If I have a favorite chapter of the Bible, it would have to be 2 Timothy 4. Yes, I love the first eight verses, but that alone is not what cinches this chapter as dearest to me. It’s Paul’s personal remarks starting in verse nine. There’s his longing to see his spiritual son, Timothy. Twice he implores Timothy to come see him (9, 21). He’s in prison, persecuted for preaching the Prince of Peace. He longs for Christian companionship. Then, he shares his dejection over the abandonment of certain fellow-workers (10). He wants to see cohorts with whom he has done spiritual battle (11). He has personal needs and wants (13). He warns Timothy of a spiritual troublemaker (14-15). Then, he shares personal feelings of isolation and loneliness, a time when he needed a Christian brother by his side but had none (16). Bold, risk-taking Paul, who would stand up to any opposition, the epitome of true manliness, was now in undoubtedly dire, dank conditions, the smell of squalor in the air. Whatever he saw, heard, and felt as he wrote, Paul scratched out these words: “At my first defense no one supported me, but all deserted me; may it not be counted against them. But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that through me the proclamation might be fully accomplished, and that all the Gentiles might hear; and I was rescued out of the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom; to Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen” (16-18). These words aren’t the end of the letter, but they are the end of the matter!
This faithful Christian was deserted by men, but he felt God’s presence and power:
- The Lord stood with him.
- The Lord strengthened him.
- The Lord spoke through him.
- The Lord saved him.
- The Lord was steering him.
You and I cannot fathom the price Paul paid for proclaiming Jesus. But even if we were ever to face privation, punishment and pain for our faith, what was true for this apostle will be true of us. He promised to be with us always (Mat. 28:20) and never forsake us (Heb. 13:5). Even if you ever feel physically alone, you will have the spiritual assistance Paul speaks of in 2 Timothy 4. Through it all, you can say with Paul, “To Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen!”
Freedom of speech may be a constitutional right, but do you ever wish people did not feel so free to exercise that right? It’s hard not to bemoan the cultural lunacy that appears to be another step down the slippery slope from rational to irrational thought. Bruce Jenner claims to identify as a woman despite the biology of his birth. Now, Rachel Dolezal, the president of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP who is born to two white parents, identifies herself as African-American. Her story has ignited yet another “identity crisis” conversation, complete with its own Twitter Hashtag (#WrongSkin). Some who have posted there are engaging in some intelligent tongue in cheek and sarcasm, but many more seem to be seriously conflicted about their racial identity. Our ancestors would be in utter disbelief of the lack of critical thought they would hear in such discussions.
But let’s carry this line of “thought” further:
- I was born to middle class parents, but I identify as the son and heir of Bill Gates.
- I barely passed High School, but I identify as a Rhodes Scholar.
- I am a lazy couch potato, but I identify as an elite triathlete.
- I cannot carry a tune in a bucket, but I identity as a musical virtuoso.
- I scorch water and ruin Ramen noodles, but I identify as a world-class chef.
You know, you can claim anything, but that does not make it so. Sometimes, the best way to expose an absurdity is to escort them further down that slope. Then, they can get a better look at themselves.
Claiming to be a woman when you are a man or to be one race when you are another is head-scratching, but did you know that there are people making a much more serious claim whose incorrect conclusion is infinitely more grave? A great many people, asked if they are a Christian, say “yes.” However, though they identify as a Christian, they have not followed the plan God put in place whereby one becomes a Christian. Jesus says that claiming does not equate to being (cf. Mat. 7:21-23). He also says there is but one way (John 14:6). We can strongly identify ourselves as a Christian, but have we actually been “born of water and the Spirit” (John 3:5)? Jesus said, “He that believes and is baptized shall be saved…” (Mark 16:16). Peter said, “Repent and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38). Ananias said, “Get up and be baptized, and washing away your sins, calling on His name” (Acts 22:16). Paul wrote, “We have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4). He also said, “All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Gal. 3:27). Peter wrote, “Baptism now saves you” (1 Pet. 3:21). Now, Scripture sets other conditions in place one must meet in order to receive God’s grace and salvation, but the overwhelming majority do not reject faith and repentance. They do, however, dismiss the role of baptism as a divine condition for salvation. In light of the above Scriptures (and there are others, too), how can one refuse to obey this and yet still claim to belong to Christ (cf. Luke 6:46)?
Within five minutes of the Bear Valley church building, you will find Atonement Lutheran, Landmark Tabernacle, Bear Valley Church of God of Prophesy, Bear Valley Fellowship, Christ Congregational Church, Hope Crossing Church, and Light of Christ of Anglican. Expand the search by just a mile or so and that number increases quite a lot. For the casual passerby, who observes our plain, ordinary facilities, they likely consider us just another in a series of churches or denominations. In fact, to them, the words are exact synonyms. Were they to visit each of the churches listed, including us, these observers would conclude that we all share a certain number of things in common while each having uniquenesses that set us apart. Their deduction from this would run the gamut of perplexity, amusement, curiosity, inquisitiveness, and even, perhaps, disdain and hostility. When we all meet in large, four-walled edifices with foundations and roofs, with classrooms, an auditorium, some sort of rostrum, a foyer, and even some type of baptistery or “font.” So, just seeing us from the road or even stepping inside of our building is not enough to tell them who we really are.
