Monday, November 28, 2016

The Unlikely Apostle Pt. 3: “There Is No Authority Except from God”

To the shock of the majority of Americans, Donald Trump gave a presidential acceptance speech a few hours after midnight on November 9th. Millions of Republicans and Evangelical Christians celebrated as Hillary Clinton was defeated, and the man who was hailed as a new Cyrus the Great claimed the throne. 

Interestingly, Trump, who was reported to have converted to Christianity this year, neither thanked nor mentioned God in his acceptance speech. He thanked countless humans, but not God. He took the time to credit numerous individuals for his victory, yet the thought of honoring God or his supposed Savior evidently didn’t make the cut.

Scripture says that God took Cyrus by the hand and anointed him as a shepherd to rebuild Jerusalem. But did God specifically choose Donald Trump to rebuild America? Just because Trump won the election, does that mean that God handpicked him to be the President?

To answer this question, many people turn to Romans 13.

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. … 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. – Romans 13:1, 4

This is an interesting passage. Does it mean that every ruler that rules has been handpicked by God? Or, is Paul simply saying that God puts all positions of authority in place? Let’s turn to a respected early Christian authority, Irenaeus, the Bishop of Lyon.

God imposed upon mankind the fear of man, for mankind did not acknowledge the fear of God. So He did this in order that, being subjected to the authority of men, and kept under restraint by their law, mankind might obtain some degree of justice. They might exercise mutual forbearance through dread of the sword. … Earthly rule, therefore, has been appointed by God for the benefit of nations. … Considered from this point of view, those who exact tribute from us are God’s ministers, serving for this very purpose. – Irenaeus 180CE, Volume 1, p. 552 

According to Irenaeus, Romans 13 says that God puts all positions of authority in place. The offices of judge, policeman, president, king, governor, emperor, principal and parent have all been put in place by God. However, just because those positions have been established by God to promote good and constrain evil, it doesn’t necessarily mean that every person in authority has been handpicked by God.

King David was very clearly chosen and anointed by God to be the King of Israel as long as he lived. David had several sons, one of them being Absalom. Eventually, Absalom organized and led a successful coup, removing his father from the throne in Jerusalem for a period of time. Both men are called king at the same time period in 2 Samuel.

So, which authority was established by God? David or Absalom? Which one was supposed to be in submission when Absalom was on the throne? Which one was God’s choice at that time?  

It seems pretty clear that seeking to have your father killed is never in God’s will. It also seems pretty clear that dethroning someone God says is a man after His own heart is not something that God desires. But God gives us free will. And just like He dealt with Absalom, He will deal with us according to our choices, and yet still bring about His sovereign plan.

So, is Donald Trump God’s handpicked choice for America? I guess it’s possible. It’s also possible that Trump was simply our choice, just like the people voted for Barabbas in Jesus’ day. Whatever the case, let me close by asking you to consider a few questions.

Practically speaking, are you putting your hope in being saved by a President or delivered by Jesus? Are you more in submission to the laws of your earthly country or the commands of your heavenly country? Is your confidence in the empire of America or in the kingdom of God? 

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Unlikely Apostle Pt. 2: “… Men Who Suppress the Truth…”

The end of World War II brought about the beginning of the postmodern era.  Two atomic bombs dropped upon Japan served to bring great fear into the hearts of human beings worldwide as speculation of apocalyptic times on the horizon grew. To combat this worldwide anxiety, people began spreading the message of peace, love, and acceptance of all races, religions, and cultures.

A stark change from the pre-modern and modern eras, postmodernism declares that there are no absolute truths, and neither religion nor science can determine the right way to live. The vast uncertainty of meaning in life has left people believing in few authorities, with perhaps the most influential of these being oneself. Naturally, this philosophical worldview has led to a culture of narcissism where people are chiefly concerned with gratifying their own perceived needs and wants ahead of anyone else’s…. all in the name of living out their personal truths.

