Everybody Wants a Word From God Until They Hear What He Has to Say.

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Everybody wants a word from God until they hear what He has to say.

Most of us have a visceral longing to be understood and an idea of what kind of person it is that we want to be. But getting to know ourselves is an uncomfortable process, because every new piece of information expands our perception of reality, and we rarely let go of our presuppositions without a fight.

The scriptures speak often of God as a Potter who moulds us like clay. We relish the idea of being formed into a more beautiful shape. But any clay with a mind of its own knows the incredible pain caused by the powerful hands drowning and pounding it then carving and burning it to realize an emotional and creative vision. Transformation is painful, and we are so quick to avoid it.

We like the idea of being made better, but we discover that it is difficult to endure the manufacturing process.

When Christ first encounters a fisherman named Simon, He says to him, “You are Simon (which means “shaky”) but I call you Peter (which means “stone”). There was nothing necessarily in Simon that would lead to this conclusion, but Christ saw him for who he would become. And He knew what travail and duress would have to be endured for Simon to realize this identity in Christ.

There is a powerful scene in which Christ tells Peter the manner of His earthly mission- that He will suffer and die and then eventually leave the earth. Peter, mindful of his enjoyable earthly experience of Christ, challenges Him. Christ rebukes him saying, “Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.”

Peter had not yet understood the nature of Christ’s ministry. To fully realize His role as the savior of mankind, He would have to suffer and die, resurrect from the dead, ascend into Heaven (leaving them), and then send His Spirit to embody those who would receive of His salvation. Christ told His disciples that it was better for Him to leave, for when He left He could send His “Comforter” (the Holy Spirit) who would guide His people into “all truth.”

In other words, the ministry of Christ would only take it’s intended form once those who knew Him deepest would endure the pain of temporarily losing Him. But God the Father delights in delegation, and when He sent His Son to save the world from our sins, He always intended that the ministry of Christ would be perpetuated by Christ’s disciples who, being empowered by the Holy Spirit, would become the literal body of Christ. Thus expanding the ministry of Christ exponentially.

Christ’s death was like the death of a seed that would resurrect into a fruit-bearing tree, with every piece of fruit dying a similar death (as it were) that would lead to further fruitfulness.

But Peter, in his earthly estimations, was not yet able to see this dynamic. And so the Lord of Glory kindly rebuked him. And after Christ ascended into Heaven, He sent His Spirit unto His disciples. And on that day, Peter became the rock on which Christ’s church (His body) was established when he preached on the day of Pentacost (which was un-coincidentally Shavuoth, the Jewish celebration of harvest).

Had Peter continued to savor the immediate pleasures of His earthly time with Christ, He never would have tasted of explosive and perpetuating nature of Christ’s ministry.

That is the process for every work of God. It is always bigger and more dynamic than any man could imagine. And it is always perpetuated through a process of transformation that brings with it a profound degree of discomfort and pain.

There is hardly a greater pain than death. In the face of death, people often encourage themselves by ensuring that their loved ones are “in a better place.” Now, it is between the deceased and God as to where the soul of their beloved has sojourned.

We have all been to funerals. When a sincere man or woman of God passes on, the believer has no doubts as to where they have gone. They so clearly lived for Christ, and we deem it fitting that they would be spiritually united with Him in death. But we have also been to funerals of another variety. When people eulogize their now-dead loved ones, who lived in total contrast to God, and assure the grieving family that they are indeed in a better place.

Well, as I said, that is between the the deceased and God. We comfort ourselves with this wishful thinking. But why would a person, who has no desire for the things of God, be magically ushered into His presence in death? Perhaps this is where the Roman Catholics derived their idea of Purgatory. For they felt that a sinner would require a process of preparation to fit them for their celestial communion.

My point here is not to cause a grieving loved one to fear the state of their beloved’s soul, but to unpack that notion of preparedness.

The lump of clay or block of wood cannot embrace a process of fierce reshaping or piercing carving so long as it savors its amorphous identity.

