Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Continuing Trials and Tribulations of House Hunting

I have several things on my mind to write about, but the thoughts filling my heart are the house we currently have an offer on.  This is a short sale, which means we are waiting for the bank to decide if our counter to their counter is acceptable.  While I really do love this house and while it is the first house I really felt at home in, I know that whatever the Lord has is best.  The past two houses, I could not imagine finding one better suited for us and each time, God always led us to a better one.  This journey, as many of you know, as been long for us, and I am so looking forward to the end of the road and pulling into my driveway in the home God provided for us for the first time.  I have written many posts about this journey and I have used many Scriptures that really caught what I was dealing with at that time.  There is one verse on my mind today and I am not sure how exactly it applies as I begin to write this post, but I hope we learn together as I write.  It is one of my favorite verses and I think it is one we all should keep on our hearts.

And it came to pass, when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, a Man stood opposite him with His sword drawn in His hand. And Joshua went to Him and said to Him, "[Are] You for us or for our adversaries?" So He said, "No, but [as] Commander of the army of the LORD I have now come." And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped, and said to Him, "What does my Lord say to His servant?"  Joshua 5:13-14 NKJV

Dealing with a short sale can be daunting.  You basically submit an offer that your realtor enters into a computer system, which gets forwarded to the bank that holds the mortgage on the house.  That bank assigns a negotiator who you may or may not even communicate with other than contracts and counters.  If you agree on a price that price is then submitted to "investors" who have the final say.  You are dealing with unseen and unknown professionals at a large bank deciding how much money they are willing to lose to get rid of a property that is losing money.  It is a battle to find the lowest they will allow you to pay while they try to mitigate their losses and it is a battle where they hold the experience, resources, expertise, and ultimately the advantage.  It is in cases like this where Christians like to think of God being on their side.  The verse many take comfort in is:

What then shall we say to these things? If God [is] for us, who [can be] against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?  Romans 8:31-32 NKJV

While I would love to take that passage exactly as it was written and apply it to everything I want in life, I have to take that Scripture in the context of other Scripture.  One of those Scripture is Joshua 5:13-14, which I quoted to begin this post.  While God promises to "freely" give us "all things," it is not as open-ended as it sounds.  God certainly would not "give" us a mistress when we are married.  If God is for us, no one can come against us.  If God is for us, He will freely give us all things, but the question I have to ask is God for me?  I believe that question is answered in Joshua and affirmed by the teachings of Jesus. 

Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you [are] the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw [them] into the fire, and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.  John 15:4-7 NKJV

Please note I am not saying that God's love for us is premised on our love for Him.  God sent His Son to die for us while we were still sinners.  The plan of salvation was planned, initiated, and performed by God alone.  We had no part in it except for our inability to live a righteous enough to earn salvation.  In that, God is for everyone as God wants everyone to be saved.  After we are saved, God is still always for us in that God wants us to grow in Him.  That said, God is not going to live our lives for us.  Yes, Jesus led the righteous life that we could not so that His death could be counted as payment for our sins, but we still live our lives.  God wants us to make the right choices, God wants us to live a life pleasing to Him, God wants us to act as the light and salt that we are, but ultimately it is our free will to live that life.  God gives us the ability, but we must choose to use it. 

It is in that day-to-day life and the choices we face and make each day that I am talking about.  God is not going to be for you when you are not walking with Him.  It is not for us to make decisions based on our own wisdom and then expect God to bless that plan and our lives through it.  God is also not going to be for us in our sin.  I refer you back to my previous example, if you are having an affair, God is not going to be for you in that relationship.  He is not going to bless it or condone it, but He does have a history of exposing it.  When faced with choices, temptations, and other decisions, our question should not be if God is for us or against us, our question should be is if we are with God. 

