Why Did You Do That?


Just yesterday, my youngest son did something stupid.

To tell the truth, his mom and dad often do stupid things, too—daily. But our job is to correct him and help him to be better than we are (which means making him prone to doing fewer stupid things). So we corrected our child.

The main way we corrected him was by asking him a question: Why did you do that?

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His reply was, “I don’t know.” When he responded that way, we knew clearly where our real work needed to begin. We needed to help him understand why he does inappropriate things. If we could help him understand why he does these things, we might also be able to lead him to see why he should not do them—and why he should do more positive things instead.

This struggle in our day to day child-rearing turns out to be a struggle that sits at the heart of Christian ethics. Christian ethics is about what we ought to do, what we ought not do, and why we ought to do/ not do certain things. On this last question, the “why” question, there is much debate among Christian thinkers. Why ought we love others and not murder them?

The simplest ethical response is, “Because God says so.” (But why does God say so? How do we know?)

The answer growing more popular these days to the “why” question is something like, “because good people (God’s people) do good things.” This latter answer operates on the idea that our character determines our actions. According to this view, God is intensely concerned to shape our character so that good actions which please him will flow from our good character. A classic example of this approach comes from Jesus in Matthew 12:33-35,

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Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil.

Christians obviously want to be good trees bearing good fruits. The kind of person you are determines the kind of actions you will perform. But there’s a  big #Problem!

How does this work? By nature, we aren’t good trees! Scripture tells us that we are by nature dead—children of wrath (Ephesians 2); Scripture says that by nature not a single one of us is righteous (Romans 3); and the Bible teaches that by nature our hearts seek to do evil continually even from a very young age (Genesis 8).

The naturally bad trees will not attempt to do good—that would be working against our own nature (like a peach tree somehow deciding to grow a watermelon). If, on the other hand, we simply confess we are bad trees and thus must do bad works, we fall victim to fatalism and disobey God’s instructions openly. How in the world can a naturally bad tree produce good fruit?

Here is where Christian ethics must begin—with theology! Christian living begins with God supernaturally revealing himself and his gospel to those who are by nature children of wrath. God reveals both himself and the sacrifice Jesus made in order for those who believe to be “converted” into good trees bearing good fruit. As Paul writes in Ephesians 2:4-5,

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved!”

God makes His people alive! God reveals himself and his will to his people. His people love and trust him. They trust him to teach them how to live in this world and how to remain safe in his presence forever. Because God is good, everything he commands his people is also good.

The key to Christian ethics is simple: Start with a good and gracious God making his will known; then make disciples (teach people of all backgrounds to obey what Jesus teaches).

Disciples start obeying. From their obedience, disciples grow more and more good fruit. Obeying Jesus leads to better discernment. As the writer of Hebrews says it,

“But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (Hb 5:14).

So, Christian ethics, like child-rearing, is a process of asking and answering, “Why did you do that?” –followed by, “Why don’t you simply trust God and do what He says?” #Discernment #Sanctification

Why Worry?


Students get anxious when final exams arise. Salesmen get anxious when monthly sales quotas fall short. Authors get anxious when the manuscript deadline draws near. Contractors get anxious when rain delays put them behind schedule. Parents get anxious when their children flirt with unhealthy life choices. Everyone experiences the pressure which leads to worry. It’s part of life.

A lot of times, we juggle our own anxiety along with the anxieties of those closest to us.

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Perhaps your daughter is stressing about not having a date to prom while you are worrying about the next round of layoffs at the company. Maybe your girlfriend is having tons of problems with her impossible roommate while you are waiting for someone to pay what they owe you so you can make this month’s rent.

Life is filled with an endless flow of opportunities for worry. And into such a worry-filled world, we find in Philippians 4, Paul saying some amazing things: “Be anxious for nothing.”

What! Really? No way! There’s so much to be anxious about! Are we to pretend these anxieties don’t exist?

As it turns out, Paul offers a remedy much better than pretending. He instructs us to “let our requests be made known to God” (4:6). Paul follows a biblical pattern for obedience. Like much of the Bible, Paul follows his “Do not” with a better “Do this instead.” The negative introduces, but the positive action is supposed to rule the day.

So Paul says in Philippians 4, “Do not be anxious for anything” (negative); instead let your requests be made known to God (positive). He seems to say that telling God what we need in order to [Do Not Be Anxious] will somehow remedy all our worrisome woes.

Does life really work this way?

I can imagine a conversation with someone in my congregation who is fighting anxiety. My saying something like “Tell God about it” or “Pray” or “Go to God with this” usually doesn’t help at all. The immediate reply to me often goes like this: “O, I have been praying about this.” [And God has not responded.]

No one openly admits that their real concern is that they have been asking God, and God has not helped! In fact, in conversations about anxiety, people aren’t really asking, “how do I get rid of anxiety?” What they really want to know is, “Why has God not fixed this yet?” The answer to that question, according to Paul, is something worse than we imagine.

Anxiety about our circumstances is not an indication that we have forgotten God; it’s a declaration that God is insufficient to meet our needs. Worrying and fretting are statements that God’s timing is all wrong. Anxiety is a call for God’s inaction to be overturned.

Paul’s positive command to let your requests be made known to God is not our opportunity to supply God with the information he was missing. Rather, this command is an opportunity for us to reverse course, to put the matter back in God’s hands where the outcome will be more secure.

Look at the text more closely. Paul says,

 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand;  do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. –Philippians 4:4-7.

First, Paul reminds us that the Lord is near. Then he commands us to let our requests be made known to God. Notice the attention Paul gives to describing HOW we are to let our requests be made known.

  1. Aware of God’s nearness.
  2. Without anxiety.
  3. In everything (all life circumstances all the time).
  4. By prayer and by supplication.
  5. With thanksgiving.

Paul gives us quite a description of the method and demeanor which ought to shape our prayers. Perhaps the last part is the most difficult: with thanksgiving! How can people give thanks for the very things which are stressing them out?

Paul says give thanks to God for the people in your life. Give thanks to God for the opportunity He is giving you to be a faithful witness. Give thanks to God for the way He is reminding us of our own weaknesses and of our great need for a great savior and lord! Give thanks for the school, thanks for the job, thanks for the children, thanks for the spouse, thanks for the income—thanks for the God who is near and has never left nor forsaken His children (Matthew 28:20; Hebrews 13:5).

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Here’s the craziest part of all… Paul is writing this letter from prison! Paul was thrown into prison when he founded the church at Philippi. And Paul was in prison again when he wrote this letter to these saints. Trying to spread the gospel, he kept getting thrown into dungeons with his feet and hands shackled to the floor. Did he have reason for being anxious about his future? Yes!

