A blog about everything about teaching the Bible. "And still I will show you a more excellent way..." (1 Corinthians 12:31).

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

When Love and Justice Collide


How do you handle the situation when you want the exact same thing that several others want and there is not enough to go around? As you're thinking about the question, let me say that I am writing this to a basically Christian audience. Most of you reading are likely Christians, but a few of you may not be. I want you non-Christian friends to read on anyway, and I hope these thoughts will affect you positively. Now, back to the question: How do you handle the situation when you want the exact same thing that several others want and there is not enough to go around? Mature Christians should respond in a way that is in keeping with Bible passages like, "To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?" (1 Cor 6:7 ESV). While we're not discussing lawsuits here, the principle of the passage applies. Rather than having dissention and strife between brethren, mature Christians are willing to do without, to sacrifice; to go that extra mile (Matt 5:41). Think also of the admonition in Philippians 2: "Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others" (vv. 3-4 ESV). Loving self-sacrifice is central and essential to being Jesus' disciples. His self-sacrifice on the cross on our behalf is the focal point of our entire worldview (Heb 12:2). Paul urged us to "present [our] bodies as a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God…" (Rom 12:1). As Christians, we must love others, putting their needs before our own. So, where do you stand in regard to our question? In your imagination, place yourself in such a situation, and decide the righteous course of action based in sacrificial love.

 

Two factors contributed to my thoughts that led to this post. First, not long ago a fellow Christian spoke of just such a situation in a church that is dear to me, and I've been waxing philosophical about it ever since. Second, I've been reading Simply Christian, by N. T. Wright, and while considering his writings about justice, a dilemma in which sacrificial love and justice seem to collide arose in my mind. Christians must be deeply concerned with both love and justice, for the two virtues are among those "weightier matters" (Matt 23:23). However, many encounter trouble with sacrificing their own wants for the sake of others when they realize that it seems unjust to do so on some occasions. Why should the un-sacrificial (i.e. spiritually immature at best; selfish, worldly and evil at worst) always get what they want? Is that just? If the righteous are always willing to step back and let another go first, aren't the unrighteous going to always be first? Think about that for a few moments. Now, consider our question again, and this time, imagine that if you step back and allow someone else to be first that a negative, selfish, sinful person is going to get what you, the spiritually mature saint want. How does that sit with you? Are you tempted to change your imagined course of action? Remember that Proverbs and Ecclesiastes are full of words of wisdom concerning such seemingly unjust situations.

 

Allow me to draw your attention to the light of a few more passages as we attempt to solve this dilemma. Note first 1 Pet 3:18, "For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust…" (NASB). We could lengthen the quote from Peter and take notes about the distinctions between the flesh and the spirit, but space will not allow it here—it would be applicable to this train of thought if we did, though. Think on that yourself when you have time. Here, let's focus on two words in the passage, "just" and "unjust." Was it justice when Jesus was betrayed and murdered for you and me? Of course not! Jesus didn't deserve to die. However, God used it as a means to accomplish a much greater justice—the justification of all those who have faith in Jesus. Note what Paul was led by the Spirit to write in Romans 3, "[For] all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus" (Rom 3:23-26 NASB). So, we see that being willing to suffer injustices in the flesh can lead to greater justice in the Spirit. Think of the awesome plan and power of God in all of this and keep that in mind as we move on to our conclusion.

 

The reason love and justice seem to collide in situations like the one we've imagined is largely due to our temptation to overstep our boundaries and take on work that is rightly God's alone. The word says, "Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, "VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY," says the Lord" (Rom 12:19 NASB). Punishing the wicked is God's sphere of responsibility, not yours or mine. While there are worldly agents of divine justice (as Romans 13 goes on to explain) the church, and thus, the Christian, is not such. The Christian obligation is to model the sacrifice of Jesus in all we think, say and do. Passages like 1 Cor 15:31, Gal 2:20 and a number of others bear this out. Jesus did not fear that a sinner would get something he didn't deserve and so refuse to sacrifice himself. Quite the contrary! He knew that the world is judged already (John 3:17-18) and died, yes and arose so that many might be redeemed from worldly motives to enjoy the favor of God that he made just with his own blood. When you face a scenario like the one we've been imagining, do not refuse to make a loving sacrifice in order to bring what you perceive to be justice upon another. Count that other one as more important than yourself and leave space for the wrath of God if it is warranted—he'll make it eternally right! How much influence does Jesus have on you, because he was willing to sacrifice himself—the just, for you, the unjust? How much has that preeminent act of divine justice AND sacrificial love molded and shaped you into the person you are today—and are growing into being? In truth, because of what God has done, is still doing in his providence, and yet will do, there is no actual adversarial collision between love and justice.

