Invisible Oppressors

jesushealsthedeafmute

“The scribes… were saying, “[Jesus] is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “He casts out the demons by the ruler of the demons.” And He called them to Himself and began speaking to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan?  If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.  If Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but he is finished! But no one can enter the strong man’s house and plunder his property unless he first binds the strong man, and then he will plunder his house.”

Mark 3:22-27

The wisdom of Jesus is remarkable. In this particular exchange He is, on the surface, defending the origin of His power. In doing so, He goes on to say a great deal more. A prominent lesson to be inferred here is that internal divisions disrupt unity and pave the way for inevitable defeat. There is strength in numbers acting in solidarity with one another, but when those numbers are broken off into factions there is vulnerability. Jesus teach us also that it takes the greater strength of one to overcome the great strength of another.

Throughout history, civilizations have always been vulnerable to external and internal forces  which have been represented as foreign governments or rulers, business corporations, and political or religious ideologies. Much is said these days regarding the individual person or group’s perceived experience of “oppression.” The blame for societal oppression is often placed on racial, gender, religious, or economic groups. While injustices do occur within these parameters, it seems to me that the majority of systemic injustices are rooted in issues of class and/or ideology.

The human brain likes shortcuts and will seek to ascribe a familiar face to a threat. It could be said that our greatest enemies are those that are invisible to us in our day-to-day. The class ruler or the ideologue makes use of this tendency of the human brain and so seeks to persuade the members of a society to cast blame unreservedly on their own peers (based on superficial identifiers) in an effort to divide them into factions. Once divided, they are more easily brought unto the heel.

The irony of this, of course, is that the members of a society will waste their time bickering or warring with one another all while unwittingly being subjected to shared injustices. There is strength in numbers, and we take on our enemies by “binding the strong man.” but we are so often weakened by division.

While we can draw these lessons from Christ and apply them to our experience of earthly injustices, Jesus is referring more directly to spiritual tormenters. Every human being is alienated from God because of their sin. This alienation renders us vulnerable to Satan and his kingdom- the enemies of our souls. This sinful nature is what drives humanity to act unjustly  in the first place.

Because our sins alienate us from God, they set us on a course to hell where we will forever remain alienated from Him. There is no earthy life or afterlife to be truly cherished unless the terms of this alienation are rectified. Jesus came to earth to do just that. When He died on the cross, He bore the punishment of our sins. He bore injustice that He might justify us before God. When He resurrected from the dead (for death is a curse for sin for which He was not worthy) He made it possible for us to be made spiritually alive- to be restored to our fellowship with God.

Even after this fellowship is restored Christians are still affected by the evil nature of these bodies in which we dwell. With God’s help we fight against this sinful nature all of our lives. The sin has influence in our lives, but it no longer has power to subdue us and to formally separate us from God. Because of that, it removes the power of Satan in our lives. Jesus Christ is greater than the “strong man,” and He gives us authority in Himself to oppose our (invisible) spiritual enemies and to subdue them. Our individual fellowship with God must emerge into corporate fellowship with other believers. God invites us into His kingdom and calls on us to spread His Gospel that others all the world over might know such freedom.

 

Advertisements

You Must Embarrass Yourself

david-dancing-before-the-lord

“…Michal the daughter of Saul looked out of the window and saw King David leaping and dancing before the LORD; and she despised him in her heart. …and said ‘How the king of Israel distinguished himself today! He uncovered himself today in the eyes of his servants’ maids as one of the foolish ones shamelessly uncovers himself!’ So David said, ‘It was before the LORD, who chose me above your father and above all his house, to appoint me ruler of the people of the LORD, over Israel; therefore I will celebrate the LORD. I will be more lightly esteemed than this and will be humble in my own eyes….”

2 Samuel 6:16b, 20b-22a NASB

King David was well-known for his charismatic and intense spirit. He was called a man after God’s own heart. We can learn a lot from his life, both in terms of what to do and what not to do. Not everyone is going to match the vigor of David’s spirit, as we are all gifted differently with varying temperaments. But there is one area in which we must all strive to be like him, and that is in our willingness to embarrass ourselves.

I’ve recently been sharing my thoughts on Christian evangelism. In my last post I discussed how evangelism is obligatory for Christians. I received some thoughtful feedback on the matter. One reader discussed his personal struggle with pursuing evangelism. In summation, he said that his reluctance to evangelize is informed by an avoidance of personal risk derived from the social intimidation that comes with the thought of being negatively associated with certain Christians.