But he likely followed his own advice and let his requests be known to God in all of life by prayer with thanksgiving. And Paul found what you and I will find: the peace of God which surpasses all understanding guards hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (4:7).

How great is this encouragement!

The peace of God—beyond all our thoughts—will guard our hearts and minds. What does Paul mean that our hearts and minds will be guarded? He means just like the Philippian jailer once stood outside his cell and guarded Paul, his prisoner, so now the Almighty sovereign of heaven and earth stands guard to keep the minds and hearts of his people locked in his house of safety chained to his promise of peace for their souls.

To be “free” of God’s standing guard to keep us in his peace, all we need to do is demand our right to start worrying again about tomorrow.

Asia Bibi and Why She Matters


Alumni from CBU and from the BAT program texted me today and tagged me on social media to make sure I noticed the release of Aasiya Noreen (better known as Asia Bibi). They remember praying for her many times in various classes over the years. Finally, Asia Bibi has now been released, after more than 8 years in jail.

Asia grew up in Punjab Province in Pakistan. She is a Christian woman—the only one inAsia Bibi Persecution Pakistan Pray her village. She and her husband have two daughters together. She also has three stepchildren from her husband’s previous marriage. Her husband and two daughters left Pakistan and relocated to London, England, for their safety, while Asia’s appeals continued at a snail’s pace through Pakistani courts.

No credible evidence was established to prove that Asia committed blasphemy against Muhammad. However, she remained in custody. The reason? Fear. Muslim judges and political leaders have not taken up her case because doing so would likely mean giving their lives. Even knowing the stakes, two governing officials over the years have tried to help Asia.

Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer came to Asia’s aid in 2011. On the basis of Justice, he pleaded for her release. He was shot by one of his own security team members. Upon hearing of Taseer’s death, Asia reportedly wept inconsolably, knowing that this man sacrificed his life for her.

Another of her advocates—Shabaz Bhatti—worked through parliament to end Pakistan’s infamous “Blasphemy Law 295c.” Bhatti was the only Christian member of Pakistan’s Cabinet. He was the Minority Affairs Minister. On March 2, 2011, gunmen ambushed Bhatti’s car near his house, killing him. He knew the stakes and had told his closest companions he was willing to die for justice.

Today, three Muslim judges–chief justice Mian Saqib Nisar and justices Khosa and Mazhar Alam Khan Miankhel—have risked their own lives for the cause of truth and justice. In their decision, they quoted Muslim sources demonstrating that, yes, blasphemy is awful, but so, too, is falsely accusing others of it and sentencing them to death. Knowing they have righted the wrong of sentencing Asia to death, these courageous Muslim judges have now put themselves at risk of the same.

The Red Mosque in Paris, the Islamist TLP in Pakistan, and Muslims throughout the region have little interest in justice. They demand blood. They are angry. But James taught us long before Muhammad was born that the anger of man does not bring about the righteousness of God. May the Lord strengthen all people of good will to protect Asia, her family, and these courageous Muslim judges and against the bloodthirsty mobs.

Space, Steve Miller, and a Good Christian Time


 

About forty years ago, my friend and I sat excitedly as the diamond needle made its way from the edge of the vinyl disc toward the center. Reliably, the turntable rotated at 33.3 RPM until the needle made its way to the grooved section with the song we most wanted to hear: “Fly Like an Eagle” by the Steve Miller Band.

bald-eagle-521492_1920As Miller’s melody filled the air, we experienced many feelings; disappointment wasn’t among them! The instant the “space intro” began to play, we were transported from our south Louisiana homes into a far-away world of rhythmic delight.

More recently, in a different small town in south Louisiana, scientists were likewise transported into a far-away place of audible fascination, but theirs was not a musical adventure—at least not technically. Scientists detected a faint chirp from deep space, instantaneously affirming Einstein’s century-old prediction that gravitational waves permeate our universe.

Writing in the New York Times, Dennis Overbye describes this chirp as music to the scientist’s ear,

“If replicated by future experiments, that simple chirp, which rose to the note of middle C before abruptly stopping, seems destined to take its place among the great sound bites of science, ranking with Alexander Graham Bell’s “Mr. Watson — come here” and Sputnik’s first beeps from orbit.”

On September 14, 2015, scientists at two different LIGO[1] facilities in Washington and Louisiana achieved the milestone discovery of GW150914—the first directly observed gravitational wave in space. Lasting only 0.2 seconds, the chirp of this wave reverberated around the world to the delight of scientists everywhere. Though discovered in September 2015, the wave was not announced until February 2016. Scientists ever since have been heralding the wave detection as a major achievement in science. Bruce Gordon of the Discovery Institute calls this discovery “the real thing,” while Szabolcs Marka of Columbia University says it is one of the major breakthroughs of physics. Eric Katsavounidis (LIGO team member) says, “This is the end of the silent-movie era in astronomy.”[2]

Astronomers are ecstatic about this discovery for more than one reason. Sure, Blog universe-2368403_1920GW150914 affirms an important aspect of Einstein’s theory of relativity. Perhaps more importantly, the detection of this gravitational wave means an entirely new dimension of exploration is unfolding. In the past, scientists studied the universe mainly by observing light. Now, gravitational waves can be studied throughout the cosmos, further clarifying aspects of motion, time, and origin of the cosmos. Adding gravitational waves is like adding sound to the light of the universe.

Years before my friend and I even heard of the Steve Miller Band, scientists had already begun working to observe gravitational waves. LIGO began as a dream in the 1960’s with scientists like Kip Thorne at Caltech. These scientists persevered through funding issues, research setbacks, and technology deficiencies for forty-eight years before their dream of detecting a gravitational wave was realized. If nothing else, the achievement stands as a testimony to human perseverance.

In 1916, Einstein first proposed finding gravitational waves. The search for these waves began in earnest about fifty years ago. Construction of super-technical, super-sensitive equipment began two decades ago. Over the last two decades, more than two hundred million dollars were invested in upgrades to the two LIGO observatories, culminating in a final round of intensive upgrades over the last five years. And just about a year ago—before the equipment was officially ready to launch—it happened. The chirp sounded (listen here). For two-tenths of a second, the earth surfed across a gravitational wave. Scientists worldwide rightly applauded.

Gravitational wave GW150914 was produced by the final collapse of spiraling, binary black holes. These spiraling black holes were once massive stars which collapsed into themselves, then into each other. Each of these black holes began as stars with a mass thirty times that of our sun. The collapse of the two stars, and the consequent merger of the two black holes, happened 1.4 billion light years away in the Southern Celestial Hemisphere.

