Monday, December 30, 2013

Looking To The Future

Psalm 37:1 (ESV) Fret not yourself because of evildoers; be not envious of wrongdoers!

It can be hard to follow the advice of Psalm 37. We have a decided tendency to worry; and there is plenty to worry about as we enter 2014. It seems that the evildoers have all the advantages. The news media seem to be on the side of evil. The government seems to be on the side of evil.

Perspective helps. The modern situation is not as unique as it seems. In Isaiah's time there were those who called evil 'good' and who called good 'evil' (Isa 5:20). Amos experienced the same thing (Amos 5:7). In the time of Jesus, evil men, like Herod and Pilate, were ruling the country, while good men, like John and Jesus, were abused and executed.

If such a time is upon us again, we will do well to consider our response in light of Psalm 37.

Fretful anger is not the solution, it tends only toward more evil (verse 8). We should rather direct our eyes to the Lord; we should take delight in him (verse 4). Persistence in worship, rather than persistence in argumentation, is more likely to lead to deliverance (cf. Psalm 73: 16-17). It is those who will be quiet before the Lord (verse 7), those who are meek and delight in peace who will triumph (verse 11).

We do not have to right all the wrongs. We cannot win all the battles. We must learn to delight ourselves in the peace of God. We must honor the blameless and await the future with confident expectation.

Psalm 37:37-38 (ESV) Mark the blameless and behold the upright, for there is a future for the man of peace. 38But transgressors shall be altogether destroyed; the future of the wicked shall be cut off.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

What Is Missiology?

I am glad you asked. Many people see missiology as a matter of social science. They think of missiology as applying the tools of anthropology, sociology and a few other ologies to the study of the efforts of missionaries. I understand why they think that way, but I do not agree. Missiologists study all of the ologies mentioned above (as well as theology, communication, and education). But missiology is not first and foremost about our efforts. It is, or ought to be, first and foremost about God.

Missions did not start with Roland Allen nor with William Carey. Missions did not even start with Barnabas and Paul. The first missionary was God himself. He went to the garden in the cool of the day. Why do you think he went? Do you think that he did not know what Adam and Eve had done? Of course he knew. He knew what they had done and he knew that they would hide from him. But he went anyway.

His mission, throughout the pages of the Bible, has been to reconcile fallen humanity to himself. It has been a long mission effort. It has been an extremely costly effort. But he has not given up.

Has he sometimes used means and methods that seem harsh to us? Yes, of course he has. He has also endured a degree of rejection and of suffering that we cannot fathom.

He knew that he would face rejection in the garden but he went. He knew what he would find at Babel, but he went. He knew how Israel would treat him, but he went to Egypt and saved them. He knew that Bethlehem led to Calvary, but he went to Bethlehem.

It is not your mission or my mission. It is not, fundamentally, the church's mission. The mission in which the church, and every member of the church, must be involved is first and foremost God's mission. As Georg Vicedom has said, "...the Bible in its totality ascribes only one intention to God: to save mankind.... Every task of the church makes sense and has a purpose only as it leads to the mission."

Monday, December 23, 2013

Phil Robertson and the Future of Religious Freedom

I have never been a fan of Duck Dynasty. In the first place, I do not watch television, except for an occasional sporting event. I do not have cable and only saw the show once, when stranded in a Louisville hotel room. Secondly, I had an unpleasant run-in with one of Phil's sons some years ago (before they were famous) and so I am not inclined to get excited about watching their weekly antics. But injustice is still injustice.

Phil was asked a question, gave his honest opinion and lost his job for it. That is not supposed to happen in America.

His comments may or may not have been well worded. I, for one, have yet to see a full transcript of the interview, so how is it that so many people are able to judge him in this matter? Even if he did sound somewhat harsh in what he said, what verbal perfection do we expect of a man with his background? Even a Harvard educated president has occasional difficulties expressing himself. Even if one disagrees with Phil's viewpoint, can America not cut the man some slack for his blunt backwoods style? Is not bluntness supposed to be a part of his persona? If Miley Cyrus has a right to be bluntly vulgar (as so many of Phil's critics claim), then surely Phil has a right to be blunt when speaking up for traditional values.

Somewhere I saw a series of comments on this event that ran something like this. First speaker, "A&E has taken away Phil's freedom of speech!" Second speaker, "He was allowed to say what he thinks, but he has to be willing to suffer the consequences. A&E has freedom too. They exercised their freedom in firing him."

Well I wonder about those two, I especially wonder about the second one. Would Mr. Two (as I will call him) have reacted the same way if the shoe were on the other foot? If an actor were fired by some other network because he spoke in favor of homosexuality, would Mr. Two have said, "The network has a right to fire those with whom they do not agree?" I think we all know the answer. A lawsuit would have been filed before sunset, and Mr. Two would have been calling for blood.

The playing field is not level in this country or anywhere in the Western world. Christian employers dare not fire employees for their lack of sexual morals. But anti-Christian employers are allowed to fire their Christian employees for even the mildest hint that they will stand by their convictions.

