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Archive for the ‘Obedience’ Category

That we live in strange times is akin to saying the sun is bright. Conservative Americans have seen their country’s moral universe turned inside out, especially with the 5-4 edict of the Supreme Court last summer pronouncing same-sex marriage the law of the land.

Not only is same-sex marriage now law, we are seeing that sexual freedom trumps religious freedom. Christian bakers and florists have been targeted by same-sex marriage folk in order to force those Christians to embrace homosexual weddings or face legal retribution. Under threats from the National Football League and big entertainment and big business, the governor of Georgia vetoed a state bill that would have protected ministers from having to perform such weddings. The Wall Street Journal described the bill in this way: “The ‘Free Exercise Protection Act,’ passed earlier this month, allows faith-based organizations to decline services or fire employees over discordant religious beliefs. The bill also aims to protect religious officials from having to perform marriage ceremonies or other services ‘in violation of their legal right to free exercise of religion,’ according to the legislation.”

North Carolina’s state legislature passed and its governor signed a law that requires persons to use the restroom of their biological gender. That is hardly radical, is it? The state has come under fire from liberal groups who think that transgender persons should be able to use the rest room of their perceived psychological gender, not biological.

So this is the slide into radical depravity down which western culture is descending and, in truth, should not be unsurprising. The apostle Paul wrote almost two millennia ago: “Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error” (Romans 1:24–27).

As sad it is to watch our culture’s collapse into moral degeneracy, not to mention what this will mean for our children and grandchildren, it is beyond sad to watch professing Christians follow the culture. Have breathed the philosophical air of secular education and popular entertainment, many professing Christians, including both younger and older persons, see little, if anything at all, wrong with sexual intimacy (either heterosexual or homosexual) outside of marriage, same-sex unions, or people changing their sexual identification. Others, who are more traditional about such matters, openly and proudly support political candidates who support abortion rights or who boast about their sexual “conquests.”

Why is this? Why do the folk next door who are in church on Sunday follow the popular trends of culture? Many right answers could be offered, but one stands out: the Bible simply is not viewed as authoritative over our lives. It may be “the good Book,” but it is held as a book of general guidelines instead of specific precepts.

It really does not matter how much of the Bible we know, how much we memorize, how many times we read it, or how much we revere it if we do not believe that it is the written Word of God that has authority over our thinking and our actions. Jesus’ condemnation of the religious leaders of his day could be given to many of our day: “You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men’” (Matthew 15:7–9).

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If ignorance is indeed bliss, then those Americans unaware of this year’s presidential primary are of all people most blessed! One major Democratic candidate could (and probably should) be facing a federal indictment over how top-secret state communications were handled. The other top Democratic candidate is a self-described socialist. Not long ago, he would have been relegated to an asterisk as an inconsequential third-party extremist. This is a different America, indeed.

The leading Republican candidate has boasted of his adulterous “conquests.” He appeared on the cover of “Playboy” with a model wearing only his tuxedo jacket covering her body. His casino in New Jersey was the first in America to open a strip club. He attempted to displace a widow through eminent domain to build a limousine parking lot for his casino. And he has been personally endorsed by the president of Liberty University, the world’s largest evangelical university. These are strange times, indeed.

The almost universal mantra of Christians who support the leading Republican candidate goes something like this, “We’re electing the Commander-in-Chief, not the Pastor-in-Chief.” If one says that often enough, one can use it to cover a multitude of sins. Indeed, Americans are not voting for the nation’s chief pastor and no candidate is perfect, but does that mean that character, virtue, and vice do not matter?

The Democratic primary is down to two contenders. Both are vocal supporters of abortion and same-sex marriage. How can Christians support such candidates? Again, people say, “My candidate believes in other things that are good. Besides, even though I personally don’t agree with abortion or same-sex marriage, I must not impose my Christianity upon other people.”

Here is the question that Christians must answer: Does the lordship of Christ over their lives matter outside the church? Does the lordship of Christ carry over to decisions we make at our voting precinct?

Let’s be clear: the Bible knows nothing about dichotomizing one’s life into realms of “sacred” and “secular.” For the Christian, all of life is sacred. Nothing exists outside the Lordship of Christ. For those who disagree, think deeply about these stark words of Jesus: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (Matt 7:21-23).

To the one who protests that Jesus is referring to “religious” things (the ones condemned speak of their prophesying, exorcising demons, and doing miracles in Christ’s name), think about 1 Corinthians 10:31: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” If activities as seemingly banal as eating and drinking are to be done to the glory of God, then surely our vote for leaders of our country ought to be done to the glory of God.

