Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Do Mission and Church Belong Together?

Reading: 2 Corinthians 10
Are the church and mission antagonistic toward one another? Is church life inconsistent with accomplishing mission? Paul's idea of mission was not, “mission at the expense of the church,” or, “mission in lieu of the church.” Rather, it seems to have been, “mission in concert with the church.”
Our hope is that, as your faith continues to grow, our area of activity among you will greatly expand, 16so that we can preach the gospel in the regions beyond you. (2 Corinthians 10:15-16)
Paul understood that you can't export what you aren't producing. So when Paul wants to see Gospel activity expanding in the regions near and around the Corinthians, he works toward the strengthening of their faith. He knew that if they grew in Christ, they would become a model for the regions around them, a platform from which he could preach the Gospel.
When Paul went into regions, it appears, the example of how the churches of that region lived out the Gospel became foundational to what Paul was proclaiming. Therefore Paul wasn't quick to move on, but labored to build solid foundations wherever he went.
This kind of thinking guided Paul's view of activity with the church. Hence Paul would labor to build strong churches and then export that model to other places as he worked the regions around. As a result, Paul didn't see the work of building the church and the work of mission in tension with each other—one pulling against the other. Rather this kind of model birthed in Paul a real passion to build into the church as a means of accomplishing mission.
This is definitely a more consistent missiology. Since the goal of mission is the conversion of souls and therefore the planting of a local church, it is inconsistent to view the work of building the church in tension with mission. We can see Paul express his passion for building this local church again in 2 Corinthians 13:4, 9:
For to be sure, [Christ] was crucified in weakness, yet he lives by God's power. Likewise, we are weak in him, yet by God's power we will live with him to serve you.... 9We are glad whenever we are weak but you are strong; and our prayer is for your perfection.
Paul was glad to invest everything into the church which God had entrusted to his care because that church would be a platform for more Gospel proclamation. In fact, when the NIV says Paul prayed for their perfection, he uses the same base word that he uses when writing the Ephesians about the purpose of ministry to the church.
It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.” Ephesians 4:11, 12
Paul's prayer was for the church at Corinth's full preparation, complete equipping. This base word is also used in the Gospels in a way that I think provides a great illustration of this.
Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets.(Matthew 4:21)
Other translations say, “mending their nets.” Both are good. But the picture is clear: These fishermen didn't see their nets as a hindrance to catching fish, but as a means of catching fish. So they didn't neglect their nets in order to catch fish, they mended, or prepared their nets in order to catch fish.
It is to these kind of fishermen that Jesus says, “Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men." (Matthew 4:19) As I shared a couple Sundays ago, they didn't envision standing on the shore, or in a boat, casting out a single line by themselves, catching a fish. Rather they envisioned casting a net.
Paul apparently saw that net, if you will, as the church. He wanted to catch many fish, so he didn't neglect the church but prayed and labored toward their complete preparation or mending. He prayed and labored that they would be built up and strengthened in faith. And he knew a strong, well prepared net would catch a lot more fish than if he just went around throwing in his single line.
God has called each of us to be involved in fishing for men, but he has called us to do it as a part of a net, a local church which is striving to live out the Gospel. In turn a Gospel living church will become a platform for effective Gospel proclamation.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

