Cause for Sorrow

Yesterday I wrote that in this digital age we (especially in the Church) need to be intentional about mourning (update: it seems that Russel Moore agrees). Ever since I wrote that, I have been processing things that are worthy of being sorrowful over in the wake of the violence over the weekend. Here is my list. What would you add?

  1. That no less than 100 people made in the image of the Almighty God have been killed or injured by wicked men (both in Friday’s and Saturday’s attacks).
  2. That their friends and loved ones are suffering greatly in the confusion that has ensued.
  3. That the blame shifting has already begun, and it’s apparently everyone’s fault.
  4. That well-meaning Christians have once again been lumped in the homophobic camp with militant Muslims.
  5. That many people are going to be facing unfair stereotypes in the upcoming days/weeks (in the LGBTQ community, in the Christian Church, in the Muslim world).
  6. That evil people do evil things.
  7. That the politicians have already begun casting stones.
  8. That erroneous, false prophets (i.e. Westboro) are blaming the LGBTQ community for what occurred.
  9. That many people continue to die without Christ daily.
  10. That this will continue until Christ returns.

Hope in the Cross

In spite of the sorrow, there is hope at the foot of the cross. God looked down and saw the pain and suffering that his creation was enduring and followed through on His age old plan to sacrifice Himself so that we would not need to be separated from Him for eternity. His death and resurrection secure the our hope in a Kingdom that will come to earth. There is pain now, but for those who place their hope in Christ there will be lasting joy. I have sorrow for all of the above, but my God is alive and gives me hope to come through the sorrow.

Mourn first

For two nights in a row the city of Orlando has been hit with sudden and immense gun violence. There are 51 people dead and many injured between the attacks. They have left behind friends, families, spouses, children…

CkvEXhtUoAAaAuVThe inevitable will soon follow: The president does it. Congress does it. Local authorities do it. You do it. I do it. Some time this week everybody will have a front seat to the politicalization of the issue of gun violence. As a friend of mine recently said, something has to be done to slow down these attacks. Likewise, Ecclesiastes 3.1 says, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven…” There will be time for public discourse on the place of weapons in our societies. These are conversations that need to happen.

But before we go there. Before we rush into debates and arguments, social media tirades and memes, and videos and articles showing the “good” gun guys over and against the “bad” gun guys (and vice versa). Before any of it: Mourn. 

A Lost Art

I don’t know if it has always been this way, but the advent of social media and world-wide connectedness has seemingly sped up our (over)reactions. The good: we get to find out what is happening half a world away the second it’s happening. The bad: we jump right into blame shifting and skip over mourning completely. Unless you are the one going through the pain, mourning has become a lost art form reserved for 45 minutes at a funeral. If it hasn’t been removed from the public, it has been overwhelmed by partisan bickering.

Mourn because God mourns

Ever since sin entered the world, God has had reason to mourn (see Genesis 6.6). His creation is corrupted by sin and He desires good and justice to come. When He came to earth, He instructed his followers to pray that His Kingdom would come and His Will would be done (Matthew 6.7-14)– death and violence have no ultimate place in God’s Kingdom.

But until His Kingdom finally ousts the kingdom of darkness, there will be misery, pain, death, murder, and injustice. Especially as believers in this God we must mourn because He mourns. As mentioned above, God mourned when sin was out of control. God mourns at the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 18.32, 33.11)– even as His justice is coming to bear. God mourns when His friends are mourning the death of their loved ones (John 11.35)– in this, He is even better than those “professional mourners” whose job it is to mourn with the sorrowful. He mourns when people reject Him for their own way (Luke 19.41).

How great is our God that even though He has promised an end to this pain, He is present with people in their pain and suffering! He hears the cries of the weak and desires to be near them in their afflictions.

…(there is a) time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance. (Ecclesiastes 3.4)

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. (Romans 12.15)

Jesus wept. (John 11.35)

What do we do with Naaman?