If we are serious about the belief that we are trying to be the church of the New Testament, pre-denominational, and apart from Catholic or Protestant ancestry, what is our responsibility? What is our responsibility to God, one another, and the culture at large? Are there principles or precepts that should guide us in seeking to be faithful to the pattern the Lord left for His church to follow? If so, here are some priorities we must emphasize:
- Identity. Are we known to our neighbors, friends, co-workers, and family? If so, what are we known for? A deacon here recently related a conversation his boss made about her nephew, who she contemptuously related was a member of the “church of Christ,” an “ultraconservative” group that “doesn’t believe in instruments and women preachers.” Certainly, her statement said a lot about her, but is that how we want to be identified? What I mean is, when someone thinks of the church of Christ, wouldn’t we rather be known for what we do believe in and what we are for? Remarkably, Jesus impresses His disciples with this command: “”A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). The early church exemplified this (see Acts 2:42-47). Their loving way did not make them popular of universally beloved. That is not the goal of discipleship or the intention of our Savior (see Matthew 10:37), but we are to demonstrate love.
- Authority. To the untrained eye who visits our assemblies, the male leadership, the a cappella singing, the every-week-observance of the Lord’s Supper, the sharing of a “plan of salvation” that necessitates baptism, and the like may or may not evoke serious consideration. Elsewhere, in denominational churches, they will see choirs, rock bands, “tongue-speaking,” women preachers, babies sprinkled, priests officiating, and liturgical recitations (maybe in a different language). The thrust of evangelism, not to mention a periodic, thoughtful explanation of why we do what we do in worship and teaching, is to explain why we do (or don’t do) what we do (or don’t do). Essentially, it boils down to the principle spelled out in Colossians 3:17: “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.” He has all authority (Mat. 28:18). He is the head of the church (Eph. 1:22; 5:23). He guided His apostles into all truth (John 14:26; 16:13). Thus, our concerted, ongoing effort is to honor and submit to His will wherever He specifies a matter (cf. 2 Pet. 1:3). If He has specified it, we do it exactly and only that way. If He has not specified it, we use our best judgment and the most expedient way to carry it out.
- Practicality. Synonyms might be “applicable,” “relevant,” or “relatable.” Our mission, first of all, is to enact the truth of God’s word in our everyday lives. This is a matter of example or influence. Many a member of the body has given the Head a black eye by not following what the church teaches we believe. Our mission is also a matter of trying to build a bridge to the community around us. In matters that do not equate to “right and wrong,” can we establish rapport? To the extent that we do not violate Scriptural principles like modesty and decency, does our dress make it easier or harder for us to reach others? So long as their message is biblical and fulfill the criteria of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, do our songs’ melodies and words help “outsiders,” younger members, and new Christians understand His Word and will? Or do they need an lexicon for archaic words? Do our Bible School materials, tracts, bulletin boards, and visual aids seem 21st Century or like a first edition work of Gutenberg’s press? It is possible that there are some who pant for every new, trendy, shiny thing that comes along, hoping it will lure the unsuspecting unchurched one into our midst. That extreme should not drive us to be obtuse or mysterious in terminology, outmoded in approach, and outlandish in frugality or form. To be clownish or undignified is unacceptable, but neither should we be cold or unnatural.
This is not the irreducible minimum, the end all of the discussion. But, if we will take who we are, whose we are, and who we are here for seriously, the uniqueness of simple, New Testament Christianity will shine through us and cause us to impact our community and our world for Christ. Isn’t that what we should desire?
I had an interesting seat mate on my flight from Dallas to Denver yesterday. Sue grew up the daughter of a TWA executive whose job was to ensure customer service around the world was up to par. This meant she grew up in places like India, Egypt, and France. Her dad helped make Saudi Arabian Airlines an international carrier in the 1960s. What was more interesting was what she told me about her husband, who she described as a longtime atheist. His father was a “pastor” for a denomination which forbad watching TV, listening to the radio, and even considered playing marbles a form of gambling. The children, including Sue’s husband, were raised in such a strict atmosphere. One day, however, the boy found a room normally locked. His father had always explained that this was the place where he studied for his sermons and did church work, but what the boy saw inside was a TV, radio, and so many of the things he had been told were sinful. The man would eventually leave the boy’s mother for another woman.
