I’ve been wondering a lot lately about the work of God in our world today. We see so much violence, hatred, selfishness, and fear in our world, and we long to see God deal with those things and set the world right. Like the Psalmist, it’s easy to cry out, “How long will the enemy mock you, God? Will the foe revile your name forever?” (Psalm 74:10).
Belief in God is waning throughout western civilization. The Fear of God has almost been forgotten. The righteous seem to suffer, while the wicked live full lives (Ecclesiastes 7:15). Where is justice? Where can we find proof that God still cares for this fallen world?
In the 3rd chapter of John, we like to skip to the 16th verse: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” But it’s important to not skip over the first part of the chapter where Nicodemus comes to Jesus to find out more about what he’s been preaching. Why did Nicodemus, a Pharisee and someone who could have been considered an enemy to Jesus’ teaching, come to learn more about those teachings? Why did he trust Jesus enough to come to him for truth?
Nicodemus said to Jesus, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him” (John 3:2).
Wow! What brought Nicodemus, and so many others, to Jesus was the “signs” he was doing—the work he was doing in the world in God’s name. What’s interesting is that Jesus wasn’t fighting the pagan Roman government, he wasn’t campaigning against unjust or even ungodly laws, he wasn’t engaging in an ugly war of words with every person who didn’t agree with his teachings. He was going out into the communities around him and meeting people one-on-one, healing their hurts, providing food, showing mercy. These “signs” were not meant to save people’s souls, and they did little in themselves to change the world, but they got people to listen. And what Jesus had to say did have the power to change the world—one person at a time.
When we think of all the things Jesus did while walking in our world, and all the things he could have done but didn’t, perhaps we should rethink the things we, as Christians, are doing in the world today in his name.
It seems that one of the greatest arguments against believing in the God of Christianity is the people who call themselves Christian but who act no better (and often worse) than the non-Christian people around them. Instead of shining as a light to the world, pointing the way to a loving and merciful—yet powerful and holy—God, Christians are accused of self-interest, hypocrisy, and judgmentalism. Instead of meeting people in their needs and offering them love and mercy, we use the teachings of Jesus to beat others over the head and justify our hatred. Instead of continuing the work of Jesus in the world, we sit back and wait for God to rain down fire and brimstone on the ungodly. And then we wonder why we don’t see God working in the world today.
Perhaps we should try something different.
“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).
I read an interesting article yesterday in Christianity Today about the Brazilian national soccer team which has a number of evangelical players.* In this predominantly Catholic nation, these players have made a name for themselves by being very open about their love for Jesus.
According to the article, the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) recently banned team members from “religiously themed demonstrations” on the field. That would include the practice of some team members of wearing tee shirts with Christian messages beneath their jerseys and displaying them after a goal, and could even include kneeling during a game as if in prayer or pointing to heaven as if to thank God for a successful play. According to the CBF, these celebratory displays are being banned because “the practice could divert focus on competition and constrain athletes who practice other beliefs or are agnostic.”
As I read the article, I could imagine a chorus of outraged Christian voices rising up to condemn this suppression of religious belief. It reminded of a friend who once argued that we need to support public displays of Christian belief (on our coins, in the pledge to the flag, at the beginning of legislative sessions, and in national days of prayer) because God needs the PR. And there’s no better PR than a winning team or a winning player displaying gratitude to the Heavenly Father after a spectacular GOOOAAAAALLL!
The real problem with these displays, as I see it, is that they associate the grace of God with winning. You don’t often see a Christian player of any sport pause after a disastrous play or the loss of a game to point to heaven with grateful smiles. It’s when they score that they thank God for being with them. It’s when they win that they show the world that God has favored them.
So, where is God in the losing?
In the Bible, we often find God in the losing. Many of the most beautiful Psalms were written by David while he was being hunted by King Saul who wanted to kill him. David ran from country to country looking for a safe place to stay. He was betrayed by allies and surrounded by enemies. He lived off the land and bedded down in caves. Again and again he prayed for deliverance and wrote out those prayers in commemoration of God’s goodness.
Wait, God’s goodness? Even when David was on the run? Even when things weren’t going his way? Even when he had to wait three decades for the fulfilment of God’s promise to make him king over all Israel?
The introduction to Psalm 54 says, “For the director of music. With stringed instruments. A maskil of David. When the Ziphites had gone to Saul and said, ‘Is not David hiding among us?’” It ends with David proclaiming, “I will praise your name, Lord, for it is good. You have delivered me from all my troubles.”
