Seeking Unity

 (based on 1 Corinthians 1:10-17)

According to Chuck Smith’s commentary, despite their giftedness, the church at Corinth was rife with carnality. This tells us giftedness does not equal spirituality. Realizing this fact should motivate us to submit to one another out of reverence to Christ (Ephesians 5:21).

I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgement. (1 Corinthians 1:10)

Paul appeals not by his own power or authority, but by the name of Jesus, that the Corinthians turn their eyes away from self-identification based on personal preferences, and instead be unified in following Jesus and proclaiming his gospel.

This appeal holds the same intrinsic value today as when Paul first voiced it. In John 17:20-21 Jesus prayed, “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”

But the Church today continues to struggle to attain to such unity. What can you and I do about that? How can we end divisions and become united in mind and judgement?

Chloe’s people reported to Paul that there was quarreling among the believers in Corinth. At least they were honest and open about their divisions. They all knew where everyone stood. Today we tend to hold our disagreements close to the vest. We avoid making waves in order to keep up the appearance of unanimity. Not unlike the hypocrites Jesus called whitewashed tombs (Matthew 23:27), we tend to act nice on the outside while keeping those things that divide us hidden inside.

Those in the church of Corinth were outwardly drawing their lines of distinction:

“I follow Paul.”                                                                                                                                         “I follow Apollos.”                                                                                                                                  “I follow Cephas.”                                                                                                                                 “I follow Christ.”

I include “I follow Christ” in this list of divisions because it was used in a quarrelsome way, coming from an attitude of superiority. Those who used this phrase weren’t actively seeking unity, but justifying their own judgementalism, implying, “I am right and you are wrong”.

In Paul’s rabbinical style he responds with three rhetorical questions:

“Is Christ divided?”                                                                                                                         “Was Paul crucified for you?                                                                                                       “Were you baptized in the name of Paul?”

The Corinthians well knew what Paul was saying. And so should Christians today. Christ did not call Paul for recognition and acclaim. Nor does he call any person to be elevated above others in some special church hierarchy. In Mark 10:45 he said, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” And he told his disciples, “…he who is least among you all is the one who is great” (Luke 9:49).

Modeling the Great Commission, Paul wrote, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). He was simply called to preach the gospel, not with words of eloquent wisdom lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power (1 Corinthians 1:17).

This is the church’s single unifying purpose — not the eloquence or wisdom of individual messengers, but the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Romans 1:16). We can all take steps to deny our “selves”, lay aside our various pet preferences and opinions, turn to Jesus and find our unity in him. Unless we do, we will never really be able to love one another (John 13:34-35).

“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:12-14)

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The Christian Vote

Habakkuk 2:4 gives us the saying, “the righteous person will live by his faith.” Romans 1:17 rewords it slightly, saying, “…as it is written, The righteous shall live by faith.” Other verses, such as Galatians 3:11 repeat this concept. But what does it mean to live by faith? 

Language experts tell us that faith goes beyond the mere mental agreement with an idea. Faith is an action word. It’s not just saying we believe something, it’s putting our convictions to work, expressing what we believe by how we live. 

This is best illustrated by James 2:14-16:

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?

According to My Faith Votes, “25 million Christians who are registered to vote won’t vote in the upcoming presidential election unless we motivate and equip them to vote!” A CBN article from September 20, 2019 cites even worse numbers:

The goal is to get Christians across America more engaged in the political process – 90 million Christians in America are eligible to vote, but as many as 40 million fail to vote in Presidential election cycles. And 15 million are not even registered to vote, according to the My Faith Votes website.

Between 25 and 40 million registered Christians not voting? 15 million not even bothering to register? However you cut it, these are big numbers. Sadly, I think lots of Christians  feel discouraged and disenfranchised, and withdraw from community and national involvement because they feel alien and alone.

While we are called to be separate from the sinful world (2 Corinthians 6:14-17), this is a call to purity in our relationships, our worship and our righteous living. We are still to be light and salt to the world — not hide who we are from our neighbors (Matthew 5:13-16). Romans 12:18 says, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” 

I believe that voting is a vital part of being a good citizen and a fundamental way all Christians can “live peaceably with all” by serving their community, State and nation. Voting is a very practical way to influence the world around us with godly judgment, a Biblical perspective, and the love of Jesus Christ. 

The USA is designed to be self-governing. When Christians do not vote, they are allowing the ungodly to govern us. Please Christians, register to vote. And when the time comes, do your civic duty and vote! Let God use you to influence the society we live in. 

One final thought: Back when all nations were ruled by kings, God often brought harsh judgments down upon those nations because of the deeds of their kings. Now we don’t have a king to blame. We only have ourselves. If God chooses to judge our nation, the responsibility will be 100% ours because we freely elect our leaders. The onus is on us. 

Put your faith into action in 2020!

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Show Me Your Papers!

On our 41st anniversary my wife and I bought some wine. The check out clerk said, “I’ll need to see some ID.”  “Why?” I asked. The store requires it. We check everyone’s ID who buys alcoholic beverages. I told her she must think I’m a teenager with a premature aging disease that makes me look older than I am. She didn’t laugh. 

The law says you must be 21 years old to buy alcohol. I’m 74 years old and I certainly don’t look anywhere near 21. There is no reason to card a 74 year-old. It’s nonsense and I told her so. But she wasn’t listening. She didn’t care. She had her job to do. Period. No discussion. “We card everyone.” And that’s that.