Here’s an example:

A woman named Glennon Doyle Melton, also known as the Christian Mom Blogger, announced a few days ago that she is in a romantic relationship with U. S. women’s soccer star, Abby Wambach. This news comes on the heels of Melton’s statement that she and her husband had separated after his affair. Melton writes candidly about her joys and struggles, and has openly shared about her battles with addiction and an eating disorder.

While I cannot empathize with her in the area of her eating disorder, I have experienced the brutal psychological, emotional, physical and spiritual chains of addiction. One thing that I have learned through years and years of counseling is that people like me who are prone to addiction are pleasure centered. We tend to determine something’s truth and value by how much pleasure it will bring us. It’s very postmodern.

Though I don’t know Melton personally, I can sense this same pleasure-filtering approach to truth in several of the statements she has made about her decision to engage in a lesbian relationship.

I want you to grow so comfortable in your own being, your own skin, your own knowing - that you become more interested in your own joy and freedom and integrity than in what others think about you. I want you to refuse to betray yourself. Not just for you. For ALL OF US. Because what the world needs -- in order to grow, in order to relax, in order to find peace, in order to become brave -- is to watch one woman at a time live her truth without asking for permission or offering explanation. The most revolutionary thing a woman can do is not explain herself. What I need you to know- and what I know you need to know- is that I am deeply, finally, FINE. Fine through my bones and soul and mind and just every fiber of me. You have the room to feel and react with your truth….because I am so unshakably certain inside of mine. I have officially become a woman who knows who she is and refuses to betray herself. So anyway. What I’m trying to say is. PRECIOUS WORLD: I LOVE ABBY. Love Wins. G”

Notice how Melton approaches truth in this quote. You have your truth and she has hers. Her husband’s truth was having an affair. Her truth is engaging in homosexuality. I’m not sure what their kids’ truths will be. But the only way we as human beings can be at peace, both individually and collectively, is if we all live out our individual truths without explanation or apology. So says Melton.

There are many problems with this line of thinking, but I’ll just point out a few. First, I promise you that Melton doesn’t really want people to adopt her worldview. Do you think she really wants child predators or other violent criminals to live out their truths with joy and integrity, only seeking to do what they love without offering explanation? Do you think she really wants her new girlfriend to cheat on her, just because she feels the urge and wants to stay true to herself?

Second, how do we find solid footing for discussion and discipleship when asserted truths contradict each other? Can Jesus be a false messiah and also the one true Messiah? Can Jesus never have existed and also have been born in Bethlehem? Can Jesus be the way, the truth and the life and also not the way, the truth and the life?

Third, the main problem with her approach toward truth is that it is completely out of line with the Scriptures. I could go into a lengthy explanation starting in Genesis, working my way to the Gospels, and closing in Revelation to make this point, but let it suffice to say that nowhere in the Bible does God bless homosexual relationships of any sort. In fact, every time a homosexual relationship of any sort is mentioned in the Bible, it is expressly spoken against.

The issue of homosexuality is, biblically speaking, similar to the subject of idolatry. Idolatry has always been condemned. Yet, as the people of God became more intertwined with the unbelieving culture, they began to view idolatry as less and less of a big deal until it became normative in Israel. Even though they knew the truth, they suppressed and twisted the truth to suit their own desires. What followed, however, was always wrath.

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness. … For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator. – Romans 1:18, 25

We of the postmodern generation have lived out Romans 1. We have known the truth, but have suppressed it and exchanged it for a lie. We have exchanged the fact that Jesus is the revealer of truth for the lie that we are the revealers of truth. And in doing so, we have become worshippers of ourselves rather than worshippers of God.

We need to pray for Glennon Doyle Melton and her family. Also, we need to pray for ourselves. We are products of the same culture and are prone to viewing truth through the same lens, whether we realize it or not. 