Friday, December 5, 2008

Gospel Community in the Church

Reading: Colossians 3   

What picture does the New Testament paint of life in the community of God's people? I don't think we can overstate the value of Colossians 3 in forming in our churches the kind of community Christ has called us to. One of the keys sources of the life this chapter describes is described as:
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:16)
Here is the picture: the people of God instructing and admonishing one another with all wisdom and doing so in the context of lives filled with worship and gratitude.
This is really a glorious picture. This is body life. This is body ministry. Not absent of leadership as is sadly often what is falsely taught as body ministry, but growing from the example of servant leadership. This is community life. This is “accountability”. But how do we arrive at it? It is certainly not automatic. This is intended to produce the kind of life described in Colossians 3:5-14.
This happens when the word of Christ is dwelling in us richly. That being the case, it is important that we understand what this means. What does it mean for the word of Christ to dwell in us richly?
First, what is meant by the word of Christ? For years I have just assumed what appeared to be the obvious meaning without thinking about it. However, there are two possible meanings to that phrase: 1) the word of Christ as in the words which He taught; and 2) the word about Christ, or the word which extols the person of Christ. The first meaning would be saying, “Let the words of Jesus, the words which He taught dwell in you richly.” And certainly this would be good, and would be included in the second meaning. However, if the second meaning is intended, the first is not as instructive to us in how to reach the glorious goal described in the text.
The second meaning would be saying, “Let the word about Jesus, the accounts of His person, the Story of His Life, including what He taught, and accomplishment dwell in you richly.” This one is centered on the person of Christ, not merely the instruction or information He brings. So the big question is, “Which one did Paul intend?”
I believe we find the intended meaning by first looking at an earlier verse in Colossians that corresponds to this one.
27To them [the saints] God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. 29To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me. (Colossians 1:27-29)
I emphasized the particular phrases which show correspondence to Colossians 3:16. Paul describes the hope of glory, the goal of the Gospel as Christ being formed in His people, as Christ living in and through His people. That is a glorious goal: the church functionally living as the body of Christ. This is magnificent. And how did Paul spend his time and energy laboring toward that goal? He proclaimed the person of Jesus Christ, and through that message he was admonishing and teaching with all wisdom.
So when Paul tells the church, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom,” Paul is instructing us to do the same: Let that proclamation about Christ, the Person, dwell in you richly. Contemplate Him, think about Him, dwell on Him. Read of His life, dwell on His miracles, talk amongst yourselves about the Person Jesus Christ and His humbling self-sacrifice in the Gospel, bearing our humanity, His perfect life lived vicariously for us, His bearing our sin, bearing our punishment, and, as you are doing so, with this, teach and instruct one another in how to live. Warn one another, counsel one another. And from this will grow a community life of worship and thanksgiving. It is helpful to remember that when the apostles preached the Gospel, they were essentially preaching what we have as Matthew, Mark, Luke and John—the accounts of Christ. And through the Person of Christ they were proclaiming the work of redemption.
What is dwelling in us richly? Is it a consuming passion for the Person Jesus Christ? What is the first thing to occupy your conversations? What is the first thing to occupy your free time? Are you talking about Jesus Christ? When you are your instructions and encouragements one to another will be filled with wisdom!
Let's grow together in our passion for the Savior, only then we will grow together in our experience of the community life which God intended for us.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

Thursday, December 4, 2008

What Happened When David Forgot to Draw Lines?

Reading: 2 Samuel 13 & 14   
David forgot to draw lines from the Gospel to his own family, and his family suffered greatly for it. We must learn this lesson from his error, for our own families. David's son Amnon lusted after his half-sister Tamar, “the beautiful sister of Absalom, son of David.” Amnon, on advice from his friend and cousin Jonadab, arranges a fake illness in order to lure Tamar into his house to make him bread, and proceeds to rape Tamar. “Then Amnon hated her with intense hatred. In fact, he hated her more than he had loved her.” (2 Samuel 13:1-15) In response to this event, Absalom arranges to kill Amnon, and then flees to another town where he lives for three years away from the king.  (2 Samuel 13:22-29)
After 3 years, Joab, David's general, coordinates a scene in which a woman tells David a long story about how one of her two sons killed the other and now everyone wants to kill her son which will leave her without an heir. David promises to intervene to save her son at which time the woman reveals her real purpose:
The woman said, "Why then have you devised a thing like this against the people of God? When the king says this, does he not convict himself, for the king has not brought back his banished son? 14Like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be recovered, so we must die. But God does not take away life; instead, he devises ways so that a banished person may not remain estranged from him. (2 Samuel 14:13-14)
Verse 14 reveals that David forgot to draw lines from the Gospel as he knew it, to his own life and relationship with his son.1 You see, in 2 Samuel 11–12, we have the story of David and Bathsheba. In that story David commits adultery and then kills Uriah the Hittite in order to cover it up.
How does God treat this lying, murdering adulterer? He sends Nathan the prophet to rebuke him in order to bring him to repentance so that his relationship with God will be restored. David though initially blind to his wickedness, is brought to repentance by God's grace and before the chapter ends we see that he is both worshiping God and experiencing great victories in battle again (2 Samuel 12:20, 29-30).
God did not take David's life (2 Samuel 12:13), but God devised a way to bring David who was banished from relationship with God through his treacherous sins back into relationship with Himself. God reconciled David to Himself, but David had not gone after Absalom in the same way God had gone after David.
So God orchestrated one more reconciliation between Himself and David reminding David how God had acted toward him. God does not take away life; instead, he devises ways so that a banished person may not remain estranged from him.” (2 Samuel 14:14) In effect he is saying, “David, go live this: draw a line between how God has acted toward you, and you go live that same way toward your estranged son Absalom.”
As we have been talking about in our Sunday preaching series in 1 John, David is being told to love the Story and live the Story. The Story is defined as the story of God's love toward us in the Gospel. Unfortunately David never really quite connected the lines between the Story of God's reconciling love to him and the life he lived toward Absalom. And the consequences were grave. No doubt this is a warning for us. It is not optional for us to love the Story, while we fail live the Story toward others.
Maybe you are estranged to God right now. Maybe you are living with sins, known or secret, which have kept you in a banished relationship toward God. God may be using this very reminder that He is not counting your sins against you, and has reconciled you to Himself through Christ. (2 Corinthians 5:18-21) Now, having been reconciled to God, all of us need to make certain we are living out this reconciling grace toward others.
What relationships in your life remain estranged? What relationships do you need to apply the reconciling Story of God's redeeming grace to? Make haste, do not delay: Live the Story.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,
1This references an illustration I have used many times on Sunday mornings at Gulf Coast Community Church. Just like the tests in school in which we had terms on the left and definitions on the right, and we had to draw a line and match the terms, so, there ought to be a connection between the Gospel and our lives. If the Gospel is on the left (the terms), and our lives are on the right (the definitions), can we draw a line and match? If not, the grace of God toward us has not been extended through us toward others. We must make adjustments.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Let Your Kingdom Come

