people.  Jewish theologians (eg. The Targum) have said it represents the relationship between God and Israel, while Christian teachers (Origen and Bernard of Clairvaux, for example) draw a parallel between Christ and the church.  Either way, the language of love becomes symbolic rather than literal.  Yet even interpreting this poem symbolically, the reader does not lose the sense of exhilaration to be found in the presence of the Almighty.  The romance between the Lover and the Beloved goes on in our hearts.

Bernard of Clairvaux
In his first out of 85 sermons on the Song of Songs, medieval theologian Bernard of Clairvaux point out that the title includes the name of Solomon.  The ESV renders it:  The Song of Songs, which is Solomon's.  Bernard reminds us that the name Solomon means "peaceful," so it could truly be read, The Peaceful Song of Songs.  In point six of his sermon, Bernard says, "Solomon, at the head of a book which opens with the token of peace, with a kiss. Take note too that by this kind of opening only men of peaceful minds, men who can achieve mastery over the turmoil of the passions and the distracting burden of daily chores, are invited to the study of this book."  

Bernard goes on to say that the mysteries to be found hidden within the pages of the Song of Songs are not to be found easily or by the immature.  In point twelve of his first sermon, he says, "The novices, the immature, those but recently converted from a worldly life, do not normally sing this song or hear it sung. Only the mind disciplined by persevering study, only the man whose efforts have borne fruit under God's inspiration, the man whose years, as it were, make him ripe for marriage years measured out not in time but in merits - only he is truly prepared for nuptial union with the divine partner."

In this first sermon, Bernard says that this canticle can truly be called the Song of Songs, because it surpasses all the other psalms in the Bible.  The Psalms of Ascent, he says, may be an excellent way to sing your way up to the inner chamber of God's presence.  But the Song of Songs represents ascending the couch of the Lover Himself.  

So, which is it--simply a love poem that was included in the Canon as an example of righteous marital intimacy?  Or an allegory about God and His people?  My answer is--yes!  As you read the Song of Solomon, I hope you'll open your heart to understanding it both ways.

Monday, June 24, 2013


Today is the first day in our 25th week, reading the Bible through together in a year.  Our scriptures for this week are:

  • Proverbs 29-31; 1 Thess 4
  • Song of Sol 1-3; 1 Thess 5; Ps 72
  • Song of Sol 4-6; 2 Thess 1
  • Song of Sol 7-8; 2 Thess 2; Psalm 127
  • 1 Kings 5; 2 Chr 2; 2 Thess 3
So, when I first thought about calling this blog post Parousiapalooza, which is a reference to the theological term for the rapture of the church, I did a little googling and found out that there's a movie just coming out called Rapture Palooza (a strange coincidence).  After watching the trailers, I decided not to even post a movie clip here--and to highly suggest that you not go see this movie.  It looks horribly offensive to the faithful, and blatantly blasphemous.

Parousia is a Greek word that simply means "physical presence" or "arrival."  As a theological term, it means the appearing of Jesus at the end of days.  There's a long debate over whether the term ought to refer to the rapture of the church, or to the second coming of Christ (or whether those two are the same or different appearings).  I'm not going to get into that debate in this article.  I'm not going to talk about the pre-trib, post-trib, mid-trib rapture theories.  I'm also not going to linger on premillennialism, postmillennialism, and can look those up on your own.  Sufffice it to say that Jesus is coming back, and we can have hope.  This is what Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 4 (ESV):
13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 15 For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.
One day, Jesus will return and take His people home to be with Him.  In a moment, the living and the dead in Christ will be reunited with their Father, and all will be made right.  We will be reunited with loved ones who have gone on before us, who made Jesus their Savior.