This brings me back to Joshua.  Joshua was poised to attack Jericho on their road to taking possession of the Promised Land.  He approached Jericho and saw a man dressed for battle.  I imagine this Man did not appear as any normal man is it would not have accounted for Joshua's reaction once He revealed who He was.  Joshua asks this Man if it was for Israel or for their adversaries and I love the answer.  His answer was "No."  While I normally hate yes/no answer when I ask someone to choose between several things, this was absolutely the perfect answer.  You see, this Man was no man, but this Man was none other than Jesus Christ.  This is one of the several Old Testament encounters with our Lord.  Joshua was asking the wrong question.  The right question was not whether or not He was with Joshua or His enemies, but the right question was to examine his own heart to see if he was with God.  God was always for Israel taking the land, but Joshua witnessed forty years of the generation that was not with God in that plan die off.  Jesus revealed who He was in the rest of His answer "but [as] Commander of the army of the LORD I have now come."  You see, the army of the Lord was ready, willing, and able with overtake their adversaries forty years prior, but Israel was not ready to follow God.  

Let's review what happened then.  Joshua, Caleb, and the team sent to spy out the land returned and gave a scary account of giants, strong armies, and an impossible task.  The people bemoaned the predicament and completely rejected the idea of the seemingly impossible odds of overtaking the land.  Hearing this response, Joshua spoke up.

But Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, [who were] among those who had spied out the land, tore their clothes; and they spoke to all the congregation of the children of Israel, saying: "The land we passed through to spy out [is] an exceedingly good land. If the LORD delights in us, then He will bring us into this land and give it to us, 'a land which flows with milk and honey.' Only do not rebel against the LORD, nor fear the people of the land, for they [are] our bread; their protection has departed from them, and the LORD [is] with us. Do not fear them." And all the congregation said to stone them with stones. Now the glory of the LORD appeared in the tabernacle of meeting before all the children of Israel.  Numbers 14:6-10 NKJV

I can not say for sure, but I believe Joshua was reminded of what happened way back then.  Joshua began this exchange incorrectly wondering if God was going to be with them, but ended the conversation knowing that the real question was if Israel was now ready to follow God. 

And that brings me to where I am.  My wife and I love this house we have an offer on, and while our prayers have been about favor with the bank, there is always the caveat of whatever the Lord wills.  We do not want this house if it is not the house God wants for us.  We may think we want it, but I was ready to give up two houses ago thinking I would never find a house I liked as much as that one in our price range.  Little did I know I would find at least two others.  If God was just "for" me in that first house I would never have found this one and if this one is not the one God has for us then the next one.  We made the decision a long time ago to make this about surrender.  Anyone (and many do) can make demands of God and expect God give them whatever toys they ask for and to bless them if they do receive them.  That was Joshua's approach.  He made a demand of Jesus asking "Are you for us or against us?"  That is always our approach when we expect God to do our bidding and give us what we think we want.  However, what we should be doing is surrendering ourselves to His will.  That is what we do when we ask not for some specific thing but ask for His will in our lives.  That is what we did when we did not ask to give us this specific house but to ask God to find us the house He has for us.  It is never about God following us in our will. but us finally realizing that it is our place to follow God.  In other words, it is not about God being for us, but about us being with God, abiding in Him, and in His plan for our lives. 

Sometimes that requires patience.  This is probably especially true with me as God has been trying to teach me patience for years.  It is also about trust and knowing that even when things seem to not be working out, things are working out perfectly according to His plan.  I refer you back to Numbers for a great example of that.  To the Israelites, God's plan had a major wrench thrown into it as they came to a promised land they thought was impossible to conquer.  The lost all faith in the God that has shown them miracle after miracle and paid a dear price for their rejection of His plan.  I think I needed to be reminded of this today.  I think I needed to be reminded that though I am in an unsure position in a situation (dealing with a bank on a short sale) that I have absolutely zero power to affect, that God does have a plan and has everything under His control.  I need to trust that though this road has been very long, that God has taken me through, each step, leading me to where He has for me.  If you abide in God, you never have to wonder whether God is for you or against you because you are with God.  Sometimes that means following Him in obedience and sometimes that means waiting on Him in patience and trust.  Right now I am in the latter place and that is another lesson I am learning from this.  I closed many of these postings with Proverbs 3:5-6, but I am not going to today.  Not that is not just as applicable this time than any other time but because I looking at it from a different perspective.  As we trust in the Lord with all our hearts and lean not on our own understanding, sometimes we walk on the path God made for us and sometimes we have to sit back and wait for Him to clear it first. 