What we must do is think deeply about those for whom we vote. The best candidate may not be a Christian, but at least he should be a person of common decency and virtue, a person who has demonstrated a consistency lifestyle and decision-making that does not blatantly contradict scriptural precepts. Is this person honest? Does he exhibit a concern for others? Has he been faithful in his most intimate relationships with others? How does he treat his opposition – with grace or retribution? Does he exhibit, not merely with words but with life, that there is a just and righteous God who rules over us and to whom we are accountable?

This is the question that we need to answer about our decision: Can I justify to God the reason for my vote? Superficial answers won’t do.

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Genesis 3:1 informs us that “the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made.” Crafty, indeed. God had commanded Adam that, while he “may surely eat of every tree of the garden,” there was only one exception: “but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:16-17).

The serpent, possessed by Satan, deftly twisted God’s words: “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?’” (Genesis 3:1). The serpent went from making God’s gracious provision of all but one tree to none at all.

The Satanic tactic of twisting God’s words continues. Though unsurprising, it has nevertheless been disheartening to witness our culture’s increasingly rapid moral decline. A United States President is caught in a public lie, members of his political party justifies the lie, a supportive media observes that nothing unusual has taken place, and the general public yawns. The yawning public reveals the position of our culture.

Our culture’s open-armed embracing of Sodom and Gomorrah has been most telling. The notion of same-sex marriage would have been laughable only two or three decades ago. It’s now difficult to see how it will not become the law of the land in all fifty states within another decade.

As disheartening as such things are, particularly distressing is the way many “evangelicals” are looking for a way out of the same-sex marriage debate. Standing against same-sex marriage will require paying a price, and evangelicals can be quite a weak-kneed lot. If only we could find some biblical justification for homosexuality and same-sex marriage, then we could save face as we raise the white flag of surrender and move on to “important” matters.

Enter Matthew Vines. Vines is a winsome twenty-four-year-old self-described homosexual evangelical Christian. He claims to believe that the Bible is fully authoritative but does not contradict homosexuality and same-sex marriage. To prove his case, Vines authored the recently-released God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships.” He argues that “Christians who affirm the full authority of Scripture can also affirm committed, monogamous same-sex relationships.”

What Vines does is reinterpret six biblical texts (Genesis 19:5; Leviticus 18:22; Leviticus 20:13; Romans 1:26-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9; and 1 Timothy 1:10) which have throughout history been understood as condemning homosexual relationships. Well, that was then, and this is now. Following the lead of theological liberals, Vines claims that the church has just gotten these texts wrong. The writers of the Bible, he claims, had no understanding of monogamous same-sex relationships. What they condemned was unrestrained homosexual relationships, and the same-sex marriage debate is something entirely different.

In essence, though, what Vines has done is reawaken Satan’s question to Eve: “Did God actually say?” How convenient it is to reinterpret the Bible so that it does not condemn the lifestyle you live. You can keep your lifestyle and the Bible. You can claim to believe the Bible while continuing to live the way you desire.

Unfortunately, what Vines has done is the way Christians too often live. The Bible condemns gossip, but we’re just sharing. The Bible condemns theft, but surely failing to report cash income is not what the biblical writers had in mind. The Bible commands us to engage in corporate worship, but it can’t mean every Sunday.

We rightly condemn instances where professing Christians relativize Scripture in order to justify their sinful choices. We must seriously examine ourselves, though, asking whether we excuse in ourselves what we condemn in others: “For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things” (Romans 2:1).

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Here I stand

On October 31, 1517, a seemingly insignificant action ignited a theological explosion in Germany that changed the course of Christianity. An obscure monk by the name of Martin Luther nailed a document of ninety-five theses on the cathedral door in Wittenberg. Luther contended against the selling of indulgences, basically a fund-raising scheme, a church bake sale on steroids.

The practice of Johann Tetzel, who sold indulgences to collect money for the bishop of Mainz, in particular provoked Luther’s ire. As Luther pointed out in Thesis 27:

They preach only human doctrines who say that as soon as the money clinks into the money chest, the soul flies out of purgatory.

Announcements routinely were nailed on the church door, but Luther’s went to the heart of the abuses and excesses of the Roman church. The idea of indulgences went to the heart of what it means to be forgiven and to be declared right with God, to be justifies. The first five theses set the stage:

1. When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent” [Matt. 4:17], he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.
2. This word cannot be understood as referring to the sacrament of penance, that is, confession and satisfaction, as administered by the clergy.
3. Yet it does not mean solely inner repentance; such inner repentance is worthless unless it produces various outward mortifications of the flesh.
4. The penalty of sin remains as long as the hatred of self, that is, true inner repentance, until our entrance into the kingdom of heaven.
5. The pope neither desires nor is able to remit any penalties except those imposed by his own authority or that of the canons.