Reading: Exodus 21-24   
This morning my Bible reading led me into that often perceived wilderness section of laws for the Hebrew society—laws regarding how to treat a servant, how to deal with personal injuries (liability), various ways theft can occur and how to deal with it, a laundry list of social issues from a man's responsibility toward a virgin he seduces, deviant sexual behavior, treatment of foreigners, widows and orphans and so forth. Now I realize that for many of us this is fly over country—those portions of scripture which we jump into autopilot and read kind of mindlessly hoping merely to get them done, and not expecting to find anything particularly useful from them. I too have to fight that temptation.
However, as I read this section this morning, I was given grace to see them in a different light. As I read this section this morning, I was first struck by the obvious effectiveness of this law over the complex and often convoluted laws by which our society is governed today.
The Effectiveness of God's Law
In our day, if someone steals, then the honest people of society support them for a few months to several years (depending on the situation), and then they get out Scot-free. I have twice had my home broken into, twice had things of value stolen, twice the police have caught the perpetrator, twice had courts order restitution as a stipulation prior to release, and never have I received a penny of that restitution. I'm not sure exactly what happens between the sentencing and the release to change it all, but our penal system is not oriented in the same way God's system is oriented. In God's system, the thief will have to work hard, not get free room and board, because the thief who steals a sheep now has to pay back four sheep. In addition to the victim being compensated, the thief has learned how to get sheep when he needs them: work! If he can earn four sheep, he can certainly earn one. And if I have to earn four sheep every time I steal one, it shouldn't take long for me to figure out not to steal.
While admittedly dealing with issues that can seem mismatched with our own such as mistreatment of slaves, God's system was oriented toward the victim, brought about justice, and would be far more effective in reform than the system we live under. It also taught us the practical application of love your enemies when it says, 4If you come across your enemy's ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to take it back to him. 5If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, do not leave it there; be sure you help him with it.” (Exodus 23:4-5) As good as it is, I don't think the purpose of this section for the believer today is to strive to set up this form of government on earth. (However, for those involved in the legal process it ought to provide a model toward which to reform our own system.)
Godly Dissatisfaction
The second thing I was struck by as I read this section this morning is what I believe to be a godly dissatisfaction with earthly governments. This dissatisfaction is accompanied by a heart cry, “Our Father in heaven, let your kingdom come.” Oh how good it will be to live under our Father's rule. We were not made to be fully satisfied in earthly kingdoms. The political process was never intended to bring about heaven on earth. The United States, as much as I love it (it is the best men have come up with in all of history), is not the Kingdom of God, nor can it ever be. As believers we should be involved actively as salt and light in this nation, but we should do so as if not engrossed in it. (1 Corinthians 7:29-31) We should always be longing for God's kingdom to come.
While a reading of God's law through Moses reveals God's justice clearly, it should also be understood that Israel never really lived under this. Well, not for more than very brief periods of time. This side of heaven, God's kingdom has never fully come. Except once.
God's Kingdom Fully Come
And this is the third thing which struck me this morning as I contemplated how this section of Scripture applies to us today. There is one time when God's kingdom fully came: when the rule of God had full sway in the affairs of man. That one time was in the man Christ Jesus. Jesus Christ did nothing outside the will of His Father. Jesus is the fulfillment of the law. If ever you want to see how we would live if we lived fully under God's kingdom look at Jesus.
In fact, as believers, this reminds us why we are not called to live under the shadow law (Moses' law), but rather we are to live under the reality law: Christ (Colossians 2:17). “Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.” (Colossians 3:11) The hope of glory for the Christian is not a world full of people living under the Mosaic law. The hope of glory for the Christian is Christ formed in us! (Colossians 1:27) When Christ is formed in us, the law will be fulfilled. When we are clothed with Christ, we will have put on “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” We will “bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances [we] may have against one another.” We will “forgive as the Lord forgave [us].” (Colossians 3:12-13)
So as we go about our days, let us not strive to set up an earthly kingdom ruled by God's law externally (some form of theocracy). Rather, let's strive to have Christ rule and reign in our hearts, Christ being formed in us, so that “whatever you do, whether in word or deed,” we can “do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:17) And, let our hearts cry, “May Your Kingdom come, may your will be done, in earth as it is in heaven.”
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving—Living Life with Gratitude in Our Hearts

