Whose Side Are You On?

If you’ve been a member here long you’ve heard me speak of one of my favorite professors, Jack P. Lewis. Dr. Lewis received a PhD from Harvard in New Testament, and another from Hebrew Union in Old Testament. I last saw him at Harding University in 2014 where he was a guest lecturer on the subject of “fasting.” In his 90′s, he was a bit frail, but spoke with a strong voice. Since his eyesight was really bad, he read his lecture from a large computer screen with especially large fonts.

Within the last two years, he’s published at least two new books: one on archeology (volume 2 – 574 pages), and the other a history of the Bishops Bible – the fore-runner of the King James Bible.

I’m back at Harding this week, speaking three times at their Bible lectures series and, meeting another dear professor, Phillip Slate, I asked about Dr. Jack. He related this story. “Dr. Lewis’ eyesight is now gone. He can no longer hear. He is moved about in a wheel chair. Each Sunday he is brought to church and placed at the entrance to the auditorium where he greets people, welcoming them as they enter for worship. Someone asked him: “Why do you come? You cannot see. You cannot hear. What are you getting out of it?”

Dr. Lewis replied: “I want everyone to know whose side I’m on.”

Do people know whose side you are on by the life you live and the worship you give?

10 — What We Believe About the Christian Life (Part 3)

The guiding principle for all Christian living is this: We must live to please the Lord.

This includes living a devotional life that begins, first and foremost, with a focus on scripture, the Bible.[1]  No one is born knowing what pleases the Lord, and no one can know it without coming into contact with the book that makes God’s will known.

This focus on Scripture must be comprehensive, for it is all of the Bible that guides us into the will of God.[2]  As we read, we will need to be introspective, thinking about how the word of God applies in our lives and that will lead us to prayer.  We cannot possibly be what God has called us to be without His help.[3]  While doing these things, we must challenge ourselves to adopt practices that will facilitate becoming more Christlike in our behavior.

Pleasing God requires living in community with Christian people.  God has made us to be His people, separating us from all others in His eyes.  He has not just saved you, but in saving you He adopted you into His family.  We must find our place in that family and serve.[4]  As one writer puts it: There are two things we cannot do alone: One is to be married, and the other is to be a Christian. [5]

Since we are the “pillar and ground of truth” for the world,[6] we must live responsibly, adhering to sexual purity and ethical behavior.  The Psalmist reminds us who can live in the house (family) of God: he whose walk is blameless, who does what is righteous, speaks the truth from his heart, has no slander on his tongue, does his neighbor no wrong and casts no slur on his fellowman.  It is the person who despises that which is vile, honors those who fear the Lord, keeps his word even when it hurts, and who lends his money without interest and does not accept a bribe against the innocent.[8]

Footnotes

[1] The focus begins with scripture and not with God or Jesus or the Holy Spirit, for nothing can be known about the will of God for our lives – or much about God for that matter – without the revelation of scripture.

[2] 2 Timothy 3:16-17 – All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

[3] The New Testament letters are full of reminders that it is God who works in us to desire and act according to His good purpose (cf. Philippians 2:13).

[4] In writing about this relationship in the body of Christ, Paul emphasizes this point writing: From [Christ] the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” (Ephesians 4:16).

[5] Paul Tournier, cited by Philip Yancy, Church: Why Bother? (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998) p. 37.

[6] 1 Timothy 3:15

[7] Psalm 5:1-4

Sunday, December 28. Revelation 20 – 22

Whew!

Are you feeling a sigh of relief?

Two relatives have told me recently: “I’m a few days behind, but I am going to make them up and complete this reading.”

I’m confident they will. There’s nothing like the feeling of completion – especially when that completion is accompanied by knowing you’ve read God’s word all the way through.

Congratulations!

I find it interesting that in these last chapters of Revelation, John is so overcome with emotion that he falls down and worships at the feet of the angel who brings him the Revelation. In fact, he does it twice, and both times, the angel rebukes him.

It’s really our problem too isn’t it?

We lean away from God when we begin to worship something other than God – and sometimes, what we choose to worship is even religious – perhaps “Christian” – in nature. Nothing, absolutely nothing, should get in our way of bringing glory, honor, and praise to God every day of our life. In our private thoughts, in our words to others, in our demeanor, in our ethics – all should be done with the goal of bringing the Lord glory, honor, and praise. And when we are tempted to neglect, or do otherwise, let us hear the angel of the Lord say: “Do not do it. Worship God!”