Identity is a lofty concept, that I won’t attempt to unpack here. But it’s important to consider our own perceptions of identity. I tend to think that our identity, as it stands in this moment, is informed by things that are both engrained and inscribed.

I mean that our identity is engrained in the sense that there are things about ourselves that we must never compromise. Our relationships with other people eventually reveal to us which things we are willing to part with for the sake of that fellowship. But we all have certain qualities that are never to be parted with.

What makes you tick? What gives you energy? What puts you in your element? God has engrained in you a unique set of desires and characteristics that you must never disregard. It is not easy to decipher which of our attributes are fundamental to our unique identity. But we all possess them.

But our identity (yet to be fully realized) is also rooted in the affects of our upbringing, our past experiences, and our imperfect nature. Our relationships with other people serve us by highlighting both our strengths and our weaknesses. In one sense, we must defend ourselves from those who dismiss our engrained qualities (and allow more supportive persons to encourage us), and in another sense we must let others shine a light on our lesser qualities.

We can consider these lesser qualities by measuring them to a certain moral standard. We may find that we are hardwired to paint, write, engineer, teach, or pursue some other creative endeavor or to connect with others in a particular social dynamic. But we may also find that we are hardwired to be selfish, antisocial, squeamish, or arrogant. The former qualities pertain to an engrained nature. The latter pertain to a nature inscribed by our experiences and our imperfect natures.

In consideration of our identity, we often savor the wrong things. Every strength has a corresponding weakness, and it is easy to rationalize our inscribed weaknesses as being in part and parcel with our engrained qualities.

So what does this have to do with wanting to “hear a word from God” or to become a better version of ourselves?

There are fundamental qualities to wood or clay that make them fit to be transformed into works of art. Michelangelo saw King David within the block of marble and realized his duty to set that form free. Christ saw Peter, the zealous servant of and mouthpiece of God, in the wavering and overzealous Simon.

Simon had engrained qualities (as God had made him) that needed to be set free, forming him into Peter, a foundational stone fashioned and hardened from a miry clay.

We all want to be that raw stone fashioned into a work of art and utility, and we are all engrained with unique qualities fit for that purpose. But there is a painful transformation process that must take place.

This process prepares us. When we ask God to give us a word, He will tell us things that we don’t want to hear. When we ask Him to make us into something better, He will challenge all of those inscribed qualities with which we identify.

Consider your utmost desires. Are they integral, or are they shaped by the psychological impressions and hurts of your youth? We often don’t know what we actually desire. We pursue relationships, professional endeavors, hobbies, or other lifestyle choices that feed our assumed needs.

But when we submit our own wills to the God who knows us and Who sees us for what He envisions, we are (in our natural state) unable to receive what He has planned for us.

So when we ask God to guide us in a relationship, or a job, or hobby and the like, we must consider that he has intended for us a higher calling- a better relationship, job, or hobby that is unobstructed by our former pains, insecurities, and temporal desires.

Death is not a prerequisite for Divine fellowship. That fellowship is nurtured in a gradual devotion on earth (or Purgatory, if the Catholics have it right). There is a preparation process that must occur to ready one (however imperfectly) to realize true fellowship with God.

In like manner, if we are asking the all-knowing and wise God to order the steps of our life, we must be prepared for Him to carry out the grueling process of preparing our desires (in spite of past experiences) to be ready to receive the wonderful gifts that He has for us.

God desires to mould you into the very best version of yourself. You, like Peter, possess those qualities. He has engrained them in you. But you have many other of desires and impulses that contradict His design for you.

So when you ask God to give you a word or to make you into something greater (who He wants you to be), remember to ask that He also prepares you to receive those gifts He has for you, be it a personal transformation, a relationship, or a lifestyle. That He gives you the discernment to know the uncompromisable, engrained parts of your nature and the strength to part with those inscribed things (with which we so strongly identify) that He might help you to realize His vision as opposed to our own.

And when we ask God for a word, let us not forget to consider the words He has given us already. Christ tells us that if we love Him, we will obey Him. Furthermore, He tells us that if we seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness that all of these things (or temporal needs) will be added unto us.