No one on earth felt the gravitational wave. Without the sophisticated, ultra-sensitive LIGO equipment, no one would ever have known that such a wave existed. But because of LIGO scientists who were able to split laser beams and send them through 2.5 mile long vacuum tubes 90 degrees apart in Louisiana and Washington, the world now knows for sure that gravitational waves are rippling through the cosmos like intergalactic whirlpools. It’s easy to see why physicists are so excited.

Christians should join their applause. LIGO is a monumental achievement. Christians might be tempted to conflate this discovery too quickly into an argument for design (against evolution), or to question the assumptions of origins (for fiat creation against Big Bang cosmology). Scientists do tend to leave a number of metaphysical questions hanging like the ill-fitting apparel we put on the discarded clothes rack in fitting rooms. Charles Q. Choi explains it this way:

“Since the universe by its definition encompasses all of space and time as we know it, NASA says it is beyond the model of the Big Bang to say what the universe is expanding into or what gave rise to the Big Bang. Although there are models that speculate about these questions, none of them have made realistically testable predictions as of yet.”[3]

blog galaxies-connectedWhy is the universe expanding? To what end is the universe expanding? Is there a purpose built into the expansion? Where did the energy and mass derive from which the Big Bang occurred? Why should there be a Big Bang in the first place? These and many other questions remain unanswered. In truth, GW150914 answers some questions, refuses to answer other questions, and reveals still more fascinating questions waiting to be asked.

One such question in my own mind is how does this discovery affect our understanding of time and history. Ostensibly, the experiment had little to do with time; it was an experiment designed to detect gravitational waves in space. Yet everything about the experiment extols the virtues of linear time.

Think back to the song “Fly Like an Eagle.” The song wished for a revolution to eradicate poverty. Steve Miller wished he could fly like an eagle until he was free from the suffering in this world. Miller hoped for progress over time. One of the more memorable lines from the song is the confident refrain, “Time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, into the future.”

Like those of us whose cognitive formation took place in a western tradition, Steve Miller assumed that time is linear—that time progresses toward a defined point which we call the future. Does the notion of linear time correspond to the reality of the cosmos? Eastern religions doubt linear time. Even in the West, some have begun to doubt that time has a fixed beginning and a linear progression into the future.

Friedrich Nietzsche may be the most influential philosopher in the West to argue against linear time. According to Nietzsche, time occurs in a series of endless loops, a system he referred to as eternal recurrence. In this system, time is more like a wheel, turning round and round but going nowhere. Human action is rendered insignificant because whatever is has already been and will be again. In eternal recurrence, human action is pre-determined by the cycle of time. Thus, no human action ultimately changes history. The future is swallowed up in the past. So Nietzsche explained in Zarathustra, “The soul is as mortal as the body. But the knot of causes in which I am entangled recurs and will create me again.”[4]

Nietzsche was comfortable with—if not excited by—this loss of future meaning, but not everyone shares his zeal for embracing (and thus defying) the meaninglessness of human existence. Philosopher Ron Nash points out that Nietzsche’s eternal recurrence robbed history of meaning: “In order for history to have significance, it must have a goal. Without a purpose or goal, neither history nor individual human lives can have significance. Without a goal, there would be no basis by which mere change could be identified as progress.”[5]

It’s easy to see that the LIGO scientists pay close attention to history—especially the last 100 years. Not only history, these scientists are serious and sober about the future. They believe they are making progress, but they know they are only scratching the surface. They are determined to learn as much as they can before they die, leaving a knowledge trail for future scientists. In other words, these scientists believe in progress. LIGO scientists believe in the future.

The optimism of this work affirms in three ways the linear concept of time: First, that this universe has a single point of origin. Second, that this is an orderly universe which remains intact over time. Third, that the work done presently matters (has enduring significance not just now but in the future). These scientists share a belief in the progress of knowledge (preservation and advancement).

Christians, too, believe the universe has a single point of origin. We proclaim the significance of human life now with great confidence toward the future. We believe, for instance, that Christ died for our sins once in history for all time, and the benefits of that death endure to the future.

Christians should join the celebration of GW150914. The discovery of this wave affirms the way we see the universe. Christians and physicists agree that time is significant for human beings in the past and present. This discovery also means that we can keep singing Steve Miller, as time keeps on slipping, slipping into the future.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                [1] LIGO stands for Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory. There are two observatories, one in Livingston, LA, the other near Richland, WA.

[2] As quoted by Robert Naeye, Sky and Telescope, February 11, 2016, accessed [on-line] 27 January 2016: http://www.skyandtelescope.com/astronomy-news/gravitational-wave-detection-heralds-new-era-of-science-0211201644/

                [3] Charles Q. Choi, “Our Expanding Universe: Age, History, and Other Facts,” Space.Com (January 13, 2015), accessed January 30, 2017, [on-line] http://www.space.com/52-the-expanding-universe-from-the-big-bang-to-today.html

 

                [4] As Quoted in C. Ivan Spencer, The Tweetable Nietzsche (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016), 104. Originally, this quotation is found in Nietzsche, Friedrich, Thus Spoke Zarathustra [III, “The Convalescent”].

[5] Ron Nash, The Meaning of History (Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 1998), 38.

Why Getting So Angry Might Not Help


Angry Bee BlogWhen a honey bee gets angry, it stings.  After the sting, it dies.  Literally, the bee gives its life in defense of its anger seeking revenge.  Our anger is often like that of the bee.  It is volatile and deadly.  And, like the bee, we are able to inflict only a temporary pain to the objects of our ire, yet we are likely to kill ourselves in the process.  The anger of man (or woman) does not bring about the righteousness of God (James 1:20).

Of course, I don’t mean that we physically die, as does the bee. Rather, I mean that something about us is lost when we unleash our poisonous stingers of anger against others.  We lose a right relationship with the person for one thing.  For another thing, we lose control of our own emotions.  But, even beyond these losses, we lose something else—something far more valuable than any reward of satisfaction we get by cutting another man or woman down to size.  We lose sight of God.

You see, our anger does not establish righteousness.  No matter how angry we get, no matter how many people we bring alongside of us to share in our anger, we cannot prove by that anger that we are right.  Miriam was angry with Moses. Moses was angry with Miriam and with the people in the wilderness.  The people in the wilderness were angry with God and Moses. Yet, none of these was considered righteous by God.  All their grumblings were sin.  In fact, their anger ended up making God angry with them because of their unbelief.