There are a lot of folks out there who don’t seem to be bothered by this in the least. In fact, they’ve become used to providing their identification and other personal information at the drop of a hat for the convenience of making some purchase. Not only is personal information required when you make internet purchases or use various apps on your smart phones, but many stores offer savings which require your phone number and email address. 

When you make purchases now days, giving them money isn’t enough. You also have to give them your personal information. Most people seem to accept this practice without question. But frankly, it terrifies me. I see it as no different from measures taken by totalitarian states to control their subjects. And by control, I mean restricting what you can do, where you can do it and how you can do it. 

When you live under a dictatorship, you can be walking down the street minding your own business and for no cause the police can demand that you show them your papers. How does that kind of authoritarian power begin? At some point, people get used to being required to show their identification and personal information in order to receive some benefit. This is an example of what is called the boiling frog syndrome.

The theory is that if you put a frog into a pot of hot water it will try to jump out because it is aware of the danger. But if the water in the pot is comfortable to begin with and is gradually heated to the boiling point, the frog won’t be aware that he is being cooked until it is too late and it will make no attempt to get out of the pot.  

Americans are very much like that unaware frog. The water is getting dangerously hot and they don’t know it. They are fat and prosperous, enjoying everything credit can buy and government can promise. But theirs is a flawed fantasy which is fundamentally unsustainable.

Basically, the fantasy is socialism — the idea that government can bring about equal and satisfactory conditions for everyone, which on the surface appears to be a noble, if not loving goal. The problem is that it isn’t real. History proves that, and so it comes as no surprise that those who support socialism ignore the history of socialism. 

The fatal flaw of socialism is the power of the state over the people. Socialism always restricts personal freedoms and requires greater and greater government authority to enforce those restrictions. Socialism is based on the power of government to restrain its people. But freedom is only possible when the people exhibit their own self-restraint. 

Historically in America, that self-restraint was based on most people’s belief that they were held accountable to the God of the Bible and his standards. In general, people did what was good and right not because government demanded it but because that was what God wanted them to do. Our American form of government was designed with the idea that people were to do for themselves and that the role of government was to protect their God-given rights to pursue their own lives, liberty and happiness. 

This design was in the context of a culture that taught Biblical love and compassion for one’s neighbors. The idea of helping the poor had always been seen as a matter of personal charity, community service and church ministry. It was not seen as being primarily the job of government. But as we have become less of a Christian nation, we look less to our own personal response and expect more from the government.

On October 11, 2019, speaking at the University of Notre Dame Law School, Attorney General Bill Barr echoed a sentiment of our founding fathers. He said that the Framers of the U.S. Constitution believed that a “free government was only suitable and sustainable for a religious people.” 

He also said, “And this is really what they meant by self-government. It did not mean primarily the mechanics by which we select a representative legislature. It referred to the capacity of each individual to restrain and govern themselves.” 

The principles of self-restraint and personal responsibility are what make our form of government work. Socialism is the exact opposite. As we walk away from those principles and embrace the control others have over us, we will continue to lose our freedoms while they gain power in determining just how we live our lives, what liberties we have and what happiness we are allowed.

We are coming close to the “Show me your papers!” stage. How far beyond can we expect to see the mark of the beast imposed? Are you ready for that? From Revelation 13:15b-17

…cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be slain. Also, it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name.

Things are heating up. Are you getting used to it? You have a choice: either jump for freedom or boil like a frog.

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. ~ Galatians 5:1

Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved. ~ Acts 16:31 

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Categories Of People

Every day the world is telling us there are different categories of people. We hear it in the news, we see it in advertising, we find it in the laws our government passes. It’s what our institutions now focus on: political groups, age groups, race groups, body type groups, disability groups, victim groups, gender groups (greatly expanded from the two that God created), language groups, cultural groups, economic groups, religious groups…I’m sure I’ve left out someone. Bottom line, as people see themselves in these separate categories they are pushed further and further apart. The very concept of ‘community’, which originally included everyone who lives and works in close proximity, now is used to describe categories of people. 

It has become the norm for many Americans to primarily self-identify according to their most meaningful people category. But when I was a child in the 50s, it was common for most Americans to identify with one another simply  as American, considering their differences to be secondary. That generality now seems to have reversed. As a society, we have become so obsessed with the “diversity” of our various people categories that we hardly any longer think of ourselves as one people. The phrase,“We The People” has become little more than lip service to the values of a bygone era, when we believed in the “melting pot” of pluralism.

But now, the emphasis on different people categories has produced a form of tribalism which is destructive to national unity. Identifying with a particular people category tends to produce tribal feelings of identity, pride and loyalty, replacing broader feelings for the nation we live in. Our schools now even teach that the history of our nation is evil. So the net effect of the increase in tribalism is less patriotism, less knowledge about who we are as Americans and less interest in really learning the facts.

Historically, nationalism has been what has held peoples together, not because of fanaticism but because national cultures provide peoples with meaningful, cohesive identities. Chauvinist, ultra-nationalist Nazi Germany is by no means typical of nationalism. To use it as a template for the evils of nationalism requires a complete distortion of the facts. The evil of Nazi Germany was not in its nationalism. It was in the dictatorial power given to Hitler by the National-Socialist German Workers’ Party (the Nazis). 