Wednesday, December 24. Revelation 7 – 9

Do you remember the ominous dum dum dum dum dum dum in the old movie “Jaws?” When you heard the score, you just knew something bad was going to happen. Setting the mood throughout a movie or play is a task given to the musical score.

But just as effective as music is also silence – especially prolonged silence. It creates an uneasiness difficult to handle and may, depending on the situation, heighten anxiety – just like the dum dum dum dum of “Jaws.” This is the function of thirty minutes of silence at the beginning of chapter eight. Something ominous is about to take place and God is in control. As Leonardo da Vinci once wrote: “Nothing strengthens authority as much as silence.”

The opening of the seven seals brought a vision of martyrs who, having paid the last full measure of their devotion, cried out to God: “How much longer are you going to allow this to go on?” God replied: “A little while longer.” What follows in this chapter are the attempts of God to get mankind to repent and turn to Him. It is very much like the words of Amos 4. In stage after stage, God sends punishments: famine, drought, blight, plagues and war and yet, none of these are effective in getting people to turn to God. “Still,” he says, “you have not returned to me.”

If you don’t think God still sends calamities to get people to wake up, chapter 8 should clinch it for Bible students. But, as it turns out, these calamities are no more effective in promoting repentance in Revelation than they were in Amos (Revelation 9:20-21).

So why do it this way?

It is not to say that the punishments were/are totally ineffective. Some were bound to review their lives and come to God. It is however to say that the majority paid no attention. The disciplines in those cases, rather than be seen as correctives should properly be seen as punishments. But why would God do this, especially when often the innocent (children) also suffer?

Such is the encompassing nature of sin. The suffering of the guilty bleeds over to the innocent. The guilty should be aware that it is not just their own lives they are ruining, but also the lives of others.

Tuesday, December 23. Revelation 4 – 6

Ancient papyrus was normally made by glueing horizontal strips of papyrus to vertical strips. The horizontal side was the writing side. The reverse was difficult to write on, but it could be done if the message were particularly long or important or urgent. The scroll in the hand of God contains a message that is all three.

The importance of the message is signified by the fact that it is sealed not with one or two seals, but with seven. Who has the right to reveal such an important message? To the victor belongs the spoils and all rights of the victorious, and the lamb, the lion of the tribe of Judah – Jesus – is the victor. He controls the message of the scroll. He controls the future.

Jesus did not, however, become the victor by trampling on innocent people – like the figures of the four horses in chapter 6. He became victorious in a much more noble way: by purchasing people for God with the payment of his own blood. Jesus does not force people into servitude. He dies for them.

Christ’s death has the power to turn believers into kings and priests, and the benefits of his death are not confined to any race, nation or culture, but available to us all.
One final note: Jesus is not a “servant” or an “adjunct” to God. He is God. He stands in the center of the throne, where God is, and is worshiped along with the Father (5:13) by the same heavenly host, in virtually the same words (compare 4:11 and 5:12).

Monday, December 22. Revelation 1 – 3

Does God carry a grudge?

I ask the question because of Jesus’ words in Revelation 2, repeated three times: “I have this against you.”

The heart of the Revelation is found in chapters two and three, for there, up front, is what the book is really all about: changing behavior.

The letters of the New Testament usually have the same format. They open by laying a foundation which will encourage the behavioral change specifically desired later in the letter. Revelation however differs. It requires the change first, then details the reasons for change in the rest of the book.

Though they are only two in number, chapters two and three are full of important teaching. First, each body of Christians (a “church”) is as much the Church as all Christians everywhere. Whether at Laodicea or Smyrna or Pergamum, each is called the church. Second, it is possible for a church to lose its status as a church. It’s called, “removing” the candlestick. Jesus is the one who does it and it is behaviorally determined.

Third, there appears to be no individual judgment in this book. Our normal picture of judgment is that we each appear before the judgment seat of God to be evaluated individually. But as Revelation opens, we are judged as a group in our local congregations. This is why congregational membership and involvement is important, and also why we must each assume responsibility for the direction our community body of Christ takes and our participation in that direction.