Reading: Colossians 3
What motivates us to be thankful? What prompts us to live lives filled with gratitude? Sometimes I hear people speak of why we should be thankful and think they have it backward. For instance: Are we to be thankful because it makes for a much more peaceful life, or because in doing so, we can't be disappointed? Is gratitude a trait to be developed because it is a part of good character? Indeed it is, and while these things are most likely true, but I don't think real gratitude can be motivated by these.
15Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. 17And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.  (Colossians 3:15-17)
On more than one occasion, Paul instructed the church to live lives filled with thanksgiving. Why? Was it because it is good for us emotionally, or because such a positive attitude makes for happier people, or because God prospers the one who is thankful? I can't imagine Paul using any of these pragmatic reasons for motivating thanksgiving.
For Paul, thanksgiving should always flow out of what God has done for us in Christ and what God is doing in the lives of others through the Gospel of His grace. Do we need any greater reason? Isn't that what is at the heart of thanksgiving anyway? Thanking God for the great things He has done. Leave out the “whats in it for me” American pragmatism and have genuine Godward gratitude. Thanksgiving isn't about what we get, but about what we've already received.
This thanksgiving grows as the word of Christ dwells in us richly. Notice just how prominent it is in Paul's own life:
Romans 1:8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world.
1 Corinthians 1:4-5 I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. 5For in him you have been enriched in every way...
Philippians 1:3-7 I thank my God every time I remember you. 4In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now... 7It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart...
Colossians 1:3-4 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints...
1 Thessalonians 1:2-3 We always thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers. 3We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
2 Thessalonians 1:3 We ought always to thank God for you, brothers, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love every one of you has for each other is increasing.
Paul was a man with a lot of gratitude. As the word of Christ dwells in us more and more, we too will be people with overflowing gratitude. On Tuesday of this week, I made it a matter of prayer, actually writing it down in my daily planner along with a few other lines of prayer, “May I do all in the name of our Lord Jesus giving thanks to the Father through Him. May my life today be a thank offering acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” The next day, just after I woke up and had begun praying, I found myself thanking God for all He did the day before. And it was suddenly brought to my attention just how often I had found myself pausing to thank God throughout the course of that day before.
Living life with gratitude in our hearts is a work of God and must be a pursuit of ours. This gratitude is a response to what God has done and is doing in and through our lives and the lives of others. It will grow as we let the Word of Christ dwell in us richly. That means we don't work it up, rather we are careful what we are hearing, and as we hear Christ's word gratitude grows in our hearts toward God. We should ask God to make our lives a thank offering acceptable to God through Jesus Christ, and He will answer that prayer. It is definitely a prayer prayed according to His will.
And when we live lives of gratitude, we will grow in worship, we will grow in our ability to encourage others, and we will be more effective in evangelism. Note the connection in Psalm 105:1-3, between giving thanks and calling on God, singing to God, telling others about God, and a heart that rejoices in God.
Give thanks to the LORD, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done. 2Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts. 3Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice. (Psalm 105:1-3)
Living life with gratitude in our hearts is a work of God and must be a pursuit of ours.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Are We Watching?