One of the practices of socialism is to divide and conquer people by placing them into different categories — some virtuous and approved, others evil and enemies of the state. This was the real evil of Nazi Germany — the fact that they embraced socialism, which predictably enabled their dictatorial government to be totalitarian in their treatment of each category of people. Nationalism does not lead to totalitarianism, but socialism does. There is a simple reason for this. The ideals of socialism always fall prey to universalism, which claims to seek “the greater good”, but which can only be achieved by governmental force. 

This feeds on group think and is distinctly different from our constitutional form of government which is designed to represent the aggregate of individual voting citizens, allowing for changes in accordance with the will of the people. Our constitution is based on the sovereignty of the people (citizens). Socialism is based on the sovereignty of the State. It is Socialism — not nationalism — that represents the greatest threat to freedom.  

A pretense of socialism is that by highlighting various categories of people who have supposedly been denied equal treatment we are being “inclusive”. But what this actually does is to prioritize and favor some people categories over others. It is divisive and always results in laws that apply unequally, giving special consideration and even special rights for some at the expense of others. 

The greatest expression of this socialist pretense is found in globalism. Pretending to be for universal equality, what globalism does is take away our national sovereignty and constitutional protection of individual rights declared to be from God — not government. In place of national freedom, we are promised the “greater good” of universalism, which always boils down to whatever those in power decide for us and then enforce.

Think twice about the enticement of getting special treatment for your particular people category. If we allow ourselves to be a nation of divided categories of people, we can forget “One Nation Under God” and the Biblical principles of our founding. We can forget the hope of Galatians 3:28 (“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”). We can forget concepts like free speech, open debate, loyal opposition and personal freedoms. All we will have is an unaccountable ruling class dictating to us how we are to live.   

We in America have the unsurpassed opportunity to live in a nation founded on the universal concept that “all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these, are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. Under such an inclusive principle, all people categories can be united together as one.

For what I have received I pass on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. The wages of sin is death. But the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God demonstrates his love for us in this: that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved. 

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What Does God Want Me To Do?

How can we be the best Christians we can be? What does total submission and dependence on God look like? Where do our own efforts come in to play? If being the best follower of Christ means we must focus on religious performance, then how does that square with the fact that Jesus calls us to deny ourselves?  Where do you draw the line between serving selflessly and the feeling of spiritual pride in our achievements or performance? How are we to walk in faith? 

As the body of Christ, I believe God designs all Christians to fit together and function together as one. The coordination of the body of Christ incorporates our “human” efforts together with the working of His Spirit. So, how do these two forces — the works of God and the works of Man — properly unite in the body of Christ?

Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”

He went on say in Philippians 3:12-16, “Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you; however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained.”

I find this last encouragement interesting: that we should keep living by the same standard to which we have already attained. Much of our efforts should be focused on maintaining or “holding on” to what we already have (Revelation 3:11) as compared to developing new or additional ministry goals.   

Paul uses an athletic analogy to describe his motivation for being the best Christian he can be.  But where the analogy breaks down for me is in the competitiveness of athleticism today. It is one thing to discipline yourself to maximize your personal performance in order to do the very best you can do. Both discipline and dedication are important. But it is quite another thing to base your best on how many opponents you can defeat. 

While being an effective follower of Jesus involves discipline and the honing of skills, it shouldn’t be a matter of out-performing others, or setting goals based on what you see others doing. Walking with the LORD is a matter of putting off the old self and putting on the new self (Colossians 3:9-10), which allows his Spirit to lead us, edify us and sanctify us.  But in a practical sense, it doesn’t always seem clear to us at what point we are to put forth more individual effort and at what point we are to rely more more upon God’s efforts. 

Some might say it’s a balancing act, because both are necessary. But if that’s the case, we had better be very careful. If I am doing a balancing act, then I am determining for myself not only what my own actions will be, but also when I allow God to act. As questionable as that sounds, I think a lot of us fall into that temptation from time to time. It’s easy to think we know what we need to do, and so we “take charge” in our zeal to get something done.

But the Bible doesn’t teach that. Instead, the word reveals to us that when we receive Christ we become children of God. It is in our loving relationship to him that we discover the limits of our own efforts and the promise of him working through us when we are obedient. Jesus laid it on the line when he said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). 

1 Corinthians 13:1-3 puts it in perspective: 

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.     

The examples given of notable religious performance are:

  • speaking in tongues
  • prophecy
  • understanding all mysteries and having all knowledge
  • faith to move mountains
  • giving away all you own
  • delivering your own body as a sacrifice to be burned                                                                                                        

But in God’s economy, despite the impressive nature of these human efforts, they have no value unless they come from a loving heart. God is saying he wants all our efforts to be expressions of obedience in love. First. we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind. Second, we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. 

Putting forth our own individual effort includes exercising self-control. And yet, we know that even self-control isn’t a product of our own effort, but is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). Jesus gives his followers the Helper, who works in our lives to make us more Christ-like (2 Corinthians 3:18). So even while we are putting forth our own efforts, Jesus reminds us, “apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

So, as we seek to grow in grace, walk with the LORD and serve one another, remember who is in charge. You are a child of God. Hold his hand. He will take you where you need to go today.  

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

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We Are Weak But He is Strong

Jesus Loves Me contains the lyric, “Little ones to him belong. They are weak but he is strong.” Jesus told his disciples, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” Children are not as strong or as capable or as knowledgeable as adults, so they are dependent upon those who care for them. 