Psalm 56 was written about a time “when the Philistines had seized (David) in Gath.” In it David sings, “In God, whose word I praise, in the Lord, whose word I praise—in God I trust and am not afraid.”
In Psalm 57, David is hiding from Saul in a cave. He writes, “I will praise you, Lord, among the nations; I will sing of you among the peoples. For great is your love, reaching to the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies.”
Psalm 59 was written “When Saul had sent men to watch David’s house to kill him.” David’s response was to declare, “You are my strength, I sing praise to you; you, God, are my fortress, my God on whom I can rely."
Each day David survived, he found a reason to praise God—whether he was winning or waiting or on the run, fearful for his life. He didn’t wait for a great victory to declare that God was on his side. He loved God and trusted God’s love for him, perhaps finding it richer and purer and stronger during the losing times of his life. Shouldn't Christians today live more like that?
In the past week, similar events happened on opposite sides of the world. Two individuals came to the conclusion that their political beliefs were so important they were worth killing for. One man succeeded in his mission—to kill a member of the British Parliament, in West Yorkshire, England. Another man was foiled in his mission—to kill a U.S. presidential nominee in Las Vegas, Nevada.
On Sunday, USA Today ran an article about the “psychology of hate” which proclaimed: “American culture is more permeated than ever by hate and hateful expressions, and hate-inspired violence is more prevalent.” On the other side of the Atlantic, a member of the UK Evangelical Alliance echoed that sentiment about England and wrote that what Britain and America need is for Christians to step up and lead the way to reconciliation and healing.
The problem is that too many Christians are embracing hate and anger instead of reconciliation and healing. Like so many others, they are caught up in the kind of “life and death” mentality that led two people this week to choose murder as a way to make a political point.
How can I say that? I see it on Facebook. I read it in news reports. I hear it in the voices of people around me who are being driven by fear that they could lose “everything” if this person wins the election, or if that party triumphs, or if a particular vote goes against what they think is right. “Everything is riding on this.” “This could change everything.” “This could be the beginning of the end.”
Fear. Anger. Hatred. Yes, even Christians are joining in.
So here is my challenge.
STOP and TAKE 5.
Matthew 5, that is.
Read the 5th chapter of Matthew for yourself, and for the next week, every time you start to post a comment on Twitter or Facebook, every time you start to jump into a debate about what’s best for our country, every time you feel anger, fear, or hatred start to squeeze the joy out of your life, remember Jesus’ words.
“Blessed are you…the meek…the merciful…the peacemakers…the persecuted.”
“You are the salt of the earth…the light of the world.”
“If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.”
“But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
Those are all Jesus’ words, right out of Matthew 5.
Instead of hate, fear, and anger this week, post Matthew 5. Argue Matthew 5. Live Matthew 5.
That’s my challenge. Start now!
After four blogs on a difficult subject, I want to leave you with two important thoughts today.
As Christians, we need to learn how to fight.
We have to FIGHT CONSTANTLY to uphold the truth in our own lives:
“And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God” (Philippians 1:9-11).
“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).
And we have to FIGHT GENTLY to share that truth with others:
“And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will” (2 Timothy 2:24-26).
“Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Philippians 1:27).
I will be taking a week off from my blog to take care of some family matters and to work on a fun (I hope) addition to my website. Until I return, fight the good fight fellow soldiers!
Okay, I promise this is the last post on Captain America: Civil War. I hope you read the other posts, but if you didn’t here’s a quick recap:
Like the Avengers, Christians are called to do battle on the side of good. Our battles are spiritual ones and our enemy is Satan. One of Satan’s great battle strategies has been to divide Christians into multiple denominations and groupings so we will fight against each other instead of presenting a unified message to the world.
Which begs the question: What should we do about it?
Should Christians everywhere lay aside their differences? Should we hammer out an accord we can all sign so we can be one big happy Church again? Should we ignore the ideologies which separate us and present a united front so the world will trust us?
Jesus stressed unity when he prayed to the Father: “I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:22-23). And Paul said, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).
But can we get past all our differences and stand united with people who, although they call themselves Christians, think very differently than we do? Not only are we split along denominational lines, but there are bigger issues which divide us - big questions like: Is the Bible true and reliable? Is faith in Jesus the only way to heaven? If we can’t agree on these issues, should we set them aside and make compromises for the sake of unity?
The Avengers didn’t. By the end of the Civil War movie, there was no resolution of who was right and who was wrong. They still did not agree. They did not reunite. There was only a shared commitment that each of them would keep doing what they could to fight for what they believed in.
Two more big questions which divide Christians are, “What is the purpose of the church in this world?” and “What’s the end game God is working to bring about?”
