News: September 2018
What was the last question that stopped you in your tracks? I bet it wasn’t, “How are you today?” that was lobbed in your direction as you walked into church yesterday, or my all time favorite thrown out by unprepared teachers all over the world, “So, what does that text mean to you?” After all who really cares what the text means to you. What truly matters is, “What does this text actually mean?”
Great questions resist the superficial response. Rather they require more of you than, “I’m fine. How are you?” They make you dig a little deeper; ponder a bit longer; respond more carefully; and sometimes you’ve got to answer with, “I’m not quite sure how to reply right now. I’ve got to think a bit more about that.” Good questions challenge your thinking, require thoughtful analysis, and careful consideration.
The Scriptures are filled with great questions that should give us pause and drive us deeper. Here is a list that have caught my attention and forced me to think.
· “What is man that you are mindful of him and the son of man that you care for him” Psalm 8:4
· “My God, my God, why have your forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? Psalm 22:1
· “I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come?” Psalm 121:1
· “Does not wisdom call? Does not understanding raise her voice? Proverbs 8:1
· And I heard a voice saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Isaiah 6:8
· “What does it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” Matthew 16:6
· “What is truth?” John 18:38
I’m sure you could add to that list. I’m fairly certain that each of you have wrestled with a good many questions that the ancient writers of Scripture posed thousands of years ago. After all, as Solomon reminded us, “There is nothing new under the sun.” We are certainly not the first inhabitants of this planet to wrestle with the kinds of tough questions we find in the Scriptures.
There is one particular question of late, however, that has given me pause as I try to make sense of the particularly virulent rhetoric that characterizes much of the political and cultural conversation in our country today. Though James, the brother of our Lord and pastor of the church in Jerusalem, posses this question to those within the church I see a broader application. He inquires of us, “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?” (James 4:1)
If you own a study bible or a commentary on the book of James take a moment now to look up this text and consider the meaning of that phrase, “your passions are at war within you.” So, what did you discover from your reading? (that, by the way, is a far better question than the ubiquitous “What does this mean to you?”) Alec Motyer puts it this way. “All our desires and passions are like an armed camp within us, ready at a moment’s notice to declare war against anyone who stand in the way of some personal gratification on which we have set our hearts.”
It is this simple. What drives the anger, resentment, fear, desperation, and dishonesty of so much of our public debate in contemporary America is our often unbridled, undisciplined passion for what we believe to be true or what we desire for ourselves. When those passions, which shape our worldviews, collide with beliefs that are utterly incompatible with our own, conflict is hard to avoid. Pause for but a moment and consider the language shaping our national “conversation” about abortion.
If this was a problem in the church, as it appears to have been then, imagine how much greater a difficulty it is in a world where political power, personal intimidation, and public humiliation are common tools people use to destroy those with whom they disagree. This is especially true when people truly believe that those who hold those differing positions are by definition evil and must be contained at minimum and destroyed if necessary.
Sadly, it is not just those “crazy liberals” who are guilty of that kind of behavior. In spite of the fact that Jesus made it clear that his Kingdom was not of this world the Church has often tried to force people to accept the authority of the Church at the point of a sword or in more recent times at the point of a piece of legislation. Whenever the church chooses to use power of either the political or military kind to force people to embrace an idea or way of life we have truly lost a proper understanding of what it means to be “salt and light.” And sadly that has been the case far too often.
I know that this is a tough issue. Slavery, the way it was practiced in this country for centuries, was a monstrous evil for which we are still paying a price. It certainly seems unlikely that the practice of slavery in this country would have been ended without the terrible suffering and bloodshed that were unleashed during the American Civil War. Sadly, more than a bit of that bloodshed can be laid at the feet of the Church in this country. For some reason those given the responsibility for the spiritual oversight of God’s people could not see how great a sin was the practice of slavery in pursuit of personal financial gain.
England likely avoided a similar fate because there were those, like William Wilberforce, who chose to stand tirelessly for what was right at a time when Scripture held a much greater influence over the culture than it does today. Abortion is as great a sin as slavery. Both reduce a person to something less than human in the mind of the culture. Both practices are built on the belief that personal preference and economic considerations outweigh any moral considerations. Both ignore or distort the teaching of Scripture.
How best to respond to such a great evil is, however, not always easily apparent to us. In the early church the response to the equally great evil of infanticide was not rallies before the Roman Senate, or letter writing campaigns, or boycotts. Rather the early church simply went about seeking to rescue those infants who were often left to die on the side of a road or in a field. While their actions violated Roman law and put them at grave risk they chose to quietly to do what was right without resorting to the kind of inflammatory language that often characterizes our efforts today.
I am not suggesting that as followers of Jesus Christ that we simply lay down before unjust laws. Paul the Apostle frequently took advantage of his Roman citizenship in clashes with local authorities. In those conflicts, however, Paul never stooped to the kind of coarse, harsh rhetoric that too frequently frames our discourse today.
There are so many inflammatory, dishonest, and defamatory comments shouted by people whose primary goal is the attainment of political power and influence that I personally have become numb. When I am tempted to lash out in response I force myself to remember three simple truths.
· When Jesus was attacked or defamed by those in power his response was always leavened with grace and truth. Even when they attacked his parentage claiming his was the illegitimate child of a Roman soldier (which by the way was an attack on the morality of his mother as well) he never “took the bait.” Never. No one was ever more reviled than our Lord yet he never returned evil for evil.
· Second, I’ve always found this bit of wisdom from the Proverbs to be helpful. In the old King James translation it goes like this: He that winneth souls is wise. Unfortunately the meaning of that text was lost to me for years because it was always used to encourage us to go “soul winning.” That is an unfortunate distortion of the real meaning that is: Be winsome in your interactions with people because that is the wise way to win their heart and mind. By the way a great example of how to do this can be found daily on the Colson Center website. I highly recommend it.
· Finally, we must simply come to grips with this warning given by Jesus to his disciples: If they hate me, they are going to hate you. In this world people may embrace the generic Jesus but not the one who says, “Go and sin no more.” Nor the one who says in the most exclusive of statements, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me.” Nor the one who has the audacity to point out rampant hypocrisy of those in power.
I wish that I had a simple, easy to follow formula for dealing with those controlling passions, my own and those of the ones with whom I so vehemently disagree. I just don’t. As I often encourage myself I would encourage you to stop and consider what I’ve just shared when you are tempted to let your passions take control. When we are able to do that I think we have the chance to “win the hearts of others.”
As I write this letter I am just a couple of days from my trip to Manila. By the time you receive it I will be in the midst of my teaching ministry to school leaders, teachers and student leaders from all over the Philippines. I am so thankful for the opportunity to possibly make an impact for Christ and for the cause of Christian schooling. I am frankly, however, not so excited about the journey itself. Long flights over the Pacific at night are, well, just long. The end is well worth the effort however. I will give you an update of my time in Manila in my next letter.
Thank you for your prayers and financial support. God moved in hearts and I was able to raise the amount I needed to cover the cost of my trip. You are a true blessing to me.
In His grace,