Adult Christians are children of God. “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13). And as his children, we are totally dependent upon him. We are weak but he is strong.

To admit “I am weak but he is strong” is a statement of faith and dependence, coming from a humble acceptance of God’s infinite power and authority over us. Apart from him we can do nothing (John 15:5). This is not to say we are nothing or have nothing to offer. It is a worshipful confession that we have a special relationship with God by which his grace is sufficient for us and his power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).  

When Paul said, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13) he was not referring to his own abilities or strengths, but to the supernatural enabling of the Holy Spirit — the hallmark of walking in faith, which, like walking on water, is doing what we cannot do in our own strength. It’s not us. It’s not our strength. It is God and his strength. 

Galatians 2:20 in part says, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith”. This is a bit of a mystery to us because it is our natural tendency to focus on our own personal identity. And it is a bit more difficult to think of the Spirit of the living God within us. But this is our relationship with God. We are the sheep of his pasture (Psalm 95:7; Psalm 100:3). As sheep, we must follow the Shepherd and obey him.

Scripture gives us many more descriptions of our relationship with God and our total dependence on him.

  • We are to deny ourselves, take up our cross daily and follow him (Luke 9:23).
  • As branches of the True Vine, we can only produce fruit by abiding in him (John 15:4).
  • We are to submit to God and his law and his righteousness (James 4:7; Romans 8:7; Romans 10:3). 
  • Our strength is in the Lord and in his mighty power (not ours) (Ephesians 6:10-18).
  • We are to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8).

We cannot fight or stand or serve in our own strength. We must not walk in our own power but by faith follow in the footsteps of our Lord. We must walk in the light as children of light. We are weak but he is strong. When we see that he has saved us and realize how utterly helpless we were without him, yet still are called to share in his glory, we respond by worshiping him for his infinite, loving qualities. He is holy, just, forgiving, abounding in mercy and grace, providing for our needs, healing, guiding and teaching us. 

Our focus should be on the One we obey, not on our obedience of his commands. Our obedience does not merit the spotlight. Jesus said, “Does the master thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’” (Luke 17:9-10).  God wants our “Amen”, our love and our obedience, but the focus of our faith should  be on him and what he does, not on what we do.

The strength of the Christian faith is the “weakness” of following Jesus in loving humility. We rejoice in the sufficiency of God’s strength to overcome our weaknesses and faithfully do what we are able to do. Living out the Christian faith (walking with the LORD) is all about our relationship with him. God doesn’t do everything without involving us. Simply said, he does his part and we do ours. 

One example of this fellowship or partnership is the idea of sanctification. The Bible says that we are sanctified by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross (as in Hebrews 10:10) but also commands us to be holy (as in 1 Peter 1:15), clearly showing that God has done something, and that we are to do something also. Scripture gives us many such examples.   

Why is it then that on balance so many Christians seem to place more emphasis on the performance of their faith — the things they do to serve the LORD — than on God’s active hand in their lives? How much of being a mature, dedicated Christian is a product of our own self-discipline? How much of being “strong in the LORD” is a matter of our own effort or performance? Why should we evaluate our faith according to our performance when it is God who performs his will through us according to our obedience? Is not the power at work within us in Ephesians 3:20 God’s power, and not our own? 

After we have learned and grown in faith, shouldn’t our humility lead us to emphasize the qualities and deeds of God over our own? On balance, should we not be focused more on him than on ourselves? Should not our worship and study be more about him and less about us? How does what we accomplish in our weakness compare to what God does in his infinite power? 

Perhaps we focus on ourselves, because it is easy to look at outer appearances (1 Samuel 16:7). And perhaps we tend to judge by those appearances. But since God sees the heart, perhaps that’s what he wants us to focus on too. Is it not better to look at our hearts, at what is motivating our deeds, than to focus on the deeds themselves? 

What is more important to God, the deed itself or the faith or mercy or compassion that motivates it? The temptation to measure and evaluate our deeds can lead us to feel pride in how we serve, rather than letting our service be a selfless offering. We need to keep a close watch on our hearts. The lesson of the widow’s mite is that the measure of a gift is in the heart of the giver — not the gift itself.

This is not to minimize the importance of things we do to serve the LORD, but rather to put them into perspective. What we do is second in importance to why we do it. Our focus and our emphasis should always be one of unity in Christ to be shared with all other believers:

Even though we may preach the gospel, which is God’s power of salvation (Romans 1:16), the most eloquent sermon is only foolishness in terms of human wisdom. In 1 Corinthians 1:18 Paul wrote, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” God used the “foolishness” of his preaching to save souls. It is God who changes hearts, not us. 1 Corinthians 1:21 says, “For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.”    

If Paul can describe his preaching as folly, we should all take note that his focus and emphasis was not on himself or his performance, but it was on the LORD. He confessed, “I am the very least of all the saints” (Ephesians 3:8). 

When he said, “I press on” (Philippians 3:12) it was not for the purpose of serving in his own strength. It was not about him or his strength at all, but a form of self-denial: that he would be righteous through faith in Christ and experience the power of his resurrection and share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, attaining the resurrection from the dead (Philippians 3:9-11). 

