Sunday, July 29, 2012

Triumphing Over Evil

Yesterday's blog ended on the following note:

"To triumph over evil is NOT to whitewash it, whether in our own hearts or in society.  Triumph is NOT a victory of mere legislation, or social pressure, or convincing rhetoric.  Triumph is NOT "winning God's wars for Him" by using the weapons of evil.  Triumph is NOT stockpiling enough to hunker down while the world goes to Hell around us.  Triumphing is NOT out-snarling the snarlers, out-shouting the shouters, out-hating the haters.
How does the Church triumph over evil?"

What follows is my best answer to that question.

Mark this well...there is no corporate triumph of the Church without individual triumph of its members.  And there is no triumph over sin outside the church without triumph over sin within it.  And I don't mean a pseudo-triumphant, whitewashed, Pharisaical, siege-minded, self-righteous church.  May God forgive us for pursuing such ends.

I also don't define triumph as "getting those people to treat us right."  Nowhere in Scripture do the ancient martyrs receive censure for failing to change Nero's mind, or for failing to overthrow his government, or for failing to force society to its knees, or failing to stand up for their "Christian rights".  How did they triumph, and for what were they commended by God?

They overcame him
by the blood of the Lamb
and by the word of their testimony;
they did not love their lives so much
as to shrink from death.
(Rev 12:11)  

Some were tortured, refusing to accept release,
so that they might rise again to a better life.
Others suffered mocking and flogging,
and even chains and imprisonment.
They were stoned, they were sawn in two,
they were killed with the sword.
They went about in skins of sheep and goats,
destitute, afflicted, mistreated— 
of whom the world was not worthy— 
wandering about in deserts and mountains,
and in dens and caves of the earth.
And all these, though commended through their faith,
did not receive what was promised...
Heb 11:35b-39

By every worldly measure, these people were abject failures.  And some "Prosperity Preachers" might even think of them as failures because they did not see all of God's promises fulfilled in their lifetimes, despite having given Him their all.

If you and I could see those martyrs now, oh the glory we would see in them...the reflected glory of The Crucified One whom they followed to the end!  The promises are theirs, most assuredly, for death was not even close to being the end for them.

Now, please don't take me for a melodramaticist.  I'm not saying that we'll be thrown to the lions any time soon...though anything is possible.  But that's not the point, is it?  The point is NOT what they do or don't do to us.  The point is, will we remain true to Christ, individually and corporately, whether we manage to see our culture redeemed in our lifetimes or not?

How do we know if we will or not?  How do we know if we have the strength to follow in the footsteps of those He commended in Scripture?

We can know by the orientation of our hearts, our loves, our commitments.  Love is the strongest driving force we have, is it not?  No matter what, we will live for what we love most.  And for whom does God bend all things so that they "work together for good"?  For those who love God and are called according to His purpose (Rom 8:28).

How can we know if we love God enough?

 For this is the love of God,
that we keep his commandments.
And his commandments are not burdensome.
1 John 5:3

If we hate God's commandments, and chafe under them, and keep them only to the extent that we believe we must in order to "get by," and consider them a burden, then we do not love God, because those commandments that we hate are the revelation of His character.

If we love God's commandments, and try to keep them (albeit managing only imperfectly and inconsistently), then we love Him, because the commandments that we love are perfectly consistent with His character.

And these things are true in times of ease as well as in the hard times.  Indeed, if we don't seek to submit to Christ now, when it's still relatively easy, then we have no assurance that we'll do so when things get worse.

And what are these commandments that we are to love and strive to keep under the New Covenant He established with His blood?

 A lawyer, asked him a question to test him.
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”
And he said to him,
“You shall love the Lord your God
with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.
This is the great and first commandment.
And a second is like it: 
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
On these two commandments
depend all the Law and the Prophets.” 
Matt 22:35-40 

If we love the Lord, and love our neighbors, and love our enemies, and are committed to growing in this love, then God's presence will be there for us to sustain us through whatever comes.  No good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly (Ps. 84:11).

But if ugly situations drive us to hate our neighbors, to spurn Christ's command to love them, to mar His reflection with our snarling visages, to adopt an arrogant or cowardly "look out for Number One" mentality, then even if we die as martyrs, we gain nothing (1 Cor 13:3).

Also, if ugly situations can cause us to abandon the Truth and accept the lie in order to avoid conflict, then we are failing to love God, who is Truth.  And we are failing to love our neighbor, who needs to hear the Truth spoken in love (Eph 4:15), whether he wants to hear it or not!

How are you responding, right now, today, to the hatred and evil around you?  That will depend entirely on how you are responding to the hatred and evil within you.  And the same goes for me, both now and in the future.

If we are truly Christians, then we are banking everything on Christ's mercy and grace in shedding His own blood for us in the mightiest act of love and forgiveness ever conceived.  We are depending on His righteousness credited to our accounts through no merit of our own, and we are enormously grateful that He has placed His Spirit within us to open our sin-blinded eyes and lead us in paths of righteousness for His name's sake (Ps 23:3).  We are humbled that He would stoop to mold us into what He wants us to be.  We depend on Him to keep us, day-by-day, on the right path, because we know that we would stray if left to ourselves.

If we are counting on these things for our own sins, why would we dream of offering our neighbor anything less for his sins?  If we believe that our neighbor needs Christ, why would we be willing to act like the Devil toward him?

Since so many who hate us believe that they themselves occupy the moral high ground, why would we choose to confirm that belief by using their own sinful tactics against them?

