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.
One of those phrases which are said far too often and almost flippantly, are believers, Christians, are “to be in the world but not of the world.” Usually it is a teacher or someone who is attempting to make a point through the use of this phrase, but no real, concrete explanation is ever given which would give meaning to the aphorism.
The listener is somewhat perplexed and unsure how to alter their behavior, so they can then avoid being “of the world.” I’m sure, in many instances, the frustration builds, and no attempt is made to alter their life. Thoughts of finding some kind of camouflage may even immediately be considered to avoid being detected . . . .by anyone!
While this saying usually sounds so much wiser than the wisdom actually imparted, the Apostle Paul, in the letter to the Romans, wrote to them saying, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect”(Romans 12:2 ESV).
The saying, “being in but not of the world,” is not in the Bible, but the principle is. The Apostle Paul, after spending eleven chapters informing the church in Rome of God’s plan, of how God chose people to be His in spite of the fact every single person had rejected Him and had chosen to worship the inferiority of creation rather than Him; He made a decision to choose some of us anyway.
Paul then demonstrated how on our own, no one would be able to come to Him through His Son. He then gave the example of Israel’s rejection of the Messiah—and how God will stillsave a remnant who will accept His Messiah Jesus. Then Paul concludes by telling the Roman Christians they should, as an act of worship, “present [their] bodies as a living sacrifice” which is their natural, spiritual worship response as a saved, redeemed people.
Okay, so far so good. Yet just as the saying of “we’re in the world but not of the world” sounds really cool in concept, how exactly does this occur? Paul doesn’t hesitate, but quickly adds the way, the mechanics which will allow this to occur: through “the renewal of our minds.”
When computers first started to become the ubiquitous necessity they are now, there was an aphorism that was immediately recognizable and understood: “Garbage in, garbage out!” If you enter bad data, you will never—and have no hope of ever—get good data from the computer.
Paul understood this was true of people as well. We are created beings and the One who created us knows how we are made and what is needed for us to function well. While Paul is writing to Christians, this principle is true of all of humanity. If you eat junk food, if you consume violent or risqué media, do not be shocked when the cigarettes you smoke make you wheeze, the donuts keep you from seeing your toes and the media you allow in your mind affects your ability to think clearly and function normally.
One other note: the Greek word translated as conformed gives us the ability to understand this conformity with the world that literally “fashions us together with” the world so we cannot be separated from it. This is the same idea in camouflage. Regardless of who you are, you have made the choice to “blend in” so well, you cannot and will not be distinguishable from your surroundings.
So, let’s return to our confusing little homily: “in the world yet not of the world.” As believers in Jesus Christ, as those who Paul says have been “recreated” by the Spirit, we are literally “no longer of this world.” Just as a diver must wear an air tank, a mask and flippers to propel him through the water and to keep him alive, believers must breath faith, consume God’s Word, and we must depend on the power of the Holy Spirit.
Christians are to be different. “Different” does not mean weird! Different means we exist through our faith, we are sustained by God’s Word and we find our energy, our power through the Holy Spirit. As we use our faith, consume God’s Word and live by the Spirit’s power, we will find our conformity will be to Jesus Christ. Paul even said this clearly that every believer is “to be conformed to the image of His Son.”
We are “in” not “of.” The only way we can exist “in” is for us to “look like” Jesus Christ—literally, for people to “see Jesus,” when they see us.
Now that’s some great camouflage!
A Marriage of Convenience
There are some things I do not believe I will ever understand.
I went into a McDonald’s a while back and there was a sign hanging on the wall: “Braille menus available.”
Who is that sign for?
There were a couple of songs on the radio in the early seventies which have always given me fits. One was MacArthur Park: “someone left the cake out in the rain, I don’t think that I can take it, ‘Cause it took so long to bake it, and I’ll never have that recipe again.”
Seriously? Forget the cake; what about the hash brownies the writer obviously inhaled before writing this jingle?
