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!
We’ve all said something like this: “They are their own worst enemy.”
What motivates us to make this kind of observation? Usually it’s due to individuals who seem to be captive of their own weaknesses which they either cannot see or cannot overcome.
Yet even while we may shake our heads as we walk away from someone who should have known when to stop talking, we must always keep this in mind: we are no different than they are. There are times in everyone’s life when we are simply unable to determine where we are or what we’re doing.
No matter how aware we believe ourselves to be, no matter how we may even pride ourselves on our ability to understand the consequences of our actions, time and again we demonstrate our inability to often see what is proverbially directly in front of us. It is almost as if our brains seem to work against our efforts to interpret our circumstances.
Here’s the scenario: your wife has sent you upstairs to get a particular cleaner out of the closet (usually due to the fact you had the audacity to appear to be “un-busy” while she is busily “doing something”). You are familiar with this cleaner; you know what colors the bottle has on it, you even are familiar with the size and shape of the bottle, so off you go to check another victory off your list!
Unfortunately, the cleaner isn’t in the closet. You looked. It wasn’t there. So, you inform your wife that it isn’t in the closet (usually by increasing the volume of your voice so it will reach your wife who is still downstairs). After mere moments have passed, your wife comes to you. Of course, you are prepared for your vindication. You are confident of your situational assessment. You are prepared to receive your prize (trust me, this is a guy thing).
Reality, in these moments, becomes simultaneously displeasing and disappointing. Your wife reaches into the closet and turns to you and places the cleaner into your disbelieving hands. She then goes back downstairs while muttering an esteem-destroying narrative which further weakens one’s grip on one’s man-card….
So, you are standing there with the bottle of cleaner, attempting to process the reality of your ignominy, and you cannot fathom how you could be so wrong! And judging by the continued muttering of your wife downstairs, neither can she.
If your inability to have seen the cleaning bottle was a physical issue, this would have been referred to as a scotoma, a physical blind spot in one’s vision which makes one unable to see anything in the center of one’s vision. Yet very few people have a true diagnosed scotoma; while everyone has a blind-spot in their field of vision, few have the debilitative sort.
The reason our “man” example could not see the cleaner was a kind of scotoma, a mental one. I’ve done this very thing. The reason we do not see the very object for which we are searching is our minds have given us an image for which we were looking! If what our “eyes” see does not match our mental image, our brain immediately dismisses what is before us.
We are seeking. We desire to find a particular object. Yet because of what we are thinking our brain says it isn’t there!
It happened. We’re in the water but we don’t know it.
We have become our own worst enemy.
For the believer in Jesus Christ, this should cause us great chagrin and even alarm. If our minds so readily dismiss the reality in which we live simply because we have the wrong image of reality, how can we know we know? How can we avoid being our own worst enemy?
In Romans 8:26, the Apostle Paul informs us through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, “For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (ESV).
Because God created us and because He knows us completely, He has placed His Spirit within everyone who has a relationship with Him through the Son Christ. One of the most overlooked benefits of the presence of the Spirit in the life of a believer is the Spirit, who is God, knows what we need—and what we should know—better than we do.
Perhaps we should remember the words of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character in the 1990 movie Total Recall: “How do we know this isn’t a dream?”
There is great power and strength in our relationship with Christ! No, this doesn’t mean we must all live in fear of spoiling our relationship with Him because of what we could do. A few verses after the above reference, Paul adds that nothing in the list he gives “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39 ESV).
So the next time you are looking for something you know you should be able to find, remember the gift God has given us so we can always find Him, we can always know His will and we will never be able to make any decision which will separate us from the love He has given to us in Christ through His sacrifice.
We will have defeated the enemy within us: ourselves.
I have lost track of how often I have stated to people: Rule #1, God is sovereign; Rule #2, don’t forget Rule #1!
I believe the God I serve often allows humanity the opportunity to catch a brief sliver of insight into His mind and perhaps—to an incredibly infinitesimally small degree—also gain some understanding regarding His love and relationship with people.
Because I am a pastor, I have many friends who are in the funeral home business. While it is a business, what they offer is service through a compassionate and loving relationship which will end up impacting every member of your family in one way or another.