Did it matter that it was the majority opinion that they had a right to be angry?  No.  God does not establish righteousness by majority opinion.  He establishes righteousness by His own righteousness.  No matter how mad we get, no matter how many hornet’s nests of anger we stir up in others, no matter the size of the crowd or the volume of the protests—we will never attain to the righteousness of God by our anger.  Indeed, as with the case of the Israelites in the wilderness, our anger may only be a clear presentation of our own unrighteousness.  It does not matter that “everyone agAnger Blogrees” with our reason for being angry.  The anger of man does not—and will not ever—bring about the righteousness of God.  We lose sight of God when we curse our spouses, our bosses, our employees, our teachers, our team mates, our roommates, our siblings, or our parents.

Because we lose sight of God, we lose sight of ourselves, too.  Perhaps the worst thing our outbursts of anger prove is that we have a very unrealistic view of ourselves before God.  If we had any idea of how deeply our own private and public sins offend God, we would not dare allow our tongues out of our mouths as weapons to be employed against others.  We would be quiet and still in the presence of God’s holiness, and we would see sufficient reason for keeping our own mouths shut, lest He become angry with us, and we perish along the way.

So, anger clearly makes us think too highly of ourselves, too lowly of others, and way too little of God.  Instead of an outburst of anger, we should work to burst outwardly with grace toward others, remembering that Christ taught us “By your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.  Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? (Matthew 7:2-3)

God simply refuses to be impressed with our anger.  He is too impressed with His Son who cleanses us from murderous thoughts and outbursts of anger (see Galatians 5).  May we be as impressed with Christ as the Father.  If that be the case, we would not exalt ourselves above others.  We would be much quieter and gentler.  And we would be more loving… and more joyful.

How Can Poor Christians Give?


In my Sunday preaching, I am deep into a quest to cover each book of the Bible in a single sermon. I started preaching this single book series over one year ago, and I have now reached 2 Corinthians.

Child GivingIn listening to 2 Corinthians, I was struck by a paragraph at the opening of chapter 8. The Macedonians became an example which Paul used to inspire the church at Corinth to give generously toward helping suffering saints. At first, I was struck by the unimaginable generosity of the Macedonians. Later, I was struck by something even more astounding…

First, notice how generously the Macedonians gave. Though poor, they were wealthy in giving.

We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints… 2 Cor 8:1-4, ESV.

Second, ponder the striking paradox between their poor circumstances and their generous giving.

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But there is more to the story than simply generous giving.

Third, notice the intense desire the Macedonians possessed. Paul says—even though they lacked the means—they begged earnestly to participate. Poor Christians begged for the opportunity to contribute to a love offering! I’ve never seen anyone–rich or poor–begging to give an offering to help suffering saints.

Fourth, –and most surprising honestly–get a grasp of what kind of an example these Macedonians really are in Paul’s mind. We would expect Paul to use the Macedonians as an example of giving so that the Corinthians would be encouraged—almost shamed—into giving, right?. After all, the Corinthians were far better off than the Macedonians, and the Macedonians gave generously!

But Paul doesn’t use the Macedonians as an example of generosity. But of grace. Speaking of the Macedonians, Mark Seifrid points out,

“Yet they are an example, not of generosity, but of the grace of God.”

For Paul, the appeal to the Corinthians is not guilt, but grace. God’s grace empowered the poverty-stricken Macedonians to give. Likewise, God’s grace would also empower the church at Corinth to give generously.

If Paul had tried to shame them, the Corinthians may have been able to put up a defense against guilt. But what church would ever defend herself against grace? We love to receive grace from God. And Paul says, in effect, that receiving grace means giving grace.

Listen to Seifrid’s exposition of this profound reality about God’s grace and Christian giving:

“Paul also makes it clear that he understands the Macedonian act of giving as the reception of a gift from God. God is present and active in human giving in such a way that human givers are finally mere receivers.”

Amazing grace from an amazing God! The poor Macedonians were made rich enough to give away generously. May God’s grace make us so rich!

What Might You Do When Persecuted?


Spurgeon image from Purity and Passion blog.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892) is affectionately and appropriately known as “The Prince of Preachers.” 

I recently revisited a sermon from him concerning the reality that any of us might be called upon to suffer for Christ. In this sermon, Spurgeon uses the friendship of David and Jonathan to show how quickly and unexpectedly persecution may occur.

Here is how Spurgeon describes the scene:

 

Jonathan could hardly think that his father really meant harm to so good a man as David, and he expressed to David that opinion, and then David, to be prepared for the worst, put to him this question, “What if thy father answer thee roughly? 

 “It did so turn out. Saul answered his son with bitter words, and in the desperation of his anger he even hurled a javelin at him to smite him; yet Jonathan did not forsake David, he clung to him with all the faithfulness of love, and until his death…  

…This question of David to Jonathan is one which I wish to put this morning to all believers in Christ, especially to the younger ones…. I want to put before them the supposition that they will meet with opposition from their dearest friends, that perhaps their father, brother, husband, or uncle will answer them roughly, or perhaps their mother, wife, or sister will become a persecutor to them. What then? What will they do under such circumstances? Will they follow the Lord through evil report? “What if thy father answer thee roughly?”

 

Spurgeon next emphasizes why it’s necessary for believers to ponder this question. In short, believers are likely to suffer some loss as a result of their faith in Christ. Again, here’s Spurgeon, 
 
 
There are a few Christians so favourably circumstanced that all their friends accompany them in the pilgrimage to heaven. What advances they ought to make in the sacred journey! What excellent Christians they ought to be! They are like plants in a conservatory—they ought to grow and bring forth the loveliest Bowers of divine grace. But there are not very many who are altogether in that case. The large proportion of Christians find themselves opposed by those of their own family, or by those with whom they labor or trade.
 
…Was it not so from the beginning? Is there not enmity between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman? Did not Cain slay his brother Abel because he was accepted of the Lord? In the family of Abraham was there not an Ishmael born after the flesh, who persecuted Isaac, who was born after the Spirit? Was not Joseph hated of his brethren? Was not David persecuted by Saul, Daniel by the Persian princes, and Jeremiah by the kings of Israel? Has it not ever been so? Did not the Lord Jesus Christ himself meet with slander, cruelty, and death, and did he not tell us that we must not look for favor where he found rejection?
 
I press the question Upon you who think of avowing yourselves believers, for most likely it will come practically home to you, and it is well when you begin to build a house to calculate whether you will be able to finish it.
 