I am quite certain that my words will not change the world.  They will not stem the tide of evil.  The time for rhetoric seems to be past.  Evil is on a rampage, not just in terms of any one side issue (such as "homosexual rights"), but in terms of THE issue (rebellion against God and rejection of Him as Lord).

By and large, the only way I expect to defeat evil is to be constantly repenting of it in my own life, and to be seeking to grow more in love toward God and my neighbor, speaking the truth in love so that his eyes might be opened towards Christ, and his heart might be changed.  And if, by God's grace, I do manage to grow in this way, I will count it as victory.  And if (Please, God!) the whole church grows in this way, I will rejoice with all my heart!

Nothing less will please the Lord.  And nothing less will offer any hope for my neighbor, my enemy, whom I am called to love.

Hating my enemy is a failure that will drag all of my other "successes" down with it.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Discovering New Enemies Lately?

I live in what is, for the most part, a very civilized country.  And I am blessed to live in a beautiful city, one that consistently hits the top of the "Best of the US" lists.  I admit that I'm spoiled.

But as someone once stated, "civilization" is a thin veneer, and under the right pressures, it can disappear instantly.  I'm not talking about the occasional madman, like the one who massacred moviegoers last week just an hour south of here.  I'm talking about "normal" people, and what they...what WE can become at a moment's notice.  And it's sobering.  Humbling.  Alarming.

We see it when people are trampled to death in a stampede to get the newest toy for the kids for Christmas.

We see it it in popular movements where tens of thousands gather to protest injustices (real or perceived) in self-righteous indignation, while treating their fellow man with utter contempt in the process.

We see it in dusty black-and-white photos in our history books, when ordinary people...former friends, neighbors, and co-workers of the dead... avert their eyes from the endless piles of corpses in the concentration camps and wonder, "How did I let this happen in my back yard?"

How indeed?

Until recently, this was an academic subject for me...but not any more.  I'm willing to bet that many Christians are feeling it hitting closer to home lately.  We see friends, neighbors, co-workers, even family members snarling, snapping, insulting, hating us for simply loving the purity and beauty of God and His ways (in this case, God's design for marriage).  We are called all manner of awful things, and are left standing in bewilderment as we wipe the flecks of froth off our faces from their spitting rage.  We see our reason and gentleness twisted by their hatred and thrown back in our faces as they curse and scream at us that we are the "haters."  We see them applauding as government leaders threaten to strip away the very pillars of our Constitution in order to unleash their hatred on us for our beliefs.

We feel shell-shocked, confused, betrayed.

Now, I know full well that there are plenty who claim to support God's pure and beautiful ways, but who fight for it with attitudes and actions so ugly that they reveal themselves to be wolves in sheep's clothing.  People who love to hate their neighbor.  I'm not speaking of them.

I'm speaking of ordinary Christians of good will having venomous hostility poured out on us, not for our real faults (of which we have many), but purely because of our belief in what God has defined as Right and Wrong.

In short, though we don't desire enemies, we're finding that we have more and more of them.

What is happening?

For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. 
Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way.
(2 Thess 2:7)

"He who restrains lawlessness..." who is that?

I believe it is the Holy Spirit.  He holds evil back, only allowing it to express itself in the ways that conform to His ultimate plan for our good and God's glory.  God is not the author of evil, ever.  But He can, does, and MUST shape, restrain, and control our evil to make sure that it all "works together for good to those who love God," and to make sure it fulfills prophecy.  Look how He shaped and controlled the evil of Judas to bring about the greatest good that ever happened, exactly when and how the prophets said it would happen.

And I believe that there are times when He steps back a bit.  No, He won't be "out of the way" completely until the very end of the age, for He never leaves His people.  So as long as His people are here, He will be here.

And no, He never loses control.  He is God, always and ever.

But there are times when He gives evil a looser grip, just to let it show itself for what it really is.  You see, evil under a civilized veneer can fool a lot of people.  But when the veneer is stripped away, and evil gets freer rein, people may begin to recognize and loathe it more easily (though even that takes a miraculous work of the Spirit).  And those who are committed to evil are left without even the lie of "civilization" as an excuse.

So now, in this moment of American history, evil snarls in my complacent face much more than it used to.  Yours too, I'll bet.

And, in response, evil snarls in our hearts much more than it used to.  We are not purely innocent in these matters, are we?  If we think we are, we're fooling ourselves.

If you're like me, you want to triumph over evil in these days.  But I have to tell you, I don't define "triumph" the same way that I used to.

To triumph over evil is NOT to whitewash it, whether in our own hearts or in society.  Triumph is NOT a victory of mere legislation, or social pressure, or convincing rhetoric.  Triumph is NOT "winning God's wars for Him" by using the weapons of evil.  Triumph is NOT stockpiling enough to hunker down while the world goes to Hell around us.  Triumphing is NOT out-snarling the snarlers, out-shouting the shouters, out-hating the haters.

How can the Church triumph over evil in our day?

I'll post my thoughts on that question in the next entry.  But in the meantime, I'll be happy to post any comments which seek to answer that question, as long as they fall within certain guidelines.

  • I will not post hateful comments
  • I will not debate whether or not Scripture clearly calls homosexual activity "sin."  It does.  It also calls a lot of other things "sin."  We need to agree with God on ALL of it.
  • I will not post comments which attempt to encourage worldly responses to sin.

Within the above guidelines, I look forward to hearing your thoughts!
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