Almost without exception, a good funeral home is built around a family who view the services they offer as both a calling and a responsibility they have to the community in which they live. For the vast majority of the population, the whole idea of caring for the dead and preparing bodies for burial is just, well, creepy.
Yet this is where I as a pastor, sees how God wonderfully gifts different people with distinct gifts and abilities which meet the needs of everyone. Those who are in law enforcement, those who serve fire departments, doctors, lawyers, plumbers—these individuals are working in an area in which they have been given a unique set of skills and abilities, which enable them to meet the needs of society.
The men and women who serve in these funeral homes live, work and many times they may even know the people who have died. They provide services for people they have just met, for friends, for neighbors and sometimes even for their own families. Again, I believe it is a calling from God which enables them to serve their communities so faithfully. Yet they also earn their living doing what they do.
The fact that their “services” are also a business often causes stress and difficulties to arise. Those in this business that I have been granted the gift of a relationship find it extremely unpleasant in having to become “insistent” regarding their fee and their ability to be paid.
Because of the nature of the relationship they have with their clientele, and the fact their services are always needed in emotionally sensitive circumstances, there is always extra stress and effort when they must be much more straight-forward regarding the payment for their services.
I have watched the verbal hurdles they face as they attempt to find a way to express the need and necessity for payment while at the same time being sensitive to the raw emotional state these families are experiencing.
While they have a moral responsibility to make sure they receive payment for the services they have rendered (this is true of all businesses—the employees expect those who own their business operate ethically, with integrity and do not do anything which would endanger their livelihood), they also desire to be sensitive to the needs of their clients. Yet as many of us know and understand, there are some people with whom we must become very terse regarding these things.
As I have observed these service providers endure these difficulties, when they finally secure payment, there is never a sense of “having won.” They are never jubilant over avoiding the financial difficulty of providing a service in which they will have to take a financial loss.
Quite the contrary; they are almost bewildered by the necessity of the confrontation. Given the choice, they would have preferred to avoid all confrontation regarding the matter. This kind of encounter seems to take the joy out of their calling to serve. It makes them uncomfortable because they actually know this is part-and-parcel to business, but it is an unpleasant necessity which they make every attempt to avoid.
The Lord God is the great Undertaker. While there are some who desire to teach that everyone will go to Heaven—or no one will—the Bible is very clear: “It is appointed for people to die once—and after this judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). For those of us who have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, the Bible also says, “The death of His faithful ones is valuable in the LORD’S sight” (Psalm 116:15).
Yet for those who are separate from the Lord, He says, “’For I take no pleasure in anyone’s death.’ This is a declaration of the Lord GOD. ‘So repent and live’” (Ezekiel 18:32). God does not wish anyone to die apart from Him, this is why Jesus told Nicodemus, “For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
God must be true to Himself. He is both holy and just. If God looked at humanity, and chose instead to pat people on their proverbial heads and say in a grandfatherly way, “Oh that’s okay, if you don’t want to pay the price for rebellion, I’ll let it pass!”
One of the main reasons my friends who run funeral homes cannot allow people to simply “not pay” is because they have responsibilities to others; their families, their employees and even to their communities. If they do not follow good business practices, who would then be able to serve their communities in these instances?
If God did not maintain His holiness, His just nature, what would this then mean regarding the sacrifice of His Son? The death of God for mankind demands that the value of the gift—in this case, the gift of salvation—be upheld and be protected.
If God chose not to punish man’s rebellion, the gift of Christ’s death on the Cross would be rendered worthless. No longer would it be the greatest act of love mankind has ever seen. It would be nothing more than another senseless death at the hands of a cruel people.
If God had did not occasionally give humanity some insight into His nature, how would we then understand the necessity of collecting debts? How would we be able to understand grace and mercy?
If no debt were ever collected, would anything have any worth?
Robert Frost is the quintessential American poet. Because of Frost’s work, and the masterful way in which he found words to bring to life rural America, there is no shortage of commentary regarding his poetry. I believe I was in Junior High (about seventh or eighth grade) when I first read Frost’s poem, Good Bye and Keep Cold.
Good Bye, Keep Cold seems to have as many meanings as there are commentators. In the poem, Frost is telling an orchard which was planted “on a northerly slope” near a farm house good-bye for the winter season. Frost laments as his imagination considers all the possible injuries which could occur to the orchard while he is away.