Be still, and know that I [am] God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!
The LORD of hosts [is] with us; The God of Jacob [is] our refuge. Selah  Psalm 46:10-11 NKJV

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Nature of Evil

There is a error being promoted by many.  This error has been promoted by liberals and conservatives alike.  It has been used by both sides to justify such things as gun control and many other onerous government prerogatives.  This idea is that people are generally "good."  While I understand those who believe in the Grandfather-in-the-Sky religion or no religion at all promoting this false idea, I get very frustrated when those who claim to be Christian promote the same idea.  I say that because, according to Scripture, that "truth" is a complete lie.  Today I want to talk briefly about the nature of evil.  Before I begin, I must dispose of this lie that so many believe.

The heart [is] deceitful above all [things], And desperately wicked; Who can know it?  Jeremiah 17:9 NKJV

As it is written: "There is none righteous, no, not one; There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one." Romans 3:10-12 NKJV

Without Jesus, the heart of man is evil.  Mankind, on its own, is not generally good but predominantly evil.  This is Scriptural fact.  In fact, there are none good.  Except for Jesus, there has never been anyone who was not a sinner and who did not need a savior.  Through Adam and Eve, we are all born as slaves to a sinful nature with the only cure being Jesus.  This idea that man is basically good is not consistent with Scripture and it is an idea that must be challenged. 

This brings me to my point for today.  I will use the idea of gun control as the backdrop for my position.  Those who favor gun control like to take about how more guns mean more violence and how that the cause of all the violence and evil is the free flow of guns.  Those who are against gun control say that most people are law-abiding citizens and that most people are "good" and would never think of shooting another.  One side blames guns and the other blames the "rare" occasion of evil.  Both sides are wrong. 

Those who believe that curtailing guns will curtail violence are utterly ignorant of the history of mankind.  Cain killed Abel and mankind has not stopped killing one another ever since.  Murder, mayhem, rape, pillage, war, violence, and all the like have been around for a long time before the invention of firearms.  Guns are not the cause of murder but they are an expression of the murderous sinful nature of mankind.  What I am saying is that guns are not a cause of violence but an expression of our violent nature.  We did not find guns and decide to kill people, we decided we wanted to kill people and spent much time over thousands of years devising easier and more efficient ways of doing so.  Making guns legal or illegal will not stop people from killing one another.  Man would just find a different way of doing so, perhaps something even more violent.  For example, such "weapons" as box cutters and fertilizer have been used to kill thousands, even in modern history.  Guns are merely an expression of the nature of man without Jesus. 

That said, the idea that we are all basically good and good people need guns to protect themselves from evil people is also false.  I am not denying that guns are useful in self defense and have been used righteously many times to protect one's own life or the life of others.  However, I am denying that people are basically good.  The reason why "good" people need guns to defend themselves is because guns were invented in the first place.  Guns are an expression of mankind's propensity for violence and law-abiding people only need them to keep up with those who are more evil.  Even law-abiding gun owners have a slant for violence, only there's is more controlled.  They may not go out and commit crimes, but many brag and fantasize about what they would ever do with whatever gun they want to brag about that day to anyone who should ever try to harm their family.  I agree that they have a right of self defense, but the fact that they act like they look forward to it reveals that they are just as violent only they are looking for a "righteous" reason to be violent.  Mankind, without Jesus (and even sometimes with if they are not abiding in Him), is evil and violent.  This even includes law-abiding gun owners. 

This world is a fallen world populated by violent, selfish, wicked man.  We are all born with a sinful nature and in that nature we are all born slaves to sin.  One only needs to observe the behavior of children to know that very well.  I have heard one person teach that we should not chastise our children for bad behavior but that we should admonish demonic influences on their lives.  That idea is not Scriptural unless your child is actually possessed by a demon.  Scripture tells us that the behavior of someone under demonic possession is not the same as your routine misbehaving child.  That idea only denies that fact that even the children of Christian parents are born slaves to sin.  We may want to deny that fact, but they need Jesus just as much as we did before we came to  know Him as Lord and Savior.  In fact, Jesus is the only hope for this fallen world.  Gun control, gun rights, stricter laws, looser laws, and strong police force, vigilantism, and anything else are all useless without Jesus. 

Every man is born with an evil sinful nature and the world we see is merely an expression of that nature.  This is evidenced in history and even present behavior.  I mean just look at the rioting and looting that goes on by otherwise normal people after something as trivial as a sports game.  The heart of man is evil and the only one who can change that heart is Jesus.  Only when the Holy Spirit lives in your heart can it begin to change.  If you want the world to change, preach Jesus. 