Romans 8:37 says, “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” Some Christians seem to think this means we actually are conquerors — that we have conquered sin. But that’s not what it says. It says “in all these things”, which from previous verses includes a list of every form of trouble and calamity, including being killed, just like sheep to the slaughter. But this passage is saying that in suffering all these things as victims, Christians are more than conquerors through Christ. 

This mirrors Jesus suffering horribly and dying on the cross. Because of his sacrifice, we can escape the condemnation of our sin through faith in him. His “loss” conquered sin and death for all. But this was not a simple victory. He isn’t just a conqueror. He is so much more. He offers eternal salvation to all who will come to him in faith. He ushered in the kingdom of heaven. He reigns forever in glory. And all things will be made new. 

We are weak but he is strong. Let’s focus our worship on how great he is, placing our confidence in him, not on how well we think we can serve him.

   

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The American Dream?

In his book, RADICAL, Taking Back Your Faith From The American Dream, David Platt writes, “Here we stand amid an American dream dominated by self-advancement, self-esteem and self-sufficiency, by individualism, materialism, and universalism” (p. 19) and “…ordinary people who are naturally drawn to the comforts of the American dream can be converted to radical faith in a radical savior” (p. 20). I take issue with this because I already have a radical faith in a radical savior. 

I believe in the American dream, but not because of any purported “comforts”. What does he mean? On page 45 he writes, “…the American dream radically differs from the call of Jesus and the essence of the gospel.” And he explains, “…underlying this American dream are a dangerous assumption that, if we are not cautious, we will unknowingly accept and a deadly goal that, if we are not careful, we will ultimately achieve” (p. 46). The dangerous assumption is that our greatest asset is our own ability. The deadly goal is that as long as we achieve our desires in our own power, we will always attribute it to our own glory.  

But that’s not what the American dream means to me. While Pastor Platt’s concern for Christians basing their faith on Scriptural teaching rather than on prevailing cultural values is well-founded, his attack on the American dream as an enemy of the gospel reflects less than critical thinking. His first problem is how he defines the American dream. I for one don’t agree with his definition at all.

One thing I’ve learned is that the American dream doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone. I watched a program once that asked various people what the American dream meant to them, and they all had different things to say. So, to say it is antithetical to the gospel of Jesus Christ is simply foolish. David Platt is using a straw man argument, slapping on the name: the American dream. 

So, what is the American dream? Where did it come from? When did it start? Why does it matter? Platt credits James Truslow Adams (1878-1949) with first coining the phrase in 1931 and partially quotes him to make his point, “While the goal of the American dream is to make much of us, the goal of the gospel is to make much of God” (p. 47). I don’t agree with his conclusion. Here is Adams’ full quote.

“The American Dream is that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. It is a difficult dream for the European upper classes to interpret adequately, and too many of us ourselves have grown weary and mistrustful of it. It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.”

To me, such a dream comports to Biblical teaching. Should we not all aspire to being who God has created us to be and doing what he calls us to do?

“…a land in which life should be better…” This is a dream about the land you live in, not just for yourself, but for everyone. It speaks of hope for something better, for opportunity and freedom. It is not a selfish dream (“…of motor cars and high wages”…), but the dream of all people everywhere to find fulfillment and purpose. Notice the comparison to the European upper classes. They didn’t understand the American dream because they were blinded by their own class distinctions. 

For some context, note also that this was written in the depths of the depression. The American dream was not a crass or shallow game of acquisition, it was a high and noble hope that kept people holding on and persisting through years of deprivation. David Platt has apparently overlooked the fact that in 1931 Christianity was far more wide spread than it is today, more broadly accepted, and wielded more influence in society than now.

The American dream had existed long before James Truslow Adams put a name to it. In the early nineteenth century Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859) observed, “I sought for the key to the greatness and genius of America in her harbors…; in her fertile fields and boundless forests; in her rich mines and vast world commerce; in her public school system and institutions of learning. I sought for it in her democratic Congress and in her matchless Constitution. Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because America is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”

De Tocqueville’s observation was that the American dream was essentially religious (meaning Christian). From the time of the Mayflower Compact and the Puritan covenants, the earliest settlements in America were dedicated to the spreading of the gospel. Religious freedom was the American dream. That is why our Declaration of Independence reads in part, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these, are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

But, that was then; this is now. American society has increasingly turned its back on the Bible and the God of the Bible. As a result, many Americans now consider the American dream to mean something entirely different from what it used to mean. They might not consider Biblical values foundational to the American dream, but I do. And even though professing Christians may not take all Scripture to be authoritative, I do. That’s pretty radical. 

Their “American dream” is not my “American dream”. I don’t have to take ownership of what they think it is. Nor do I believe that the American dream as I see it conflicts in any way with the call of Jesus or the essence of the gospel. I do not see myself (or any Bible-believing Christian for that matter) in the “We” of David Platt’s statement, “We have in many areas blindly and unknowingly embraced values and ideas that are common in our culture but are antithetical to the gospel…”

I was 31 years old when I received Christ. At that time I believed in evolution, accepted the ideas of sex outside marriage, homosexuality, abortion, drug-use and other “social norms”. But as I read and studied the Bible and learned of God’s standards in these matters, my values changed and I developed a Biblical world view. My faith was always based on Scripture — not church traditions, not social customs or cultural values. My American dream became Christ-centered. 