Like the Church, the Marvel universe has also been dealing with the question, “What is our ultimate purpose?” In Captain America: Winter Soldier, Nick Fury wanted to put huge gun ships in the air to take out hostile threats on land before they did any harm. His plan backfired when the gun ships were reprogrammed to take out the good guys instead of the bad guys. In Avengers: Age of Ultron, Tony Stark wanted to put “a suit of armor around the world” to protect the world from even bigger threats out in space. “Peace in our time…. Isn’t that the ‘why’ we fight? So we can end the fight? So we get to go home?” To end the fight, Stark created a killer machine intent on destroying all human life. So, that didn’t go well either.
Likewise, Christians who believe God’s plan involves peace on earth may try to hurry that peace along by encouraging unity, respect, and love at the expense of truth, justice, and holiness. I’m sorry, but I cannot agree to that.
Here is what I believe in – what I will fight for – what I won’t compromise on:
· The Bible is true and reliable.
· Jesus Christ is the son of God, and faith in Jesus is the only means of salvation.
· God is sovereign. He’s got the “end game” figured out. He will bring it about in his own timing.
· My job as a Christian is to stand firm in my faith, love God, love others, and share the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Because all Christians don’t agree with these points, the Civil War will go on.
Pick a side and suit up, soldier.
In my last two posts, I told you that – if you are a Christian – you are a soldier in God’s army. Your enemy is Satan, and your mission is to stand firm in your faith despite everything Satan throws at you. God also commands us to take the gospel into all the world and to live holy lives, pleasing to him.
The New Testament gives us lots of information to help us “fight the good fight” (1 Timothy 6:12), but have you ever wondered what we are fighting for? What’s the end goal of this battle? What is God trying to accomplish in this world, and how can we help bring it about?
Whether you think about these questions seriously or just make assumptions, what you believe – consciously or unconsciously – about God and his big plans will affect how you live your life. It also affects how Christians are perceived by the world around us.
In the first few hundred years of its existence, the Christian church was asked what it believed about the nature of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit based on the teachings of the Bible. The Councils of Nicea (325 AD), Chalcedon (451), and Constantinople (681), among others, answered these questions. They determined what was “orthodox” for Christianity (“conforming to what is generally or traditionally accepted as right or true; established and approved”) and what was “unorthodox” (“contrary to what is usual, traditional, or accepted”). Those who did not accept the orthodox doctrine of the church were removed from the church and no longer considered to be “Christian.”
In 1054, a much bigger dispute split the church in two, with both sides claiming to have the true doctrine about Christianity. Several hundred years later, another split occurred, leaving the Roman Catholic Church on one side and several new Protestant denominations on the other. Today there are at least 8 major protestant groups with literally thousands of individual denominations. Add in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches, and there are a whole lot of people who can’t agree about what is “right or true” about God, the Bible, and Christianity.
Now, back to Captain America for a moment. Is anyone seeing a connection here?
Multiple parties split by different ideas of how to operate, who should be in control, who decides what is good and what is bad.
It was ideologies which split the Avengers apart in Captain America: Civil War. But a good action movie can’t be just about ideologies. You need a villain – an enemy. Who is the enemy in Civil War? Spoiler alert! The enemy was the one guy who didn’t care about any of these things. He just wanted to see the Avengers destroyed. Since he was too weak to destroy them himself, he found a way to get them to fight against each other.
As Christians, we also have an enemy. He’s no weakling. He has “super” abilities because he’s a supernatural being. But he is no match for the One True God, or Jesus Christ, or the Holy Spirit. And he is no match for the Church, the collection of Jesus’ followers here on the earth who preach his message and live for him. He has many ways to fight against us, but what better strategy is there then to split us up, separate us, and get us to waste time and energy fighting against each other. And what better way is there to show the world that the gospel of Jesus is not true than if the followers of Jesus can’t even agree on what the truth of the gospel is.
So what are we to do?
It begins by being a serious Christian – one who asks, “What do I believe and why do I believe that?” That’s what this blog is all about. I hope you will bear with me as I write one more post on Captain America: Civil War. I also hope you will continue to join me – and encourage your friends and church members to join me – because the enemy is out there, and the world is watching.
* Definitions from: Oxford Dictionary
I hope you read my last post about Captain America: Civil War. At the end of that post I promised to come back to tell you more about the battle Christians are called to fight. So here goes.
Diversity and acceptance are the standard of the day. Everyone from the Pope to Morgan Freeman in The Story of God is encouraging us to look past our differences and come together as one big happy family. “Do not judge, or you too will be judged” is a great motto, especially since it’s in the Bible (Matthew 7:1). The Bible also says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).