He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed [us] into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.  Colossians 1:13-14 NKJV

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

A Different Kind of Liberation Theology

Most of the church would agree that what is known as Liberation Theology is really premised on political ideology clothed in religious terms and is by no means an accurate presentation of the Gospel.  In fact, I would go so far as to say that it is not even truly a Christian idea.  It may invoke the name of Jesus and use Christian terms, but it applies the teaching of Scripture in novel and Biblically unsustainable ways.  That said, there is another kind of Liberation Theology that is taught by those who generally reject what we commonly associate as Liberation Theology.  We may not call it by the same name, but it is just as much using political ideology to hijack Christianity to create a political change.  While I may agree with them politically in most of their beliefs, we can not attach it to the Gospel.  Today I want to talk about what I would call Conservative Liberation Theology and I will start with a Scripture they love to hate and even write entire books on how to twist the plain meaning of this one Scripture.

Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God's minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God's minister, an avenger to [execute] wrath on him who practices evil. Therefore [you] must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience' sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God's ministers attending continually to this very thing. Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes [are due], customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.  Romans 13:1-7 NKJV

One of the most vocal progenitors of this idea is Pastor Chuck Baldwin.  Let me preface this by saying that I have a lot of respect for Pastor Baldwin and I agree with him politically in most areas.  Where I disagree, though, is tying it to Christianity.  He wondered out loud in his column last week as to how many pastors across the nation were preaching against gun control from their pulpits.  He bemoaned that many were not.  Of course, one could ask home how many times he presents the Gospel in his weekly column, but I digress.  He seems to feel that we all have some Christian duty to stand up for gun rights, smaller government, Constitutional idealism, and political freedom and liberty. 

When I look at Jesus and the writings of the New Testament, I can not find anywhere where these ideas are taught.  Even more, when those epistles and Gospels were written, Christians (and even Jews) were living under a level of tyranny we could not even begin to comprehend in America.  Think about it, Jesus was literally humiliated, tortured, scourged, and nailed to a cross and left to die for committing no crime.  He was killed for who He claimed to be.  As for the rest, we know Stephen was stoned to death for preaching the Gospel, tradition tells us that Peter was crucified upside down, John the Baptist and others were beheaded, and as the church grew martyrs suffered such horrific deaths as being boiled in oil, torn to shreds by wild animals, and burned alive just to name a few. 

In other words, back when the instructions to the church were written, Christians did not even have the right to be Christian and many paid the ultimate price for their faith.  In that context, let us examine how they were told to react through their persecution to help us understand how we are to react in what we call persecution.  This lesson starts with Jesus and His instructions in the Sermon on the Mount.  I begin there because Jesus gives a very direct example of government persecution and what our reaction should be.

And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two.  Matthew 5:41 NKJV

When Jesus spoke this verse, it was legal and common practice for a Roman soldier to compel any Jewish person for any reason and at any time to carry his stuff for a mile.  Just imagine going about your day and a soldier comes up to you and says "Carry my stuff."  and you were compelled to stop whatever you were doing at a moment's notice to do so.  I am sure we would write letters, have protests, complain about not enough Christians preaching about it, etc, but Jesus tells us something different. He tells us to not only comply but to do more than what was asked.  If this does not sting at the pride of any man I do not know what will.  However, that is what Jesus tells us to do.  We are not to resist oppression, but subject ourselves to it as a means to preaching and witnessing the Gospel.  Jesus makes that abundantly clear when he makes this statement:

But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you,that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.  Romans 5:44-45 NKJV

Will we be used, taken advantage of, trampled over, and persecuted as Christian?  Yes, we will.  Our reaction, though, is not to resist it, but to live with it.  We not called to fight back (in fact, Jesus just got done telling us to turn the other cheek), we are not called even to work to change the laws.  We are called to preach the Gospel.  Nothing is ever more important than that.  Let us now look at an example of how the apostles responded when they faced persecution:

And they agreed with him, and when they had called for the apostles and beaten [them], they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name.  Acts 5:40-41 NKJV

When the apostles suffered for Jesus, they did not complain, start a campaign, run for office, start a political party, or preach change of government.  What they did was rejoice.  They rejoiced in that they were worthy to suffer for the name of Jesus.  This is a far cry from how many of us respond to today's "persecution." 

