There is an old Chinese proverb which reads, “If you wish to know about water, do not ask a fish.” The only thing a fish knows is water. For the fish to gain a comparison to the water in which he exists, well, it rarely ends well for the fish.
In many ways, our culture is to us as the water is to the fish. Culture is the medium in which we move and exist in a country, a family or a locale. Because our culture is always with us, it becomes extremely hard to identify what culture sometimes “is” and what it “is not.” If you travel outside the U.S., this grants you a perspective that very few Americans have; if you do not travel, most likely “blissful ignorance” will reign.
Recently, there has been much discussion to change the name of the of the Southern Baptist Convention. The reason? There are those who believe we should change the name of the Convention believe that because the word “Southern” is associated in our culture with the institution of slavery, and because the SBC owes much of its beginning to men who either owned slaves or supported the institution of slavery, we must change our name.
Culture is not automatically equivalent to what the Bible identifies as “worldliness.” Worldliness is all that is opposed to God and the coming of His kingdom. Now culture can certainly qualify as worldliness, but it does not have to be. We speak English in church and read Bibles and sing music that also uses the English language. We are, culturally, an American church, yet we seek to measure ourselves against God’s Word and not our culture.
Now back to the name change for the Convention: Why? Will anything change? The supporters claim it will change how we are perceived. Will our convention be redefined? No, not really. Same churches, same pastors and members, same beliefs but no changes in doctrine or theology. Then why change?
There exist within our churches people who have bought into the perception, ideology and thinking of the cancel culture which is now rampant in our culture. To change our name because the Convention is no longer geographically defined as being predominantly “Southern,” well, that has some legitimate, logical reasoning and purpose. But to change it based on what others may think—and these “others” are already hateful toward all things Christian—is a silly compromise to cultural pressure and its unbiblical societal demands.
In Matthew 11:16-19, Jesus said regarding John the Baptizer, “But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’ For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.”
There are those in our culture will never be satisfied even if we acquiesce to their demands. We can attempt to satisfy their calls for cultural compliance, for no matter what we do, we will never satisfy their demands. We will never reach a point where they will cease to insist that our behavior and beliefs should change. If we seek to comply with their demands, or attempt to avoid their retribution, we will find ourselves the victim of their ever-changing rules and definitions which are continually mutable. To do so will only result in our disobedience.
Those who desire that Christians comply will never be pleased. I’ve read the end of the Bible; there will be more and more persecution of the Church coming and believers cannot escape the consequences of prophecy. Again, believers do not seek consolation and comfort in our circumstances, but in our sovereign Lord.
Our worship is to be lived to only One, to the worship of only One. Jesus Christ stated, “Wisdom is justified by her deeds.” Our deeds, the way we live our faith “out loud” amid our culture, will either justify our use of faith before God or convict us before our culture.
Believers do not live in water; we live in faith. We hope in a future we cannot see and is not yet here. Our proof, the proof we offer our culture and this world, is in our deeds.
October 13, 2019 was the beginning of my lesson in heeling (don’t lose your mind here; there’s method to my perceived malapropism). The day before while hiking at Tallulah Falls Gorge here in Georgia with my wife and a friend, I thought I had food poisoning from a less-than-tasty breakfast sandwich purchased that morning. Because of this, I cut my trek short, told the girls to finish the trail and I hiked back the two-and-a-half miles to the car.
I’ve had food poisoning many times in my life and it has never been enjoyable. I had no idea that a part of my body which I had invested fifty-eight-and-a-half years building a relationship with was at that moment strapping on a proverbial bomb vest and by the next afternoon was going to blow itself up and take me with it!
I have never hurt so badly in all my life! I spent the next five-and-a-half days in the hospital recovering from a “perforated appendix with peritonitis.” It’s been over five weeks since my surgery and I’m still not back to where I was before. Yet here is what I have learned from this particular incident.