As a younger man, Luther had been deathly afraid of dying outside of God’s forgiveness. He would go to his priestly confessor, seeking absolution for what many would deem the most insignificant sins. He so wore out his confessor that Luther was told not to return to the confession booth till he had something worthy of confessing!

Luther, however, came to understand the reality of justification through faith alone in Christ alone. He recognized the biblical teaching that the person who repents and believes on the crucified Christ is justified, counted righteous, in the sight of God. “The righteous shall live by faith” (Romans 1:17).

The church’s pronouncing the forgiveness of sins not only for the one who paid the indulgence but also for deceased family members who may be undergoing punishment in Purgatory was contrary to the teaching of Scripture, so Luther protested:

36. Any truly repentant Christian has a right to full remission of penalty and guilt,11 even without indulgence letters.
37. Any true Christian, whether living or dead, participates in all the blessings of Christ and the church; and this is granted him by God, even without indulgence letters.

There would be much that Luther would refine about his theology, but on October 31, 1517, he placed his vocational security and even his earthly life in jeopardy in standing upon the Scriptures. When later called upon to renounce his positions, Luther responded,

Since your most serene majesty and your high mightiness require from me a clear, simple, and precise answer, I will give you one, and it is this: I cannot submit my faith either to the pope or to the councils, because it is clear to me as the day that they have frequently erred and contradicted each other. Unless therefore I am convinced by the testimony of Scripture, or by the clearest reasoning— unless I am persuaded by means of the passages I have quoted—and unless they thus render my conscience bound by the Word of God, I cannot and I will not retract, for it is unsafe for a Christian to speak against his conscience.

Luther would allow the Scriptures alone to determine his beliefs:

Here I stand. I can do no other. May God help me. Amen.

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You better watch out / You better not cry / Better not pout / I’m telling you why / Santa Claus is coming to town
He’s making a list / And checking it twice / Gonna find out who’s naughty and nice / Santa Claus is coming to town
He sees you when you’re sleeping / He knows when you’re awake / He knows if you’ve been bad or good / So be good for goodness sake!

Probably all of us, or at least most of us, recall some time during our childhood when an adult repeated at least a portion of the words from “Santa Clause Is Coming to Town” during the weeks preceding Christmas. We were being less-than-nice and received the warning that if we did not do better, Santa wouldn’t bring us any gifts. It probably had an effect on us for a few minutes or perhaps a couple of hours.

My thinking about this Christmas song has nothing to do with parenting (I could go there, but I’ll resist!), but it does have something to do with obedience. Many folks, of course, view God the way many children in our culture are taught to view Santa. If you want to be blessed with a good job and a nice house, etc., you had better be good because God is watching. If you are “naughty,” you will forfeit these good things.

That is really a sad way to live. One learns to equate being “good” or “bad” with earning or forfeiting God’s favor. It degenerates into a view of salvation based upon works. If you are “good,” God rewards you with heaven. If you’re bad, God punishes you with hell.

Recognizing that we are saved by God’s grace through faith in Christ, that our works do not earn God’s favor (Ephesians 2:8-9), we recognize that such an attitude towards obedience is an affront to a gracious and merciful God. And yet we are to obey God’s Word (Ephesians 2:10), though we do it because he has favored us, not in order to earn his favor.

One of the great lessons of the Christmas season is that of submission. When the angel Gabriel announced to the virgin Mary that she would miraculously conceive and give birth to the Messiah, she could have protested that her reputation would be ruined. She could have submitted to God in order to gain God’s favor or from fear of punishment.

Mary, though, had been told that she was God’s “favored one,” that “the Lord is with you,” that she had “found favor with God.” She had not earned God’s favor. God had granted it according to his good pleasure.

When told that she would miraculously conceive and bear a son, that his name would be Jesus, that “he will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High,” and that he would receive the throne of David and reign forever, she expressed confusion, seeking to understand how a virgin could bear a son. When the angel answered, she submitted to the will of God: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).

For Mary, submitting to the will of God, regardless of the potential sacrifice and reproach, was the only thing that mattered. With heartfelt joy she praised God, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Luke 1:46-47).

The happy Christian is the one who is surrendered to the will of God. When he finds a command in the Bible, he does not hedge or attempt to rationalize away its meaning. Even in the face of the loss of business, friends, or prestige, he joyfully obeys the Word of God. He realizes that the precepts of God are always for his good and for God’s glory, and he obeys out of gratitude for God’s grace.

May this season of celebrating the coming of Christ be an especially joyous one as we seek to be submissive to his Word.

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