Monday, May 25, 2015

The National Day of Prayer – More Thoughts

If words matter, and I think they do, then I think that it is better to have a National Day of Repentance rather than a National Day of Prayer. I think this because what I have seen surrounding the National Day of Prayer tends toward the “God bless America” refrain rather than the “God we repent of our wicked ways” command of Scripture.

2 Chronicles 7:14 is the cornerstone of the National Day of Prayer movement. If we grant, for the sake of discussion, that we can get there from here in terms of submission and fidelity to the Biblical text – in other words, does this passage really apply to us today? – then I think we are missing the point of the text:

“If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

Read in context, and read in conjunction with 1 Kings Chapter 8 (not to mention read in the context of the entire Bible), turning from our wicked ways entails confession of sin and changing direction from sin to righteousness – this is about repentance; it is not about asking God to bless America (or any nation); when we gather together and ask God to bless America without repentance and confession of sin then we drink the elixir of deceit – we delude ourselves into thinking that there is inherent good in our nation that excuses our wickedness and that we have warrant to ask God’s blessing on our country.

If we want to be patriotic then we ought to repent, both individually and collectively. If Christians want to be patriotic then they ought to engage in intercessory repentance on behalf of their nation. To call sin “sin,” to repent of our wicked ways on behalf of ourselves and others, on behalf of our nation – is not unpatriotic, it is rather caring about our nation enough to be ostracized for repentance.

How can we sing “God bless America” without repenting? How we can say that we are “one nation under God” when we are a nation in rebellion against God? Our civil religion has trumped the Bible and the refusal of the professing church to repent on behalf of our nation is both unpatriotic and an example of the salt losing its savor. 

Monday, May 18, 2015

Reflections on Witnessing – II

“All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all peoples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you, and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age,” (Matthew 18b – 20).

This passage has been known as “The Great Commission,” but I wonder whether we shouldn’t change it to “The Great Omission.” There was a time when much of the professing church acknowledged that Christianity is a missionary religion – its Founder was a missionary sent from heaven to earth, and he in turn sent his followers out into all the world. “Go” is the commission Jesus gave us; “stay” seems to be how we respond to his command.

Much teaching on witnessing begins with technique, but I think perhaps we should begin with repentance and confession of sin, confession that we have not obeyed our Lord’s command to “go” and “make disciples,” and repentance that entails turning from our disobedience in not witnessing to moving in the direction of witnessing. If we don’t think we’ve done anything wrong, if we don’t think we’ve been disobedient, it is problematic whether we’ll see the gravity of the situation – and the situation in the Western church is that we seldom share the Good News of Jesus with others. If witnessing is optional, then obedience to Jesus Christ is optional, and if obedience to Jesus is optional – well, he may be our superstar but he is not our Lord.   

While I will touch on other motivations and reasons to share Jesus with others, the issue of obedience is first tier – Jesus commanded us to go to others and make disciples, making disciples encompasses sharing Jesus Christ. The church of Jesus Christ is called to be missional, as individuals and as a people. As we saw in the last post on witnessing, in Mark Chapter Eight Jesus says that if we are ashamed of him then he will be ashamed of us – this is no light matter. The context of Jesus’ statement is taking up our cross and following him – the cross is an instrument of suffering and execution, he that would spare his life, he that would save his life – is not a person who will witness; but as Jesus asks in Mark Eight, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and yet lose his soul?”

I have seen people try to shame others into witnessing, to motivate them by fear, to lay man-made guilt upon them. That is inappropriate. On the other hand, the fact remains that when sharing Jesus Christ with others is not part of the fabric of our lives, individually and collectively, then the guilt of disobedience to Jesus is healthy and it is God’s desire that we come to him in confession and repentance. I doubt that a week goes by when I don’t find myself confessing and repenting because I’ve been too self-centered to share Jesus with others.

Within the Gospel imperative is to “go and tell” and to “love others.” I have ample opportunity to confess my sins of omission weekly for there are many times I could “go and tell” and I don’t, and there are many times I could “love others” and I don’t.