Reading: Mark 13 – 14
It's like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch. 35Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back— whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. 36If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. 37What I say to you, I say to everyone: “Watch!” (Mark 13:34-37)
As I was reading this morning I was struck by the command to watch. Christ is calling us to a specific duty. No, he doesn't have a particular problem with sleeping. (Remember He slept on a pillow in the storm.) The picture is one of standing guard (some translations miss this point by translating, “stay awake”.) This is a duty. A soldier given guard duty must watch. Why? So the others can sleep safely. The idea is to be on guard against something. Christians are called to stand guard, to stay awake through all hours of the darkness in order to guard against something...presumably the evils of darkness.
How do we watch?
Admittedly, by itself this command seems a bit vague. However, I cannot help but think, as I read on, that there is a clear connection between this command and the narration it precedes. This command immediately precedes the account of passover week, the week Jesus was crucified. On the evening of passover, the disciples went out to the Mount of Olives and in the dark of night are in a private garden called Gethsemane. There Jesus tells the disciples,
"Sit here while I pray." 33He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. 34"My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. "Stay here and keep watch.” 35Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. 36"Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”   37Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. "Simon,” he said to Peter, "are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour?  38Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.” (Mark 14:32-38)
First, I note that when Jesus told them, “Stay here and keep watch,” the expectation was that they should be praying. Second, the purpose is clarified, “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.” Watching is for the purpose of guarding against temptation. The evil of darkness is the temptation to sin. In this particular case, we find the temptation to deny Christ, to flee in the hour of trial from Christ, is the particular temptation they would all face, and Peter in particular (14:50-51, 66-72).
How are you doing with regard to watching?
Are you on guard against temptation through prayer? Are you guarding your brother or sister in Christ in prayer against the attacks of the enemy? From Sunday's message in 1 John 3:11-18, we know we are called to be like Christ and not like Cain: we are called to be our brother's keeper. One place we do this is in the place of prayer.
Take time today...take time this week... to pray for one another, to pray that “out of His glorious riches He may strengthen [us] with power through His Spirit in [our] inner being.” Pray this in order that Christ would be formed in us, that we would live by faith, not succumbing to the temptations to live for the reward of instant pleasure this fallen world offers over eternal life. This world we live in is the darkness. As Christians we are called to stand guard, to stay awake through this darkness, guarding one another against the temptation of evil.
[The prayers of Paul in Ephesians are particularly helpful to me in this regard. See Ephesians 1:17-22; 3:14-21; 6:18-20. These are prayers according to God's will.]
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

Monday, September 29, 2008

Is the Time Ripe for Us?