 

Until next time…

 


 

Friday, January 18, 2008

Part or Periphery

Dear readers,

I decided to post a bulletin article I ran in the church bulletin of the church I formerly served back in early '07. I think I'll run it in the upcoming bulletin at Highland Heights (where I now serve). The article is about a deep problem some churches in the "Bible Belt" have faced at times. I hope you will think on it, and, as always, your comments are welcome.

The article follows:

There is no doubt that God wants everyone to become a Christian and be part of a local church. From the first, the Lord added those who were being saved to “their number” or “the church” (Acts 2:47). The apostles planted churches (local assemblies/congregations) in cities all over the ancient world and appointed elders to oversee them (Acts 14:23). God wants every Christian to be a part of a local congregation that meets together regularly for worship and edification (Heb 10:24-25). There are two main ways that some Christians make themselves at odds with God in this matter.

First, some Christians will not plant roots. This problem is especially prevalent in areas where there are several congregations in one area. Some plant shallow roots, even beginning to get involved, but, due to the lack of commitment, uproot at the first sign of trouble and flee to another church. While there are valid reasons to leave a congregation in some cases, fleeing from problems robs one of the joy of overcoming trials and the satisfaction of watching a church improve over time. It also destabilizes congregations, forcing leaders to spend too much time pacifying the members when they could have been more involved with reaching the lost.

Second, some Christians have roots in a local church, but will not get involved. Their place in the congregation is little more than a name and picture in the church directory. The church is not merely “heaven’s holding tank.” God has appointed the ministers in the local church (including elders, evangelists and teachers –Eph 4:11-12) to build up the rest of the body into active ministry. This clearly means that every member of the church is supposed to have some active part in the work of the Lord. Merely having one’s name on the rolls, and showing up dressed nicely for services on Sunday does not measure up to God’s will.

In his famous inaugural address, the late John F. Kennedy said, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” Those are noble words, and could be addressed to the church. In an age when some are forgetting the meaning of commitment for the sake of the proverbial “greener grass,” wise Christians need to focus not on what programs, services, sights and sounds the church can offer them, but what they can offer the Lord in service to the local church. Be certain that you are an active part of your church family and not just part of the periphery by refusing to be an inactive or disloyal member.

---May God bless you all.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Scene 6

Call me sentimental, or call me a dreamer, or whatever, but I think of life as an unfolding drama (that doesn't mean it is always, or even usually dramatic). What I mean is that we are all living out our great trials. Heaven is witness and everything we do and say matters. The Bible says, "So then each of us will give an account of himself to God" -Romans 14:12, and, "We shall all appear before the judgment seat of God" -Romans 14:10. This life is not just meaningless drudgery. A day is not just a day. It is one installment in your contribution to the story of God and his Creation. I don't know about you, but I look at my life as a very grand thing--like a play or an unfolding novel, except it is very real.

You and I are involved in an epic battle between the One God and the forces of evil that press unseen behind visible things in this world against all that is good and holy. Take note of this passage: "For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places" (Ephesians 6:12 ESV).

(2 Corinthians 10:3-6) The fight takes place in this world in which the servants of God fight using the truth--ideas, principles, precepts, sacrifices, service, good works, preaching, teaching, modeling what is right by living out the life of Christ--we do not fight with swords and guns, because the real enemy is not vulnerable to them, and because the object of our war is to save lives, not to take them. By losing our own lives to the cause of Christ, we gain them for eternity (Matthew 16:25).

So, life really is a grand drama or narrative. If you object to thinking of life in such terms, just call it your test, or your war, or whatever fits, but reality remains the same. We are all involved in the great conflict of the ages which will climax at the last day, and our decisions in the midst of this struggle determine our eternal destiny. We are actors, soldiers, workers and each one of us has a very important part to play (so to speak), but there is only one star, and that is the Lord Jesus Christ!