So why isn’t my American dream considered the American dream by Pastor Platt? Why must it be “dominated by self-advancement, self-esteem and self-sufficiency, by individualism, materialism, and universalism”? While there are probably many folks whose American dreams contain some of these elements, they all don’t go together, nor are they all necessarily bad. 

The first thing I notice about this list is that universalism is diametrically opposed to individualism. I find it odd that they are thrown in together. Universalism is a lie that says society should do what makes most people happy (the “greater good”). But everyone must do what the majority says. The individual cannot opt out. There is no freedom. Universalism flies in the face of our God-given free will.

Individualism is another term that needs clarification. Platt implies or assumes that individualism is selfish and opposed to group effort, group loyalty or group cohesiveness. But I see individualism as a good thing. If we are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14) and God has numbered every hair on our heads (Luke 12:7) it seems to me that God highly values us as individuals. He makes us all different to be different parts of his body (1 Corinthians 12:14-18) and gifts each individual differently (Romans 12:5-8). That means that everyone of us is valuable in his own way. We all as individuals have something unique to contribute to the body. That’s the beauty of individualism.

The other items in his list are pretty common human failings that if we apply Biblical teaching to our lives, they shouldn’t be more problematical than any other sin. Scripture teaches us to be humble and submit to one another (1 Peter 5:5). If we are living according to his word, we will not be self-absorbed. Such issues are basic and universal to the Christian walk. They are not unique to America. I wonder why David Platt focuses on “the American dream” as the prime reason American Christians are not living according to Jesus’s commands? 

I believe the so-called American dream, as described by David Platt, is a perversion of the real American dream. The real American dream still stands. Largely ignored by godless politicians and judges, there are still Americans like me who believe in the real American dream: “one nation under God”. This is not a dream of a theocracy but of the freedom to spread, discuss, teach, proclaim and live out the gospel of Christ, so that as many as have eyes to see and ears to hear will be saved. 

I believe that same dream is shared by Christians all over the globe, no matter what country they live in. But in America, that dream had been realized to a greater extent than ever before by how our nation was founded. That is what enabled Alexis de Tocqueville to make the observations he did. And that is what led to James Truslow Adams coining the phrase, the American dream. It happened in America — nowhere else. So what makes David Platt zone in on the American dream, rather than the specific faults he lists to describe it? Because certainly you can find those same faults in other countries.

David Platt was born in 1978. His generation was educated with a distinct self-hating, anti-American slant. The history of their text books was revised from that of previous generations. His generation was taught to focus on evils characterized as racism, sexism, genocide of indigenous peoples, imperialism, the unfairness of capitalism, immorality of wars and the dangers of nationalism. 

I was 33 years old when he was born. I personally witnessed the changes in how children were educated — from the 60s to the 70s, 80s and going forward. There was a definite, intentional change in curricula. “Values clarification” was introduced, and the values taught in schools began to change. By the time our daughter was born (1982) we determined that the public school system had become an incubator for inculcating godless, socialist, anti-American propaganda, so we sent our daughter to Christian schools.

How people think of the American dream has changed over the years. But it hasn’t changed with me. It was Bible-based to begin with and it still is. Our Christian walk gains nothing if we simply point the finger at the American dream and say “Bad!” David Platt does a great disservice to our nation’s founding, history and national character, all of which stem from Biblical Christianity.

My advice is let’s keep our theology pure. Call sin sin. But nationalism is no sin. Christian nationalism seeks to glorify God, not to “make much of ourselves”.

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Why The Church Lacks Unity

Isaiah 53:6, a familiar verse, goes to the heart of why the Church lacks unity. 

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

The picture here is of a flock of sheep that can hardly even be described as a flock any more because each sheep has chosen to go its own way and wandered off. They have become dispersed. They have no group cohesiveness. Each individual is left to fend for itself.

Why did these sheep do this? Oh, and lest we forget, why do we do this? For, as it says, we are like these sheep. The answer of course is sin — that’s what iniquity is. But how are we sinning? We sin when we turn to our own ways. 

This may be a difficult pill to swallow because we live in a society that celebrates the individual’s “right” to be and to do as each so chooses (literally turning to our own ways). As a culture we are taught to take pride in diversity, letting each person find their own fulfillment by being as much as they can be. The impact of these social values is that it has become “normal” and easy for each of us to seek our own best interests first and to perceive success, social order and group dynamics through the filter of what we personally prefer. 

Romans 8:5 describes this as walking according to the flesh and Ephesians 4:17 compares it to walking “as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds”.  But Ephesians 4:22-24 says we are to lay aside our old self, be renewed in the spirit of our minds and put on the new self. So, what does putting on the new self and walking according to the Spirit mean?

Isaiah says “the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all”. This of course is the Shepherd who was crucified, dead and buried, and then raised on the third day and seated at the right hand of the Father. But the Shepherd did not abandon his flock. He had prayed to the Father, “may they be one” (John 17:11; 21-22) and sent the Helper for this purpose (John 14:26; 15:26). 

Unity is perhaps one of the greatest mysteries of our faith: We are in God, while at the same time God is in us. Being one in Christ can only be accomplished when we walk in his Spirit – when we live by faith. Jesus said if we love him we will keep his commands (John 14:15). One of his commands was, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24). What does that say about unity? 

