Tuesday, July 21, 2020

How Can I Rejoice Now?

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Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope... (Romans 5:3-4)

As Paul sat in a Roman prison, he wrote, "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice" (Phil. 4:4).  If you're a Christian, you've heard this text quoted often.  Through it, we're reminded that rejoicing isn't a "sometimes" activity.  Rejoicing is an "all the time" activity, including those times when life is hard, pain is deep, and suffering will not let go.

In Romans 5, Paul rejoices in the "hope of the glory of God" (v. 1-2).  By God's grace, we have come to trust in Christ, we are now justified, we live at peace with God, and we have access to God that's impossible apart from Jesus (v. 1-2).   Who wouldn't rejoice at that?!?  But Paul goes on to say that we also rejoice in our sufferings.  In essence, he's saying we rejoice in the Lord always.

But how can I rejoice in my sufferings?  How can you rejoice in your sufferings?  When cancer wrecks our bodies, or the bodies of family members.  When your husband, father, or grandfather can no longer remember you due to their Alzheimer's.  When dementia leads to violent behavior.  When tragedy suddenly steals away a child.  When you lose your job because of circumstances out of your control.  When your wife suddenly abandons you.  When your adult children are in a deep, unchanging pattern of rebellion against God.  When friends and family cut you out because of your faith in Jesus.  When the world seems to be spinning out of control. 

How can I rejoice at these times?  How can I rejoice always?  Two words in Romans 5:3 help answer that question.  These two words equip us for rejoicing always.  Here they are: "knowing that."

What I know will determine whether I rejoice.  In particular, what I know of the Lord will determine whether I rejoice in the Lord.  And, what I know of the Lord will determine when I rejoice in the Lord.  Don't believe the lie that theology is for scholars and not ordinary Christians.  Our view of God matters when it comes to rejoicing.  Think about it.

The view that it is God's job to give me the life I want, to respond to my faith in Him by giving me health, wealth, and unwavering happiness in this life, isn't based on the Bible.  It's based on some version of God I've created in my mind.  However, if this is my view of God, when will I rejoice?  I will rejoice only when my bill of health is clear, my bank account is full, and my circumstances please me.  I won't always rejoice.  I'll sometimes rejoice.  Why?  Because what I know of God will determine when I rejoice in God. 

However, if I have a biblical knowledge of God, things change.  If I know that His design is to make me more like Jesus (Rom. 8:28-29), and if I know that being like Jesus requires suffering, rejection from friends, pain, and heartache, then do you know what I will do?  I will rejoice always.  I will say what Paul says.  "We rejoice in our sufferings..."  Why?  "...knowing that suffering produces..."

If I am convinced that suffering is only something to escape and not something God employs for His glory and my good, I will not rejoice.  However, if I know that suffering - in the hands of God, endured by faith - will produce Christlike character and trust and endurance I wouldn't have otherwise, then I can rejoice.  This is rejoicing "in the Lord"...in relationship to Him, with a right knowledge of Him, trusting in Him.

To be sure, rejoicing in the Lord always is not pain-free rejoicing.  There's nothing painless about cancer, Alzheimer's, abandonment, tragedy, rebellious children, ostracism from friends and family, or any other suffering you may endure.  However, because of what we know of God - His greatness, His goodness, His wisdom, and His purposes - we can rejoice all the same.  We will be "sorrowful, yet always rejoicing" (2 Cor. 6:10).

Here's where the rubber meets the road.  Since rejoicing in the Lord is based on knowing the Lord, then each of us should be committed to knowing the Lord and growing in that knowledge.  We should aim to diligently obey Peter's command: "But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 3:18).

Are you committed to growing in your knowledge of the Lord?  What will you do today to grow?

Monday, July 20, 2020

Family Ties

"...faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness...The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised" (Romans 4:9, 11-12).