One of the thornier issues facing Christians in general and myself as a pastor in particular is same-sex marriage. Over the years I have heard some very good men make some incredibly gifted attempts to claim the existence of same-sex marriage undermines the existence and value of heterosexual marriage. One pastor used the image of marriage being a boat and the proponents of same-sex marriage were doing the equivalent of boring holes in the bottom of the boat. In other words, if any other definition of marriage is allowed to occur, the whole of marriage would be destroyed.
I cannot more vigorously disagree.
Heterosexual marriage, in practice, doesn’t exactly have a “moral high ground” in this matter. The divorce rate in America still hovers around the fifty (50) percentile mark; those who identify themselves as Christians are not far removed from this mark. Yet it seems some of the more strident voices against same-sex marriage emanate from those claiming to be Christians—and some of the verbiage they are using gets pretty ugly!
As a pastor, I teach the entire Bible. Some believers have been trotting out the passages in Leviticus which describe the results of “men being with men” (my paraphrase) and “women being with women.” Those words are there and God was serious when He wrote them—He still is. The Bible states homosexuality is sin—along with many other activities as well. I also realize there are many people, some of whom I am friends with—who are homosexual.
If you are reading this and have chosen this lifestyle, then I most likely have hacked you off bad enough for you to throw your computer across the room! I would not recommend that action.
I do not dislike homosexuality any more than I dislike divorce, lying, over-eating, greed or any other sin. In fact, I can state along with the Apostle Paul, “I am what I am by God’s grace.” If there is anything I or anyone would consider good in my life, it’s not because I’m better or smarter, it’s because God is good.
Same-sex marriage is going to be what “is” in our country. Christians are going to have to come to grips with this. It doesn’t change what God’s Word says, it doesn’t change my responsibility to be obedient to God’s Word. We live in a democracy. If the people in this country decide this is okay, then believe it or not, God isn’t shocked one bit.
Allow me to channel my father’s words to me when I was ten years old: “I don’t care what the neighbor kids do—you belong to me!”
Our responsibility as believers is to love people with the love given to us by God and demonstrated by Jesus Christ on the Cross. This “love” is not sex, the “warm fuzzies” nor are we to embrace the definition our culture demands and then has called “good” what the Bible calls “evil.” True love is lived, it is demonstrated through our action and obedience to Jesus Christ in our lives. We do not and cannot demand obedience from those who are “not part of our family.” They may do as they choose. We are called by God to demonstrate truth through obedience.
The normalization of same-sex marriage is an opportunity given by God for us to prove the truth of our God and demonstrate our relationship to Him through our obedience. Christians should strive to have marriages so everyone who sees them would desire a marriage just like them! This is the whole point of living for Christ: demonstrating the love Christ has for this world through our obedient love for Him!
God has placed American Christians in America. He understands democracy and the great freedoms it gives. He also understands the human heart. When people reject His commands and His offer of salvation, believers should not react in hate and anger. People who reject the tenets of Scripture are not rejecting Christians or our sensibilities (so we need to get over ourselves): they are rejecting God.
Of course, the demand by the proponents of same-sex marriage who say I must state their cause is just and right are just as unfortunately wrong. I am not called to approve actions because of social pressure; I am called to be obedient to the Lord. Just as in first century Rome when the Church was in its infancy, Christians were not persecuted because they believed in Jesus Christ or Yahweh-God. Christians were persecuted because they refused political correctness and would not call Caesar “Lord!” Our obedience to Christ will always make us incredibly unpopular.
For far too long Christians have allowed Satan to get them off task by focusing too much on what those who are outside of a relationship with Christ are doing. Should sin be identified? Yes it should. But the identification of “sin” should be motivated by the same love a mother has for the child who gets too close to a hot oven: the warning is clear, it’s strong and its concern is for the safety of the child. It’s because the mother loves her child.
If we speak out against the sin in this world, let us make sure it’s because we love people like Jesus does. Our responsibilities are the same as they have always been: to love others.
This isn’t convenient.
It’s love and obedience.
I am conservative in my politics, my morals, my finances and my theology.
As of November 6, 2012 Barrack Hussein Obama was re-elected to his second term of office as President of the United States.