Sometimes we ask God for a new word because we’ve found that the words already given are difficult to follow. The psalmist tells declares that the in God’s presence is the fullness of joy and elsewhere, that the joy of the Lord is His strength.

How do we receive the presence of the Lord which gives us joy and strength?

Worship.

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Loveless Generalizations

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You are bad at most things. We all are. What is something you are absolutely terrible at? Or better yet, what is something terrible that you cannot stop doing? How do you respond to yourself in your failure? It probably depends on your frame of mind. Some days you effusively coddle yourself with emotions, while other days you castigate yourself with proverbial floggings.

I was talking with two of my nieces and my nephew the other day. My nephew Cash is the youngest. His sisters were perpetually lamenting what a bad child he was. His oldest sister Halina was especially frustrated. Some children are probably bad most of the time, but Cash is not one of them. I explained to his sister that he is not a bad child, but simply a child who sometimes behaves badly.

I asked her what was something that she once did badly but now did well. “Swimming,” she answered. I asked her how she became a better swimmer. “My daddy taught me.” And so I asked her if her daddy ever told her what a bad swimmer she was. She explained that he certainly had not but had actually encouraged her along the way, praising her for small improvements. Then I asked her if others referred to her as “Bad Swimmer Halina” back when she did not swim well. Of course they did not. That one particular void of success had not defined her.

So why is it that you expect your brother to behave better when you tell him what a bad child he is all the time?” She began to see my point as well as her young mind could. I was trying to help her to see something that many of us have so much trouble seeing even into adulthood. That is, the human brain likes to generalize because it helps to reconcile our feelings.

It would take a great deal of deep consideration for my niece to understand the many variables leading to her brother’s misbehavior. Among simple human badness would be boredom and a desire for attention, both stemming from his role as a youngest sibling with no brothers. Furthermore, in her momentary frustrations with her little brother, she becomes emotionally too blind to even assert what are his copious redeeming qualities.

She begins with a failure to comprehend her brother’s context and adds to that an emotional filter that prevents her from seeing her brother as anything but the troublemaker he is to her in that moment (or comparable prior moments). In that moment there is that which feels true to her, and her brain, autonomously as it were, creates a typecast generalization of her brother that reconciles that particular reality.

I think we can forgive my niece for not fully having learned this lesson. But what is the excuse for the rest of us?

Love is a discipline that demands immense courage. Love demands courage because it is itself a quest for understanding the nature of its object. My niece absolutely loves to swim, but a swimming pool is deadly if one is not studious regarding its dangers. To master swimming demanded of her a particular humility which undergirded her process of acquiring patient understanding.

She had to not only discover the nature of water, but of gravity, of her own buoyancy, muscular strength, and propensity for experiencing fatigue. In other words, a love of swimming demanded a knowledge of complex relationships amongst body, mind, and matter. It was not enough to keep herself afloat with mere volition. And if such a willpower is possible, it would no doubt demand much more discipline and understanding than doggy paddles or breaststrokes.

This is true of anything we love. Do you love to draw, or sing, or dance, or lift weights, or spin records? What are those things unto which you have subjected yourself? When the endeavor proved itself difficult, was it the discipline that needed adjusting or was it you and your relationship to the discipline?

This is of course true of all relationships. This is why I am nauseated when people seek to humanize their animals. There is something fundamentally grotesque about seeing dogs, genetic wolves, treated like human children. Any good dog trainer will essentially encourage to lead your dog  with the assertive calmness of an alpha wolf. In other words, a good dog trainer will encourage you to patiently pursue an understanding of your pet’s hidden and rudimentary nature.

“A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast: but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel.”

Proverbs 12:10 KJV

Furthermore, our love for other human beings demands this steady and humble discipline- this courageous quest to pursue understanding for the benefit of the objects of our love and affection. But this discipline needs not to be one saved for only the people of which we are most fond. This way of thinking ought to become an all-encompassing discipline of the spirit and the mind.