In elementary school, backyard games of kickball or wiffle ball often stirred heated emotions, and verbal sparring would break out.  If things escalated, and the threat of a physical showdown was imminent, someone would claim superiority based on family heritage.  It wasn't superiority based on income or race or education; it was superiority based on sheer physical strength.  "My dad can beat up your dad!"

Looking to family heritage as a source of pride is nothing new.  In the first century, the Pharisees were appalled when Jesus said they needed to be set free from sin.  They told him, "We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone...Abraham is our father." (Jn. 8:33, 39).

Jesus knew they were physical descendants of Abraham, as was He.  But Jesus also knew that genetics were not the determining factor in being a child of Abraham.  There's more to it.  "If you were Abraham's children, you would be doing the works Abraham did..." (Jn. 8:39).  And what did Abraham do that the Pharisees are not doing?  Abraham believed.

And Abraham is Paul's prime illustration in Romans 4, as he teaches what it means to be justified.  Declared "Not guilty!" by our divine Judge.  Declared righteous by our Righteous God.  How did Abraham attain such status?  What feat did he accomplish?  What work did he do?

Paul's answer is Genesis 15's answer: "And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness" (Gen. 15:6).  This is the same "work" Jesus calls everyone to do.  "This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent" (Jn. 6:29).

Abraham was justified by faith.  He held a righteous status before God because he believed God.  In Genesis 15, it was faith in the promise that God would do what He said He would do (i.e., give Abraham descendants as numerous as the stars).

But make note.  Abraham didn't see having innumerable descendants as a reasonable thing.  He knew his body was "as good as dead" (Rom. 4:19).  So, his faith was based neither on his body's ability to produce children, nor on the fertility of his wife's womb (Rom. 4:19).  Human effort could not accomplish God's promised work.  No, Abraham's faith was based on the firm conviction that God is God.  God can do what God says He can do.  And God will do what God says He will do.  "...he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised" (Rom. 4:20-21).

Paul concludes by taking our mind's eye from Abraham to ourselves.  "It [i.e., righteousness] will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.  Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom. 4:24-5:1).

It is this spiritual reality - justification by faith - that connects us to Abraham.  Because of this, Paul says that Abraham is "the father of all who believe" (Rom. 4:11).  Elsewhere, he writes that "it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham" (Gal. 3:7).

Whether Jew or Gentile, the only ones who can truly say "Abraham is our father" are those who believe in Jesus Christ.  Abraham's children know their souls weren't just "as good as dead"...they were "dead" (Eph. 2:1).  Abraham's children believe that Jesus made the once-for-all atonement for our sin through His death on the cross.  Abraham's children believe that God raised Jesus from the dead on the third day, victorious over sin and death and hell.

Abraham's children believe that what God has done, in Christ, what He said He would do.  Abraham's children believe the gospel.  Do you believe?  Is Abraham your spiritual father?

Tuesday, June 09, 2020

The Phrase or the Organization?

Black lives matter.  Black Lives Matter.  These three words seem to be everywhere around us.  They're on T-shirts.  They're on posters.  They're on bumper stickers.  They're spray painted on plywood boards that cover holes where windows once were.  They're on social media and television.  They were on the lips of a parade of peaceful protesters I saw while getting ice cream on Mass. Ave. Sunday night.

I'm sure you took notice of how I wrote those two trios of words at the beginning of the post.  One is written as a sentence, and the other is written as a name.  One is a phrase.  The other is a reference to an organization in the forefront of the cultural discussion at the moment.  When asked what I think of this arrangement of words, I need clarity.  Do you mean the phrase or the organization?

For some, this seems like splitting hairs because the organization exists to promote the phrase, right?  That's a great question!  I'll come back to it.  For now, let me start with the phrase.

Black lives matter.  No faithful, Bible-believing Christian can deny the truth of this statement.  Of course, black lives matter.  But I'd say it this way: "Every black life matters."  It may not seem like much of a difference.  And I know it doesn't have the rhythm needed for a peaceful protest chant.  But in my mind, it's clearer.  It better reflects the Bible's teaching.

