Thursday, April 25, 2013

Meds, Mary Jane, and Margaritas

Php 4:6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. Php 4:7  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Php 4:12  I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.

One of the greatest difficulties Christians face is how to deal with the trials and stress of everyday life.  I am of the opinion that these are more difficult for most of us to handle in a biblical, God-honoring way than those trials that might be described as very severe, life threatening or even persecution for the faith.  I say this because it seems many times that the ordinary problems; those common to us all many times just aren’t handled well by we who claim to trust in the one, true God. 

The title of this article lists perhaps the three main ways stress is handled in our day; legal drugs, illegal drugs and alcohol.  I believe all three do the exact same thing regardless of the potential danger of taking illegal drugs; they all numb the mind.  Now I realize that there are in some cases physical problems that can and should be addressed by medicine, but I am speaking about the everyday, garden variety way we handle the stress of big and small problems.  There are two things I would like to point out concerning the way Christians should handle their anxiety. 

First of all I think we sometimes are hypocritical in the idea that getting a prescription from the doctor for something to “calm” us down is somehow seen as different than smoking some weed or running home to have a stiff drink.  I am not talking about whether something is legal or not but whether we are really handling stress in a better or fundamentally different way just because a doctor has prescribed a drug instead of us taking something not prescribed.  I wonder if prescriptions are an “acceptable sin” in some cases.  At the end of the day tranquilizers “force” a calmness upon us that did not come through the Spirit working in us. 

To illustrate I know that if a member came over to the house Sunday evening and found me smoking a reefer and I excuse it by saying that the stress of church lately is really getting to me and so I just had to take the edge off; I am pretty sure I wouldn’t get much sympathy, nor should I.  Yet if I go over to a member’s house who is struggling with some area that is causing them a lot of emotional and spiritual stress and they tell me that the doctor has prescribed something to calm them down I would be in big trouble if I suggested that that is no different than drinking or illegal drugs.  It might be more socially acceptable but in all cases we have given up the fight.  So first of all let’s be honest enough to admit that drugs are drugs, numbing the mind is numbing the mind, escaping our problems is running from them rather than fighting through them. 

One reason I believe this is because whatever the Bible says about how we deal with our problems it was true and had to work in the day it was written.  In other words biblical stress management must be able to work when there are no prescription drugs available.  Throughout most of church history Christians had to be able to deal with life in a God-honoring way and they had to do it without the aid of drugs.  So whether some drugs can be considered okay is not the point, but that the Bible with the Spirit of God must be able to be sufficient for every situation or their power becomes highly suspect.  If Christians in the early church could handle stress without tranquilizers then we had better be able as well.

Secondly, if the above is a legitimate proposal then however Christians deal with their problems without altering their minds and bodies but instead using the Word of God must be a more God-honoring way to handle stress.  Of course books could and have been written on this subject but let me just suggest a couple of guidelines.

First of all I believe God is honored by using our minds in difficulty not by numbing them.  I think the Bible teaches us to dwell upon the promises of God, the truth of the Bible and the goodness of God and let these things work in us rather than chemicals.  Paul said in the above verses that he has learned to be content.  He doesn’t say that he has found a doctor who has helped him a lot.  The Truth sets us free as we are able to work through trials in a way that uses them as an opportunity to serve the Lord not as an excuse to “forget about life for a while”. 

Next, why do we assume that God wants us to get rid of stress as quickly and as easily as possible?  Probably the most important thing in all this is the danger of assuming that it is perfectly okay to get over it as soon as possible.  By this I mean that I believe God is more honored as we work through and endure our trials by gaining strength from his word and our love for him and proving that he is sufficient than by us “ignoring” difficulty by sleeping through it. 

Take Job for instance who didn’t have a doctor to push some drug off on him.  He had to just sit and take it and I don’t read where he did so with a bottle of scotch in his hand.  He had to live with grief, and depression, a nagging wife and judgmental friends and struggle with it all.  He couldn’t run from it but it was his struggle that makes up the bulk of the book.  As he grapples with what was going on in his life and as the Lord reveals truth to him, he comes out on the other side the better for it.  Can’t we say that if Job was medicated throughout the process the book would have never been written? 

All this to say that it is the pain and the stress of life that give us the opportunity to show how much Christ means to us and the best way to handle these things is through truth and perhaps most of the time it is the struggle that we try to avoid through substance abuse that is the whole point of the Lord sending trouble to begin with.  Should we not try to struggle as those who love the Lord above all else?  Or are we to think that we are to lie down and go to sleep and do our best not to think about our problems?