The hill which obscures the view of those in the house, could possibly allow the buds on the trees and the tender limbs to be eaten by rabbit, mouse, deer and grouse. He wishes the orchard would call out for his help when he writes, “If certain it wouldn’t be idle to call I’d summon the grouse, rabbit and deer to the wall and warn them away with a stick for a gun.” Frost’s desire to protect his orchard is evident in his desire to see its protection from the coming hungry wildlife.
Frost ends his poem by giving anthropological voice to his beloved orchard when he says, “I wish I could promise to lie in the night and think of an orchards arboreal plight when slowly (and nobody comes with a light) its heart sinks lower in the sod.” In this, Frost is exhibiting a fatherly empathy for the feelings he envisions his orchard may have in the dark of winter’s night. Yet in the equivalent of an audible sigh, Frost pens, “But something has to be left to God.”
As a pastor, I cannot find anything which would allow me to assume Robert Frost knew God intimately and personally; yet I cannot ascertain that he did not. Yet Frost’s life is filled with a gentility and sensitivity which allowed him to exhibit great empathy. In the case of Good Bye Keep Cold, Frost could expand this rapport to even nature itself.
Yet the crux of this poem, its main warning, to an unsuspecting and vulnerable orchard facing wildlife and oncoming winter, is this: “No orchard’s the worse for the wintriest storm; but one thing about it, it mustn’t get warm.” The very thing most would associate with vitality and growth and all that makes springtime and harvest possible, our poet warns against. But why?
The greatest danger to an orchard is an early spring followed by a late freeze. The buds, dormant on the limb, are waiting, indeed anticipating the coming warmth of spring. For temperature to advance too quickly could end up killing the potential of the harvest and perhaps even kill the trees themselves. This is why Frost advises, “How often already you’ve had to be told, keep cold, young orchard. Good bye, keep cold. Dread fifty above more than fifty below.”
While some paint Frost’s work with a brush depicting the sadness of his words as a reaction to the bleakness of the world around him, this is not what I see. Frost understood that while in its dormant state, no sub-zero temperature could cause any damage to his orchard; it was asleep and safe until it was awoken. Yet he was not providing mere “arboreal” insight in this poem; there is also great truth regarding the human condition.
Our society seems to desire great acceleration in many areas while at the same time it consistently retards and hinders natural growth in others. Nowhere is this more clearly seen than in the Western proclivity to stimulate sexual and physical maturation of its children while simultaneously discouraging mental maturity.
While many reject God as Creator and designer of humanity, I embrace this as an absolute truth. Humanity is separate from all other creation due to the fact we are created imago dei, in the very image of God. God, in His wisdom, chose a timeline for humanity to follow spiritually, physically and mentally. Humanity has uniformly rejected its spiritual heritage, but it cannot seem to overcome the physical changes which are inevitable in healthy people.
Parents today, while protecting their children from maturing and even discouraging responsibility, seem to quicken the physical appearance of their children—especially girls—through either proactive choice or willingly being held captive to the latest cultural style. Now for those without a meaningful relationship with Jesus Christ, this is to be expected.
Yet for those who profess to have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, this is nothing less than willful rebellion and the offering up of their children (permanent, enduring people with souls) on the altar of the immediate and passé.
This brings us back to Frost’s Good Bye Keep Cold. Humans are beings with appetites. These appetites are God-given and for them to work appropriately, they must be exercised according to God’s principles. For children especially, to awaken the appetites God has reserved for those who are mature in body and spirit is the equivalent to exposing them to the dangers of which Frost warned; the “fifty above” rather than keeping them in the proverbial “winter of their content” and prematurely exposing them to discontent.
The writer of Ecclesiastes informs humanity, “There is an occasion for everything, and a time for every activity under heaven….and a wise heart knows the right time and procedure” (3:1; 8:5). The rights and autonomy of humanity has not been infringed on by taking away our rights and freedom to choose. The problem with humanity is we have lost both the discipline and patience to wait for the right time.
And the wisdom to keep cold.
As I mature (I opted for this rather than “grow older”), I am discovering very few decisions I make must be made at a specific moment. When we can conclude we are not really “hostages of the moment,” we grant ourselves the opportunity to place our impending decision in its true context. We can look around at what else is occurring in our life, we can talk to trusted friends, and we have the ability as believers in Jesus Christ to spend some time actually praying about our situation.
