Monthly Archives: November 2017

My, How Far We Have Come . . .

When comparing our current economic prosperity with that of the pilgrims and other colonists who suffered so much (think Roanoke and Jamestown) in the early days of the American experiment, the contrast is stark. What we call the First Thanksgiving was really just a harvest festival that was commonly celebrated in many parts of the world. When crops were harvested in the fall, it meant no one would starve to death during the winter . . . something for which thanks should be given. Today, though, most of us don’t even know where our food originates, and we have so much of it in our kitchens that we could probably last the winter without restocking.

In this sense, we have come a long way. We don’t have harvest celebrations anymore because we don’t have to worry about starving in the winter. Our economic prosperity has dwarfed what any other nation has ever seen throughout human history. This is a very good thing. Economic prosperity is a wonderful blessing for which we ought to be grateful.

In another sense, though, we have fallen so far. Thanksgiving has been celebrated off and on since the colonial days, with presidents issuing proclamations most years that it should be celebrated until Congress made it law in 1941. To see just how far we have fallen, look at what President Washington says in his proclamation in 1789.

“Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor . . . Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be . . . and also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions—to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually” (Thanksgiving Proclamation, 3 October 1789).

Who today agrees with Washington, that it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of God and to obey his will? Far from this, we don’t even recognize that nations have the right to acknowledge God and obey his will. In fact, we actively promote the opposite. Our government now defends its people’s “right” to ignore God and disobey his will. My, how far we have fallen!

Thanksgiving is still a holiday during which people give thanks, but the focus has gone from giving thanks to God to giving thanks for blessings. It’s a subtle shift that ultimately flaunts our society’s rejection of the Almighty by focussing on what we have rather than the God who has given it to us. So, this Thanksgiving, I encourage you to give thanks to God for the blessings he has bestowed and to take Washington’s advise and offer “prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions.”

Are We Dual Citizens?

But when they stretched him out with thongs, Paul said to the centurion who was standing by, “Is it lawful for you to scourge a man who is a Roman and uncondemned?”

–Acts 22:25 (NASB)

When Paul is about to be flogged by the Roman centurion in Acts 22:25, he simply asks if it is lawful to treat an un-condemned citizen of Rome in such a manner. At first glance, I always wonder why Paul claims his Roman citizenship rather than his heavenly citizenship. Why doesn’t he say, “Is is lawful (or wise) for you to scourge an innocent apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ?” That question seems to carry a bit more eternal weight than what Paul actually says.

The problem with my thinking comes from the false presupposition that earthly citizenship and heavenly citizenship are in competition with each other . . . that ultimately the Christian has to decide which one he wants. Will he be a citizen of Rome or a citizen of heaven? Many countries today will allow a foreigner born within its borders to have dual citizenship (that of the country of his birth and that of his parents’ nationality) until he turns 18, at which point he must decide. Will he be a citizen of his parents’ country or of his birth country? The two are in competition with each other, and he must decide which one has more value to him.

However, we ought not think of our earthly and heavenly citizenship in the same way. Philippians 3:20 makes clear that the Christian has citizenship in heaven, but that does not negate his earthly citizenship and the rights and privileges that may come along with it. On the contrary, being a citizen of heaven enhances earthly citizenship in the same way that being a citizen of the United States enhances being a resident (citizen of a State) of Colorado. Being a resident carries certain rights and privileges; but residency is enhanced, or maybe I should say the experience of residency is enhanced, through the connection (citizenship) to the superior institution.

This is the way we ought to think of our earthly and heavenly citizenship. We have certain rights and privileges that are afforded us by our earthly citizenship; but our experience of those rights and privileges is enhanced when we recognize, through our heavenly citizenship, that all of the rights and privileges afforded us by the state are ultimately bestowed on us from God. The state is merely the conduit or instrument through which God grants those rights, whether the state acknowledges this fact or not. And just as a Colorado resident could appeal to his rights in the Colorado constitution without negating the superiority of the US constitution, so the Christian can appeal to his rights as an earthly citizen without negating the superiority of heaven over the state.

So, there is nothing odd about Paul’s appeal to his Roman citizenship because God is the one who has determined that it is unlawful for an un-condemned citizen of Rome to be scourged. In this sense, Paul’s appeal to his Roman citizenship is ultimately an appeal to God. The Christian’s two citizenships are designed to compliment one another, not to be in competition with one another.

Does Loving Those Who Are Like You Meet the Standard of “Love One Another”?

“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 NASB

The commandment to love yourself doesn’t appear in scripture. That you love yourself is assumed in “love your neighbor as yourself,” but it doesn’t require a command because it comes naturally to every human being. What does not come naturally is loving others, hence the command to love one another. It must be commanded because it does not happen naturally.

What falls somewhere between those two is loving others who are like you. This is not as natural as loving yourself, but it is certainly easier than loving others who are different. Loving those who are like you is easy because you naturally see yourself as lovable; and if someone else is like you, he must be somewhat lovable too. This may not be your conscience thought process, but it is what happens.