Obviously, the Church can only find unity in Christ alone. We each must deny ourselves and in humility count others more significant than ourselves (Philippians 2:3). We must love one another, which means many things, including patience, kindness, not envying or boasting or being proud, not being rude and not self-seeking. To love means not being easily angered, not keeping an account of wrongs, not taking pleasure in evil but rejoicing in the truth. Love is bearing all things, believing all things, hoping all things, enduring all things. 

We’ve all heard that before (see 1 Corinthians 13). But to experience unity, we cannot simply be hearers of the word. We must be doers of the word (James 1:22). Putting love into action means forgiving, serving, encouraging, tolerating and being willing to work out our differences (see Matthew 18:15-17).   

The issue of unity in Christ is not about what I think or what you think. It’s about being “in Christ”. It’s about “keeping his commands”, but not in a religious, legalistic sense. It’s about being the body of Christ together and letting Christ be our Head. Our unity can only be in Christ as each of us submit to his headship. We can never hope to attain to unity through our own human efforts. Unity in Christ means he is in charge and we are not. 

If we truly believe that we have “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:5-6) then we must agree with John the baptist when he said, “He must increase but I must decrease” (John 3:30). 

Unity in the Church will happen when we let our wills decrease and let God’s will increase; when we can deny ourselves because we have learned that we are crucified with Christ (Galatians 2:20).  It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Heavenly Father, help us to release our pride to you and be humble followers of your Son. Help us to remain in your will and walk obediently in the counsel and fellowship of your Spirit. All glory, honor, praise and victory to you, in the name of Jesus. Amen.  

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STOP YOUR GRUMBLING

There was a time when I stopped going to church. For over ten years I gave up meeting with other Christians to worship (Hebrews 10:25). I had not lost my faith in Jesus, but I had been hurt by disappointment and abandonment. The powerful instructions of Matthew 18:15-18 had been ignored and brothers and sisters I had known for years just left our church without explanation.

I continued to go to that church as it declined, even after moving to a nearby city. But eventually there wasn’t enough to keep me coming. The church had become very small, most of the folks I had known had left, the worship music annoyed me and I had disagreements with the pastor. I had lost my faith in people, which took my focus off of God. Yet it is God alone on whom we are to place our hope and faith. Our expectations should not be based on human performance.

I wrote about not going to church at https://retiredday.wordpress.com/2010/03/23/3/. In my hurt and disappointment I felt justified, but in the ensuing years I have learned that God doesn’t want us to give up on each other. We are called to have patience in well-doing (Romans 2:7) and not to grow weary in doing good (Galatians 6:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:13). 

When we allow our disappointments and hurts to justify leaving the church we abrogate the authority of Scripture in our lives. That begins when we focus on the faults of other people for being responsible for problems in the church and then start grumbling about it. Finding fault and blaming others is not Biblical. It is just another human weakness that helps the enemy drive a wedge between believers.

When it comes to grumbling, we are likely tempted to think about the Israelites who grumbled against God and Moses in the wilderness. And we probably don’t think we are much like them. But grumbling in the church today can take many forms, such as complaining about changes or anything that doesn’t meet our approval. The deadly thing about grumbling is that it quickly becomes gossip, which spreads to rumor that stirs up ill feelings — none of which is based on truth or love, but rather on fear and blame.

Where is it written that we are justified in complaining when things don’t go our way? What does Jesus tell us about worrying? (hint: Matthew 6:27)  Casting our cares on him (Psalm 55:22) doesn’t mean grumbling with your neighbor. We are supposed to take it to the LORD in prayer “in all circumstances” and “at all times” (see Ephesians 6:16-18). As mentioned in the first paragraph, Matthew 18:15-18 instructs us to go and directly confront the person we have something against — not to grumble to other people about them — and certainly not to end a relationship without first attempting to restore it.         

Scripture repeatedly calls us to love one another. Look it up. That kind of love is supposed to be unconditional — without any conditions. To love one another we must be committed to one another, which means maintaining a relationship with one another. But God, knowing we are pretty thick-skulled, went beyond this single, generalized statement and spelled it out for us. 

Scripture directs us to put on (as a garment) the new self (Ephesians 4:24), created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. That entails such things as forgiveness, acceptance, forbearance, serving, teaching, healing, growing, submitting — all of which need the putting on of righteousness (e.g. Colossians 3:12-14 and Ephesians 4:32). But we are not limited by our own strength in doing these things. God enables us to do these things by the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).

How we live as children of God is not dependent upon our human abilities. In Christ we are new creatures (2 Corinthians 5:17). Ephesians 5:8-10 tells us, “for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true) and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.” 

The Church is not just another human organization, it is uniquely spiritual. It’s not just people — it’s God in us and us in him. The church is the body of Christ and Christ is our Head (1 Corinthians 12:27; Ephesians 5:23). We are not our own. We have been bought with a price (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). That means we are not to act on own, but “in Christ” (e.g. Romans 6:3, Romans 8:1 and Romans 12:4-5).

John 17 records what is called the high priestly prayer of Jesus. In verse 11 Jesus prays, “Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.” And again in verse 21 Jesus asks, “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” I am greatly touched by this passage because my experience has shown me that Christians can sometimes display the total opposite of unity with one another. It is a testimony to God’s grace that he continues to favor his children, despite us not deserving it.

Jesus also tells us, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Our obedience is required in order to make the answer to his prayer complete. For us to be one in Christ, we need to walk in the light as children of light (see Ephesians 5:8) which means to live by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7), which involves changing how we think about things (Romans 12:2) and being intentional in how we choose to act (2 Peter 1:5-8).