What happens when you are compelled by outside forces to act contrary to your faith? In every generation there have been laws passed, governments established, actions taken, and popular opinions formed that have flown in the face of the gospel of Jesus; some are subtle and some are blatant. I am grateful for Desiring God’s answer to this question. They helpfully show that while we need to seek the peace of the city in which we live, we are still called by God to resist laws that not only go against the peace of our community, but go against God’s will.

But there is one chapter in Scripture that has gotten me thinking a lot about how we may act in certain situations.

The Lord pardon your servant

In 2 Kings 5 we read about Naaman, the commander of the Syrian army. We are told that “by him the Lord (Yahweh) had given victory to Syria” (v. 1). God used this man to accomplish His purposes. But Naaman has leprosy; which brings him to the (enemy) nation of Israel for healing from Elisha the prophet. Naaman at first doesn’t like Elisha’s prescription for healing (dipping in the ugly Jordan River), but once he complies with it he is completely healed! And not merely physically, but he becomes a worshiper of the true God, saying, “I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel…” (v. 15). He backs this up with requesting two cart loads of Israel’s dirt. He wants to stand on Israel’s soil while worshiping Israel’s God. There is no doubt in my mind (or in Christ’s, see Luke 4.27) that this is a changed man in whom God is actively working!

With this in mind, consider this interesting request that Naaman makes of Elisha when he leaves:

“In this matter may the Lord pardon your servant: when my master goes into the house of Rimmon to worship there, leaning on my arm, and I bow myself in the house of Rimmon, when I bow myself in the house of Rimmon, the Lord pardon your servant in this matter.” 1 Kings 5.18

Apparently, part of being the commander of the army of Syria is accompanying the aging king into the house of his god and aiding him in his worship of this god. Naaman knows that worshiping this god would contradict his worship of Yahweh, but he also knows that, as the commander, he has a job to do. So Naaman asks Elisha for God’s forgiveness when his job requires this godless action.

And what is Elisha’s reply? “Go in peace.” He doesn’t say that God will condemn him nor does he call him a false worshiper and a hypocrite. Elisha and Naaman both acknowledge that the action required of Naaman is not reflective of his heart. He will be worshiping the true God on borrowed ground from Israel meanwhile carrying out his duty as the commander of the army. Naaman is prepared (and pardoned) to comply with the command because he knows that it is not he, but his position that is bowing at this altar. He is acting on behalf of the nation and he recognizes that the nation and its king will be judged for this action, but he himself will be forgiven for bowing at the altar.

The Naaman option

If Naaman, a converted pagan, can be told “go in peace” when he explains his situation, what does that mean for Christians today? Religious freedom aside, what does it mean for Kim Davis? (Aside: I agree that Mrs. Davis has the freedom to do what she did; it truly seems as though she is in the right. See here and here). Are there situations that appear to contradict our faith, but are actually pardonable by God because God is looking at our hearts? This is a delicate balance for three reasons:

  1. It’s Scripturally Rare. I cannot think of many places in Scripture where God’s people are in this situation. More often we are called to carry our cross and lay our lives down for Christ. If we are unwilling to acknowledge Christ before men, He will not acknowledge us before the Father (Matthew 10.32-33).
  2. It’s a question of representation. Who am I representing by civil obedience or disobedience? There are clear, definite situations where the believer must say, “my participation in that would signify my personal approval, and God is not pleased with that. Therefore, I will not…” But there are a few places where we might say, “although I and my God do not approve of the situation, I will fulfill this civil duty. I am not defying God, but the State is, and they will answer for the laws they have passed.
  3. It has limits. In the grand scheme of things, aiding your ailing king in the worship of his (false) god is a small matter. Elisha would not have said, “go in peace” if Naaman’s request was to be allowed to kill others without cause or destroy the temple of God. I am still working through this, but I think there are places where God’s people can “go in peace”. Perhaps this will remain a case by case discussion of Biblical ethics as time goes on.

Finally, consider this: most Conservative Evangelicals have held this belief without realizing it for years by supporting Just War. We claim that murder is against God’s Commands, but when Christian soldiers are called to kill for America, we call that justified. Why? Because those soldiers aren’t killing maliciously (we hope), but on behalf of their country. This passage would defend them. It also would defend someone who signs marriage licenses for divorcees and homosexuals at the town office. It is your country, not yourself, and not your God, that you are representing. And God knows who to judge when the time comes.