I know a lot can be said about these things.  I am not trying to make definitive statements that all prescription tranquilizers are sinful or that it is necessarily a sin to have a drink in the evening but clearly there is potential dangers with these things.  I am saying there is a better, Christ honoring way that tackles life and not sleep through it.  So let’s not give up the fight from the start.  It is the fight that proves our love for the Lord.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Does Anyone Care What God Thinks Anymore?

Mat 10:25 It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household. Mat 10:26 “So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. Mat 10:27 What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. Mat 10:28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

In our day of secularism and antibiblical political correctness it is important that Christians not fall prey to mindsets and arguments used today to try and get us to stop proclaiming truth.  One thing we need to keep in mind is that the main commission of Christians is to proclaim the gospel to all cultures and all sinners and all nations that unless they repent and trust in the cross of Christ they shall face the judgment of God.  And as in our text above and later in Paul’s writings we are told up front that this will offend sinners, 1Co 1:23  but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles.  Remember what they did to Stephen when he proclaimed Christ to the Jewish leaders of his day and what about John the Baptist when he told Herod that his divorce was sin?  Are we to think that what he did was wrong?  Not when Jesus had nothing but good to say about him.

And so since we live in a culture that sees offending anyone for anything (except Christianity) as the ultimate evil it necessarily follows that being a Christian and doing the will of God in evangelism is going to mean we will be going around offending people as we tell them that they are sinning and there are consequences of their sin.  Sure, we want to be careful that we don’t needlessly confront them in a belligerent, judgmental way.  We might say that we must tactfully offend people with the gospel and that living the Christian life requires this; there are no silent disciples. 

The other thing that causes me to write this article is the technique that many enemies of Christ are using to try and silence the proclamation of the gospel.  They tell us, and usually not in a loving way, that when we tell them that some activity or lifestyle they are engaged in is wrong or sinful that we are being hateful and offensive.  I recently heard of a Catholic apologist calling an evangelical, who debated Catholics and has written books showing the biblical errors of Catholism, as a person who hates Catholics.  So evidently if you disagree with someone you automatically are a hater. 

I would argue that the one who will tell you the truth and warn you of coming judgment even if it offends you loves you more than your “buddy” who only tells you what he thinks you want to hear. 

All that should be rather obvious to Christians anyway but there is something else that we need to keep before us so that we don’t start thinking that we shouldn’t say anything that offends someone else even when it is the truth of the gospel.  It is seen in the above passage.  The first thing Jesus does is make it clear that in following him we will necessarily offend this world; not through mean behavior but by openly proclaiming truth, 27.  Anyone who says that Christians aren’t supposed to be offensive but accepting of everyone no matter what they are doing has no concept of sin and a holy God and the need of the gospel.

And then the most important thing he reminds us of is that we don’t need to worry so much about whether we have offended someone by telling them the truth as we had better be worrying about whether we are offending God, 28.  We hear a lot today about not saying anything negative about certain sinful behaviors but what we don’t hear is anyone concerned about what God thinks.  I understand this coming from the lost but as Christians let’s remember that we are here to please and honor him, not what is politically correct.  This is swiftly meaning that we are going to be ostracized and persecuted in one way or another.  But this has been the experience of God’s people ever since Cain murdered Abel and we had better be careful of thinking that American Christians somehow can escape it.  At the end of the day it is not American law that we must answer to but the Lord Jesus Christ.

What motivates us, whether we are offensive to men or offensive to the Lord?

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Sheep and Goats

Mat 25:35  For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, Mat 25:36  I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.' Mat 25:37  Then the righteous will answer him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?

I think I have blogged on Matthew 25 more than any other portion of Scripture but there are so many things tucked away in this discourse that I believe are interesting.  In the above passage Jesus is relating that at the Day of Judgment he will divide the saved from the lost, sheep from goats, and that the way they lived will be the evidence of their salvation.  I didn’t say the basis for their salvation but that there is a clear difference in the way the saved live as opposed to the way the lost live even when to us it isn’t always as noticeable as it should be.

To explain this, the first point I would make is that I don’t believe these are the literal words the redeemed will say as seen in verse 37.  One reason is because once we read this passage we know that to serve God’s people is to serve Christ.  So we can’t claim ignorance once these words of Christ were added to the canon.  I think it is clear that these words are also given to be an incentive to live this way since such a life has such an important role in the judgment. 

If we take these words literally then we might assume that the only good works Jesus recognizes are the ones that we don’t know we are doing or the ones in which no reward is in our minds when we do them.  I have certainly heard some say that if the idea of reward crosses your mind when you do something it negates it or things to that effect.  The problem with this is that Jesus spoke far too much about rewards for us to jettison it from our thoughts.  Yes, if the desire of a reward is the primary thing that motivates you in the way you live I would suggests that you have some way to go in your biblical understanding and you need to remember where Jesus found you when he saved you, but that doesn’t mean that Jesus didn’t quite often use rewards as a motivation for us.