What about you?

Saturday, May 16, 2015

National Day of Prayer – Richmond VA May 7, 2015

Last week I was asked to participate in the National Day of Prayer on the grounds of the state capitol in Richmond, VA. My role was to pray for the centers of business in our nation. Below is the prayer I prayed.

Prayer for the Business Community

O Lord hear our cry - we are a nation known for our economic might and power, may we be a people known for our economic generosity.

Forgive us for putting profit above people, forgive those of us who profess Jesus Christ for replacing the sign of the Cross with the sign of the dollar.

O Lord, we repent of the copout excuse, “It’s just business,” for with You nothing is “just business.” We acknowledge that on the Day of Judgment that the term “It’s just business” will be an indictment rather than a justification.

O Lord hear our prayer – that economically we are a sinful people, with economic ghettos from which there is little hope of escape.

Let us not be as the rich man in the Gospel who wanted to build more storage units to store his wealth – but let us be like Jesus, who for our sake became poor. Let us not be like the rich young man in the Gospel who would not surrender his wealth to follow Jesus, but let us be like Zacchaeus, who freely surrendered his wealth and life to Jesus Christ.

Lord we pray that the centers of business will be centers of service to humanity; that the centers of business will see themselves as stewards of labor and talent and equity and justice and mercy.

Lord we repent that we’ve checked our Christian witness at the office and factory and retail door – choosing to follow the commandments of men rather than the commandments of God. We repent that as employees we have often chosen to “just get by” when Your Word tells us to serve our employers as we would serve You. We repent that we have not loved our coworkers, nor prayed for them, nor put their welfare above our own.

Oh Lord, unshackle us from the prison of economic idolatry and set us free into your Kingdom of generosity. Forgive us for our idolatry, forgive us for the copout of saying, “It’s just business”.

Be Lord of the workplace, Lord of the marketplace, Lord of the employer – employee relationship, be Lord of our lives. Lord, hear our cry.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Nebuchadnezzar’s Food – III

As I mentioned in a previous post, while we don’t really know how the other young men of Judah reacted to Daniel and his three friends refusing to eat the king’s food, I think we can imagine some likely reactions.

One reaction may have been advice to Daniel and his friends to get with the program. Why risk a good thing? After all, they had just been defeated by the most powerful kingdom in their known world – what good fortune that they should be chosen to attend the king’s academy – why not be thankful for their good fortune. Why throw away God’s blessing? God will understand them eating food sacrificed to idols – after all, He is the one who provided them their positions.

Another reaction may have been that some of the other young men secretly or overtly wished Daniel and his friends to fail and fall into disfavor with the Babylonian authorities. It would serve them right, trying to be better than their Jewish peers, trying to be holier-than-thou. Who did they think they were?

Yet another possible reaction is that perhaps there were some others who secretly desired to stand with Daniel but who were afraid of failure and afraid of what they might lose. I wonder what they thought when they saw the results of Daniel’s faithfulness.

Of course, having read the remainder of Daniel we know that while Daniel and his friends did indeed find favor with the Babylonian authorities, we also know that they faced more than one storm of opposition during their government service – man’s favor is fickle and we ought not to trust in it – God’s favor is eternal and trustworthy, we may rest in Him no matter the circumstances.

Peer pressure has made cowards of many a person who knew better than to succumb to the spirit of the age but did so anyway due to fear of rejection and loss. Jesus tells us that we ought to count the cost before we decide to follow Him, and the cost is our lives – we need not think that it will cost us 70% of our lives to follow Jesus, or 80% or 95% - Jesus wants it all, to follow Jesus is to deny ourselves and lose our lives – to lose everything so that we may find everything in Him.

Again, while we aren’t told of Daniel’s decision-making process, it is reasonable to assume that he and his friends prayed about their decision, talked about it, and weighed their approach to the academy authorities carefully. While we will see later in the book of Daniel that these four friends were quick to make decisions when it had to do with whether to worship God or bow down to idols or pray to men – perhaps when it came to their initial decision not to eat the king’s food they prayed and pondered and talked it out (note Daniel 2:17 – 18).