So may we repent of this blasphemy. May we repent of the exaltation of ourselves. May we love God’s truth and obey the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The apostle … says: “For the wrath of God shall be revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of those men who hold back the truth in unrighteousness.” … So the apostle says … in the Epistle to the Thessalonians: “Seeing it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you; and to you who are troubled rest with us, at the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ from heaven with His mighty angels, and in a flame of fire, to take vengeance upon those who know not God, and upon those that obey not the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.” – Irenaeus 180CE, Volume 1, p. 838 [CD-ROM]

Sunday, November 13, 2016

The Unlikely Apostle Pt.1 : Pray Without Ceasing

Something has been stirring in me for a while. A restlessness. A dissatisfaction with the status quo. A feeling like I’m in a rut. A feeling like my church is in a rut.

A couple weeks ago it came out that several other people have been having a similar experience. So, I began to seek God’s direction and desire for me and the people. I believe He answered, and it was not what I expected.

I believe God has called us to pray, just to pray, during our Sunday and Wednesday services for the next month. No music. No Bible study. Just prayer.

That may seem crazy to some folks. I understand. I have spent many years planning order of services. I know how desperately people want a bulletin that tells them what’s coming next. I am fully aware of how uncomfortable it gets when there’s the slightest break in the action.

We have become experts at orchestrating and executing worship services that pacify the crowds yet don’t require God’s presence.

Frankly, I’m tired of it. I’m tired of the show. I’m tired of the games. I’m tired of holding a form of godliness twice a week, yet not experiencing God’s power. I’m tired of lukewarm American Christianity. It’s corroding my soul.

I want Jesus. No, I need Jesus. I need Jesus exceedingly and abundantly more than I realize. We do too.

We say a little prayer before meals. We say a little prayer before business meetings. We say a little prayer before offerings. We memorize Scripture verses about prayer. We devote entire sermons to the subject of prayer. We have bible studies devoted to prayer. We post inspiring quotes on social media about prayer. Yet, we are far too pragmatic to actually be people of prayer.

And that is exactly what we are called to be: People of prayer who pray without ceasing.

Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

I’ve heard grown men that were leaders in churches joke about this verse, shrugging it off since God can’t possibly be calling us to drive down the freeway with our eyes closed. I think we tend to make light of things that terrify us. We fear what we don’t understand, and making a mockery of such things has a way of taking a bit of the edge off.

How our hearts deceive us.

Paul flat out says that God’s will for our lives is for us to pray without ceasing. Yet, we sit around at Bible studies joking about the verse so we can convince ourselves that it's okay to not do God’s will. I wonder what the chances are that Jesus was just kidding when He said, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter (Matthew 7:21).” Perhaps we need to take God's will seriously.

So, what does it mean to pray without ceasing?

I plead with you, by the grace with which you are clothed, to press forward in thy progress, and to exhort everyone so that they may be saved. … Give yourself to prayer without ceasing. Plead for additional understanding to what you already have. Be watchful, possessing a sleepless spirit. Speak to every man separately, as God enables you. Bear the infirmities of all, as being a perfect athlete [in the Christian life]: where the labor is great, but the reward is even greater. – Ignatius 105CE, Volume 1, p. 152 [CD-ROM]

According to Ignatius, praying without ceasing first means maintaining a desire to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus. Second, we must keep an ambassadorial mindset. Third, we should be imploring our Father for steady infillings of heavenly wisdom. Fourth, we need to remain vigilant, seeking God’s direction in all things for all people so that we can make the most of every opportunity. And finally, to pray without ceasing, Ignatius calls us to never forget the reward of living for the kingdom of heaven.

It takes prayer to become a person of prayer. And that is what I want to be. That is what I want for each person of my church. That is what I want for you.

Are you in a spiritual rut? Do you feel restless in your faith? Then join me in this quest to pray without ceasing, and let’s experience Jesus together. 

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Simply Jesus 32: “A Servant Is Not Greater Than His Master”

“We were soft.” Those are words that no player in the National Football League wants to hear out of their coach’s mouth. Yet, that’s exactly what Minnesota Vikings head coach, Mike Zimmer, said after the Vikings were “embarrassed” by the Philadelphia Eagles 21-10.