Here's a bit of info on the word "palooza," gleaned from Wikipedia:

The word—sometimes alternatively spelled and pronounced as lollapalootza or lalapaloosa[5]— or "lallapaloosa" (P.G. Wodehouse - "Heart of a Goof") dates from a late 19th/early 20th century American idiomatic phrase meaning "an extraordinary or unusual thing, person, or event; an exceptional example or instance."[6][7] In time the term also came to refer to a large lollipop.[8] Farrell, searching for a name for his festival, liked the euphonious quality of the now antiquated term upon hearing it in a Three Stooges short film.[9] Paying homage to the term's double meaning, a character in the festival's original logo holds one of the lollipops.[8]The word has also caused a slang suffix to appear in event-planning circles as well as in news and opinion shows that is used synonymously with other suffixes like "a-go-go", "o-rama", etc. The suffix "(a)palooza" is often used to imply (often in hyperbolic language) that an entire event or crowd was made over that term, e.g.: "Parks"-apalooza, "Gaff"-apalooza, etc.

So, I wanted to coin a new term, Parousiapalooza, meaning the great family reunion festival in the heavenly realms that will take place when the living and dead are reunited by the second coming of Christ.  Parousiapalooza is that day when you will meet your great-great-great granny and laugh through those old family stories, and worship Jesus together.  I look forward to that day.  What a glorious day that will be!

Friday, June 21, 2013

"Just Kidding"--Really???

Today is the final day of our 24th week, reading the Bible together in a year.  Our scriptures today are:  Proverbs 26-28; 1 Thess 3

For as long as I can remember, Saturday Night Live has had a segment from time to time, called "Deep Thoughts, by Jack Handy."  You see nobody on camera--only beach scenes and clouds, etc...with a voice actor sharing ideas that seem deep but are really just weird.  One of Jack Handy's "deep thoughts" is:

If aliens from outer space ever come and we show them our civilization and they make fun of it, we should say we were just kidding, that this isn't really our civilization, but a gag we hoped they would like. Then we tell them to come back in twenty years to see our REAL civilization. After that, we start a crash program of coming up with an impressive new civilization. Either that, or just shoot down the aliens as they're waving good-bye.

Lately, a lot of folks have been using the phrase "just kidding" when they're not really kidding.  It's a way of venturing out to say something that you're not quite sure others will accept.  Then, if they don't accept what you're saying, you claim you're just kidding.  Often, the thing that you're "just kidding" about may be an insult, and by saying "just kidding," you think you're taking it back.  

I thought that this was only my observation at first, but then I found a discussion about it on Yahoo Answers:

Q:  Why do people say "just kidding" after they say something insulting, even when they weren't kidding?I've had people tell me I was fat, ugly, etc, and then right after saying that they'd say "just kidding", as though it erases what they just said. However, I'm pretty sure they're not kidding, and they just want to feel better about insulting me. Does anyone believe that "just kidding" thing makes insulting someone less rude? 

Best Answer - Chosen by VotersYour feelings are dead on. You see it, you are onto their tricks.
They use the "just kidding" remark to nullify and control your feelings even more. It is similar to putting your right to feel hurt into a strait jacket.
In other words, first they insulted you so that you could feel badly then they say "just kidding" to take away your right to feel badly.
It is designed to hurt you twice and to hurt you more. They know what they're doing but they do not care about you.

Proverbs 26:18-19 says, "Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows, and death is the man who deceives his neighbor and says, “I am only joking!”

Some people think that they can say anything they want, and as long as they say "just kidding" afterwards, they are no longer accountable for what they let come out of their lips.  It's true that laughter is good medicine, but not all jokes are funny--and not every time that somebody says "just kidding" are they really joking.

Click here to read an article about a man who was arrested in Seattle earlier this month, for allegedly brandishing a (strange) weapon and threatening to kill a bartender and bouncer.  According to the report, "Despite telling officers he was just kidding when he threatened to kill the bartender and bouncer, the suspect was arrested for investigation of harassment."

God's people need to be truthful in what they say.  If you have a hard truth to tell someone, the Bible says to "speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15)."  This doesn't mean you get to say whatever you want, but only those things that are intended to build a person up.  Even if it's a word of rebuke or correction, it needs to be spoken with compassion.  Then, you need to own what you say.  Don't dismiss your responsibility for having said it.  Be truthful to other people and truthful to yourself about what you really say and think.  And don't hide behind "just kidding."  Because it really isn't all that funny.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Art of War

Today is the fourth day of our 24th week, reading the Bible through together in a year.  Our scriptures today are:  Proverbs 24-25; 1 Thessalonians 2; Psalm 41.