The Scriptures have much to say regarding this matter. Jesus told His disciples that if others rejected them, it was actually Jesus who they were rejecting (Luke 10). He says also that the world will know they belong to Christ when they see the love that Christians have for one another (John 13). Jesus says also in His famous Sermon on the Mount:

“Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”

Matthew 5:16 NASB

In other words, if we love God we will be driven to love others and to good works. When the watching world sees the love we have and the righteous deeds we perform, they will know that we are of God. When we are pursuing and living for God, our lives become a window to nonbelievers into the person of Christ. Our love for God will motivate us to obedience and will stir in us a love and compassion toward others. Our love for others will draw us toward sharing the Gospel with others. Many will reject us! But is not us they reject, but Christ- provided we are living according to Christ’s teachings.

If nonbelievers reject the message, we need not be ashamed for sharing the message. It is God who, as the Psalmist says, “illumines [our] darkness” (18:28b). So long as they are in darkness, they will respond as those who are in darkness. We do not help them to see the light of Christ by covering it to avoid their (or our own) personal discomfort. The Gospel will change them. We must never change the Gospel.

Jesus also tells His disciples to “count the cost” of discipleship (Luke 14). Being a disciple of Christ will require personal sacrifice, often in the form of personal discomfort. Fortunately, we have as our example One Who gave His body willingly to be tortured, stripped, and crucified for the sake of our salvation. There is no sacrifice too great to make on behalf of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Paul reminds us of the suffering he endured for the Gospel. He counted as gain everything he lost for the sake of Christ. And everything he gained, he esteemed as dung (Philippians 3:8). He spoke of his evangelical pursuits as a race for which he exercised great discipline to win (1 Corinthians 9). His prize was to fulfill the work of Christ.

These Scriptures present to us a great personal challenge. Are we willing to esteem God above all others? Jesus says that to follow Him, we must proverbially hate everyone and everything else in comparison (Luke 14). It is only by this estimation that we can ever publicly shame ourselves to live a life of overt praise as David did. And it is only by this estimation that we be made willing to endure personal discomfort and any other more severe manner of sacrifice.

The call to evangelism is first a call to total love for and surrender to God. When He is the object of our affections, no earthly shame will matter. Do you love God this way? If not, ask Him to tune your heart to sing His grace. As the hymnist Robert Robinson writes:

“Come, Thou Fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount, I’m fixed upon it,
Mount of Thy redeeming love.”

 

 

Evangelism is Not an Elective

Jesus_ascending_to_heaven.jpg

“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

Ac_PeterJohnSanhedrin_sm

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.

samsimon.jpg

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

moody

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.

 

Judge, But Don’t

Every skeptic has the same favorite Bible verse. “Judge not, lest you be judged also. (Mat 7:1)” It’s weaponized and wielded as a means to shut down dissenting opinions of believers when they are, apparently, being too harsh. Is there legitimacy to it?

Sort of. 

Before we decipher, it’s important to first see what Jesus is not saying. Later in the same chapter Jesus tells His listeners that they will know someone “by their fruits.” In other words, one can judge someone’s content by the product of their behavior, similar to how one would determine a tree by its fruit. So He is not saying, categorically, to not judge.

What this seems to mean is that there is legitimacy in judging a person’s actions. Where one gets into trouble is when he judges an individual or that person’s intents. I have full license to judge what a person does, but I ought to exercise restraint in judging them or their motives.

I’ve personally discovered another element that complicates matters, and this complication helps to reveal why judging others turns into self-judgement. Really there are two elements that tie together. 

The first is that human beings have a tendency to project. We spend a lot of time with ourselves and become accustomed with our flaws and insecurities- whether we realize it or not. This develops into an acute awareness (or imaginary projection) of character flaws or intentions in others that we actually (perhaps unknowingly) observe in ourselves. Also, we may make assumptions about others that are informed by insecurities wrought in us through prior experiences. In both cases, we are projecting onto someone else a version of themselves that has been created in or informed by our own subconscious.

Secondly, God conveys throughout Scripture the notion of cosmic fairness. If we do not forgive others, He says that He will not forgive us. By what standards we judge others, we will be judged also. Our judgement is obscured. Only God is licensed and able to fairly judge a person or their intentions.

Do not judge, because when you condemn others you are actually condemning yourself (via both psychological projection and the cosmic fairness principal) and also because you are not omniscient or innocent. Only God is both fully morally upright and omniscient. Only He is qualified to judge.

But you have every right to judge a person’s actions, and when someone is made uncomfortable by that, they don’t prove that you are judgemental. They only prove that they condemn themselves with their own actions. Whenever one scornfully wields Scripture as a weapon, they wield it against themselves.