Reading: Amos 8 – 9
This morning as I was reading this in my devotions, I could not help but wonder if this prophetic utterance given to Amos regarding Israel has application to America today.
This is what the Sovereign LORD showed me: a basket of ripe fruit. 2"What do you see, Amos?" he asked. "A basket of ripe fruit," I answered. Then the LORD said to me, "The time is ripe for my people Israel; I will spare them no longer.  3"In that day," declares the Sovereign LORD, "the singers in the temple will turn to wailing. Many, many bodies—flung everywhere! Silence!"  4Hear this, you who trample the needy and do away with the poor of the land...” (Amos 8:2-4)
What application could it possibly have? Let's answer that by asking two questions re: this text: Who and what? Vs. 4 says, “Hear this...” Who needs to hear this? What do they need to hear?
Who needs to hear this?
You who trample the needy and do away with the poor of the land.”
Oppression of the poor and needy has taken various forms at various times in history. But, the powerful have always oppressed the helpless, the weak, the needy. In America today the greatest oppression, the most helpless and weakest needy are clearly seen in the abortion industry. While there were abortions done by individuals prior to 1973, since 1973 our nations has condoned, supported and stood behind what is approaching 50 million abortions. No oppression in history, as far as I am aware, even approaches this magnitude. And it continues today; right now.
And the abortion industry targets the needy and poor...doing away with the poor of the land. In Jeremiah 22:3 we read, “This is what the Lord says, ‘Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of his oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the alien, the fatherless or the widow. And do not shed innocent blood in this place.” Abortion targets the fatherless. And regardless of circumstance, abortion targets the helpless—those unable to defend themselves.
One can also see that it targets the poor and needy by the fact that it is designed to target minority babies—to eliminate or reduce the poor from among us. That may surprise you, but a simple study of the facts will reveal that it is true. African-American women, who make up 13% of the female population account for 36% of all abortions. Latino-American women make up another 13% of the female population, but account for 20% of all abortions. More African-American babies have been killed by abortion since 1973 than the total number of African-American deaths from AIDS, violent crimes, accidents, cancer, and heart disease combined.
Why? Because the founder of Planned Parenthood, Margaret Sanger, was an avowed racist with a desire for a pure, white race with much the same philosophical beliefs as Adolf Hitler. She envisioned birth-control and abortion to be a primary means of reducing the population of, inferior races that were human weeds and a menace to civilization.” She viewed charity to ethnic minorities as a “malignant, social disease” and desired to “create a race of thoroughbreds by encouraging more children from the fit and less from the unfit.” Thus, the Negro Project, launched in 1939 by Planned Parenthood, was designed to target, “the mass of Negroes in the South that still breed carelessly and disastrously so as to focus on that portion of the population least intelligent and fit.” Studies today show that many Planned Parenthood clinics are strategically placed in neighborhoods of the highest concentration of African-Americans.
Who needs to hear this message in Amos? Those who trample the needy and do away with the poor. And, since we as a nation condone, support and stand behind the abortion industry, we need to hear this message.
What do we need to hear?
The Lord showed Amos a basket of ripe fruit. Imagine you have a bowl of fruit at home. This is the one that has the black bananas, the soft apples... it is about ready for being tossed. Time is up for that fruit. It no longer has time to wait. So what did this mean for them? God's wrath was coming (Amos 8:2-3). The description is clear, “bodies flung everywhere!” “Silence” indicates a time of sheer shock and awe. The terror will be so great that those present will stand in stunned silence, unable to utter a word.
Have we reached this point as a nation? I don't really know, but we are definitely flirting with disaster every day that abortion continues being supported and condoned in our nation.
You may say, “This can't be applied to America, because God was speaking to Israel, His covenant people.” True enough that His original audience was Israel. However, the context makes clear that this isn't because of their status as the chosen people; we can't claim exemption either.
"Are not you Israelites the same to me as the Cushites?" declares the LORD. "Did I not bring Israel up from Egypt, the Philistines from Caphtor and the Arameans from Kir?  8"Surely the eyes of the Sovereign LORD are on the sinful kingdom. I will destroy it from the face of the earth—yet I will not totally destroy the house of Jacob," declares the LORD. (Amos 9:7-8)
If Israel could not claim exemption from judgment because they were God's chosen nation, neither can America. We don't even have the same status. God will judge the sinful kingdom. And I don't think anyone can exclude America from that description. May God have mercy on us.
Is the time ripe for us as a nation? I hope not, but no doubt our decisions as a nation in the coming days will have an impact on this. Presently the Supreme Court and many of the federal courts are filled with judges who would stop abortion because it destroys innocent lives. Whatever else one might think of George Bush, thank God he has appointed pro-life judges who will outlast every other decision he made. If our next president does the same, this industry will be stopped. If the next president supports abortion, and appoints judges who also support it, then the wicked will rule, and the helpless will continue to be slaughtered. One of the candidates not only supports abortion, but supports the most horrific forms of abortion known. He even voted against a ban on partial birth abortion. He voted against reviving babies born alive, after a botched abortion...wanting them to be discarded as waste while still breathing. May God deliver us from such a wicked man. May he have mercy on our nation. Don't be caught up in a man, or discouraged by a man. Make decisions to save lives on election day.
Dr. Martin Luther King's Daughter's Dream
I want to close with words from Dr. Alveta King, niece of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., founder of King for America. She has a dream of her own.
We have been fueled by the fire of Women’s Rights so long that we have become deaf to the outcry of the real victims whose rights are being trampled upon – the babies and the mothers. Oh God, that Martin Luther King Jr., who dreamed of having his children judged by the content of their character… What would he do if he had lived to see the contents of thousands of children’s skulls emptied into the bottomless caverns of the abortionists’ pits? It is time for America, perhaps the most blessed nation on Earth, to lead the World in repentance and in restoration of life. Abortion is at the forefront of our destruction. The only healing and redemption is in the blood of Jesus – blood willingly shed so that we could stand today and cry for the blood of the unborn that is drenching the land of our children. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, ‘The Negro cannot win as long as he is willing to sacrifice the lives of his children for comfort and safety’ How can the dream survive if we murder the children? Every aborted baby is like a slave in the womb of his or her mother. If the dream of Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. is to live, our babies must live! Our mothers must choose life! If we refuse to answer the cry of mercy from the unborn and ignore the suffering of the mothers, then we are signing our own death warrants. I too, like Martin Luther King Jr., have a dream. I have a dream that the men and women and boys and girls of America will come to our senses and humble ourselves before God Almighty and pray for mercy and receive His healing grace. I pray that this is the day, the hour of our deliverance. May God have mercy on us all.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

On What Are You Basing This Confidence of Yours?