It is not completely a matter of religion versus anti-religion. Some religious sentiments can be expressed, depending on what religion one espouses. I know of two incidences recently where Muslim cricket players refused to wear the team uniform, because a symbol on the uniform advertised a beer company. These Muslim players were allowed to modify their uniforms (and I applaud them for taking this stand). But does anyone seriously believe that such tolerance would have been shown to an evangelical Christian who made the same objection?

It is a sad point we have reached. We have fallen far from the ideals of our constitution and the Christian commitment of our founding fathers.

But remember, we have not exceeded the depth of degradation reached in the days of Herod and Pilate. Yes, we Christians face an unfair hostile world. But, if we remember the dishonesty, the cruelty, the hostility faced by the early Christians, we will not lose hope.

By means of patience in the face of persecution and persistence in speaking the truth, they overcame a hostile world. If we really believe in God's grace and power, we will not be disheartened by this event. Disappointed we certainly are, but not disheartened.
I close with three statements by Jesus. I hope they will be of comfort to Phil Robertson, and to all who want the freedom to speak the truth.

Matthew 5:11-12 (ESV) "Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
John 15:20 (ESV) Remember the word that I said to you: 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.
John 14:27 (ESV) Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Firm or Flimsy, Which Will We Be?

Isaiah 7:9 (ESV) “If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all.”

To fully enjoy life, we must live by faith. The person who half-believes will live an entirely unsatisfying life. Ahaz, the king to whom Isaiah addressed the words cited above, was a person dithering between several opinions. On the one hand, he wanted to be known as a person who trusted the LORD. On the other hand, he attempted to control his own destiny by trying to balance the various political forces of the day. He also worshipped other gods, even burning his own son in sacrifice to a pagan god (2 Kings 16:2-4).

Isaiah is telling Ahaz that such an approach is not workable. As Jesus would say later, “no one can serve two masters” (Mt 6:24). As Isaiah says here, “If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all.”

This advice to Ahaz is suitable for us as well. Do we really trust the Lord? Do we really do things his way? Or are we attempting to live by multiple standards? Are we attempting to pledge allegiance to more than one master? We blame the stress and uncertainty of our lives on circumstances beyond our control, but much of the frustration we face is self-inflicted. Because we are not firm in faith, we are not firm at all. Because we are not fully committed to the Lord, we find ourselves pulled in several different directions. Like the people of Joshua’s day (Jos 24:14-15), like the people of Elijah’s day (1 Kg 18:21), like the people of Isaiah’s day, like the followers of Jesus, we need to make our choice and live by it. Half-measures will not succeed. Lukewarm commitment will not be blessed.

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Three Tenses of Salvation

Salvation, some have said, has three tenses. The past tense of salvation, sometimes called justification, is that moment when we came into Christ and were thereby delivered from the penalty of sin. But that hardly completes salvation. The present tense of salvation, sanctification, is the ongoing process of being delivered from the power of sin. The future tense of salvation, glorification, is that still future moment at which we will be delivered from sin's presence.

It is sad to see how many Christians have never learned to view salvation this way. They rejoice to have been delivered from the penalty of sin, but they seem to have no desire to be delivered from the power or presence of sin.

It is perhaps even sadder to see how many Christians who do desire to be delivered from the power and presence of sin seem to expect that this deliverance will be their own doing. How is it that we, so powerless to avoid sin's penalty, so dependent on God for justification, imagine that sanctification or glorification will be by our effort?

It is by his grace, not by our works, that we were initially saved (Eph 2:8). It is by his grace, not our imagined goodness, that our sanctification will move forward (1 Thess 5:23). It will be by his power, not ours, that sin will be forever banished from his presence and ours.

Certainly we are called upon to actively embrace justification, sanctification and glorification. But there is a difference between actively embracing a gift and trying to produce something for oneself. We cannot sanctify ourselves any more than we can justify ourselves. Our whole salvation - justification, sanctification, and glorification - is a gift of God we are called on to embrace. No portion of it is a product of our own skill or effort.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Where We Work, Where We Live

When I was a child, we lived in Painesville, but my father worked in Cleveland. There is nothing unusual about that. A lot of people live in one town but work in another. Since we are all used to that concept, maybe we can use it to illustrate something far more important.

Jesus prayed, "I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one" (John 17:15). Our Lord's desire is not that we have nothing to do with the world. His desire is that we be in the world but not of the world, as the old saying goes. His desire is that we see the world as our area of service, the place where we work. But while working in this world we are not to live in the world. Just as my father worked in Cleveland while living in Painesville, so we are to work in this world while having our citizenship, our home, in heaven (Philip 3:20).

Sometimes we get this nearly backward.

All too often we live in the world, conform to worldly standards, pander to our fleshly desires. We become very much of the world, so much so that we offer no fresh alternative to those who observe us. We look like, talk like, act like, are like the world in nearly every way. We do not see the world as the place where we work, but as the place where we live. We are not in the world to make a difference. Rather than transforming the world, the world is transforming us, conforming us to its standards. The world is where we live, not where we work.

Our citizenship is in heaven. We have been placed here to do a job. We are to glorify God on this fallen planet and to call those around us back to the task of living to God's glory. Have we instead decided to make this earth our home? Have we chosen to live here rather than to work here?