January 10, 2017

Patient and Waiting

It is a blessed Tuesday, and I am sitting here at my computer thinking about today, about my life, and about the call I have received to “go” and to do the Lord’s work. My heart is filled with sadness, some uncertainty, and with a bit of irritation today simply because of something I read online this morning. I was on Facebook (as is my usual morning routine), and I read this post from Chuck Swindoll:

When something unjust takes place, have a long fuse. Let it be. Be patient.

At first, I thought to myself, “Wait a minute! Are you saying that when we see something unjust taking place, we are to simply stand aside and not act! May it never be!” As an aside: Sometimes I wonder if the people who are hired by these ministries really understand how to use social media. I mean, often I see posts like these that are simply tossed out there — willy nilly — without my thought to what effect they might have on the reading populace. Without a proper framework or context, quotes such as these, left unattributed (did Chuck Swindoll say this?) can lead to a firestorm of lexical controversy, something with which I believe the WORD strictly forbids Christians to dabble in. I mean, when is it useful to engage in rhetorical debate, especially about topics and issues surrounding the church? Yet, all across social media today, good hearted and sincere Christians, spar with one another over the way in which scripture is applied without any thought to what this sparring may do to the effective cause of Christ. Sigh, I digress.

This morning, as a case in point, I read through the comments posted below this quote, and as I did, I noticed a common thread. One group of posters responded with consensus, giving that Facebook version of the “head nod” (an ‘Amen’) and the other group of posters responded with questions about the scriptural background for such a statement (does scripture support this line of thinking and so forth). I wasn’t surprised by the response from one group (poster group A) to the other group (poster group B), because frankly, this is standard fare in todays mediated and saturated hyper-textual environment.  Rarely do I see instances of people who function as instruments of encouragement to the other side. In truth, I do not see efforts to equip or even enfold the opposing view in a way that welcomes them into the dialogue. Instead, I see one group accuse the other group of a misunderstanding or misapplication of scripture, and in doing so, I see the Word of God being bandied about, misused, and even, taken completely out of context. Sigh. The sad truth is that I am seeing this behavior happen more frequently across social media, and while Christian groups are no less free to engage in controversy these days, what saddens me most is the response by individuals who identify as “Christ followers” and who behave in this way.  

In a related case, just yesterday, I heard of a school-related incident that left me feeling concerned about the way in which Christian educators apply biblical principles to their lives and to the lives of those in their care. I know, I am probably taking concern where the road has been well-trod, so to speak before, but still I struggle at times with this issue. I see sincere people, people who profess love for Christ, behave in ways that denigrates that love or purports to show that love in ways that are, well — to put it bluntly — unloving. My heart longs to see a day when the brethren will actually do what the Psalmist says — dwell together in harmony. In Micah 6:8, the prophet states emphatically that God desires His followers to be just human beings, to commit acts that are kind and loving. His followers are to humbly serve Him, and by extension, they are to humbly serve others. Yet, this is not what I see playing out on the world’s stage today. No, often all I see coming from Christians is legalism and the hard application of Old Testament judgment. I rarely see grace activated and driving the heart motivation toward salvation. John said that one of the defining characteristics of Christ-followers would be their love for one another. Yet, instead of the loving and merciful balm of grace, I see all too often, the punitive side of the law.

“He has told you, O man, what is good, and what the LORD requires of you: Only to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God…” — Micah 6:8 NIV

A Call to Examine the Word of God

I realize that the application of scripture to one’s life begins with a daily dosing of the WORD of God. I mean, how can one apply biblical teaching if one doesn’t really know it? Know what I mean? J. C. Ryle once said, “To regularly hear unscriptural teaching is a serious thing. It is a continual dropping of slow poison into the mind.” Ryle was speaking of false teachers, and how the misuse of doctrine and theology, the twisting of God’s word, can result in the poisoning of the mind (and heart) of the follower of Christ. I would argue that refusing to spend time in the word has a similar effect on the heart and mind of the believer as well. The Word of God has healing and restorative powers, for certain, but it also has the power to reprove and correct. Paul wrote this to Timothy when he said, "All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right” (2 Timothy 3:16 NLT). The Word of God has the power to set us straight, to teach us right from wrong, and to encourage us in the faithful application of scripture in our lives. The problem occurs when believers either do not take the time to study the Word or they listen to false prophets and preachers who distort the Word for worldly gain. In some ways, Christians who do not follow Christ’s teaching are akin to patients who do not follow a doctor’s prescription. By discounting the very words of Christ, the healing and corrective ministry of the Holy Spirit, they are refusing to apply transformational teaching and work that could produce positive results in their life — in their words and in their actions — as they interact with others. In short, when they simply choose to do things their own way, they often remain hard hearted and punitive.

It was A. W. Tozer who once that, “Religious activity and godliness do not always go together.” In speaking on Spiritual Infancy, Tozer reminded his audience that if they really believed what Scripture said, and if they really practiced what they read, then the result would be a difference in their character and actions in and through the culture and world of their day. More so, Tozer encouraged those listening to him preach to consider the teachings of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. In specific, he asked them to re-read the Sermon on the Mount, and to think deeply about what the Lord was saying to those gathered around Him (and by extension, to those of us who read it today). Tozer states,
Try to conceive what kind of person he or she would be who would embody its teachings. Then compare your conception with the product of the modern religious mill. You will find a wide world of difference both in conduct and in spirit. If the Sermon on the Mount is a fair description of the sort of person a Christian ought to be, then what are we to conclude about the multitudes who have "accepted" Christ but nevertheless exhibit not one moral or spiritual trait such as those described by our Lord?
Powerful words from a powerful preacher. Yes, Tozer, what kind of Christian would the world see if words and actions were patterned after the Lord, Jesus Christ, Himself?