‘Soft’ is a term that we in America generally cringe at. We’re not soft (we tell ourselves), we’re powerful. We’re not soft, we’re rugged and mighty. We’re not soft; we’re fearsome. But are we? Are we soft?

What about modern day Christians in America? Are we soft?

We have built tremendous structures that can almost function as small cities. We have made impressive feature films and mini series on the Bible. We have packed enormous stadiums for our cutting edge concerts and conferences. We have such an appearance of strength.

But if the American church is so strong, why are frequently we getting into intense fights over petty worldly issues (like what type of filing cabinets to purchase)? If we’re so mighty, why are we terrified that the wrong presidential candidate will be elected? If we’re so powerful, why are we so afraid of experiencing the persecutions that the Christians in Iran, Syria and North Korea are going through?

Here in America, prospects for baptism are generally asked if they have confessed Jesus as Lord and if they believe God raised Him on the third day. If they say ‘yes’, they get dunked. In India it is often a very different story.

Hindus are often thought of as peaceful people, but that is not the case in India where their relationships with Christians are concerned. Because of the intense persecutions Christians often face in that country, one pastor asks candidates for baptism in his church, “Are you willing to follow Jesus to your last breath, to your last drop of blood?” If they say ‘yes’, they are allowed to display their allegiance to the King.

We often won’t vote for a candidate if doing so would mean Christians might face one form of persecution or another. How many of us would even get baptized in the first place if we knew that in the next few hours we could very well be slaughtered for making that choice?

When we die, we all want to be called good and faithful servants. But what if in order to be called good and faithful servants, we must first go through what Jesus went through? Is that biblical? Ask Jesus.

“If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also.” – John 15:18-20

Surely Jesus didn’t intend for us to take Him seriously on this point, right? Surely He doesn’t mean that He expects His servants to be hated and endure persecution for His name’s sake? Let’s turn to the early Christians.

How did they interpret these simple words of Christ?

How grave is the case of a Christian man if he, a servant, is unwilling to suffer when his Master first suffered. … If we suffer from the world’s hatred, Christ first endured the world’s hatred. If we suffer reproaches in this world, if exile, if tortures, the Maker and Lord of the world experienced harder things than these. And He also warns us, saying … “The servant is not greater than his master. If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you.” Whatever our Lord and God taught, He also did, that the disciple might not be excused if he learns and does not do. Beloved brethren, do not let any of you be so terrified by the fear of future persecution, or the coming of the threatening Antichrist. … Antichrist is coming, but above him comes Christ also. The enemy goes about raging, but immediately the Lord follows to avenge our sufferings and our wounds. – Cyprian 250CE, Volume 5, p. 619 [CD-ROM]

It seems pretty clear, doesn’t it? If we’re going to be followers of Jesus, we have to follow Him in being slandered. We have to follow Him in being excluded. We have to follow Him in being persecuted for righteousness. We have to follow Him to the cross.

When we think about such things, we will often pray, “Lord Jesus, come quickly.” However, according to the beliefs of not only Cyprian, but the overwhelming majority of early Christian writers, in order for Jesus to come the Antichrist must come first. And when he comes, he is coming with the goal of annihilating Christians.

However, Cyprian tells Christians to be encouraged. Jesus is coming. Jesus is coming to get His bride. Jesus is coming to get His servants who have been brave enough to endure hell on earth for His name.

Things may get bad in our society in the next few days. People are going to be tempted to react to the national election with intense fear regardless of the result. But we Christians still have an obligation to be peacemaking lights in the darkness. We still have a responsibility to be ministers of reconciliation. We still have a duty to faithfully and courageously serve our Master.

So may we look to the One who leads by example. May we look to the One who endured the cross for the joy set before Him. May we look to the Author and Finisher of our faith who stared unspeakable torture and death in the face with the mindset of finishing the work His Father gave Him to do. May we turn from worldly softness and follow hard after Jesus.