Fighter pilots are some of the most talented multi-taskers in the world. They are flying a multi-million-dollar machine, capable of doling out unimaginable destruction on whatever target they choose. Today, pilots have access to a mind-boggling amount of data presented to them through screens, auditory signals, and HUD’s. All the while, they can be hurtling through the air at speeds far exceeding the sound barrier.
One of the most dangerous problems a fighter pilot of today’s modern aircraft can face is something called target fixation. Target fixation occurs when the pilot becomes fixated on an approaching target—whether another airplane or a ground target—and their concentration causes them to lose the ability to comprehend where they are in time and space.
When this occurs, the pilot doesn’t realize how quickly they are closing on their target. They have forgotten to pay attention to where they are, and more importantly, how close they are getting to their target! Because of this fixation, the distance between them and their target goes unnoticed and ultimately they can fly into the very target they are trying to destroy—a bad day all around!
Few of us are pilots; so, it is unlikely we would ever be subjected to the circumstances producing this kind of target fixation. Yet all of us are guilty of being far too close to our problems and losing any sense of importance and context.
Up close, all problems look huge because we cannot have any sense of perspective. How can we, since all we can see is the problem? A crisis this large demands an immediate response! This person at work could ruin our career! My wife doesn’t understand how necessary this motorcycle is to how I define myself! The salesman will sell it to someone else if I don’t buy it now!
The writer of Hebrews 12:2 in the New Testament of the Bible writes this: “Keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that lay before Him endured a cross and despised the shame and has sat down at the right hand of God’s throne.”
Many people would understand and even acknowledge that Jesus Christ is our example in how to live our lives. These same people would, however, never believe their situation deserves to be included under the example of the life Jesus lived. Yet in this verse, there are two very important points.
First, the writer opens with a command to those who have a relationship with Jesus: we are to keep our eyes on Him! Why? Because He is the source of our faith (Acts 4:12: “There is salvation in no one else”) and His life completed or finished a life of perfection and obedience to the Father (“perfecter of our faith”).
Second, what motivated Jesus Christ to be able to be our example? Because Jesus saw the problem which was before Him on the cross but He also could see the “joy that lay before Him” because He looked past the suffering of the cross (unimaginably horrible yet brief in comparison to eternity) to the eternal glory of being at the Father’s right hand on His throne!
The next time a decision “just has to be made this moment,” let us remind ourselves to keep our eyes on Jesus! None of us are facing a cross or even death. Yet if we make the choice to discipline ourselves to keep our eyes focused on Jesus Christ, we will never again fixate and obsess on a problem and crash into it!
No problem is ever longer than eternity; our bigger than Jesus Christ!
Almost everyone has experienced this at one time or another!
You know that “inside voice” and “outside voice” most of us struggle with at times (ok, sure, I struggle with this, but I’m applying this broadly—work with me!)? I remember a meeting I was in a few years ago and there was a spirited discussion on a topic I am reasonably passionate about. One of the other “participants” made a statement which I considered logically weak and immature (I was among my peers; I wasn’t berating a six-year-old!), I said in a sotto voce “Someone needs to put on their big boy pants.”
Because of the academic nature of this setting, the individual complained to the professor about my “uncalled for” comment.
The professor told him the same thing!
This is also the current state of the American Evangelical reaction to the 2016 Election season. For far too long—well, at least since the 1980 Election—American Evangelicals have rested in the fact they can choose to impact the American electoral process by merely exercising their collective wills. We (I am an evangelical Christian) have come to assume it is our right and privilege to have a candidate, and even a political party, which will minimally parrot our values back to us on demand.
Unfortunately, we have allowed ourselves to develop a sense of appreciation and even entitlement to being lied to in the process. We have become so infatuated with who we are and what we think “should be,” we are shocked, demeaned, offended, dismayed, taken aback, demoralized (do I really need to continue here?) that the two front running candidates are acting like people who do not represent who we are and our values!
No need to fear my fellow American Evangelical! Trust me, they do not represent our values!