How many of the world’s ailments would be pacified if we sought better understanding of ourselves, of our loved ones, and of all those around us? We are so very quick to dismiss others with blanket generalizations (labeling, name-calling, and so on). We so often do this even to bolster our own conflated sense of self-aggrandizement and piety. But even the densest of us have regard for the plot in which the villain is a multi-dimensional figure. Such stories resonate with us because they are true. Everyone is multi-dimensional. Some are just much more difficult to see beneath the surface.

If we operate with this assumption, that every person originates from a context which is chock-full of complex variables, then we will be much quicker in seeking to understand them. This will create opportunities in which to influence others to become better, but moreover it will drive us to transcending levels of human thought and existence. Love, like all disciplines, shapes us. Like a spindle shapes wood on a lathe.

“No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.”

1 John 4:12-13 NASB

A Word About Smugness

“Bigotry may be roughly defined as the anger of men who have no opinions. It is the resistance offered to definite ideas by that vague bulk of people whose ideas are indefinite to excess.”

-G. K. Chesterton

 

For the last year or more I have engaged in something of a social endeavor. I have been a supporter of Donald Trump since July of 2015 and have advocated since then that he would be the next President of the United States of America. While most people I met have been ardent naysayers, I have encountered a small number of people who have shared this opinion. Due to the egregious behaviors of Trump’s many haters, my first thought was not to express my support in an especially outward fashion. But then the haters became legion, and I decided to stand up to them.

What began as mere public expression of support for Trump has turned into something more outward. I have plastered the front of my apartment with Trump signs, and I now wear my “Make American Great Again” hat almost daily. The opposition mainly began back in March when a couple of guys tried to fight with me over my hat. Since then, several conversations have erupted over the hat, and I have had to deescalate a few before they got too heated.

In the environments I often put myself, it is basically anathema to be a Trump supporter. So many people are rooted in identity politics. In lieu of formulating independent thoughts and seeking to understand the opinions of others, they have this grotesque tendency to flock to some slew of perspectives wrapped up in their social groups. I wear the hat for three reasons.

The first reason is that I am a huge supporter of Donald Trump for President. It is very important not to self-censor out of fear of reprisal from our peers. Self-censorship is so very dangerous because the standards demanding censorship are always eroding. What is dignified today is bigotry tomorrow. There is little sense to any of it because it is all drawn from the well of whatever modern narrative is fashionable.

The second reason I wear that hat is to embolden others to express their own opinions openly. I don’t only wish to embolden other Trump supporters, but to embolden any who have a desire to express their opinions, regardless of unpopularity with the status quo. By me choosing not to censor in this little way, I may encourage others to do the same.

The third reason that I wear the hat is that I want to force others to challenge their own assumptions that are driven by their identity politics. Last week I went out to see a band I used to listen to in high-school. During the show, I was shown that someone had snapped a picture of the back of my head- on which I was wearing a backwards MAGA hat- and posted it to Instagram. Once I discovered it, I commented on the photo cheekily and approached her in person and had a little laugh. She asked if I wore the hat ironically. After I told her it was not ironic, she expressed her utter disarray that I could both be a Trump supporter and attend a “punk show.”

I receive this question a lot. People frequently ask me if I wear the hat ironically. Sometimes I respond to them with confusion and ask them why on earth I would ironically promote somebody I didn’t like. They never have an answer. You see, in light of their identity politics, I am either a jokester or a total deviant because they think that Trump is non-serious or a deviant. Their perspective hinders them from seeing that reality is much bigger than their narrow view can grasp.

The smugness I see in my peers is among the most disgusting things I have had to witness in my entire life. Whenever I respond to these people with an honest opinion, they almost always respond with rolled eyes or a horrible and snide expression. Whenever I turn the question around on them, they never have anything meaningful to say at all. The takeaway is that because they do not have a candidate that they like that am not allowed to have a candidate that like. Furthermore, it is expected that I should defend myself from their hallucinations about my candidate. But when the question is turned around, they have nothing to say because: cognitive dissonance.