In Christ we are free (2 Corinthians 3:17) — free to clothe ourselves in godly traits (Colossians 3:12) …or not; free to deny ourselves and take up our cross daily (Luke 9:23) …or not; free to humble ourselves and submit ourselves before God and one another (James 4:7; Ephesians 5:21) …or not. Galatians 5:13 reminds us: “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”

So now, can we please walk together, help each other, grow in our faith together and stop grumbling?

   

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The Caravan Is Just Another Mob.

I’ve heard a sentiment that says the “caravan” that began in Honduras is “God bringing these people to us”, and that we as good Christians should welcome them and show them loving hospitality. But is God really bringing these people to the U.S.A.? Where should we look to make that determination?

Romans 13:1 says, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” Yet the people in this caravan are refusing to be subject to any governing authority. They are a mob. 1 Peter 2:17 says to honor everyone, love the brotherhood, fear God and honor the Emperor (meaning your governing authority). The so-called caravan is honoring no one, but rather acting on its own demands. They are an invading mob.   

Every nation has its own governing authorities, and the jurisdiction of each is defined by its borders. Contrary to the globalist view that nationalism is evil and that we shouldn’t have borders, national borders are in accordance with God’s design. Deuteronomy 32:8 tells us God set the boundaries of the peoples. Acts 17:26 says he determined the boundaries of their dwelling place.

There is no doubt from Scripture that God is in authority over the nations. Isaiah 2:4 says, “He shall judge between nations.” Psalm 66:7 says, “His eyes keep watch on the nations; let not the rebellious exalt themselves.” Who are the rebellious? The mob, or those refusing to give succor to the mob? Those who disregard the authority of our laws or those who seek to enforce our laws? Nowhere does Scripture say we should be swayed by the rebellious, rather the authority of nations should be used to control the rebellious.

I’ve also heard a misguided sentiment that calls these caravaners “refugees”. So, what is a refugee? A refugee is someone who seeks escape from invasion, oppression or persecution. They’re not trying to go anywhere, but to simply get away and find refuge anywhere. Yet when the Hondurans crossed the border into Guatemala, they did not stop. They did not seek refuge. Their goal was to invade the U.S.A. Again, after crossing Guatemala, they forced their way across the border into Mexico. Again, they did not stop. They did not seek refuge. Their goal from the outset was to trek thousands of miles, across the entire length of Mexico, to forcefully migrate to the United States. 

Our nation has laws and procedures for accepting real refugees. But the so-called caravan doesn’t give a rip about our laws or procedures. And though they want to come here, it’s not because they love us or respect us. While waving the flags of their own home nations, they paint swastikas on the American flag and then burn it. Why would we want to let these people come into our country?

For those of us whose judgment isn’t clouded by false sentiment it is obvious just what kind of people make up this caravan. All along the way, more people are joining them, joining the parade that they hope will give them free access into our country and the benefits that await them here. When you look at pictures of this crowd, you see it is primarily made up of strong, healthy, young men. If they really want to better their lives, why don’t they march on their own governments and demand changes?

No doubt there are some truly needy people among the caravaners, but family groups are scarcely seen. A few innocents are being used as human shields by criminals, gangs, drug smugglers, human traffickers and terrorists from the middle east trying to blend in. None of them has been vetted. None of them is following our laws in order to legally enter our country.

And now a similar caravan has begun from San Salvador. One third of all San Salvadorans in the world already live in the United States. How much is enough? These caravans are an assault on our national sovereignty. And in our nation, sovereignty lies in the people — American citizens — not in people from other nations. We have the right and the obligation to protect ourselves. If we don’t stop this invasion, we are inviting more of the same. And if that happens, we will not be able to maintain the fabric of civil society. 

For more than a decade the average annual legal immigration to the United States has far exceeded one million. That tells me two things: 1) The United States of America is already generous in allowing immigrants from all over the world to come to our country legally; and 2) legal immigration is “doable”. For everyone who comes here respecting our laws, it’s a slap in the face when a mob caravan thinks it can just walk into our country without consequences.

For Christians and others whose compassion leads them to want to help poor and oppressed peoples all over the globe, there are many constructive avenues available for being involved in positive, loving efforts to improve the living conditions of real refugees. An open border policy isn’t one of them. 

Philosophically, this crisis is a reflection of the great divide between capitalism and socialism. The Bolshevik revolution took private property from the upper and middle classes and gave it to “the people”, who then ended up with nothing of their own. It was a great lie. Similarly, this ragtag caravan seeks to take for themselves what is ours. Americans have every right to enjoy what is theirs, share what they are willing to share, but not allow it to be taken from them.  

Christians are called to give of what they have to help others who do not have. That is called charity. It is up to each individual to give as they respond to God’s leading. But the demands and expectations of the “caravan” are not an invitation to Christian giving. They are not beggars, they are thieves, funded and provided with bus transportation by a political movement intent upon destabilizing American society.

Upon his release from prison and return to America, Pastor Brunson laid his hand on President Trump and asked that the Holy Spirit give him supernatural wisdom. I pray God answers that prayer, and soon. As the leader of our sovereign nation, it is up to President Trump to determine just how we will respond to this mob when they reach our border. May God have mercy.     

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