Reading: Isaiah 36 – 37
Sennacherib, the king of Assyria, had just captured all the fortified cities of Judah. These are the military outposts which were the outer band of protection for the country, keeping enemies from getting to the capitol city. Now Sennacherib has sent his military commander to Jerusalem. Arriving outside the city, some officials of Jerusalem went out to meet him.
The field commander said to them, "Tell Hezekiah, "'This is what the great king, the king of Assyria, says: On what are you basing this confidence of yours?  5You say you have strategy and military strength—but you speak only empty words. On whom are you depending, that you rebel against me? (Isaiah 36:4-5)
Most of us have never experienced anything quite like this. This isn't like being down 3 touchdowns in a play-off game with only 4 minutes on the clock and needing to come back. This is more like the Taliban are outside your house with weapons and you are inside, guarding your family with steak knives and a couple of teenagers. The Taliban are telling your family they can all be spared as long as they surrender. Add to this, they have just taken out most of the neighbors before arriving at your house. Half of them surrendered, and are alive, even if not so well; going to Assyria now. The others didn't, and were killed. You aren't surrendering, and you are believing the Lord is going to deliver you. You let them know that you have no intention of surrendering.
So the question is reasonable, “On what are you basing this confidence of yours? On whom are you depending?”
Some of us might quickly respond, “On the Lord. I am depending on the Lord.” Others would stop and ask themselves, “Yeah, on whom am I depending?” But the answer might more realistically be revealed by our actions.
It's not as if the Assyrian field commander was naive to Jewish religion; he knew upon whom they were relying. But he didn't fear the Lord. He made four specific attempts to undermine Israel's faith in God.
  1. The field commander questions Hezekiah's and Israel's faith in God.
In Isaiah 36:7, he points out that Hezekiah had removed the high places. We know that the high places were bad; that kings were commended by God for doing this. But that is looking back; hindsight is 20/20. Hindsight needs no faith. But when it happened, it required faith. (For instance, two days after the lion's den incident, Daniel knew there was no reason to fear. However, the moment before being thrown in it took faith.)
I imagine there was very likely a backlash from the people against the kings for doing this. No doubt many argued, “Why are you tearing these down, we can't get all the way to Jerusalem every time we need to sacrifice. We are, after all worshipping Yahweh.” Tearing down the high places then might seem a lot more like telling people in America today that you can't do church in front of your TV on Sunday morning; you need to have a body of believers that you are joined to in a local church. Some would think you were crazy. So the field commander exploits this, as if Hezekiah had actually slighted God.
  1. The field commander points out the impracticality of faith in God.
In verse 8, he mocks the absurdity of thinking they will succeed by pointing out that he could actually provide them with 2,000 horses, if only they could provide riders for them. In other words, “We've got 2,000 spare horses... you haven't even got 2,000 horsemen to defend yourselves against us.” Faith in this situation seemed absurd to those who merely look at practical matters. This battle wasn't even going to be close. But times like this call for us to remember truths as expressed in Psalm 33:16-19:
No king is saved by the size of his army; no warrior escapes by his great strength. 17A horse is a vain hope for deliverance; despite all its great strength it cannot save. 18But the eyes of the LORD are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love, 19to deliver them from death and keep them alive in famine.
  1. The field commander makes statements designed to introduce doubts about God's faithfulness. In Isaiah 36:10 we read,
Furthermore, have I come to attack and destroy this land without the LORD? The LORD himself told me to march against this country and destroy it.
This one reminds me of the serpents strategy in the garden. “Has God really said...” Here it is more like, “Has God really said He would deliver you? Actually He told me to come and destroy you. Maybe He has betrayed you.”
This falsehood is designed to impugn the character of God, to cause the Jews to wonder if God had turned against them. And it is not so far fetched either. A few generations later, God did send Nebuchadnezzar to Jerusalem to take the people into captivity. Then the people had a cocky kind of faith that wasn't real. They thought, “We are God's people. We have the temple. We are Abraham's children. There is no way we can be defeated.” It wasn't faith and trust in God; it was arrogant confidence in who they were. Not so in Hezekiah's day: The people were pursuing obedience to God and a life of faith.