As I think about all of this today, I am reminded how easy it is to misapply scripture as a guise to control the unwanted behavior in others. For example, how quick are we as Christ followers to apply the rule of law to the lives of others. When did it become our job, as Christ followers I mean, to control the lives of others? When did we become the moral executioners of an entire race? I simply can no longer abide in efforts by well-meaning and sincere believers who simply feel it is their “God-given duty” to tell others that the way they are living, behaving, and thinking is morally and ethically wrong. I am not saying that we should condone sin or sinful behavior, please understand me. However, what I am saying is that when we read the Bible through in its entirety, I feel that too many Christ-followers live Old Testament lives in a New Testament world. Yes, it is truth. We love to take the rule of law and use it as a baton to beat others into religious submission.

It was Peter who reminded his followers that the judgement of God begins with the House of God and not the world. We often forget that fact, that the world has already been judged by God, but the Household of Christ has yet to be judged (by Christ) at His second coming. We forget that we will be judged, not for our sins, but rather for the work we did after we received His grace and mercy at the cross. Oh, brother and sister in Christ, remember these words. The Lord Jesus is coming as Judge, and when He returns, make sure every effort has been executed to live a life according to His commands. Selah!

I know that some believers may take issue with what I am saying. They may believe, sincerely, that it is the Church’s responsibility to show the world how to live in a way that is pleasing to God. They believe that they are responsible for correcting the behavior of the people around them — whether in their families, in their place of work, or even in their communities. They believe that, “Transforming culture” means to “tell the world” how to live rather than to “show the world” how to live scripturally accurate lives. However, the problem with this approach is that, in my view, it is a misreading of the Word of God. Let me explain…

I don’t consider myself to be a biblical scholar by any means, but in my reading of the Word, I notice two things. First, I notice that the command in Matthew, the Great Commission is to take the Gospel message, the Good News, into all parts of the world. The Gospel is our message, and that means that the words we take with us are good, they are words that bring hope to a lost world. Thus, the good news is to be readily shared, and that good news has the power to transform lives. Read my words correctly — it is the Good News — the Gospel that transforms lives. Paul said it this way in Romans 1:16, "For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes—the Jew first and also the Gentile.” Clearly, Paul understood that the very words of the Gospel, the good news we share with others, had within them power to change lives. We, as messengers, deliver the message, but the message itself, has the ability to produce transformation.

Second, I notice that much of the Bible is predicated on two facets of human understanding and action. Again, the first is inward, and the second, is outward. What I am saying here is that the Word of God as recorded in the Bible produces two results — inward and outward — inward in the heart of the reader — then outward toward the heart of others. This means that the instruction contained in the Bible, specifically the New Testament portion of the Bible, is designed to correct behavior, faulty thinking, and yes even, misunderstanding, within the heart and mind of the Christ follower. It is not designed to correct, to discipline, or even to challenge the heart and mind of the non-believer. I know that this may be a shock for many, but I believe that the New Testament was designed for believers — for Christ followers. Likewise, the Old Testament was designed for the Israelites, and while it holds historical and spiritual value for all Christians, we must remember that the punitive and legalistic nature of the Law of Moses was for a specific purpose and people. 

Moreover, since we know that the Word of God has been hidden as a mystery from the world, it rightly follows that understanding the Bible requires special insight, and that insight only comes through the power of God and the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, it is only through the opened eyes and tenderized heart of the believer that one can even begin to understand the Bible and its scriptural ministry. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 2:7, that, “we speak of the mysterious and hidden wisdom of God, which He destined for our glory before time began.” Furthermore, Peter said that much of what was written in Paul’s letters to the Church were difficult to understand. In 2 Peter 3:16, he says, “His [Paul’s] letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.” Thus, when it comes to the ministry of the Word, as Christ followers we must understand the general instruction contain in the Bible is for our eyes and ears. Yet, over the course of history, many people, many who claim the name of Christ as part of their new identity, instead choose to wield the very Word of God as a harsh taskmaster rather than as a gentle teacher. They choose to yell, to argue, and to beat people who have never had their hearts ministered to with the love of God in order to force them to obey by a set of commands that they neither have interest in or want of learning. In short, the cause of Christ is thwarted when we use the Bible as a weapon of judgment and when we treat others,  especially those in the House of God, with disdain. More so, we reduce our effectiveness in presenting the Gospel when we treat those of the world as refuse, rather than as worthy and highly regarded beings, created by the loving hand of our Creator.

The time has come to stop acting as though we are judge and jury over this world. The time has come for people who say they follow Christ to actually start following Him. This means that we must know and we must understand the Word of God, and we must let the Holy Spirit use the Word of God as a teaching tool. We must humbly and willingly submit to His authority, and in this way, we must welcome His instruction in our lives. We must allow Him to transform us daily, and we must be conformed to His image — which is His likeness, His character, His nature — so that the world sees a life changed rather than a life constricted by the heavy-handed rule of law.
In Closing

As I sit here today, I realize that I, too, must take my own commendation seriously. I must study the Word of God, and let the Holy Spirit teach me so that I can accurately hand the Word of Truth (2 Timothy 2:15). I must let Him lead, guide, and provide for me so that I can be a true Christ-follower. It is my prayer today that the Lord would show me any area of my life that needs the transforming love and power of Christ. I ask that the Lord would change me so that I am continually becoming more like Him. I want the world to know Christ through me, but more so, I want the world to see Christ in me. This is transformation living. This is what it means to live a transformed life.

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