Pain and Reward

Everything would be easier with a magic wand, or at least a genie. Then again, magic is too complicated. Even if one could remove all the darkness from black magic it’d still be undesirable. It’s too much discipline. Sure there are perks to utilizing spells to mimic your reality, but there are always stipulations and consequences. A genie is easier- ask and you receive. There are stipulations, but there’s nothing in the way of discipline. Discipline is painful. All gain and no pain- it’d literally be magical.

Imagine uploading foreign language or martial arts abilities into your brain, like Neo in the Matrix. Imagine suddenly gaining the ability to shred on the guitar or write a symphony. I once read about a guy who got struck by lightening and suddenly became a musical savant. Even he had to work at it- it just came more easily to him. Imagine that you could suddenly transform your messy house into a clean one, your broken car into a fixed one, your diseased body into a healthy one. Imagine that you could sculpt your muscles and get stronger just by thinking about it. It’d be nice, wouldn’t it?

Most of us are lazy, and we only remain productive because of random bursts of inspiration or motivation. Everything comes and goes in fits and starts. Somehow we manage to be productive. But sometimes it feels like you’re driving uphill with a busted radiator. The car overheats every fifteen minutes, and you have to stop to douse the engine. It’s impossible not to think wishfully sometimes.

But it’s all wrong. The real excitement or joy of an accomplishment or reward is that it was gained through discipline. Discipline is really painful at times. Harrowing life experiences that force you to bail out or become brave are painful. Goals drive us, but processes shape us. Sometimes our goal is to learn a skill or become healthier or more fit. Sometimes our goal is just to make it out in one piece. Whatever the goal may be, the discipline required to remain focused and active toward that goal has a transcendent sort of quality.

So next time you are dreading the hard work you must put in or you are ruing  the emotional distress you’re about to endure, take heart and remember that the process both shapes you and makes your reward truly rewarding. Don’t let laziness make all the hard work seem like a drag. Remember that life is process, and desires [for goals] are put inside us to drive us. Without that, our existence would be pretty unfulfilling and depressing. Be thankful for the pain, because a magic wand would just make it all more difficult.

Meekness and Free Speech

It’s 12:30 am, and I work tomorrow. But I had to make note of something before I got to bed. Trump won the New Hampshire primary tonight. It was a landslide. I went out to Tuesday night trivia that my friend hosts as I do every Tuesday. I decide to wear my Donald Trump “Make America Great Again” hat. It seemed like a good night to celebrate the win.

I always get occasional weird looks from people. I am well aware of the feelings liberals have associated with Donald Trump. But I am also so well-versed in the guy’s ethos, that I take none of it seriously. And I see no need to censor myself in order to cater to the willful ignorance of others. I understand that wearing the hat might court assumptions that I am a racist, homophobic, xenophobic, chauvinistic, and Islamophobic bigot. The problem with all of those terms is that they mean  very different things to different people. They are unhelpful for thoughtful dialogue, but they are exceedingly helpful in an effort to censor other people.

A tall young man, maybe twenty-five, starts mean-mugging me within inches of my face. I stare back and lock gaze with him. I assume he’s joking. I talk about how Trump won the primary. I ask him if he’s excited. He pouts like a small child. I think he may have been trying to intimidate me. It certainly wasn’t working. Then cue the name-calling. I assume he’s joking. I laugh and pat him on the back. “Don’t fuckin touch me,” he demands. The tensions escalate. My blood pressure begins to rise. My girlfriend chimes in and tells him to chill out. He says, “fuck you,” to a woman half his size.

Meanwhile his short friend chimes in. He calls me all of the buzzwords. He says I am ignorant, racist, homophobic, Islamohophic, etc. He tells me to get rid of my hat. He talks about how he’s a PhD student, hoping to prove how enlightened he is. He goes on. Meanwhile, as my girlfriend cries after the other guy yelled at her I motion for the bartender. I tell her these guys got to go. She comes around and starts talking the taller guy down. The little guy talks about his need for a safe space. I am not even joking.

The bartender, a friend of mine, takes the taller guy over to the other side of the bar to talk him down. I call out the little guy for a little bit. I say nobody cares about his PhD. I say if he wants a safe space he can get the fuck out of there. I tell him I’m not any of those things, and he makes assumptions about a hat that says four words- MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN. I tell him he is so enlightened that he tries to censor me. I say this is not way to have a conversation. He starts to calm down and becomes apologetic. He extends an invitation to discuss. I tell him I forgive him, but that this is no time to engage in a discourse. I probably cussed him out more than I should.