Jesus talked about the crane

I know it wasn’t you. But it was someone you know. Someone in the maddening crowd of social media-ites posted something about God’s judgment when the crane toppled over on Saturday killing over 100 people in Mecca and injuring many, many more. I know, because that is the first time I read about it. Someone (I don’t recall who) compared it with 9/11 and said it was God’s judgment for Islam’s actions 14 years ago.

The gospel of Jesus is opposed to this ultra-right-wing-conservatism that blames every bad thing that happens in the world on someone’s sin (cf. Pat Robertson after the Haiti quake).

What Jesus said about it 2000 years ago

Luke 13.1-5 (emphasis mine)

There were some present at that very time who asked (Jesus) about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.

To be sure. There are plenty of examples in Scripture where direct, physical punishment occurs for sin (2 Kings 5.20-27; Acts 5.1-11; Acts 12.20-25). But the first inclination of Christ’s heart is compassion for those who suffer from seemingly meaningless pain. And through this, He ultimately desires that every Muslim, Jew, and Atheist (and everyone in between) come to repentance and follow Him as Lord and Savior.

They are no worse sinners than we, and daily deserve our prayers and compassion.

“… Christ came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.” — 1 Timothy 1.15-16

That which will never fade

Recently I read an article in our  local paper about technology’s ability to maintain information. The general thrust of the article was that despite our best efforts and misplaced hopes, not everything that we put on line via social media and the like will be attainable later on. The author proceeded to discuss the importance of keeping hard copies of things that we actually want to keep around (favorite photographs, and such). Oddly enough, in attempting to read the article on line later that week, I couldn’t find it on the newspaper’s website!

All will fade

It has been said that anything you put on line will be accessible for a long time (even if it has been “deleted”), but there is still great validity to this article. Some things that we think are so important (or conversely, so terrible) turn out to be small bumps in the road a few years down the line. Furthermore, think of every thing and every one that we deem to be “important” in this world. How long will their importance last? Your family trip to Disney Land might be remembered for a generation and then fade. Important world events will be written down in history books and be remembered for generations (until revisionists change the books), but even the truth of what exactly happened will be obscured over time.

A popular speaker will be remembered for anywhere from ten to 75 years (unless they were really well known and influential, then their speeches will have been recorded for other generations to hear); well known authors will have a deeper, wider, and longer impact being remembered for a number of generations (again, more if they had a huge impact); and important world leaders and politicians will go down in history! This will be the case, at least, until they fade into antiquity where it is difficult to separate fact from fiction.

My point? They all fade. They all will dissipate. You have to be really, really important to be remembered for longer than the average person– but even then, you won’t be remembered (correctly) forever.

The Promise

We have a great promise from God regarding that which will never fade away:

…you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for:
“All flesh is like grass
and all its glory like the flower of grass.
The grass withers, and the flower falls,
but the word of the Lord remains forever.”
And this word is the good news that was preached to you. (1 Peter 1.23-25)

Not only will God’s Word (and thus His promises) never fade away, but we will be upheld in Christ forever– we who are in Christ have been born again of an imperishable seed! This should give us hope in every aspect of life. When your physical and spiritual pain is more than what you can bear, when your friends desert you, when you feel as though it is pointless to stand for God’s Word, when your relationships are nearing their end, you can stand on this truth that only one hope that outlasts everyone and everything: that the Word of God remains forever and those in Christ will overcome the world because of that true Word. Everything else will fade and cease to matter in light of Christ’s great promise here.

Choose whom you will serve

“Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
(Joshua 24.14-15)

If you believe what you like in the gospels, and reject what you don’t like, it is not the gospel you believe, but yourself.
(St. Augustine)

Believe it or not there is a correlation here. For Israel, it was easy and comfortable to revert to the gods of Egypt or Canaan. For us, it is easy and comfortable to simply reject difficult truths about God’s Word in favor of being liked by others– even others who claim to be in Christ. If I believe in the “happy things” about Christ and His Word and disbelieve the uncomfortable things, then I am the god that I worship.