Sunday, December 21. 1 John 5 – Jude

The first century Church was not immune to congregational difficulties. For the most part, church leaderships countered division with a call to peace.
There were, of course, those occasions when expulsion of a member (we’d probably call it “shunning”) was practiced. Sometimes, it involved a persistent moral failing of a member who refused to change his life (1 Corinthians 5). At other times, it involved members who misunderstood scripture and whose lifestyle brought shame on the whole congregation (2 Thessalonians 3). And at times, it involved church members who were, for whatever reason, just looking for power (Romans 16:17ff).

In an unnamed first century congregation, there was just such a power struggle and we find the story in 3 John. A Christian named Diotrephes had, over time, become a respected church leader. He had become so powerful that he successfully forbade his church to listen to the apostle John (we are not given the reason). Anyone who did so, Diotrephes “put out of the church.” Gaius, another Christian in the same congregation, was at a loss as to what to do. Everyone respected Diotrephes. Gaius did as well. But Gaius also respected John. Gaius had no power and no influence. He wasn’t taking sides, he just didn’t know how to respond.

In his letter, Third John, John could have written to him: “You need to take my side. After all, I am an Apostle.” But he didn’t. That would have just exacerbated the division. Instead, John encouraged him to continue to live in the Christ-like manner he’d been following, and if he had any questions at all, to refer them to another member, Demetrius, who was well spoken of “by everyone.”

Jesus said: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave– just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:25-28). Later Paul wrote: “We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me” (Romans 15:1-2).

There are those times when harsh discipline must be meted out in any family, and the family of God is no exception. But when that happens, we must be sure we’ve done all we can to follow these words first.

In difficult times, we all look for someone with a level head whose walk is closer to Christ’s and further from the world’s. Demetrius had such a walk. Someone may be looking for just such an example in you. How’s your walk going?

Saturday, December 20. 1 John 1 – 4

The word “antichrist”only occurs in the first two letters of John in the Bible and whoever they were, they were a part of the Christian fellowship being addressed.

Popular religious preachers and authors commonly describe “the antichrist” as some world leader, a messenger empowered by Satan, who has yet to arise to lead the world against Christians and deceive Christians into leaving the fold. Customarily, the “antichrist” is paired with the “man of lawlessness” of 2 Thessalonians. But in describing the antichrist, authors and teachers would do well to confine themselves to the texts where the specific identification is made. An antichrist is anyone who undermines our submission to the authority of Jesus. It can be a non-christian, but it is likely also to be a Christian.

Second, this attempt to identify the “antichrist” as some well placed political figure, and the attempt to see him in our own history, leads Christians away from focusing on their own behavior, submitting to the will of Jesus. In doing that, they (and we) ignore the primary message of First John – how we behave determines whether Christians are really disciples, or just hypocrites.

Third, John ties “belief” to behavior. “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God,” he writes. We get side-tracked here into the discussion of whether “belief” is enough to be a Christian, or whether one must be baptized. But that is a mistake of huge proportions. John doesn’t write simply that the one who believes is “born of God,” but rather, that the one who believes and is born of God loves those others who are likewise born of God and keeps God’s commands (note 1 John 4:19 – 5:2). John is not discussing how one becomes a Christian, or how one is saved, but how the saved person acts toward other saved people. After all, John is not writing to the unsaved, but to Christians.

Wednesday, December 17. James 5 – 1 Peter 2

Most folks focus on the last six verses of James 5, wondering about the anointing with oil for the sick, but I believe we’d do well to spend more time on the first 12 verses.

I find it more than of a little interest that James would address Christians and accuse them of living in self-indulgence and murder. But perhaps he wasn’t speaking of Christians. Perhaps he was speaking of those the Christians wanted to be among their number. After all, earlier he condemned the practice of favoritism toward rich, giving them seats of honor and displacing the poor in their assemblies. Either way, James is adamant about the dangers of wealth and the kind of lifestyle it affords – especially the tendency to step on the weak in an effort to get one’s way.

And then there is the matter of patience.

The church is the community of the recuperating, all attempting to recover the lost image of God He intended us to display. There is ever present the despair of failure in our own lives, and the lives of those we count on. But the call is to patience and perseverance. God is working. He will bring about in His own time the results he wants. Until then, we look to His compassion and mercy.

In now over 40 years as a minister, I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve heard folks discuss whether we ought to anoint the sick with oil. Seldom has anyone come to discuss with me the lack of patience and perseverance in church life. Please note that oil serves no function in healing in this passage. It is the prayer of faith that saves the sick.

Seeing with right values, hanging in and hanging on, a healthy prayer life and an eager expectation of the Lord’s return: these are more important than oil.