As believers in Jesus Christ, we need to remember the Bible teaches quite clearly things will become much worse before Jesus Christ returns to this earth. We do not, and never have, lived in a Christian nation. God, through His grace and mercy, has rewarded in the past the faithfulness of His people in the United States by granting them a peaceful and friendly society in which to exercise their beliefs. Yet because God loves us and will never enable us to either harm ourselves or others, He is withdrawing this protection so that the Church in America will grow stronger and even “grow up.”
The first century Church during the days of the Apostles never under any delusion that their government loved them, represented their beliefs and values and always sought to insure their freedom to worship. Christians in the early church were hunted like proverbial wild dogs and persecution was rampant and indeed expected.
Yet the Church grew. It flourished in the face of hatred and intolerance. If American believers would force themselves off their religious couch, this almost herculean mental effort would allow them to see God is doing a similar work of His greatness in China, North Korea and many of the predominantly Muslim nations today. Not because God has provided “a peaceful environment,” but because believers in other parts of our world today actually must live their faith and know what they believe.
In 2016, American believers must come to the realization they have made a political party their idol. No political party can ever take the place of the Spirit of God or the sovereign power only found in a relationship with Jesus Christ!
It’s time American Christianity puts on their “big boy” pants……!
We live in interesting times.
Christians in the United States are becoming somewhat frustrated at the erosion of their religious liberties. Unlike believers in other parts of this world, there has developed within the United States an attitude of entitlement based on legislated freedoms found in the founding documents of the United States.
It seems the very blessings for which we as believers in Jesus Christ enjoy have made us complacent. I find it interesting the number of parallels between our situation in 21st century America and the Israelites under the Law in the Old Testament.
Yahweh-God gave the Ten Commandments (more accurately, the ten words) to the Israelites not as a means for them to perfect themselves, but rather as a stark reminder they were imperfect and could never approach the perfection God demanded. Apart from their relationship with Yahweh-God—demonstrated through the shedding of sacrificial blood through sacrifice (which only covered but did not remove sin)—the Israelites should have realized their innate imperfection and sinfulness the more they attempted to keep the Law!
Unfortunately, this never occurred. The aphorism, “Possession is nine-tenths of the law,” seems to have come into play in their minds. They had the Law. They were a people chosen by God through Abraham. They measured themselves by a comparison to others who may or may not have the Law. Those without the Law (and a relationship by blood to Abraham) were “dogs” and Gentiles. Those “under” the Law were subjected to a hierarchy of means measuring those who did have Abraham: “I keep seven commands and you keep only four therefore I’m better than you.”
The gift of the Law by Yahweh-God—allowing the Israelites to see their need of God’s grace and their inability to keep the Law—should have caused both humility and a greater dependence on God’s grace. Instead, their response was not an acknowledgement of their need of God; their response was to elevate the importance of the keeping of the “rules” of the Law. They forgot the biblical principle James enunciated in James 2:10: “Whoever keeps the entire Law, yet fails in one point, is guilty of breaking it all.”
Now keep in mind, this was no easy task. Every aspect of their worship spoke of the holiness and majesty of the Lord. From the delineation of the sacrificial system, to the preparation of the sacrifices to the clothing and methodology necessary for the priest to enter into the Holy of Holies—the presence of God—all of their worship emphasized the person of God, His majesty and His holiness!
Yet they ignored it all and focused on themselves, their performance and how they could create a hierarchy in their society and relationships.
Here is the parallel I mentioned earlier: American Christianity has over the course of the years of freedom has forgotten the difference between freedom and grace, between the person of God and the mechanism He provides for blessing.
Yahweh-God in His wisdom has allowed Christianity in America to flourish for almost two full centuries virtually unopposed. God did this by providing founders of this country who were both believers in Jesus Christ and who were deeply influenced by a Judeo-Christian philosophy.
Our Founders even produced something called a “Bill of Rights,” which is a singular example of a clear enunciation of not merely human rights, but the source of those rights. While over the course of the first 200 years there have certainly been times when a complete lack of wisdom has been demonstrated by those we would refer to as “Evangelical Christians,” the United States has been an incredibly effective and fruitful source for worldwide missionary activity.
Yet even acknowledging all of the good American believers have accomplished, now we are seeing a huge swing of the pendulum away from the biblical moorings which traditionally anchored this country to what is nothing more than an emphasis on erotic liberty (which is driving almost all of the changes now).