Many will argue that they are only fighting for rule of law.  They will argue that the Constitution is the true government and Romans 13 means an allegiance to that document and not those sworn to uphold it.  There are two problems with that argument.  Romans tells us to be subject to people, not paper.  Furthermore, our Lord was tried and convicted at an illegal trial.  Did He complain or did He submit Himself to its outcome?  Another great example is Stephen.  It was illegal for the Jews to execute anyone (which is why even Jesus had to be brought before Pilate), yet Stephen was taken and executed without Roman involvement.  Did Stephen complain about his rights?  We all know that neither Jesus nor Stephen called them out on the illegality of their actions, but asked for God's forgiveness upon those who were persecuting them. 

And, before I close, I need to address gun rights.  I see nothing in Scripture addressing gun rights.  Surely there was no such thing as guns at the time the New Testament was written, but I see nothing about sword rights either.  In fact, the only example I can think of where a sword was used by a Christian was when Peter struck off the ear of one of those who came to arrest Jesus.  Peter was scolded for his actions, not commended.  Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek, to love those who hate us, to bless and do good to those who hate us.  I do not see how shooting anyone can fulfill any of those commands. 

Perhaps you feel you have a compelling reason to own a gun.  Jesus did tell his apostles to buy a sword when going into the world to preach, but we must take that Scripture in the light of other Scripture.  History and Scripture tell is that the heroes of our faith did not resist persecution, but rejoiced in it.  Jesus already told us that we are not to resist an evil person, that we are to turn the other cheek, and that we are to love our enemies.  This idea that we are told to take a sword to kill others is not consistent with the teachings of Jesus or the examples given to us in Scripture of the early church.  One can perhaps make the argument that taking the ultimate action against another is righteous when defending your own life or the lives of others, but even that is an area in which we must be careful.  The defense of life is one thing but vengeance is an entirely different thing as we must be careful we are not crossing that line. 

The fact is that our commission is to make disciples of all the nations.  Everything we do must be done in that context.  There is no need for gun rights, constitutional idealism, limited government, or anything else for that matter for that to happen.  The fact is that we have the commandment to subject ourselves to government, even an oppressive government.  The only exception to that rule is when government tells us do either do something against our faith or forbids us to do something God commands us to do.  Even in those exceptions, the example in Scripture from Daniel through John was to accept the temporal consequences for our actions of faith.  Daniel went into the lions den, the three brave young Jews went into the fiery furnace, Stephen went out to be stoned, Paul suffered multiple and tremendous persecutions, and Jesus went willingly to the cross.  That is our example and one we would be wise to follow. 

Form of government is not important in fulfilling the Great Commission.  The Gospel has spread in tyrannical as well as free nations.  In fact, many times, the Gospel has spread even better in nations ruled under the harshest of tyranny.  While you may hold views on a political level, it is not a cause for the church.  Making it so only serves to make those who teach this as guilty as those who teach Liberation Theology.  I get that we all want freedom from government oppression, but we have to look at the Scriptural way of attaining that freedom.  God used tyranny many times as a tool.  This is especially true in Judges.  The people would stray and God would allow a tyrannical government to overtake them and rule over them.  When the time came again for freedom, the answer was not a political movement, a plea for constitutional idealism, arguing for gun rights, running for office, holding pickets and protests, writing their oppressors a nasty letter, or anything else political.  The answer was always repentance and turning back to God.  That was always what God was waiting for and always what turned God to remove that oppression.  That brings us back to where the church began.  Its funny, we try to add so much to the Gospel but in the end it always comes back to the Gospel.  We should not be preaching gun rights, civil rights, corruption, conservatism, liberalism, or anything of the like.  The answer to any perceived tyranny is repentance and the only way to repentance is Jesus.  In the meantime, as we live under a government that is ever-encroaching into our lives, the answer is not to resist but to remember the first command Jesus gave when asked what it took to follow Him.  That command was to deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Jesus.  As for government, let God deal with that, we have more important things to do. 

Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, [and] giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this [is] good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.  1 Timothy 2:1-4 NKJV