Faith does not mean the absence of fear; but when faith manifests itself in obedience we can trust our heavenly Father and Lord Jesus to give us strength and grace for each moment, each word, each decision – no matter how weak or fretful we may feel. God doesn’t ask us to have it all together, He doesn’t ask us to be super men or women or girls or boys – He simply calls us to trust Him, acknowledge Him, and obey Him – to allow Him to live in us and through us for His glory and the blessing of others.

Daniel and his friends would be used in Chapter Two to save the members of the academy along with many native Babylonians in the king’s service. One of the ironies of the Gospel, both in the life of our Lord and in the life of the church, is that often those who reject us are the very ones we’ll end up saving (note Joseph in Genesis). They may or may not appreciate what has happened, but for those who follow Jesus, it is an opportunity to be like Him as He lives in us.  

Monday, May 4, 2015

Reflections on Witnessing – I

I’m not sure how witnessing to others about the Gospel of Jesus Christ has become an option for Western Christians rather than a mandate, but the fact that it has should cause us concern. Perhaps it started in our own congregations? After all, if we are unaccustomed to proclaiming Jesus’ call to repentance and obedience to Him in our congregations it stands to reason that folks in the pew will be uncomfortable in sharing Jesus with others outside their congregations.

If we are not equipping our congregations with confident and competent Biblical knowledge then how will they have the wherewithal to be obedient to Jesus in witnessing to others? It leadership is uncertain then congregations will be uncertain. If leadership values harmony and job security over Biblical truth, then congregations will do the same. Courageous leadership, convinced of the Gospel, will inspire others to be convinced and courageous.

When Jesus is the focus of sermons and teachings, when He is the North Star, when pastors and elders are passionate about Jesus Christ, then hopefully their flocks will learn to be passionate about Jesus too.

Can we imagine a group of Christians discussing whether in the coming week they will lie or steal or commit adultery? Hopefully we have not yet descended to such a depth. Yet, we see no incongruity in discussing whether or not we will witness to others about Jesus Christ – when the command to witness, to share the Gospel, is just as clear as the commands to not commit adultery, not to steal, and not to lie. After all, Jesus’ final words to His followers are that we are to go into all the world and proclaim the Gospel, making disciples.

In Mark 8:27 – 38 we see the following progression:
1.    Peter confesses that Jesus is the Christ.
2.    When Jesus then speaks of His impending crucifixion Peter rebukes Him.
3.    Jesus says to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests but man’s.”

4.    Then Jesus summons the crowd and says, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? For what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when he comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.”

Note that Peter confesses Jesus and then seeks to spare Jesus from the Cross. Was Peter seeking to simply spare Jesus from death, or was Peter also seeking to spare himself from following Jesus to the death?

Jesus does not leave Peter’s confession hanging in the air any more than He leaves Peter’s attempt to spare Him from the Cross hanging in the air – Jesus drives home what it means to confess Him as Messiah, and He drives home what it means to repudiate both Satan and the interests of fallen man – it means denying ourselves and following Him, and following Him includes confessing Him before mankind.

Our private confession of Jesus Christ as the Messiah, as God’s Son, is consummated in a life of following Him in self-denial and in confessing Him faithfully before others. Note Jesus’ warning lest we misunderstand the seriousness of witnessing, “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words…the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him…”

Jesus speaks of “this adulterous and sinful generation.” To be married to Jesus is to be in a monogamous relationship with Him (see 2 Cor. 11:1 – 3). We are not to act like we are married to Jesus on Sunday mornings and then act like we are married to the world Monday – Friday. We are not to put our wedding ring on for Jesus on Sundays and then take it off on Mondays. To do these things is to live in adultery. Can we hear James (James 4:4a) saying, “You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God?”?

How tragic it would be for a man to marry a woman and never tell anyone about his wife. How tragic it is when we are ashamed of Jesus.

But oh the joy of sharing the Good News about Jesus with others – after all, it is the only true hope any of us will ever have.