We in the United States are now seeing the beginnings of the erosion of religious liberty. Should we use all legislative means at our disposal to fight these losses? Yes we should because God has given us all of these; the freedoms, the means and the methods for us to protect laws and to even pass new ones.
Sometimes we as believers act as if we think God is in Heaven looking down and thinking, “Wow, I didn’t see that one coming!” God is sovereign and He is the One who gave us a country rules through the democratic process.
When Jesus Christ was on this earth He stated often, “You have heard,” referring to what the Law stated and then He went on to radically apply the Law in a way emphasizing our relationship with God through Him! There was no “keeping the rules,” people would no more be able to measure themselves against others. Jesus wanted people to see our thoughts and motives is what drive our actions!
I am thankful for the rights we as believers in Jesus Christ have been granted through the Constitution of the United States. Yet I do not worship the Constitution. Through God’s grace and His choice of me, I worship the God who gave us this document and allowed it to exist for this time. There will come a time when God will no longer need this document to aid the furtherance of His kingdom. When that occurs, the Constitution, and perhaps even America, might well be gone.
Yet just as God was active in the first century Church, He will continue to be active in the lives of believers in America—just as He is active in the rest of the World today.
Yet is this what God must allow to happen before we really make Jesus real in this world?
Ok, sure, I’m a pastor……
While some of you make think that’s great, far fewer may think it’s cool and perhaps many of you may think I only work one day a week, I can boil the most visible part of my job (the teaching part) down to a very simple parallel: I’m a mailman.
Now unlike the guy who drops off your mail at your home or business, I read your mail; I read it for my information and I in turn read it to you. I have even gone to school to learn how to read your mail properly and accurately! I have become an expert in reading your mail because the mail of yours which God has sent to you was originally written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek! I guess I am an expert at reading God’s mail addressed to people!
Now since it is the Bible which identifies what sin is (at the behest and will of God) I am bound by my relationship with God through Jesus Christ the Son to deliver His Word (His mail, if you will) truthfully. For me to not tell you what His Word identifies as sin would lack integrity and love. It lacks integrity because I am purposely and willfully hiding the Truth of God from those who want and need to hear what God says. It lacks love because I do not really love you if I won’t tell you what God says.
The Bible says divorce, lying, cheating, murder and overeating (among others) are all sin. It also says homosexuality, abortion and same-sex sexual relationships of all kinds are also sin. All of these actions (and I have not listed them all) are all sin and God views them all equally as rebellion against Him.
Remember, I’m the mailman!
Do I believe these things are sin? Yes I do. I also believe the Bible when it says, “All have sinned and missed God’s intended target of perfection (sinlessness).” Even in the Jewish Old Testament (the first part of the Holy Bible) a prophet many hundreds of years before Jesus stated, “There aren’t any righteous people anywhere; everyone has sinned.” This means every single person is guilty and there isn’t a single human anywhere who isn’t guilty of sin—we are all equally guilty!
This means when I identify a particular act as sin, I must do so knowing there isn’t any sin the Bible identifies which would be beyond my ability to do. I am capable, under the right circumstances and the right temptations to engage in overeating, divorce, homosexuality and lying. True, some things are fairly easy to do while others may take much more motivation, but I am capable of any and all sin.
So this is where I am: I’m a full-blooded human with all of the capabilities and predilection to commit sin. I am also a pastor; I am fulfilling God’s design and plan for me through ministering to people and teaching them about God’s Word and the good news of His Son. My role often means I put on my “Captain Obvious” cape and identify as I teach the Bible what the Bible calls sin.
Yet this is the important part: I must do so without personally judging anyone in the process. If it wasn’t for God’s grace and His power in my life (it’s all God and Jesus!) I could be caught up in the same things the Bible states is sin. If I am who I claim (a pastor and a believer in Jesus Christ) then there should be evidence of my claim. If I live like there is no evidence of who I claim to be, at best I am a liar and at worst I am severely deluded!
Why is any of this important? Because as I live my life, I am to make Jesus real in an unreal world! This world is unfair, unjust, cruel, brutal, out-of-control and often incredibly stressful. Believers (those with a relationship to God the Father through Jesus Christ the Son) must hold their faith and their testimony to others carefully and gently. We must desire to have every part of our lives testify and proclaim who Jesus is in our life.