Finally, Spurgeon offers 4 ways you might respond:
 
  • You might become offended that others treat you roughly. “I mean that you may leave Christ altogether, because you cannot bear his cross, and though willing enough to go to heaven with him if the way were smooth, it may be that… you will turn your back upon the good country and return to the City of Destruction.”
  • You might gradually give way over time (like Judas). “With all our true professions, if we flinch from persecution it will prove that we only want our price, and, like the traitor Judas, we too will sell our Master, not for thirty pieces of silver possibly, but to escape ridicule or avoid ill-will.”
  • You might make a pitiful compromise between Christ and the world. “O soul, if you attempt this you must fail, and moreover you will have chosen the roughest road of all, for if a man serves God, and serves him thoroughly, he will meet with many comforts to balance his crosses; and if a man serves Satan thoroughly he will enjoy whatever poor comfort is to be got out of sin; but if he goes betwixt and between he will feel the discomforts of both, and the pleasures of neither.”
  • Or… you might take a firm and humble stand for Christ. ““If my father answer me roughly he must do so, but I have another Father who is in heaven, and I shall appeal to him. If the world condemn me, I shall accept its condemnation as a confirmation of that gracious verdict of acquittal which comes from the great Judge of all, for I do remember it is written, ‘If the world hate you ye know that it hated me before it hated you’ and ‘If ye were of the world, the world would love its own; but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.'”

Why God Cares for the Poor: An Old Testament Perspective


PoorThe Old Testament locates justice in God and understands that people called by his name ought also to practice justice, beginning with their own families and their own covenant community. The rationale behind such a design is organic and seems inescapable. How could an Israelite demand in the name of God that justice be carried out in Samaria or Nineveh or Egypt or Philistia if the Israelite did not first carry out justice in Israel? It was the nation of Israel which was to be a light to the Gentiles. Indeed, Deuteronomy 4:7-8 sums up the thought perfectly:

“For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? What great nation is there that has statutes and judgments as righteous as this whole law which I am setting before you today?”

The people of God were expected to stand out because of the very fact they had access to the word of God. While the concept of covenant community is often forgotten in conversations regarding civil justice, it ought not be. The watching world is supposed to see something different about God’s covenant community as a whole. Both an individual and corporate witness was expected to be on display, as each Israelite was shaped ultimately by the just and righteous God who made them a nation in the first place.

Unfortunately, Israel too often failed to maintain God’s standard of righteousness in their own community. Thus, God sent prophets to proclaim his righteousness, calling the people back to repentance. These prophets and righteous ones often became the persecuted (Jer. 20:2), the outcast (1 Kings 18:4), and the needy (Gen. 37:36). Thus, quite often in the Old Testament the righteous and the poor are grouped together. Being righteous was, sadly, often the means by which one became poor. The pairing of these two concepts in Amos 2:6 makes the point: “Thus says the LORD:

“For three transgressions of Israel,

and for four, I will not revoke the punishment,

because they sell the righteous for silver,

and the needy for a pair of sandals” (ESV).

The shock value of Amos 2:6 is, of course, that it is aimed at the covenant children of Israel.  God’s people, Israel—of all people in the world—ought to have enacted justice and righteousness. Instead, God’s people actually oppressed the righteous. These needy people were not righteous because they were poor; rather, they were poor because they were righteous.[1]

Their concern for God’s righteousness likely cost them social standing and opportunity, ultimately leading to their being oppressed. God does indeed care for the poor, but he has a particular concern for the righteous poor—which certainly includes the persecuted who are poor on account of him.

 

                [1] This insight comes from Old Testament Professor Jeff Mooney, who has made the case in conversations with me that the poor in the Old Testament are often poor because they suffer on account of righteousness.

*This post is adapted from chapter 12 of Christians in the Crosshairs.

 

Religious Liberty in the Toilet


I was minding my own business, just making the regular afternoon pilgrimage to the men’s room. Out of nowhere, a colleague popped in and asked me a most unexpected question:

refugee-mother-and-child“Are you upset with how the world is responding to our new president? I bet you’re unnerved by the way the world thinks he’s a Christian!”

As a rule, I don’t debate politics much anymore. I certainly don’t do so in the men’s room. But the question struck me—blindsided me—with such swift assault that I mumbled my reply before having time to think. My reply was something like,

“It doesn’t matter who the President is; many folks will assume he is a Christian because he represents the U.S. And besides, I don’t think he will be worse than our last President.”

I think it was the last remark that left my friend so shocked and unsettled.

“What… what do you mean?” he replied.

There in the men’s room, I proceeded to unfold a litany of failures from the last decade which have led to a wholesale depopulation of Christians from the Middle East. (For one such example, see Nina Shea’s article concerning the Obama Administration’s reluctance to use the term genocide in defense of Christians.)

Many examples could be offered about damage done to Christians over the past ten years, but the gist of my frustration centered around the Obama administration’s orchestrated attempt to redefine (weaken) the concept of religious liberty in the U.S. Once the concept was weakened in the U.S., the reverberating effects around the world were easy to predict. If Christians in the U.S. aren’t free to bring their beliefs into the public arena, then why should Communists rulers in China grant Christians free speech in public?

The U.S. has been the beacon lighting the way for religious freedom around the world. When the main light goes dim; all lights emanating from it get darker and darker. The last decade has seen religious liberty go pretty dark.

To illustrate, consider Elliott Abrams’ article in Newsweek last fall which featured the startling headline

The U.S. Bars Christian, Not Muslim, Refugees from Syria.

Abrams explains,

The headline for this column—The U.S. Bars Christian, Not Muslim, Refugees From Syria—will strike many readers as ridiculous.

But the numbers tell a different story: The United States has accepted 10,801 Syrian refugees, of whom 56 are Christian. Not 56 percent; 56 total, out of 10,801. That is to say, one-half of 1 percent.

In a recent Christianity Today article, Arab church leaders were quoted as being opposed to the policies of the Obama administration. These same church leaders thought the Trump Executive Order would have the effect of causing more Christians to leave Iraq and Syria–an outcome they don’t wish to see.

I don’t mean for this post to be political, just like I didn’t intend to get into a political debate in the men’s room. But there is no doubt Christians have suffered terribly for the past ten years, partly because of our political decisions. Let’s hope and pray the next decade will be less violent and intolerant toward Christians.

#What Is Aleppo? Why Christians must care


What is Aleppo? The question seems innocent enough to most Americans. But back in September, the question lit up Twitter ( #WhatIsAleppo ) and made Independent presidential candidate Gary Johnson appear even more out of touch with reality. When asked about his response to the crisis in Aleppo, Johnson replied, “And what is Aleppo?”

It’s one thing for an average American to be unsure about Aleppo’s whereabouts; it’s another thing entirely when someone aspiring to be president is not aware of its existence.

aleppo-city-viewSo, what is Aleppo? Aleppo is an ancient city, one of the oldest cities on earth. Aleppo was around before Jesus was born in Bethlehem. And Aleppo existed before King David killed Goliath. Indeed, people were dwelling in Aleppo before Moses was born in Egypt. People have been living in the ancient city of Aleppo (now the second largest city in Syria) for more than 4,000 years.