I enjoy the fact that the hat can lend itself to discussion. I have greatly enjoyed some of the discussions I have had with Trump opponents and supporters alike. What I will never regard is the abhorrent smugness of the people of my generation who cannot conceive of a diversity of opinions amongst their social sects. They judge any divergent opinion as bigotry but never realize that their demands for censorship and their group-think are bigotry defined.

God’s Politics

 

I am going to tell you who Jesus would vote for.

Previously we discussed how framing every episode of our lives in terms of “What Would Jesus Do” is potentially banal because our roles on earth are very different from that of the incarnate God-Messiah. Christ’s mission was to come to earth and die for sinners. While in the throes of this mission, He provided us ample teachings and set an example by which we ought to live. His Gospel is inherently designed to penetrate individual hearts within their unique circumstances.

Because Jesus is chiefly concerned with the individual and their relationship to God and His Kingdom, He made particularly clear that he was not necessarily concerned with taking a sides in earthly matters. While it might be argued that Christ would not have paid much mind to politics, it is grossly incorrect to say that He is not political. Jesus is a King, and we cannot ask ourselves what Jesus would do without regarding His concern for His Kingdom.

Mankind is morally corrupted and spiritually alienated from God. While this corruption has estranged us from God and His Heavenly Kingdom, it has yoked us to another, more sinister, kingdom. Christ expressed that all of humanity lives their life in service to someone. By default, we are slaves to our corrupted nature and the kingdom of Satan, the adversary of God. Through various dispensations that met their crescendo in the Gospel of Christ, God provided a means by which people could become reunited with Him- to leave the kingdom of darkness and to be rejoined to the kingdom of light.

Prior to His death and resurrection, Christ foretold that He would soon leave earth, and that He would “come again” (John 14). He promised to send His Spirit to comfort His people and guide them into “all truth.” These people, who would be called “Christians,” would become known as His church. They were to be the body of Christ, empowered by His Spirit, going about His work until He returns. After His resurrection, as He ascended into Heaven He implored His followers to go unto all the ends of the earth and to make “disciples of all men.”

The formative years of the church and the last two thousand years of church history have seen Christians responding to that call. Christ, through His people, perpetuates the magnitude and scope of His Kingdom. He will return one day and reap a harvest of believers who will become completely united with Him, free from the predicaments of our corruption in which we live. Christ works in the individual and uses that individual to act on His behalf to strengthen and to draw more into His Kingdom.

“In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will….”

Ephesians 1:11 NASB (emphasis mine)

Scripture speaks a lot of about election, but it is a very different sort than which we refer to today. To elect essentially means “to choose.” God has foreordained those whom He has elected for His Kingdom. The common means by which He draws the elect into His Kingdom is through Christians obediently fulfilling their call to evangelize. Many find this to be a hard saying. Why is it that God chooses some but does not choose others? As hard as a saying as it may be, we can take heart that God has chosen any of us. We are all deserving of our estrangement, and it is by the mercy of God that any ever find restoration.

The implication of God’s election is that all who are not elect will remain in their sins and be thus condemned. Many who understandably struggle with this notion will speak of people all the world over who have, seemingly unfairly, never had the opportunity to hear the Gospel. They will then regard the dumb luck of those in the West who are overwhelmed with Christianity.

The first thing to consider here is that Scripture makes very clear that God has made Himself known in nature itself, and “none are without excuse” (Romans 1:20). In other words, whether or not someone hears the Gospel, they are fully responsible for their spiritual estate. The second thing to consider is a reframing of sorts. It is no “dumb luck” that Western societies have become such incubators for a flourishing Church and for religious freedom in general. It was God’s providence that provided society to progress unto this point.

Now, there is no doubt that the Church has flourished (sometimes more genuinely) in the presence of oppressive influences and regimes. All the world over, the Church has always been wrought with severe persecution. It persists full-throttle into the present day. The excess we have found in the West has led, in myriad ways, to a complacent and obstinate church. But if we look to the Scriptures we see that even the suffering early church was met with these same components of human influence.