In reference to my opening sentence, President Obama is my president.
He is my president because I know this is the path God has chosen to allow for this country. Did God do this because Mitt Romney is a member of a cult? Was President Obama re-elected as a means to punish American believers for their lack of trust and commitment to Him? Does the Lord know President Obama is uniquely qualified to avert an upcoming disaster only God can see? Or is it God has prevented us from becoming a nation of bicycle-riding, white-shirt wearing missionaries from Salt Lake?
I mean, really? Seriously.
Evangelicals have perhaps over-invested themselves in the political process. We feel we must mould all of society into our likeness and everyone must believe our beliefs. We far, far too often forget this is not a Christian country; it never was. Oh, there was a time when a Judeo-Christian world-view was not only accepted but practiced, but one should never equate the acceptance of the Judeo-Christian world-view as equal to a relationship with Jesus Christ.
Of course this brings up the question, “What is best for the country? I mean, shouldn’t we be about the process, as Christians, of expanding the kingdom of God (I am speaking to believers here), for seeking to pass God-honouring laws and to ‘fight the good fight’?”
Yes . . . . and no.
I am convinced (not by polls but through the study of God’s Word) we are as professing believers to seek and promote God’s laws and to expand His kingdom; yet we are never called by God to legislate change for the cause of Christ through the ballot box!
This doesn’t mean we do not support those who we find in agreement with biblical principles. As many times will occur, we are often called to decide the lesser of two proverbial evils. My thought about this has always been rather straight-forward: who better to determine which evil is indeed “less” than those who know what is indeed righteous and moral?
We should view our calling as believers in Christ as being about the task of performing political triage. I do not believe Christ is best served through single-issue voters who base their support of candidates on a single issue whatever they may be. This is not a call for either compromise or a call to become political chameleons; it is a call for us to live lives of holiness while making the best decisions possible for a pagan, pluralistic dying world and for it to be the best place possible for the Gospel of Jesus Christ to accomplish its task of changing people!
Christians far too often are afflicted with the hubris of ignorance; we fail to remember the basic tenets taught by Scripture. The Pharisees sought to fulfil every aspect of the Law personally and attempted to convince others they must do the same—all to no avail! Just like the Pharisees of Christ’s day, believers today are too invested in arguments regarding life, policies of sound economics and legislation promoting our moral values. The Law only punished unacceptable behaviour and highlighted the reality no one could follow it perfectly—and we have forgotten the importance of living a life changed by Jesus Christ!
We, as believers in and followers of Jesus Christ, must realize who we are and where we live. First, we are sinners saved by the grace of God. As such, we are commanded to convince others of the truth we believe by living lives changed and empowered by God’s Spirit!
I have pastored some incredibly hateful and bitter people who proudly proclaim they are pro-life. While doing this they make everyone around them to desire their life will quickly end and in the process they further polarize the world around them. If we desire to see our world change, to see laws passed which honor God and His Word, then we should heed Peter’s warning in his New Testament letter: judgment begins in God’s house! God’s blessings are not contingent on everybody being obedient to Him; God states, “If my people, who are called by My name!,” If God’s people would obey, then He would bless and heal the land! The whole country does not have to obey God’s laws, just God’s people do.
Second, Christians in the United States need to get over themselves!” We live in a pagan, pluralistic culture and we, as those who carry the name of Christ, are minimally culpable if not outright responsible for the condition of our nation! All believers are expected to be a “sweet smell” of Christ according to the Apostle Paul. Unfortunately, too many who profess the name of Christ just stink.
Far too many Christians act like their whole salvation—this country’s, its economy and security—is dependent on who we elect! Have we so quickly forgotten the One on whom we believe? If there are those who are convinced God has given us “the government we deserve” in order to bring about punishment, have we chosen to ignore God’s call for us to “turn from our sin” and therefore receive His blessing?
If we desire our country to change, believers must be changed by God. If we desire security, we must draw closer to God in obedience. If we want real change in our government and our leaders, then we better pray passionately for them!
Then if we are indeed faithful in the little, God may choose to bless us with the “much” we desire.