Today—partly because it is Syria’s second largest city—Aleppo has become the flashpoint in Syria’s civil war. The civil war in Syria is a power struggle to determine who controls Syria and this region of the Middle East. Daniel Horowitz explains,

In Syria, there is a fight between Assad/ Hezbollah/Russia/Iran vs. Al Qaeda splinter groups, Ahrar al Sham, and the Islamic State — with Turkey, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia funding a number of the Islamic fundamentalist rebels.

Uri Friedman of The Atlantic describes Aleppo’s significance this way:

If Assad, along with his Russian and Iranian allies, were to emerge victorious in Aleppo, it would have consequences beyond Syria, Tabler added: “It would be a tremendous loss for the U.S. and its traditional allies: Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Jordan. … This would also be a huge loss for the United States vis-à-vis Russia in its Middle East policy, certainly. And because of the flow of refugees as a result of this, if they go northward to Europe, then you would see a migrant crisis in Europe that could lead to far-right governments coming to power which are much more friendly to Russia than they are to the United States.” In other words, to answer Gary Johnson’s question, Aleppo is a lot more than a Syrian city.

These quotes make a couple of important points. One, a serious war is waging in Aleppo, and it involves a number of world powers, not the least of which are the U.S. and Russia…apparently on opposing sides. The significance of Aleppo in world events is evident in the recent assassination of Russian ambassador Andrei Karlov. Karlov’s assassin allegedly shouted “Remember Aleppo” after killing the ambassador. Clearly, Aleppo is front and center in world affairs.

Two, Christians in Syria in general and Aleppo in particular have no real allies. Which would be better—to face the oppression of the Assad form of Islam or side with the Al-Qaeda rebels and live under their brand of Islamic extremism? It would be difficult in good conscience to waive a banner for either team in this civil war.

Back in 2011-2012, the U.S. thought it was intolerable that 10,000 Syrians were killed. Our government thus decided to fortify the rebellion against the Assad government. But Assad’s government did not topple. Russia and Iran reinvigorated that government with military might to reassert its dominance. And the result has been horrific. CNN reports,

Since the war began in 2011, an estimated 400,000 Syrians have been killed, according to the United Nations.

As of December 2016, 4.81 million Syrians have fled the country and 6.3 million people are displaced internally.

What should Christians do?aleppo-syria

Without a doubt, Christians must pray for all the citizens of Aleppo. The people of Syria are suffering at the hands of their political leaders, who, in some sense, serve as religious leaders, too. There are reports that churches are growing because Muslims are disillusioned by the violence and are looking for answers. As one Christian from Aleppo says,

“But you know what’s surprising? The church is still full; displaced people take their place. Especially Muslims are coming to the church now.”

Christians must pray specifically for other Christians in Syria. The Christian district in Aleppo has been all but obliterated. About 90% of Christians in the area have either died or fled to a safer location like Lebanon. Those Christians remaining are living without electricity, gas, heat, and even without water. Conditions are not just terrible. They are life-threatening. And yet, ministry needs and opportunities are increasing. Imagine surviving through such difficulties, while having the opportunity to minister to many Muslims through your church. It’s an unusual opportunity to say the least.

For anyone interested, Global Hunger Relief operates in Syria. The advantage of GHR is that it operates on a volunteer basis, ensuring that 100% of funds given actually go toward meeting needs, not paying staff.

http://globalhungerrelief.com/news/detail/syrian-refugees

How Mark Links Christ to Persecuted Christians


onelinkThe Bible is the one written word of God from Genesis (original creation) to Revelation (the new heavens and the new earth). There is one consistent story (creation-fall-redemption) narrated throughout the 66 books of the Bible. The four gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) are early attempts to consolidate the entire story into short summaries (“gospels” or tracts that tell the good news of God’s redemption).

The story of God and his dominion was prophesied through Isaiah in the Old Testament. In the New Testament, Mark builds upon Isaiah’s prophecy to picture Jesus as its fulfillment. In Mark’s story, when Jesus calls the disciples to follow him, he calls them to follow him personally in the work he is accomplishing.

Jesus commands his disciples, “Follow me.” Jesus calls his disciples to follow him in Mark 1:17; 2:14; and 8:34, with the first-person pronoun (me) present each time, thus indicating that their call was not a generic following of a religion or a political action committee; rather, the call was to follow Jesus Christ himself.

The personal nature of this call was made clear by Peter, who said in 10:28, “Behold, we have left everything and followed you.” The disciples left their families and jobs for this single purpose: to follow Jesus Christ. The gospel of Mark makes clear that this following of Jesus means following also the kingship mission he was accomplishing.

The gospel of Mark unfolds the relationship between Christ and his followers as beginning with the call to be in the presence of Christ but always accompanying that call with the expectation that the disciples will also join with Christ in announcing the coming of a new kingdom. The disciples are called to more than a profession of faith. They are called to join “the initiation of God’s sovereign action that brings salvation and is to end in a transformed universe.”[1]

They are called to faith, to believe (1:14-15). Being called for Christ’s sake and for the sake of the gospel in Mark is similar to being called on account of righteousness in Matthew. Also in Mark 3:14, Jesus appointed twelve to be in his presence and to go out and preach, and, in this one verse,  two controlling ideas are found: presence and practice. From the time of their calling, the disciples are called both to Christ’s presence and to the practice of obedience.

Being thus connected to the presence and practice of Christ, faithful followers are expected to suffer opposition and even persecution–just as Christ did–because they are empowered by Christ himself to continue his kingdom work. Christ explained this to his first followers, for instance, in Mark 10:29-30:

29 Jesus said, “Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the gospel 30 who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age: houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come. 

 Just as the world and its powers fought against the work Christ was doing in the first century, so, today, similar powers will oppose the work our Lord continues to accomplish through us.

[1]G. R. Beasley-Murray, “Matthew 6:33: The Kingdom of God and the Ethics of Jesus,” in Neues Testament und Ethik, ed. Rudolf Schnackenburg (Freiburg: Herder, 1989), 88, referencing Mark 1:15.

Don’t Be Afraid of Bad Disciples


Have you ever sacrificed your time and your energy to invest in other people? You probably spent time with them in discipleship, building them up in God’s Word, only to have them go astray and turn away from all you taught them. It hurts, doesn’t it? It seems like a life-investment with no return.