Regardless of the various contexts in which Christianity can thrive, it is critical to observe the ways in which Christianity has the ability to transform society from the inside out. These benefits are advantageous, but they are not the end in itself. The goal of believers ought to be the proliferation, the health, and the growth of the kingdom of God. Every decision that we make should be made in light of the notion that Jesus is the actual King of all of the earth and that He calls us to the service of His actual kingdom.

In terms of our earthly political role, the Christian who lives in a society in which they are allowed to vote ought to consider how their vote would impact the flourishing of the Church. In terms of American politics, which candidate has a tactical advantage at winning an election and is more than likely going to be the candidate who advocates for religious freedoms of Christians? This pertains to what they advocate as policy and, in terms of the presidency, who they are likely to nominate to the Supreme Court. It is in the presence of this freedom that we support the suffering of believers all the world over. If we are not to protect that now, there will come a day when America will suffer the same persecutions of believers throughout the world.

Who would Jesus vote for, if He voted? I truly think it is a silly question. But if I had to answer it, I would say that Jesus would vote for those who would less likely politically hinder the religious liberties of His Church. Of course, God can grow His Kingdom in any way that He sees fit. But if we are to be preoccupied with growing His Kingdom, we ought to be tactfully considering what might help to further that mission.

“Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.”

Proverbs 29:18 KJV

Tribal Integrity

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And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him. And the LORD said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper?

Genesis 4:8-9 KJV

The irony of Cain’s retort is that he was technically not his brother’s keeper- at least in the paternal sense- for Able was a grown man. He smugly asked the question to dodge the confession God was clearly importuning. Cain’s words are particularly aggravating because he was obviously not expected to be his brother’s keeper in that sense. What further revealed Cain’s callousness is that he didn’t desire to be his brother’s keeper in any sense.

Cain’s first sin was self-exoneration. In the very act of sacrifice, he revealed his own delusions of self-importance. He had prepared an offering that was displeasing to the Lord but convenient for himself. God chided Cain for his inward motives. His delusions quickly devolved into an entitled self-centeredness and then into covetousness. God compassionately warned Cain to “master his sin.” Instead he left his covetousness unbridled, and it resulted in the first murder in recorded history.

Human beings have always existed for worship of our Creator. Worship is not merely wrapped up in art or song but in the very activity of our lives. Our fellowship with God was always intended to be the hub of our existence- from it all else flows. When the parents of Cain sinned, corruption and brokenness became humanity’s inheritance. There is, of course, a greater inheritance gifted unto the children of God. But until death or the fulfillment of the second act of Christ’s coming, humanity will suffer the plight of our fallen nature.

“How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High. Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit.”

Isaiah 14:12-15 KJV

Our befallen nature distorts our reality and predisposes us to see false gods everywhere, even in ourselves. The devil himself is our example. The story of Cain reveals to us the logical conclusions of our idolatry. His self-adulation deluded him into entitledness and thus covetousness. James reminds us “when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.”

The majority of mankind are not so murderous, but we do have a propensity toward individualism due to our delusional self-appraisal. To be clear, it is natural and necessary for one to pursue their own needs primarily, but the individualist pursues his own needs exclusively.

Humans have always been tribal by nature, and this has protected and enhanced civilizations throughout history. We are social beings who thoroughly depend upon one another. While self-concern is necessary to the success of the individual, and therefore to the tribe; individualism is damning to the tribe and therefore to the individual.
There are many variables that encourage individualism in a society, and one must be keen to break free from these influences. For they arrouse in us the greatest defects of our humanity- wantonness and vanity. Individualism may transpire into ruthless competitiveness or devestating indifference (such as neglect)- all of which diminish the integrity of the tribe. But there is another motivater that agitates our unity as a people. Fear.

I don’t mean fear in a legitimized sense. There are enemies of humanity ever pursuing havoc and seeking to goad a society into submission. They are the ones for whom fear exists. Fear is reaction. It is not a reaction that springs up to transform us into cowards. It springs up to motivate our preparedness for battle. Fear exists to be overcome, and it is overcome by tactical confrontation. In this sense, fear is an appropriate motivator. Unfortunately, fear is often treated more harmfully. In a society so motivated by comfort, virtues like courage become all but lost.