Now that I've said all that, I can move on to the purpose of my writing today, and the significance of the title, "Scene 6." When I think about my life so far I can easily divide it into six stages based on where I was/am spiritually. The first was my childhood--raised in a devoutly Christian family, and brought up in the wonderful LaVergne Church of Christ. It was during this stage of life that I came to know God, and the things I experienced then have been a constant backdrop to my life ever since. The second stage was my adolescence (which I stretch to include up to age 21). I'm sad to say that this was a very sinful stage of life overall, and though I would do it all different if I could do it over again, I am deeply appreciative of the grace of God when I remember things from that period of life, and I learned some tough, but valuable lessons. The third main spiritual period for me was my return to the Lord and growth into ministry. I married my beloved during this period, my two wonderful sons were born in this stage, and I had my first experience in the ministry as Associate Minister at LaVergne. Stage four was brief, but significant. It was my year as Minister with the Erin Church of Christ. What a year that was! I constantly thank God for the people of that church, and cherish the relationships I found there. I became a real preacher in Erin. The fifth main step in my spiritual life was the one that just ended--my nearly five year tenure as Minister with Blackman Church of Christ. I came to Blackman in 2003--a congregation of 40 on a good Sunday. We experienced explosive growth! Over four years we installed elders and deacons and saw our Sunday AM attendance more than double to be regularly in the 90s and sometimes over 100. Attendance at Bible classes and Sunday PM services more than trippled! However, 2007 was a rough year for that work. Internal conflicts ravaged the congregation, and I made the decision to leave it to God's care (yet relationships with dear brethren continue) at the end of the year. Now I have begun "Scene 6." At the first of this year (2008) I began working with the Highland Heights Church of Christ in Smyrna, TN as Minister of Education & Evangelism.



I do not know what blessings and growth, and what trials and challenges this stage of life will bring, but I "know that for those that love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28 ESV). I have faith that this is according to God's plan, and that my work in this stage of life will be fruitful and productive of good things in the cause of Christ. I seek the prayers of all my brethren.

Those who read these posts, I hope you will check out highlandheights.net, which is currently undergoing an entire overhaul, as I will be doing a second "Bible Blog" on the church website starting at the end of next week.

May God bless you all richly in every good way!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Busy Day

I thought I'd get a little less formal and just blog some thoughts today about time.

The alarm went off at 5:30 am (as it always does during the school year) and my wife got up to get ready as I laid there for another half-hour to 45 minutes. During that time I realized my five-year-old was in the bed with me. Anyway, long story short, I got up, made lunches for two boys (the younger is not allowed any wheat products before or at school, so I cut his bologna into the shape of a boy and cut a shirt and shorts for him out of cheese), and made breakfast for everyone (including my neice). As I retreated to the bedroom to get presentably dressed I remembered I had to deliver an order of books to Gospel Advocate (easily a 30+ minute drive one-way in the early morning), that I had an appointment at my sons' school at 9:45 (about an hour away from the GA), that I then had to meet one of my fellow ministers for lunch, and that I have a meeting with a church elder, deacon, and a few committee members later. Sometime in the mix there is the need to do some studious reading, spend considerable time writing (I'm working on a third co-authored book), and, of course, some time in prayer and supper with the family. I also have some evangelistic visits I need to make. Wow!

Now, to be honest, not every day is as busy as this one, but most of them are busy enough! I'm deeply grateful for those days when the morning flows smoothly, I get to come into a day of prayerful, studious, productive solace in the office, and go home to spend a happy evening with my wife and kids before pillowing my head for a solid eight hour's rest. That is definitely the exception and not the rule in this stage of life, but days like this make me appreciate those exceptions when they come.

Not that I'm complaining.

Now, perhaps this little blurt has been positive reading for someone, perhaps not. I'm on to working on my book now.

May God bless us all to have more peaceful days in his service!

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Make A Real Difference

Everyone wants to make a difference. No one wants to think that his or her life has been meaningless, and no one wants to leave this world feeling as if it is neither the better nor worse for our having been here. Some want to leave a physical mark on the world, something tangible that people will see for generations, such as a statue, a work of art, or some type of building or monument memorializing their names. Others wish to be remembered by those with whom they enjoyed relationships, and thus strive to affect others’ lives in a way that they will never forget. Others care not to be personally remembered, but simply wish the satisfaction of knowing that things are better because of their efforts, and that future generations will enjoy a better life because of them. It is sad to know that there are some human lives that are all, but completely forgotten as soon as they end. I hope it will comfort you to know, that for Christians, God has provided a way for you to affect not merely the world, but eternity. Would you like to go to the grave someday knowing that your life has meaning, and that your life really was worth living?

A life that is worth living is a spiritual life! While it may be grand to see a mighty skyscraper bearing one’s name, or a statue memorializing one’s visage that will stand long after one’s death, both, and every kind of earthly memorial will fade and vanish in time, and when time is over, will not matter at all. What wise men and women should focus their lives on is eternity, and thus Christians should focus on leaving their mark in such a way that will not merely affect this life, but that will endure into the next. Every child of God can accomplish this, and thus, every child of God can live a life worth living, and can know at his moment of death that he has left a lasting mark. How, you ask? The answer is very simple. Help one person come to Jesus. Start inviting people to come to church services. Start leaving tracts around town. Start talking about your faith to anyone who will listen. Persist in letting your light shine however you can until you have affected the salvation of at least one soul. When you have, you will know that your life has affected all eternity. Chances are, when you’ve helped to save one, you won’t stop there!