There are no accidents or coincidences in God’s kingdom. Those who belong to God, who have a relationship with Him and are being obedient to Him to the best of their ability, will never be a victim. The two basic rules I teach are these: Rule #1: God is Sovereign; Rule #2: Never forget Rule #1!
This does not mean that during the depths of discomfort I did not question God as to “Why?” I had to go through this! I hated every single second of this experience. I cried—and I’m not exaggerating here—I literally cried because of the pain of this. I begged the Lord to just give me a few minutes of relief from the cramping, the pain and the nausea. When I could think more clearly sometime later on the Monday after the surgery, the thought crossed my mind, “Does this have any comparison at all to the sufferings of my Lord?”
I still hurt. I still was in incredible distress, yet there was a silence within my soul that demanded I listen. Did I hear a voice? Nope. Just silence and the words I have studied and taught so many times came back to me, “My grace is sufficient; My strength is made complete in weakness.”
Since those who are justified by God through election and salvation, “Must live by faith,” the closest equivalent to our faith is the air we breathe. We get nutrition through our study and submission to God’s Word. We strengthen our relationship with the Lord through prayer. Yet (and sticking to these metaphors) how do we “touch” the Lord? We touch the Lord through our interaction, fellowship and ministry with other believers; those who possess the Holy Spirit of God.
How often have we heard someone say, “The pain was so intense it dropped me to my knees?” If I had not been lying in a bed for five days, I would have easily expressed the same thing. God in His wisdom, however, allowed me to experience a “perforated appendix with peritonitis” to bring me closer to Him—and it began “on my knees.”
When my wife and I used to have dogs, one of the first “lessons” in training a dog is teaching it “to heel.” When walking a dog—especially if you’re a Type A personality with an elevated level of desire to control—you do not want the dog to run ahead of you (dragging you behind them) or to trail behind you where you feel you must drag the dog after you. You want the dog “to heel.” To walk beside you, to stop when you stop and walk when you walk but doing so alongside you and willingly.
Being on this side of the pain, I can now see some of the reasons God allowed my body to attack itself. It wasn’t because He looked at the “books” and saw I hadn’t experienced pain in a long while (this was my first surgery and first hospital stay as an adult). I believe with all of who I am by God’s grace, that God desired me to learn “heeling” and “to heel” to Him through the process of my healing.
I’m still not at the “100%” I desire to be physically. It’s frustrating when I realize the strength and endurance I have lost—yet I am able to build it all back. The process of healing has very few shortcuts. The Lord reacquainted me with the true nature of prayer; not getting what I want, but through trusting Him (through the use of the faith He has given to me) I have found I want what He wants more than I want what I want.
In this there is great benefit and healing while learning to heel.
Everyone wants to be known. In those places of business we frequent, there is a particular pleasure when the staff or owners know us by name (accompanied by a smile, preferably)!
I have personally experienced this regularly; well, maybe not regularly. When your last name is “Grieme,” the mispronunciations are legion. The fact they remember my name, well this is a more universally appreciated emotion; the fact they can pronounce my name correctly, well, this elevates the experience to a symphony!
I believe this desire “to be known” is one of the reasons for the exponential explosion of social media. Every post, every like, every share and every platform undergirds our desires to be known!
This ecosystem of need manifests itself within an irony of action. The very ones who are seeking their value and worth through these digital environs, comport themselves in a manner which undermines their ability to receive this want in actual reality. We all observe an extremely large (and ever increasing) portion of our society which live their lives, while ambulatory, without the physical connection with another human due to their obsession with a faux, digital world.
Many a young person—and even those not-so-young—come to a devastating conclusion that they cannot maintain long-term employment while being attached to a digital IV dispensing their fix. Few employers will tolerate snippets of attention to projects they assign to said employee with such an all-consuming addiction controlling them.
Simple response: then they should stop. The problem is one of conditioning. These people have spent their whole lives addicted to their devices; they have no experience existing without such a digital presence in their lives. This is what gives them value and worth!