But if all this is true what is going on in the response to Christ by the sheep in our text?  I think the point is that as sheep with a new nature they automatically had a right relationship with Christ and therefore his people or his body.  All saints know that their brothers and sisters in Christ are his body and so they love them with a special love.  They were simply living out who they were which I think is the point of them not even realizing what they were doing.  They are surprised for being commended for being what they were.  Sheep are busy being sheep and are surprised when they are rewarded for it.

They pass the examination not so much because they were trying to pass but because they couldn’t help but live out who they were regardless of how well they understood who they were.  And it is precisely here that their new nature is contrasted with the nature of the goats.  While many goats are charitable, they reveal they don’t know Christ in the way they treat his brothers and sisters.  The fact that they didn’t treat Christ’s body in a special way only proves they don’t know Christ and he doesn’t know them in a saving way. 

Further proof might be found in 1 John where he gives ways to know if we have eternal life.  One is by believing that Jesus Christ is the Son of God come in the flesh, 2:20-23; another is obeying Christ because we love him for coming in the flesh to save us, 2:3-6; and then finally we can know we are saved because we love the brethren, 2:9-11. 

There is nothing wrong with obeying the Lord we love because he commands us to and because he has promised to make it worth our while but at the end of the day we do these things because that is what sheep do and if we don’t then we need to make our calling and election sure.  With this in mind we need to examine carefully what is going on when we see divisions and unloving spirits even within the church.  It might be more than just us struggling with the Old Man, it might be a matter of some goats trying to live as sheep!

Friday, April 5, 2013

The Joy of Obedience

Joh 14:21  Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him."… Joh 14:23  Jesus answered him, "If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Joh 14:24  Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father's who sent me.

One of the oldest complaints against Christianity is its so called restrictions.  “God doesn’t want me to have fun” or “Religion is all about what we can’t do”, etc.  They are saying that obeying God stops them from having fun and doing what they enjoy.  What they are actually saying is that they don’t love God and so reveal that they are still lost in their sins.  (I might add that if any professing Christian sees obeying God as a burdensome thing they are still lost in their sins)

It is deliberate that Jesus in our text above, as well as in John’s first epistle, connects obedience with love and proves what I just said.  True love is self-sacrifice for its object’s sake.  This was perfectly revealed in God giving of himself for our salvation by dying on the cross.  But my point is not just that to love someone means we will sacrifice but that it is our joy to do so.

When we love someone we give up our independence and unilateral decisions and similar relationships with all others so that we can give ourselves wholly to one person and have a uniquely intimate relationship with him or her.  Now many don’t get married for this very reason; because they are too in love with themselves to ever experience true love and the fulfillment one can have in giving of themselves to another.  But for those who know what true love is, we know that we are not forced to submit to each other, it is our delight. 

What wife would accept and be happy with a husband’s love when he tells her that he really wants to be with other women and resents being tied down to only her?  Clearly he doesn’t see her as very lovely to say the least.  But we know that when you “fall in love” you are glad to spend your time and energy on the object of your love.  No one has to force you to talk with her and spend time and money on her because you love doing it.  Her loveliness is a delight to you and you can’t get enough of it.  Can we not say then that to refer to your wife as your ball and chain is just a way of saying that you don’t love her?

This helps us see why Jesus can say what he said in the above verses.  On one hand Jesus demands that we obey him.  He is our God and Savior after all.  But it is equally clear that if we love him we will do what lovers do and seek to please the one we love.  1Jn 3:9  No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God's seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God.  Once God has given us his nature in conversion we don’t go on living a life that displeases him; that would make no sense.  This is what chapters three and four in 1 John are all about. 

Those who have come to know God through the forgiveness of their sins and the impartation of a new nature love God and so seek to please him.  And they do so not just because they are required to do so but because it is their delight to do so.  The commands of Christ are not restrictions on what you want to do but opportunities to love the One you love.  To see the commands of the Bible as restrictions on your life only means you see your life as yours and you are your own god.  A Christian knows that his life is not his own but his Savior has redeemed it and now with thanksgiving and joy he can’t do enough to please the One who is the delight of his soul! 

This is why love changes everything.  John says in 1Jn 2:7  Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have heard. 1Jn 2:8  At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining.  God has always demanded that we joyfully obey him in all things and find fulfillment in knowing him and in him alone; that is the old or original commandment.  But under the New Covenant we have been given the heart to love him and now we can from the heart serve him.  Those who find serving Jesus as a burden only reveal they are still lost in their sin.