Christ definition disciple what is disciple christianThe founders of Southern Seminary in Louisville learned early in the life of that great institution the pain of a life investment lost.  One of the first and brightest students to come through Southern Seminary was Crawford H. Toy.  By all accounts, he was a brilliant student and became an early faculty member at Southern.  But then he went astray.

Basil Manly said that Toy “breathed an atmosphere of doubt” until it became his “ritual air.” Toy abandoned his position on the reliability of Scripture.  He left Southern and became a professor at Harvard, where he would later become a Unitarian.  This move crushed the founders of Southern Seminary, men who had invested greatly in Toy.  James P. Boyce, upon leaving Toy at the train station for his departure from Southern Seminary (and biblical orthodoxy), famously cried out—with his right arm held high: “Oh, Toy, I would freely give that arm to be cut off if you could be where you were five years ago, and stay there.”

What pastor or serious man of God would not freely offer himself as Boyce did to preserve the soul of a young man in whom he has made a life investment? Sadly, Christian history—beginning with Judas—is riddled with men who have been as close to the truth as darkness is to the light that shines into it, and yet have turned away in the end.  Such a turn from truth is grievous for a teacher to see.

Today is Reformation Day, October 31st.  As you celebrate the freedoms of the Protestant Reformation, remember that good and faithful pastors have paved the way for you to receive God’s Word. For those of us who speak English, remember William Tyndale, the father of the English Reformation.

William Tyndale was the first man to translate and publish the Bible in English.  For his translation and publishing efforts, he was killed—strangled, then burned at the stake.  And yet, his work remains.  Indeed, when the King James (authorized) translation was produced, the committee retained about 84% of Tyndale’s interpretations. Tyndale studied, labored, and died so we could have access to Scripture in our own language.

You may have heard the story of William Tyndale. But you probably haven’t heard much about Henry Phillips. Henry Phillips was something of a drifter, a castaway.  He was a gambler whose situation had become so desperate that he stole money from his own father to pay his debts. And yet, William Tyndale took him in.

Tyndale shared his meals with Phillips.  Tyndale made a life investment in Phillips, sharing with him the glorious joy of justification by faith alone.  Tyndale showed Phillips all his latest manuscripts and shared with him the plans he had for Bible publication in England.  Few people were given such privileged access by this great Reformer.

And in May of 1535, the life investment Tyndale made in Henry Phillips paid its diabolical Reformation Tyndale english persecutiondividend.  Phillips turned on Tyndale, leading him into a trap in which soldiers easily subdued the wily wordsmith.  Tyndale was led away to a dungeon in Vilvoorde Castle.  From there, he was taken to his death.  Henry Phillips was able to pay a few more debts with his blood money.

As we consider our own life-investments lost, let us be mindful of William Tyndale, whose great work still remains nearly 500 years after his death. He may regret the investment he made in Henry Phillips, but William Tyndale—I am sure—has no regrets about investing his own life in the work of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Ultimately, the life investments we make are for the gospel. Thus, they are never in vain.

Happy Reformation Day! And keep up the good work.

Hate This Election? Love one another.


I have a friend who I am convinced is the smartest guy around. This past summer, he turned off the TV news. He has no Facebook, Twitter, or other social media accounts. But he does have a joyful disposition and peace in his soul—even in the midst of this excruciating election cycle. This election isn’t pretty. There is no viable candidate with integrity. None worthy of even a tepid endorsement. Christians across the country are perplexed, distressed, outraged, and disgusted. Our choice appears to be between Constantine and Diocletian.

love-one-another-simpleThe truth is, we might be more than a little distracted. Perhaps we need a fresh look at first things. We must first love God with heart, soul, mind, and strength. Second, we must love others as we love ourselves. This election is challenging our love for others in general, and our love for one another in particular. And that’s a shame.

The mark of the Christian is love for one another. “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, that you love one another,” (John 13:35). Suffice it to say, for American Christians, love has not been the most noticeable Facebook trend. Nevertheless, we carry on. There are great victories being won around the world as the gospel goes forward, and Christians continue to love one another fervently from the heart.

I thought this might be a good time for a few examples of Christian love:

In South Sudan, Christians are living among tribes that have no written language. These Christians are helping the Toposa people learn the good news of Christ and the gospel through songs. The Toposa people are an oral culture—no books, no sermon notes, no writing tablets. But they love to sing and dance. So Christians are helping them continue their songs and dances, while introducing the good news of God’s redemption through music. Check it out here: https://www.imb.org/singing-the-gospel-how-oral-learners-encounter-truth/

Another example of Christian love comes from across the Atlantic. London, England, is a world unto itself. The city has at least 8.6 million inhabitants (that’s the official census figure, experts think the real number is much higher). Among the millions of people, there are at minimum 300 different languages spoken. Into this ethnic and cultural mix, Christians are intentionally moving in and living among the many unbelievers. London has become a magnet for ordinary Christians (not full-time missionaries) to work in their professional capacity by day, while staying focused on loving others with the good news of God’s love in the evenings and on weekends. See the full story: https://www.imb.org/london-making-disciples-in-the-capital-of-the-world/

idop-20-yearsFinally, there may be something more important than the election happening this November! Sunday, November 6th (and Sunday the 13th), the International Day of Prayer (IDOP) will celebrate its twentieth anniversary. Originally begun in 1996 by the Religious Liberty Commission of the World Evangelical Association, the International Day of Prayer is now a global movement of millions of Christians joining together in prayer for those suffering persecution. Open Doors USA, The Voice of the Martyrs, and the World Evangelical Alliance all make resources available so your church can participate in this important event to serve fellow Christians through prayer. Fulfill John 13:35 by joining with other Christians to pray for suffering saints.

Stop the Intolerants


[…the conclusion to Tuesday’s post]

A PERSONAL EXAMPLE

Carson Intolerance new tolerance persecutionIn the same Spirit which animated Paul’s protest at Philippi, Barronelle Stutzman is standing against injustice—and paying a price for it. Stutzman’s polite refusal to make a floral arrangement for a homosexual couple was rooted in her firm belief that she would not be loving her neighbors by participating in their same sex marriage. Stutzman did not refuse to do business with the homosexual couple. She sold them flowers from her shop. She had a very friendly, on-going relationship with the couple. She even offered to sell them flowers for their wedding, but she did not want to make the floral arrangements.