  1. The field commander tried to incite fear in the hearts and minds of the people.
Check out this interchange between him and Hezekiah's officials.
Then Eliakim, Shebna and Joah said to the field commander, "Please speak to your servants in Aramaic, since we understand it. Don't speak to us in Hebrew in the hearing of the people on the wall."  12But the commander replied, "Was it only to your master and you that my master sent me to say these things, and not to the men sitting on the wall—who, like you, will have to eat their own filth and drink their own urine?" 13Then the commander stood and called out in Hebrew, "Hear the words of the great king, the king of Assyria! 14This is what the king says: Do not let Hezekiah deceive you. He cannot deliver you! 15Do not let Hezekiah persuade you to trust in the LORD when he says, 'The LORD will surely deliver us; this city will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.' 16Do not listen to Hezekiah. This is what the king of Assyria says: Make peace with me and come out to me. Then every one of you will eat from his own vine and fig tree and drink water from his own cistern, 17until I come and take you to a land like your own—a land of grain and new wine, a land of bread and vineyards. (Isaiah 36:11-17)
Notice that this particular attack on faith does 3 things. First, it attempts to strike fear at what will happen to them. This reminds me of politicians who are constantly trying to tell us that if the other side wins we will have have mud coming out our water facets and our children will starve to death at school, and retired people will stop getting their social security. However, in this case, the fear is more realistic. From an earthly standpoint, Sennacherib can and will do this very thing; he has done it to others quite successfully. This is no idle threat or fictitious fear mongering.
Second, this attack posits the possibility that Hezekiah is the one who is doing the deceiving. It suggests that to believe in God as Hezekiah has asked them to is to believe in something “made up” or imaginary. Sounds a lot like attacks on faith that can occur to each of us. Our society at large is quite fine with religion. But don't take that religion into a sphere where it really matters. Once again I am reminded of politicians who will talk all about how religious they are, but attack the other guy if he actually allows religion to affect a policy, or a stance on any given issue. This field commander was quite alright with the people worshiping God; but don't believe Hezekiah's declaration that God will deliver you.
Third, this attack offers false hope. If you turn from trusting God to trusting Sennacherib, you will have prosperity and hope. As if Sennacherib is their promised deliverer. No longer a need to trust in this God you cannot see.
Now we turn to the response of faith. We first see the faith of the people in their silence and obedience (Isaiah 36:21). This was a simple act of obedience. Faith can be seen, not in our proud proclamations, but in our simple acts of obedience. They didn't start making bold declarations of how they would be victorious. They simply did not answer because the king had commanded them not to answer.
They were probably quite afraid. It might well be that questions were swirling about their heads; they probably were. But, they knew to do one thing: “Do not answer him.” “I can do that. I might not be able to remain confident; I might be trembling on the inside; but I can remain quiet.” Often faith is expressed in simple steps of obedience; doing what we know we are called to do. It might be not turning on the TV, when you know that you need to have time with the Lord. It might be, not going to the convenience store when you know that you have a hard time resisting going to the magazine section. It can come in a number of ways. But it is often a simple act of obedience we are called to make.
The second response of faith is seen in Hezekiah's reaction (Isaiah 37:1). Hezekiah didn't panic, he turned to the Lord. And he was serious about calling on God. In fact, in Isaiah 37:2-4, he sends his officials to Isaiah and asks Isaiah to pray also. Isaiah sent back a word from the Lord that indeed the Lord would deliver them by causing the enemy to retreat. Later, when Sennacherib was again delayed by the Egyptian army he sent a letter to Hezekiah telling him not to deceive himself thinking they were safe now. He promised to return and conquer them soon.
Hezekiah turns to God once again (Isaiah 37:14-20). He spreads out this letter before the Lord. He acknowledges the truths which it contains. He compares the gods of the nations which Sennacherib had taken over with the Living God. He asks God to deliver them from his hand. Our prayer life reveals where our confidence is. On whom are you depending? Faith is about where we go with our fears.
On whom are you basing this confidence of yours?” That was Sennacherib's first question. Hezekiah and the people answered with their actions; actions which revealed trust in God.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,