In modern western society this notion has become endemic. A successful human society has always been tribalistic. Tribalism requires that all men be keepers of their brethren, for both love and survival. Any threat to the integrity of the tribe must be dealt with properly, lest it corrode the entire society from the inside out.

In the 1980s the media helped to proliferate a pedophile scare. Anyone growing up around this time may recall the warnings to beware of perverts apparently lurking around every corner. My church even had its very own “Tickle Man.” He was a fat old man with a beard who would tickle random children. When his sordid, pedophiliac past was eventually revealed, the pastor promptly excommunicated him from the congregation.

Perhaps there was an uptick in perverts in the 80s. It’s hard to say. In the very least, a great many of them were put away or more carefully monitored. While monsters still do exist in our society, the vast majority within have, in the very least, a desire not to harm one’s neighbor. We would all be better for it if we took a step further.

“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves….”

Philippians 2:3 NASB

Christ famously prepares his disciples for their ministry by admonishing them to be “gentle as doves, but wise as serpents.” We truly have an obligation to be suspect of others. In any society, trust out to be earned. The trouble comes when we lose our ability to even issue trust because we are so motivated by a fear that is rooted in the toxic generalization that every peer is a probably threat. There needs to be a sense in which we can plan for the worst but give a benefit of doubt to presume the best about others. A society crippled by fear of one another will be a society easily subjugated. Even in the absence of threats of domination, a society will be totally maimed by fear.

The integrity of a society demands personal discipline coupled with deep love and servitude for one’s family and peers. Individualism (in the form of neglect or aggression toward others) and fear (in the form of total and general societal distrust) are the acids that deteriorate the fabrics of a society. These truisms are applicable to any society, though I would argue that a society is all the better off in the presence of shared creeds that regard the reason humankind exists at all. But that is another matter.

Evangelism is Not an Elective

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“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you….”

Matthew 28:19-20a NASB

As He ascended into Heaven, Christ parted with words that would set the tone for the entire future of Christendom. His disciples would go on to obey this edict and take the Gospel to the the whole of the known world. The Church of Jesus Christ continues to pursue this mission to this day. Some of them do, anyway.

In my last post I recalled a recent experience in which I totally disregarded an opportunity to evangelize a stranger. This experience was disappointing for me, despite the fact that I’ve not recently had a tendency to evangelize, probably due to distraction and self-centeredness.

In the preceding weeks, God had begun to stir up a passion in my heart toward these matters. This is always the origin of Christian evangelism. As the late Keith Green said, “You put this love in my heart.” Evangelism arrises from an overflow of love and gratitude for our Savior. It is mercifully driven by His work in us.

“…[The religious authorities] commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

Acts 4:18b-20 NASB

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When confronted by opposing religious authorities, Peter and John expressed an INABILITY to stop preaching the Gospel. They were so wrapped up in their love for and thankfulness toward Christ that they couldn’t help but tell all about it to others. Their love for and fellowship with Christ led to a compassion for others, to see them become believers of His Gospel.

The day after my aforementioned experience, I had an experience of another sort. I work at a homeless shelter and have recently gotten to know a man who is staying there. Before I left for the day I struck up a conversation with him. He told me that he was moving out soon. As I was about to leave, I felt a compulsion to share Christ with Him. I almost ignored it entirely, but I was constrained by the Holy Spirit.

I began conversing with him, prayerfully seeking an opportunity to mention Christ. Finally he made mention of a local Christian ministry at which he had attended some services and performed some court-ordered community service hours. I abruptly asked him, “Are you a Christian?”

He pinched his fingers together as he informed me that he believed in the power of prayer and that he felt like he was “almost there”- almost ready to commit himself to God. I sat down and talked with him for a while, and he began to tell me his life story. He kept stopping and saying, “I’ve never told anyone this stuff before. I don’t know why I’m telling you.” I answered some questions he had and persistently shared the Gospel.

As we wrapped up, I asked if I could pray for him. He eagerly gave me his hands, and we prayed. As I left he kept remarking on how amazing it was that this conversation had occurred, as he has been on the fence with these matters. I gave him my number and went on my way, assuring him that I only spoke with him because I felt God leading me to do so.