For this, Stutzman has been called horrible names and branded as a homophobe and a bigot. In telling her story, Professor Richard Epstein  (Professor of Law at NYU, senior lecturer University of Chicago, and senior fellow at the Hoover Institute) turns the table on the enforcers. Epstein demonstrates clearly that the enforcers are more intolerant than the Christian in this same-sex scenario. Here’s how he says it,

Let’s define our terms. “The English noun bigot,” Wikipedia tells us, “is a term of abuse aimed at a prejudiced or closed-minded person, especially one who is intolerant or hostile towards different social groups (especially, and originally, other religious groups), and especially one whose own beliefs are perceived as unreasonable or excessively narrow-minded, superstitious, or hypocritical. The abstract noun is bigotry.” Phobia, meanwhile, is defined as a “persistent, abnormal, and irrational fear of a specific situation that compels one to avoid it, despite the awareness and reassurance that it is not dangerous.” The issue is whether these terms are more applicable to the people of faith attacked by the commissioners, or to the aggressive commissioners themselves.

For Epstein, Stutzman isn’t the bigot. He prosecutes his case by demonstrating how this issue is a government overreach. The market might clearly correct some of these issues if given enough time. Instead, Epstein argues, the government strikes preemptively—the omnipotent state putting its decisive thumb on the scales of justice. Here, Epstein is brilliant. He is right to identify that the real issue is the power of the state squashing the freedom of its people to believe. Stutzman loses her freedom. She is not the bigoted oppressor. Epstein concludes,

The words “bigotry” and “phobia” clearly do apply to the five commissioners who happily denounce people like Stutzman. They show no tolerance, let alone respect, for people with whom they disagree. They exhibit an irrational fear of those people’s influence. They show deep prejudice and hostility to all people of faith. They indulge in vicious overgeneralizations that make it harder to live in peace in a country with people of fundamentally different views. And they seem to take pleasure in bullying little people who can’t fight back.

He’s right. Christians are quickly becoming the minority group who can’t fight back in America. Ultimately, that’s going to be okay… because Christ has already won the major battle anyway! But sometimes Christians—like Paul, Silas, and Barronelle Stutzman—will need to stand or sit in protest of injustice for the good other Christians. May the Lord bless and strengthen her faith.

Consider praying for Barronelle or helping her in the fight (see also the ADF legal page).

 

Paul, Prison, and the President


AN ANCIENT PRINCIPLE

The Apostle Paul was once set free from prison, but he wouldn’t go. Paul did not leave the jail which held him in Philippi until he had first asked for the magistrates to come to him in person (Acts 16:16ff.).  Why the unnecessary stay?

Persecution Prison Theology ChinaStudents of the New Testament recognize the Apostle Paul as a man seriously concerned with justice and righteousness. The righteousness of God was a primary motivation in Paul’s life (Rom 5:20-21). Possibly, righteousness had something to do with Paul’s extended stay in Philippi, too. God’s justice expects justice from men. So Paul conducted a bit of a “sit in” until justice was served.

In the face of suffering injustice from the Roman rulers, Paul made a specific point to force the righting of a legal wrong in Philippi. Luke records the incident (Acts 16:37):

And the jailer reported these words to Paul, saying, “The magistrates have sent to let you go. Therefore come out now and go in peace.”  But Paul said to them, “They have beaten us publicly, uncondemned, men who are Roman citizens, and have thrown us into prison; and do they now throw us out secretly? No! Let them come themselves and take us out.”

The magistrates were alarmed by the report that Paul would not leave (v. 38). They showed up in person to apologize to Paul and Silas. They then asked Paul and Silas politely to leave the city—which, of course, they did with no further incident.

Christians today may justifiably follow the pattern of Paul and call our governing authorities to account for injustice. Christians will sometimes sense an obligation to hold non-believers to the standard of justice which they themselves have set. In Philippi, a Roman city, it was illegal to beat and imprison a Roman citizen without a trial. Paul and Silas called the magistrates to own their wrong actions.

The gospel was new in Philippi, and Paul was its most celebrated advocate. If he were treated as a criminal, then, perhaps, other Christians would be viewed with suspicion. Paul was likely taking his stand (or keeping his seat in prison) for the sake of the gospel, the church, and the corporate witness of these early Christians. Because of Paul’s courage and conviction, future generations of believers would have a greater likelihood of being protected by justice.

Christians more and more are having occasion to point out injustice. We will benefit from thinking thoroughly about when and how to protest wrongs committed against us. Once the apology or correction is made, we must not gloat or glory. Instead, we (like Paul and Silas) should go about the gospel’s business:

“So they went out of the prison and visited Lydia. And when they had seen the brothers, they encouraged them and departed” (Acts 16:40).

IN AMERICAN PRACTICE

The Obama Administration has sustained a consistent assault on the historic concept ofObama Obamacare Abortion religious liberty. Four years ago, I pointed out how the first amendment was morphing into something less like the constitution and more like the Communists ruling China. More recently, Ed Whelan has listed several examples of the current administration’s active attempts to rewrite the First Amendment and restrict religious activity in the U.S.

  • In the international arena, the administration has reduced religious liberty to a shriveled concept of individual religious worship and has instead aggressively promoted its LGBT initiative at the expense of religious liberty. See, e.g., Thomas F. Farr, “Religious Freedom Under the Gun,” Weekly Standard, July 16, 2012.
  • In Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church v. EEOC (2012), the Department of Justice contested the very existence of a “ministerial exception” to federal anti-discrimination laws, despite the fact that that exception had been uniformly recognized by the federal courts of appeals. According to the Obama Department of Justice, religious organizations, in selecting their faith leaders, are limited to the same freedom-of-association right that labor unions and social clubs have in choosing their leaders. At oral argument, even Justice Kagan called DOJ’s position “amazing,” and in its unanimous ruling the Court emphatically rejected DOJ’s “remarkable view that the Religion Clauses have nothing to say about a religious organization’s freedom to select its own ministers.”
  • Despite the fact that its own independent review board ranked the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops far above other applicants for a grant to assist victims of human trafficking, HHS political appointees denied the grant because USCCB won’t refer trafficking victims for contraceptives and abortion. See Jerry Markon, “Health, abortion issues split Obama administration and Catholic groups,”Washington Post, Oct. 31, 2011.
  • Against the backdrop of an escalating clash between gay rights and religious liberty, the Obama administration irresponsibly abandoned its duty to defend the federal Defense of Marriage Act. When President Obama finally cast aside his professed opposition to redefining marriage, he opened the way for an intensification of the vitriolic attacks on traditional religious believers (and others) who continue to hold the position that he had so recently claimed to embrace.
    (Ed Whelan, testimony before congress).

Whelan’s list offers a clear testimony to the increasing likelihood that Christians will run afoul of those enforcing the new tolerance.  As with Paul and Silas, Christians today may sense the need to speak up, to take a stand, or take a seat in prison, waiting for justice to arrive. Law professor Richard Epstein has recently written about one such Christian—Barronelle Stutzman.

(to be continued…)