This sounds terrible, but it's true--when I was ordained to the Christian ministry, a friend of mine who came to the ordination service slipped me a copy of Sun Tzu's The Art of War.  He said, "You're gonna need it."  And he wasn't wrong.  Ministry can be a joy,  but it can also be a battle.  The Art of War is a book that many pastors have read.  It is an ancient Chinese military strategy textbook, so famous that it's well-known even in non-military circles.  Executives also study Sun Tzu's work, and often find its advice helpful in office politics and board meetings.  Though we don't like to admit it, the Christian life is often a struggle.  Though we're taught to be meek, the Bible also teaches us not to back down.

The more of a difference you're making in God's kingdom, the more of a threat you will be to Satan's kingdom.  If this is the case, then the powerful Christian should know that they will come under fire.  That's why Paul reminds us that we're at war.  But he also underscores the spiritual nature of that battle.  2 Corinthians 10:3-6 (ESV) says, "For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh.  For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.  We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ,  being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete."  Then, in Ephesians 6:12 (ESV), he writes, "For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places."  

Christians who forget that they're at war with the power of darkness often try to please people, rather than pleasing God.  They take the path of least resistance--in their relationships, at the office, and in church business meetings.  Rather than standing for what's right, they waffle in order to avoid conflict.  But who ever said that being a Christian means avoiding conflict?  Jesus said, "I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18b)."  This means that there will be conflict.

Paul writes about his ministry at Thessalonica:  "But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict...For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved—so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them at last! (1 Thessalonians 2:2, 14-16 ESV)."  Certainly the apostle knew something about conflict!

Today's passages from the book of Proverbs gives us some wisdom for engaging in conflict.

Proverbs 25:26 (ESV)- Like a muddied spring or a polluted fountain  is a righteous man who gives way before the wicked.

In other words, you might consider yourself to be a "good guy" because you avoid conflict.  But sometimes it's only the ones who are willing to get into conflict who can truly be called "good guys."  Neutrality doesn't make you good.  Neutrality in the face of evil makes you a wimp!

Provebs 24:10-12 (ESV)
If you faint in the day of adversity,
    your strength is small.
11 Rescue those who are being taken away to death;
    hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter.
12 If you say, “Behold, we did not know this,”
    does not he who weighs the heart perceive it?
Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it,
    and will he not repay man according to his work?

The psalmist echoes the idea that it's our duty to come to the aid of those who cannot help themselves, insisting that God will protect those who protect others:

Psalm 41:1-2 (ESV)
Blessed is the one who considers the poor!
    In the day of trouble the Lord delivers him;
the Lord protects him and keeps him alive;
    he is called blessed in the land;
    you do not give him up to the will of his enemies.

Proverbs reminds us not to run quickly into battle with rash accusations:

Proverbs 25:7b-10 (ESV)
What your eyes have seen
    do not hastily bring into court,
for[b] what will you do in the end,
    when your neighbor puts you to shame?
Argue your case with your neighbor himself,
    and do not reveal another's secret,
10 lest he who hears you bring shame upon you,
    and your ill repute have no end.

God's Word also reminds us to make sure that when we do enter into conflict, we do so with integrity.

Proverbs 41:11-12 (ESV)
By this I know that you delight in me:
    my enemy will not shout in triumph over me.
12 But you have upheld me because of my integrity,
    and set me in your presence forever.

It's important what your attitude is, even toward the enemy that you have defeated.

Proverbs 24:17-18 (ESV)
Do not rejoice when your enemy falls,
    and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles,
18 lest the Lord see it and be displeased,
    and turn away his anger from him.

Many Christians would like to believe that living as a believer means avoiding trouble and conflict.  This is impossible.  Neutrality isn't Christianity.  The truth can never be neutral in the face of evil.  The truth will get you into trouble frequently.  But Jesus reminds us of an awesome truth:

"I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world (John 16:33 ESV).”