Back to my beginning, everyone desires to be known, and more, to have value! Yet for the believer in Jesus Christ, our value is found in the fact that we are known by God! Jesus Himself refers to us as “His sheep” who “hear His voice” (John 10:27 ESV). Yet this is important: We are not the sheep of God because we hear (a choice on our part) but we hear because we belong to God and are His sheep!
With every enunciation of the good news of the Gospel, there exists the echo of judgment. In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells of how He will respond to those who claim to be His, to belong to Him, but in reality, are not His. In Matthew 7:23 after listening to the attestations of those who claim to be His, He says, “I never knew you; depart from Me.”
In these words of Jesus there exists the epitome of all human fears: to not be known. This exceeds the mere knowing of our name; this is an intimate knowledge which leaves nothing undiscovered.
Herein is our greatest fear. The fear of being unknown.
I wish I could remember where I read a snippet (Twitter?) where the “tweeter” observed the silliness of parents who wonder aloud where these kids today (every generation says this) “Get the ideas and behavior they have?” The author of the post replied, “It came from the parents, not the kids because kids know nothing in and of themselves!”
Those adults who embrace a Pro-Choice (sorry, “Pro Women’s Health Choices”) mindset and stance have, in reality, undermined their own foundation for parenting. Every parent will face that moment when they must reiterate that they love their children and their children are valuable and important to them. Why would this argument be undermined?
It will be difficult, hypocritical and even bordering on lying to try to convince an internet-savvy teen of this when the argument the Pro-Choice movement makes boils down to convenience. Whether or not a baby is brought to term, delivered and allowed to live, is purely based on the whim of the parent.
The culture says the baby is nothing more than a choice. For some, the child may represent an attempt to remove a woman’s freedom, a left-over “collar” representing a patriarchal and backward chauvinism found in those radical church-goers who will not modernize their beliefs. Of course, “modernized beliefs” would always look exactly like what society supports.
Since a child becomes a demonstration of convenience and convenience is the resultant outcome of choice, how can one choice have more value than another? Well, if the choice is to end the life of a baby (by whatever euphemistic term currently in vogue), then yes, that choice has more value. Yet any choice seeking to limit that one has no value.
Here we are: since the early 1970’s the self-esteem of adolescents has experienced an ever-devolving spiral. By what means can we communicate the intrinsic value of a child when our culture screams a child is a choice, is a convenience? As a parent struggles to convince a young girl not to have sex before marriage (oh I’m sorry, “Too early”) or a teenage boy not to try drugs because it devalues them as a person (of course, they know they have no value beyond “mom & dad’s choice”), how will parents surmount the new religion of eroticism and sexual freedom?
In this culture, a child is not a gift (that would mean there exists a Giver), the child is not made in the image of the Creator (we merely evolved) and because no child is imbued with an absolute value, our society has nothing (in and of itself) to counter the eroto-mania, death culture prevalent in our world today.
Rejecting the Truth of God doesn’t mean people have merely rejected church or a biblical morality. Rejecting the Truth of God, which is where we learn of human worth and dignity, means that any reason for the disposal of life must be accepted.
Besides, it’s convenient.
I’ve always considered myself fairly content, of course, I’m not even sure why “content” is even an issue or even what it is. I’m not even sure why “I’m” even an issue.
Some of the others say I have OCD; though, admittedly, no one has ever defined that label and I certainly cannot define it. I guess I am just “me.” This is very convenient since I have no ability to really be anything else but me.
My right hip has been itching again. I told my people about it and they all just snicker and continue eating. Granted, I know I am very good at eating; I prefer clover, but long, deeply green grass is as good as candy—whatever candy is!
So there I was, happily and contentedly eating the grass just outside the area where we all sleep. There was a noise, a rather melodious tone which I recognized but I do not recall ever hearing it before. Others also heard it—I saw their heads raise up—but many resumed eating. The sound came again, yet this time I understood it: Come!
I wasn’t the only one, there were others, yet many ignored the sound. I was drawn to it, it literally resonated through all of who I am. As I began to move toward it, all who recognized it started moving faster and faster; not to be left behind (and that place on my hip was itching again), I started running too!