Although circumstances like this have been normative in my life in times past, this entire episode was a unique experience for my life in recent years. My hope is that, through God’s help and courage, I begin to seek out evangelistic opportunities elsewhere. It has been natural for me and so many Christians to disregard this critical piece of Christian living.

We are not only called to lead righteous and holy lives, but to love God and to love one another. Jesus tells us in John’s gospel that if we “love Him, [we] will keep His commandments.” Therefore, if we love Him, we will obey the call to share the Gospel persistently with others.

Might I challenge you, as I am being challenged, to pursue a pure fellowship with Christ through the Spirit of God? Will you make specific requests of Him that He will surround you with His Spirit and keep you in His steps? That He will give you a love and a passion for Him that overflows into a deep love for others? That you will be granted wisdom, opportunity, and courage to share His Gospel to those you meet? He commands it! Evangelism is not an elective for the child of Jesus Christ!

 

Redeeming the Time

“See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.”

Ephesians 5:15-16 KJV

The late Sam Simon, one of the founders of The Simpsons, gave an interview in the final months of his life. While walking his Cane Corso “Columbo,’ he remarked that walking one’s dog is one of life’s great pleasures. He said he never understood people who paid others to walk their dogs for them, that it was like paying another man to sleep with your wife. There really is nothing like walking your dog. This evening I was doing so late into the night. After my dog and I reached our destination, I began to walk briskly back home.

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I was suddenly stopped by a young man as he crossed over to my side of the road. I walk regularly through heavily-trafficked areas, and I am no stranger to panhandlers. Many times I strike up conversations them, but it’s rare that we develop a rapport. So many of them are deeply damaged psychologically and neurologically. They won’t remember you from one minute to the next. Nevertheless, I make inroads where I can. Very occasionally I’ll part with a dollar or two.

I am always automatically suspect when someone ostensibly appears out of nowhere, but sometimes I will entertain their questions before moving along. As the young man stopped me, I felt myself internally recoil and stand guard. Even in this posture, I gave him the benefit of the doubt. As it turned out, he had just gotten off work and only needed help shutting down his phone which had seized function. I showed him how to do a hard reset. He thanked me, and we wished each other well.

My sense of recoil was totally natural, and even called for given the unexpected nature of the circumstances, and I walked away with a sense of relief that the encounter was so harmless in nature. But then my conscious began to convict me, not for my recoil, but because I had not taken that seemingly random moment as an opportunity to share Christ with the young man. I was reminded of a story of the famed evangelist, D.L. Moody:

[One] night, Mr. Moody got home and had gone to bed before it occurred to him that he had not spoken to a soul that day about accepting Christ. “Well,” he said to himself, “it is no good getting up now; there will be nobody on the street at this hour of the night.” But he got up, dressed and went to the front door. It was pouring rain. “Oh,” he said, “there will be no one out in this pouring rain. Just then he heard the patter of a man’s feet as he came down the street, holding an umbrella over his head. Then Mr. Moody darted out and rushed up to the man and said: “May I share the shelter of your umbrella?” “Certainly,” the man replied. Then Mr. Moody said: “Have you any shelter in the time of storm?” and preached Jesus to him.

From Why God Used D.L. Moody by R. A. Torrey

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The Christian is called not only towards righteous and worshipful living, but also to evangelism. As Jesus ascended into heaven, He told his followers to go out into the world preaching the Gospel. These days we struggle so much as to steer a conversation this way- even in our own back yard. Not only must I be opportunistic in my evangelism, but I must always be careful to not allow a preoccupation with my own self-preservation hinder my calling to promote the salvation of those estranged from God.

It is circumspect to mind our surroundings and to be apprehensive in the face of human cunning, but we mustn’t let our protectionism become an end in itself. The only end is God Himself. It is He who ultimately protects us, loves us, saves us, and commands us to courageously share with others the story of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ that pays for humanity’s sins and awakens in us the very purpose for which we were made.