Every black life matters.
The life of every black human being innocently taking a jog, walking through his neighborhood wearing a hoodie, or resting in her apartment after working as an EMT matters.
The life of every black human being who breaks the law and requires the intervention of civil authorities to correct and deter future lawbreaking matters.
The life of every black human being who stands trial or who acts as prosecutor or defendant in a trial or who sits in the jury of a trial or who presides over a trial as judge matters.
The life of every black architect matters.
The life of every black construction worker matters.
The life of our only black president thus far matters.
The life of every black teacher matters.  Mrs. Henderson, who taught me to love math in 5th grade, matters.
The life of every black, unborn baby matters.
Every black life matters.

Every black life matters because God knit every black human being together in his/her mother's womb.  Not as a collection of lives.  But each individual life.  One by one.  Womb by womb.  Each one fearfully and wonderfully made.  Indeed, God does this with every human being.  Every black life matters.  Every Asian life matters.  Every Latino life matters.  Every white life matters.  Each one matters because every life matters.

To be clear, some people respond to "black lives matter" with "all lives matter", as if latter is an argument against the former.  I'm not arguing against a right emphasis on the fact that every black life matters.  I'm seeking to explain why every black life matters.  God has created every human being in His image.  So, every life matters.

Given my rephrasing, I'm good with the phrase "black lives matter."  But that brings me back to the question.  Doesn't the organization Black Lives Matter exist to promote the fact that black lives matter?  Well, let's think about that.

A quick glance at the "What We Believe" section on the Black Lives Matter website will reveal statements that might lead you to answer "yes."  One example is this statement: "We work vigorously for freedom and justice for Black people and, by extension, all people."

However, mixed in with statements about racial justice, you will find others.  Consider these, followed by a brief explanation:

  • "We are self-reflexive and do the work required to dismantle cisgender privilege and uplift Black trans folk..."  Also, "We foster a queer‐affirming network. When we gather, we do so with the intention of freeing ourselves from the tight grip of heteronormative thinking, or rather, the belief that all in the world are heterosexual (unless s/he or they disclose otherwise)."
      • These statements mean that Black Lives Matter is not an organization focused solely on race issues; it is clearly aligning itself with the LGBTQ agenda as well.
    • "We disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure requirement by supporting each other as extended families and 'villages' that collectively care for one another, especially our children, to the degree that mothers, parents, and children are comfortable."
      • The "Western-prescribed nuclear family structure" (i.e., a father, mother, and their children) is not a "Western" idea at all.  It is the biblical pattern of the family.  Certainly, God works in all kinds of family situations.  However, to disrupt God's way rather than seek to establish and promote it is wrong.
    • Click here to check the page out for yourself.

    Now, I don't point out these things because I hate LGBTQ individuals, though I know calling any lifestyle sinful or wrong is often assumed to be equivalent to hatred.  I also don't point out these things because the nuclear family is an idol we must all worship...far from it!  I point out these things because I presume that the Christians who are promoting this organization don't know them.  If they did, I hope they wouldn't be asking me to support it or give my money to it.

    Someone will say, "Yes, but shouldn't we support Black Lives Matter for doing something good, even if this other stuff comes with it?"  Another good question.  The simple answer is no.  Let me explain why by looking at what it would mean to support two other organizations.

    Do you oppose white supremacy?  Of course.  Do you oppose the abuse of power in government?  Of course.  Then, why not support Antifa?  Because this is the group that resorts to violence to try and accomplish its purposes, and to support it is to try and overcome evil with more evil.

    Do you want women to have more affordable testing for breast cancer and cervical cancer?  Of course.  Then, why not support Planned Parenthood?  Because doing mammograms and pap smears can't possibly make up for killing countless babies in the womb.

    Dear Christians, it is wrong to champion the cause of those who would tear down biblical truth.  So, while we must embrace the truth of the phrase "black lives matter" (i.e., that every black life matters), we must not embrace the organization known as Black Lives Matter.