There was a man, a man who was calling my name! He touched me, stroked me and told me I belonged to Him. I felt so much contentment and love when I heard Him say my name. I knelt at His feet, I laid my head on His lap, and He uncovered the spot on my hip that had been itching for as long as I could remember.
“He is yours,” a voice told the Man, “there is My mark, My brand on him.” The Man looked at me and smiled at me. He said to the Voice, “Can you see the damage done by the wolves and his poor choices?”
“You know I cannot My Son; Your blood has made him as white as snow.”
I loved this Man. I loved His Father and there is something in me which lets me know I will always be His. I now remember all I have read (read?) and recall words from long ago:
“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” (John 10:27-30 ESV)
I now am forever with this One; I cannot leave and I cannot be lost!
What are your hopes tonight? What are those things you most want? Who are the people you miss, those you desire to see, to be in the presence of or perhaps the one you desire to love?
What are your fears tonight? What were they as a child, as a young adult, or what do you think your fears will be in the future?
We all have hopes and fears. I know, you might think this is an odd question on Christmas Eve, but wouldn’t it make sense to face the negative in the midst of an even greater “positive?” This is the most “positive” time of the year! If ever there was a time appropriate to face our fears and to gain more hope, this is it!
The Christmas hymn, O Little Town of Bethlehemwas written by Phillip Brooks in 1867, two years after he had visited the Holy Land and had ridden from Jerusalem to Bethlehem on Christmas Eve 1865 to participate in a five hour service at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem!
The hymn has not merely endured through the years, but it has come to be one of the most favorite of all of the hymns of this season. The words Brooks wrote so vividly describe the city of the Saviors birth.
“O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie! Above thy deep and dreamless sleep, the silent stars go by.” We can even imagine the six-foot-six-inch Brooks descending from the hillsides on horseback into the town with only candles and fires for illumination. The stars slid across the night sky in the matching silence that was evident in the town.
Yet the imagination of Phillip Brooks is all too evident in the first stanza of this beloved song: “Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light; the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”
There it is again, “the hopes and fears.” It isn’t merely the hopes and fears we each have with us tonight, it is the “hopes and fears of all the years.” Brooks understood the majesty of the gift given at the point in time which literally split time in half: the birth of the Savior Jesus Christ.
Jesus, the Living water, the Bread of life and the Light of the world—it is this Jesus, our Messiah who provided the everlasting light within the dark streets of Bethlehem over 2000 years ago.
The Creator of all which exists, the Lord of this Universe came as a baby, was placed in a feeding trough in the midst of livestock. He will never come to this world again in such a helpless and vulnerable state. The angels told the disciples, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up into Heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into Heaven, will come in the same way as you saw Him go into Heaven.”
His mother was carried to Bethlehem on a donkey, but when Jesus the Messiah returns it will be on a white horse and He will destroy those who oppose Him through His Word—have you ever wondered why the Bible refers to itself as the sword of Truth!
Think now of all of our hopes and fears—indeed, think of all of the hopes and fears of all time, from people everywhere! Every single hope is made real in the person of Jesus Christ! Hope isn’t a mere idea, it is a person. We hope, we trust, we know what will happen, not just because this is what we want, but because it is promised in the person of our Lord!
In the face, in the midst of such incredible hope, how can any fear yet remain? What fear can stand in the brightness of an “everlasting Light?” You’re afraid of darkness? He is the Light of this world! You fear fire? He is living water, quenching heat, thirst and dryness of the body and the soul.
Are you afraid of hungering for something you cannot have? He is the bread of life which satisfies every spiritual hunger which often motivates our physical ones. Fear lack and financial ruin? He tells us of mansions He is building in Heaven, how our treasure is there, and no moth or rust can ever destroy it!
We celebrate the greatest valentine ever given on Christmas Day! Because God so loved the world, He sent His one and only Son to give us the ability to live eternally with Him!