This also means we must understand even in our obedience to God’s Word and His Son we must allow those who do not believe as we do see the love of God in our life. Will this remove all of the misunderstanding and hatred we may face because of our desire to be obedient?
Unfortunately it will not; just as there will be those who will absolutely hate my identification of what some people are doing as sin even in this blog, I have to remember it really isn’t about me. I am to obey and sometimes in the process of obedience, I will become a target of opportunity by those who dislike what the Bible (and me in this context) says.
Yet they better see God’s love in everything I do. Otherwise, I am in danger of being judged by the same God I claim to be serving!
Is God fair? Should we be?
Most cultures are familiar with the statue of Lady Justice holding the scales by which a judgment is determined. In the Latin, she was referred to as lustitia, the Hellenists called her Themis. While there are depictions of her not wearing a blindfold, many depictions show her wearing a blindfold in order to emphasize her impartiality.
Generally people claim to want “fairness,” yet what they truly desire is “justice.” Fairness is a concept unknown to the ancients and really didn’t begin to come into our modern vernacular until fairly recently in human history.
I really know of no one who wants everything to be “fair”—an imbalanced impartiality which fails to take into account the specifics of each and every event. Fairness, as a concept, is dependent of the subjective nature of the one rendering the decision. There is no consistent measure against which something is measured; regardless of the competency of a person, the circumstances in which an event occurred or the degree of an act, every decision must be equal and every instance and person treated alike.
Yet we are not all alike. We do not discipline a child who throws a toy in the same way we would judge an adult who throws a bomb. Regarding the child, we weigh whether this is a repetitive action, his age, how he was provoked and of course whether any real harm was done. In the case of an adult, we hold them to a much higher degree of condemnation and their judgment is based on whether life and material was lost.
We also consider a person’s educational level, their capabilities and their intellect. Did they truly understand what they were doing? Are they able to comprehend the value of life and the consequences of its loss?
I am also unaware of anyone who desires to only qualify for a “fair” wage. If someone has taken the time to do well in school, achieve the ability to attend a university and incurred the debt of both time and money to do so, they will want to be paid for what they know.
There is an old story about a Nuclear Power Plant that was experiencing a potentially dire problem and they had to call in an “expert” to remedy the situation. On presenting his bill to the plant owner for $1 million dollars, the plant owner asked, “Why am I paying this amount of money?” The expert calmly replied, “The switch I turned on only cost one dollar; the remainder of the bill is payment for me knowing which switch to turn.”
As a pastor, I have met many people who believe God is most certainly not fair. We as a people have no issues with a “good” God who acts like the proverbial “Fairy God Mother” who gently touches our heads with her wand bequeathing gifts of joy on us.
Our problems come from the realization there exists an all-powerful God, who is good (and we understand this from His Word) yet evil and suffering still exist. We have no problems receiving good things, but we are decidedly unhappy receiving what we deem as evil……….and unfair.
Our problem is we simply do not understand either what we want or what we need. In many of the problems we encounter, we don’t really want fairness; what we need is justice.
God is not fair. Your neighbor who won the lottery may not have really “won” anything; in fact, statistically, the vast majority of lottery winners are bankrupt in less than five years! Your neighbor may have, in reality, been given exactly what he wanted to have; unfortunately, many of the things we “want” God gives to us knowing we will reap judgment by our own desire and hand!
No one wants fairness, because I know of no one who wants to be treated like everyone else. When we experience difficulty as believers in Jesus Christ, we do not want God to be fair (especially since everyone deserves to go to an eternal Hell), but we want God to be just—to exercise His judgment righteously according to His person and Word!
Should we then seek to be fair? As a parent, do you treat all of your children the same? The Proverb says, “Train up a child in the way he should go” (ESV). The writer had in mind every child must be taught according to how he was made. I learn especially well through reading and seeing; yet others learn better by doing and others still by hearing.
Being “fair” is too easy. It requires very little thought or effort when rendering a decision. Yet to make a “just” judgment, this means we must understand the person, the problem and what we are using as the rule which guides our judgment. Both the judge and the lawyer must know the law; for a believer in Jesus Christ—if you desire success before the Lord—we must know His Word!
Besides, if God were not “just” in His judgment, we would have never been able to experience His grace!