This is the second time this week I have somewhat narrowly avoided a physical altercation. The other day I was dealing with a horrific troll at the gym. Fortunately I am pretty good at keeping my cool, but I don’t take well to people trying to censor me. As my nerves calmed down and I headed home I started to reflect.

As an evangelical, how well had I handled this situation? I was glad that I had stood my ground, but certainly I could have been more loving even in the midst of confrontation. I did forgive him. That was the righteous thing to do once the little guy apologized. But I didn’t need to curse at him. I was livid. I am still livid. The way people like this try to censor free speech is incredible. Because they have feelings about a hat, I am supposed to surrender my rights to what I wear or publicly express, even if it is not actively harming anyone? Not only this, their approach to express their indignation is to begin a vicious altercation.

I began to think, “Should I not wear this hat?” Not because of the altercation, but because of what it communicates to these people. The Apostle Paul says he is a Greek to the Greek and a Roman to the Romans. Am I losing evangelistic opportunities because I wear this hat? I don’t think that I am, but it seems a worthy thought. What are my intentions? Am I trying to boast my own courage? I go into an extremely liberal hub and wear a hat that I know will turn heads. It isn’t my primary focus. I like the hat, and I am a big supporter of Trump. I am excited about the election. I have every right to wear it. I have every right to stand my ground in a situation such as this.

I think I do the right thing to wear it. Where the opportunity comes to show the love of Christ is going to be the way in which I respond in the altercations. I didn’t make a total hash of it, but I could have surrendered my ego some more. I could have held my tongue some as I rebutted. With the one guy, things ended on an okay note.

My concern for modern Christianity is that they might see a scenario like this and assume that it might be best to avoid wearing such a hat to prevent the risk of offending others. When I was a teenager I had a t-shirt I got from a thrift store. It was an old black shirt that said “Old Fart.” I thought it was ironic and funny, so I wore it. My grandparents would laugh whenever they saw it. One evening I wore it to youth group, not thinking anything of it. An old lady at the church, notorious for being a stickler, approached my father about my t-shirt. She told me she was offended. My dad made me approach her to apologize that she had been offended by my shirt.

I never agreed with my dad about that. I still don’t . For all I know, he doesn’t anymore either. But at that time, he thought it was right for me to make peace in a situation where someone was offended. I respect his intent in the situation. I really do. But it always rubbed me the wrong way. I always thought the woman was being incredibly self-centered to be offended by the shirt. It wasn’t a statement to her or elderly people like she seemed to assume. It was a silly shirt from the store. I was too young to be deemed an old fart by anyone. So it was funny. This is why my grandparents found the same humor in it. Maybe it wasn’t an appropriate shirt to wear to church, but that wasn’t really the point. The point was that she was offended for reasons of her own insecurities and assumptions about me, and I had to censor myself and even apologize to her when I had done nothing wrong.

The Apostle also talks about not eating meat around other believers who don’t eat meat as the result of a weak conscience. For them, eating meat was akin to stumbling into sin. For Paul to eat meat around them affected their own attempts at righteousness as they desired to serve God. His point is that his eating of meat is worth nothing compared to the development of other believers. This I get. Christians should have a preoccupation with two things- evangelism and discipleship. This tells me that I should only be altering my behaviors if my behaviors are going to cause another person to falter in their walk with Christ.

In other words, there is a time and circumstance where it is righteous to censor our behaviors. But we ought not censor ourself just because another person is being offended. This would inevitably lead to sin. Jesus says himself that he came not to bring peace but a sword. Paul says in Romans that he is not ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In fact, to this day, Christians suffer violent loss and death because they refuse to be censored. They refuse to put their light under a bushel.

Certainly this extends further into other areas of our experience. Surely we have to draw a line somewhere. Censorship is a method of Satan. He seeks to censor all truth. It is one thing to alter behaviors for sake of righteousness. It is another to alter them for sake of serving another’s vainglory. My hat may offend others. And when it does, I have a duty to show love and kindness when they poise for attack. But I also have to defend myself and prepare to do whatever necessary to defend myself or deescalate the situation. But fighting against the tyranny of censorship begins with things like this.

Christians are not called to cater to the feelings of the world, whether our matters pertain to religion or not. Our call is to evangelize and disciple the world under the banner of a message that is extremely offensive to many people. It is important that we stand our ground in small ways and that we assert ourselves. But with God’s help, we must never lose focus of the call to love our enemies and to seek every opportunity possible to win souls for Christ.