Just as the gifts under the tree are no good until they are taken and opened, until they are used, until the change how we live, and then those gifts which make the most difference, we never cease to give thanks to the one who gave them!
Tonight, we come to prepare our hearts for the greatest gift ever given. Unlike the gifts under the tree, this gift will remake all who accept it. It will never grow old, never wear out, and it will always amaze those who have it. Its power split time in half, it changes us from orphans to adopted sons and daughters. And there is nothing we as humans can ever get another which will give us life everlasting like the gift the Father has given to this world.
There are those who find this thought silly, even unsophisticated. Yet in this is a sad truth: Those who have this gift, know; those who do not have it, do not know.
I’m into my third decade as a pastor now. Over the years I have met people—good people who know the Lord—yet they have no problem telling me there is someone they know, someone with whom they have had a relationship in the past and now, because of something they did, they said, or they caused and now they cannot forgive them, ever.
There is a huge difference between what we know and how we feel, our responses to circumstances. What we know is what is reality. Does reality change? It certainly does. Yet the changes to reality are much slower and more deliberate. Interestingly, the root of “reality” is “real.”
So, does this mean that what we “feel” should be automatically discounted and disparaged? Not at all. Feelings are always a response; a response to people, to circumstances and even to thoughts—ours mostly. Unfortunately, feelings are ephemeral, they change, have no solidity (or reality) and how we “feel” often soon changes as soon as the pizza we have eaten is digested.
I am not surprised when those who do not have a relationship with God through Christ do not forgive. People who are lost or pagan have not been “recreated” as Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:17. They are acting according to their created order; they are not less than believers because believers were once just like them.
Yet believers in Christ are to look like Christ and act like Him! Paul makes it very clear that “those whom He [God] foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son” (Romans 8:29, ESV). What God foreknows and predestined is reality; it is what is real.
Of course, those who are more attentive and observant immediately realize there are many people who profess Christ as their Lord and yet they do not either “look” or “act” like Christ. How can this be if the reality is that God has made us to look like Christ?
The same God who made us to look like His Son also gave those He made this way true freedom and will. Those who do not forgive have made the choice to purposely disobey and to not forgive!
Paul in Colossians 3:13 commands, “as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive.” Paul informs the Ephesians in Ephesians 4:32 that forgiveness is a mark, is actually evidence that we are actually saved. “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
In Luke 6:37-38 is perhaps one of the most often misunderstood, misapplied and misquoted verses in all of the New Testament. There Jesus lays out three parallel concepts which make it crystal clear how God applies justice in this world: “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven…For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”
People who are judgmental will themselves face judgment. People who are constantly condemning, will themselves face condemnation. People who forgive will find forgiveness. The way we act and live will be the “measure,” the means by which our lives will be measured and judged by God.
Oh, and try not to oh-so-quickly state, “Hey, this has nothing to do with salvation!” You are correct; it does not. Yet this does apply to our eternal reward as believers! I know some people who tell me how much they love Jesus, how long they have been in church and all they do for people, yet they are often cranky, mean-spirited, angry and demonstrate very little of Jesus in their life. God will make sure they are rewarded accordingly.
There are people who have literally lost brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers and other family because of the actions of an individual. I’ve heard them tell me they “will never forgive that person.” The longer I know the Lord, the more I understand they are destroying their rewards and robbing themselves of blessings in the here and now.
Who do we think we are as believers when we make such statements? God’s One and Only Son paid for our sin, and then the Father because of that payment has forgiven us. Do we actually think we are “bigger” or more important than God? I’ve actually had people say, “God has blessed me the way I am.” Okay, but how much more could he have blessed you if you were obedient to Him?
In my life, Me, Myself and I are the most self-centered, often evil and selfish persons I know; I know them because I am them! As I age, and as I mature in my relationship with Christ, I am more and more amazed that God the Father has forgiven me and especially Jesus Christ has also forgiven me. Especially Jesus; as my Advocate, He knows all of my Issues whereas the Father only sees Jesus!
Praise God! Because I am forgiven, I can now forgive!