When I heard that, I immediately thought about the powerful impact we have as parents but also as Christians. There are those, especially those who know us best, who realize we claim to live by a higher, spiritual standard. We make that claim when we attend church services, but we also do through the rules and convictions we hand down to our children. We say certain things are important while other things are to be avoided. This is essential, though it should be guided by a proper, thorough investigation of Scripture. Yet, far more valuable than our explanations is our example. Those we influence most profoundly should see a consistent pattern of righteousness in our attitude, speech, behavior, and apparent motivation. We should be frightened at the thought of creating a “hidden room” which denies the very standards we set up for others in our lives to follow. The discovery of such a place can devastate their faith.
In Romans 2, Paul is rebuking the Jews who condemned the Gentiles for their sins while committing the same things. “You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that one shall not steal, do you steal? You who say that one should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the Law, through your breaking the Law, do you dishonor God?” (21-23). Paul’s point there is that Jews, like Gentiles, are sinners in need of God’s favor. However, the net effect of such hypocrisy is that it caused “the name of God” to be “blasphemed among the Gentiles” (24).
May we ever be in truth what we claim to be and tell others they should be. Do you have a hidden room of spiritual horrors? Dismantle it!
The ISIS beheadings so frequently in the news and readily available on the internet are terrifying to behold and consider. If terrorism is, as the Mac Dictionary defines it, “the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims,” such would be terrorist activity. The latest spectacle, involving 21 “Coptic Christians” (Egyptian Orthodox religion), seems to show the Islamic State organization is eager to isolate and persecute those seeking to follow Christ.
Do you ever wonder if there will come a day where New Testament Christians in this country may face the threat of death for standing up for Christ? It has certainly happened to God’s people in the past, especially when the church was first established. We read about the persecution that started with Stephen then extended to the saints at Jerusalem in the book of Acts. We read of individuals like Paul, who suffered for Christ on many occasions (2 Cor. 11). Then, there are the statements made to encourage Christians who might be rattled or scared at the prospect of such treatment. Twice, writing the Thessalonians, Paul was concerned they would be disturbed by trouble (1 Th. 3:3; 2 Th. 2:2). He wrote about how persecution was, at times, inevitable (Ph. 1:29; 1 Th. 3:4; 2 Tim. 2:3; 1 Pt. 3:14). Of course, Christ showed us His way includes suffering (1 Pt. 2:21ff).
The Bible also gives us great encouragement in the face of the disturbing prospect of suffering for our faith. Consider a few highlights:
- We can rejoice if counted worthy of suffering for Christ (Acts 5:41).
- Those who suffer with Him will be glorified with Him (Rom. 8:17).
- Suffering can give one a clearer perspective and priority (Phil. 3:8).
- Suffering is a plain indication of God’s righteous judgment so that we’ll be counted worthy of His Kingdom (2 Th. 1:5).
- It finds favor with God if we are faithful through our sufferings (1 Pt. 2:19).
- It is better to suffer for doing right than doing wrong (1 Pt. 4:17).
- We can entrust our souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right (1 Pt. 4:19).
- The God of all grace will comfort those who suffer (1 Pt. 5:10).
I don’t think any of us relish or welcome the thought of suffering under any circumstances. Yet, God has communicated these truths to us to help us decide in these potential trials. Perhaps it will help us be less disturbed and more determined to be faithful even to the point of death (Rev. 2:10).
Kathy just called me and told me she saw this bumper sticker on a truck as she fought traffic on Wadsworth Boulevard. How clever! It uses the same religions that the infamous “Coexist” bumper sticker uses, including Hinduism, Daoism, Shintoism, Unitarian Universalism, Satanism, Atheism, Islamism, and Judaism. There is a website where these bumperstickers can be purchased (http://www.contradictmovement.org; warning: I do not endorse everything on this web site, whether message or method).
The “Coexist” campaign is meant to promote pluralism, a theory or system that recognizes more than one ultimate principle. The very idea is contradictory. The Koran says, “And whoever desires a religion other than Islam, it shall not be accepted from him, and in the hereafter he shall be one of the losers” (3.85). Shintoism says that humans become gods (kamis) after death, and they do not believe in absolute right and wrong with the soul losing individual identity and becoming part of one great guardian spirit (Japan-Guide.com; litesofheaven.com). Atheism believes, since there is no God, that there is no judgment and no accountability to a higher power. Taking any number of tenets about conduct, salvation, our nature, deity, afterlife, and the like, one sees inescapable and frequent contradiction between these faiths and philosophies. Yet, even without all of this, there is the exclusive truth claim of Christianity in Scripture. The “Contradict” bumper sticker has a passage that says much. “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6). Jesus speaks of an exclusive way, calling it “the” way and saying there is “no other” way.
The “Coexist” mentality is founded, for some, upon a noble enough desire, the desire for peace and harmony. Yet, it seeks the wrong way to peace and harmony, letting mankind devise their own way for this to exist. We do not have that prerogative. The Bible reveals God, the Creator, in a specific way, revealing His nature, His will, and His expectations. With that, there is human accountability and an expectation that people will follow that way or suffer the consequences of disobedience. Conflicting, opposing positions contradict one another, and they cannot all be true!