Is it possible to serve two gods?

No. It isn’t. And Jesus agrees: “Either you will hate the one and love the other or serve the one and despise the other” (Matt. 6.24, speaking of money, but the principal remains).
Just as Israel, who had been brought out of slavery in Egypt needed to choose to serve the God who saved them, so now those who claim to have been brought out of slavery to sin have that daily decision to make.

Who is our God?

The God of the Bible is the one who knows what is right and wrong; He knows His own Word; He knows His own people; His knows the way to salvation. If we claim the God of the Bible as our God we have to listen to His truth, not our own.

It has become so simple to say, “I know God says, but…”, or, “What God actually means is…”, or, “Did God actually say…?” Search yourself. If those phrases escape your lips, why? What truth about God are you trying to avoid? Is this out of fear of being rejected by others? Are you unwilling to say and believe in the tough things that God calls us to say and believe about Him? Are you using carefully crafted arguments supposedly based in scripture to avoid the truth that Scripture puts forward?

Tomorrow, if you are part of a Church, you will no doubt hear the Bible taught. If you are part of a good Church, you will hear it preached with the authority of the Holy Spirit with the aim of worshipful repentance to God. Ask yourself as you sit listening to the sermon– do I accept this as God’s truth? Would I rather make God who I want Him to be? Is this uncomfortable for me to believe?

Tomorrow, don’t believe in yourself. Believe in God. His Word is truth. Choose whom you will serve and if you have chosen Yahweh, the God of the Bible, let His interpretation reign in you.

My own Church

Ever since I graduated from New England Bible College, I have been asked a few variations of the question, “When are you going to get your own Church?” Even one non-believer echoed that saying, “If you ever get your own Church, that’s the one I’ll go to.”

I cannot help but be baffled at statements such as these. My own Church? What does that even mean?

Whose Church is it Anyway?

There are some inherent issues if the local Church “belongs” to anyone. And although no-one would outright say, “I own this place” many of us fall into the trap of believing that because we have vested interest in the property of the Church, it is in some sense ours. If I paid for half of the construction process, if I have been given an office space, if I’m allowed to store anything within the walls of the building, this place all of a sudden belongs to me. Likewise, the thought behind what people have been asking is, “When you are the pastor of the Church- you’re the boss, you’re in control, the buck stops with you.”

Now, the Pastor and Elders of any Church must have a degree of ownership: they are to shepherd the flock that is among them (1 Peter 5.1-2) and they will give an account for their faithfulness just like everyone else. However, everyone in the Church needs this mindset: “I have vested interest in this place because I have chosen to put energy and resources into it and the family that gathers here, but I am not the final authority of the Church–this Church is not mine.

But it is mine

As true as that is, we also need to come to terms with the idea that the Church we gather with is ours. I already have a Church of my own. It is a beautiful congregation (not merely a building we meet in) that I get to pour my life into (and that gets to pour into me!) and it, like every other congregation, is a work in progress.

This may seem to contradict what I said above, but if we understand our place in the body of Christ then we know that we do not own the people, building, resources, etc, but we (as a body) have stewardship over what we have been given and we are charged by Christ to “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Gal. 6.2). This means loving the people here and guarding them from the attacks of the evil one- regardless of whether I am the lead pastor, youth director, or fellow minister of the gospel (that is, member of the Church).

Ultimately, she’s is Christ’s

The key to more fully understanding my place in the Body of Christ is remembering that this Church is simply a small part of the Bride of Christ. So before this church is mine or anyone else’s, she is Christ’s. Christ laid down His life for her and will one day bring her home to be with Him.

This should motivate my belief, and thus action, in the areas mentioned above. If the Church–if my church– belongs to Jesus the Christ, then I must “have this mind… which is mine in Christ” (Phil. 2.5). This will motivate me to put my church before myself in all things and desire her holiness above all things.

Is this your attitude in regards to your church? Do you have a church that you can have this relationship with?