A friend of a friend of mine recently moved from the Denver area to Casper, WY and was asked how he liked his new location. He answered, “It’s great. Everyone looks like me and thinks like me.” It is easy to love people who remind you of yourself.

It’s easy to love people who are like you, and it’s easy to not love people who are different. What follows from this is that it is easy to accept people who are like you and easy to not accept people who are different. What is dangerous about this, though, is that we make ourselves the standard by which we measure other people. If they are like us, we accept them. If they are different, we easily reject them.

This kind of behavior might be forgivable on an elementary school playground, but the church is called to a much higher caliber of virtue than that of schoolyard clicks. Jesus tells his disciples that all men will know that they are his disciples because of the love they have for one another. These words must have only been for the 11 men (Judas had just left) sitting before Jesus that night because no man can recognize Christians as Christ’s disciples today based upon the love they have for one another. The world of the Protestant church has devolved into a massive playground, divided up into hundreds of clicks that refuse to associate with one another and instead stand around pointing fingers at the faults they see in everyone else.

We divide and judge each other over the age of the earth, the use of various Bible translations, the details of the time leading up to Christ’s return, the ordination of women, the structure of a church service, preaching style, our understanding of the gifts of the Spirit, church polity, whether we use the same terminology when discussing doctrine, the way we pray, the use of this or that confession or no confession at all. The list continues, but I think you get my point. It’s easy to love and accept people who are like us, and it’s easy to not love and accept people who are different.

Unfortunately, this falls well short of the biblical expectation. Christians are to love (and accept) one another . . . regardless of their differences. Charles Spurgeon understood this. His words are a slap in the face and an encouraging exhortation for those of us who judge others based upon how similar they are to us.

“Where the Spirit of God is there must be love, and if I have once known and recognized any man to be my brother in Christ Jesus, the love of Christ constraineth me no more to think of him as a stranger or foreigner, but a fellow citizen with the saints. Now I hate High Churchism as my soul hates Satan; but I love George Herbert, although George Herbert is a desperately High Churchman. I hate his High Churchism, but I love George Herbert from my very soul, and I have a warm corner in my heart for every man who is like him. Let me find a man who loves my Lord Jesus Christ as George Herbert did and I do not ask myself whether I shall love him or not; there is no room for question, for I cannot help myself; unless I can leave off loving Jesus Christ, I cannot cease loving those who love him” (The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. XII, 6).

If Spurgeon is right, then there is something desperately wrong with the church today. If Spurgeon cannot help himself but to love the man who loves Jesus Christ (regardless of their differences on non-essential doctrines), if he cannot cease loving all those who love Jesus anymore than he can cease loving Jesus himself, then to cease loving those who love Jesus is to cease loving Jesus himself.

Here is the slap in the face . . . if we have ceased to love those who love Jesus, then Spurgeon says we have ceased to love Jesus. If that stings a little, good. It’s supposed to sting.

Here is the encouragement . . . it is possible to love and accept people who are different and at the same time not accept their non-essential beliefs. Presbyterians and baptists can love an accept one another without accepting the other’s view of baptism. Those who speak in tongues and cessationists can love and accept one another without adopting the other’s view of the gifts. It’s not easy. It doesn’t come naturally, but we aren’t little kids in the schoolyard who make fun of each other because of our differences. Christ has redeemed us to be more than that.

It’s time we change the standard by which we measure others in the church. We must abandon the standard of self. If someone is like you, great. If someone is different, so what? The standard we must use when extending love and acceptance to another person is the standard of Christ. If Christ loves and accepts the person, then we must do the same . . . no exceptions.

The Simple Answer is Glorious

I came across an article this morning titled Texas Church Shooting: God, Evil and a Senseless Act. My interest was peaked. What would Fox News have to say about the problem of evil in the wake of the senseless killing of 26 people in a church on Sunday morning? The article raised some good questions and pointed out that good things can come from bad events.

At the end, though, the author simply says, “I struggle to explain the “why” behind the senseless evil acts that we witness as human beings. Simple answers to complex questions are bound to be wrong.” I have to disagree. Simple answers do not have to be wrong; and in this case, the simple answer is glorious.

There are all sorts of reasons why bad things happen to good people. Augustine argues that good people become better when bad things happen to them. There is, however, one ultimately chief reason why suffering exists in the world. There is one reason why this world forces suffering upon those who live in it, especially upon those who do not deserve such suffering.

The ultimately chief reason why suffering and death exist in this world is so that Jesus Christ could come to this world and suffer and die. In order to demonstrate the glorious wonders of his grace, God came to the earth as a man and suffered and died; and in order to insure that he would suffer and die, God created a world that would be full of suffering and death.

A world without events like what happened in Sutherland Springs is a world unfit to serve as the stage on which God has demonstrated the glory of his grace through the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. As horrible as those events are, a world without the death and subsequent resurrection of Christ is a world in which I would not want to live.

Why does evil exist? Evil exists so that Christ could suffer evil. So, every time we suffer evil, remember that we suffer momentarily because we live in a world that was designed to crucify the Son of God as a propitiation for the sins of man. Remember, also, that this world will pass and that all of these things will be put away in the world to come.