Yes, we “are all one,” but only if we are “in Christ Jesus.” You see, God does make a distinction. There are two camps: those who are his people, and those who aren’t. There are two sides of the battle, those who fight for God and those who fight against him. When you became a Christian by accepting Jesus Christ as your Savior, you became a child of God. You also switched sides in the great battle between Satan and God.
“Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation” (Colossians 1:21–22).
Satan’s great hatred toward God now extends to you as well, and he would like nothing better than to stop you from being an effective soldier in God’s army (Luke 22:31). That makes each one of us a target for his evil schemes (Ephesians 6:11–12). The objective of our enemy is two-fold: to keep us from enjoying our relationship with God and to keep us from living lives that bring God glory.
So who is this enemy? His name is Satan, which is the Greek word for a false witness or a slanderer. Jesus called him “the evil one,” “the father of lies,” and a “murderer” (Matthew 13:38–39; John 8:44). He is also called “the prince of this world,” “the god of this age,” and “the ruler of the kingdom of the air” (John 12:31, 14:30; 2 Corinthians 4:4; Ephesians 2:2). That means we’re not only engaged in a spiritual battle—we’re fighting behind enemy lines!
Our job is not to destroy Satan or to defeat him. We have been called to do other things, like taking the gospel into the world, making disciples of Jesus, and living a life that brings glory to God. In relation to Satan, we have only one mission: Stand Firm
The Bible tells us: “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings” (1 Peter 5:8–9).
And, in the words of Jesus: “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved” (Mark 13:12–13).
The good news is that we are not in this battle alone. The psalmist said: “The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge. He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I call to the Lord, who is worthy of praise, and I am saved from my enemies” (Psalm 18:2–3).
[Most of this post was excerpted from Chapter 2 of my book Standing Firm: Are You Ready for the Battle?]
Come back next Tuesday for Civil War: Part 3: Why We Fight.
Okay, I admit it. I’m a nerd. I anxiously awaited the opening of Captain America: Civil War and made sure I saw it the opening weekend. And when the DVD comes out, I’ll add it to my library of Marvel movies.
At least one movie critic calls these kinds of movies simple escapism. “As long as people want to see good triumph over evil, see a man or woman fly or just forget about life’s problems for a few hours, superhero films will exist.” In my opinion, anyone who thinks superhero movies show a clear line between good and evil hasn’t seen very many superhero movies.
The first Captain America movie was an old-fashioned, good-guys versus bad guys flick. It was set during World War II, which (at least in our collective memories) was a simpler time. The second Captain America movie jumped to the 21st century (thanks to Cap being frozen in polar ice for 70 years). Now the bad guys are deep inside the good guys’ camp, waiting for their big moment to take over the world, and even the good guys are making some really bad decisions. By the time we reach the third installment of Captain America the good guys can’t even agree on what is good and what is bad—hence the name, Civil War.
In Civil War, the heroes are divided over the question of who should control their superheroing activities—themselves or a bureaucratic oversight panel. What caught my attention is how each of the heroes in the movie decided to join the fight. Some were led by ideals, others by respect for the law or government. Some were moved by friendship, others by duty. Some responded just because they were called, happy to be part of something bigger than themselves.
For the most part, they fought because they are soldiers—and that’s what soldiers do.
Soldiers fight. And every child of God is also a soldier of God. We have been called to do battle.
“Timothy, my son, I am giving you this command in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by recalling them you may fight the battle well.” 1 Timothy 1:18
“Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” 1 Timothy 6:12
“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Ephesians 6:12
“The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.” 2 Corinthians 10:4
If you’re not sure what all this battle talk is about, I’ll be posting two more pieces on this topic over the next week. Until then, let me leave you with one of my favorite ‘soldiering’ songs.
I saw a short video on Facebook yesterday and followed it back to its originating website. At first, I could only find it in Italian, since the website was created by the Vatican, but eventually I found the English version. I thought the video was moving and beautiful—and very dangerous. I invite you to take a minute and a half to view the video and then consider what the Bible has to say about this topic.
In the first place, I would like to say that nothing in the teachings of Jesus or the New Testament writers is against inter-religious dialogue. We are commanded to take the gospel of Jesus Christ to all the world, and to do that we have to be able to have respectful conversations with people who disagree with us about that gospel message. However, the purpose of our dialogue should be to “make disciples … teaching them to obey” everything Jesus commanded us (Matthew 28:19-20). It is not, as the Pope says, to “produce the fruits of peace and justice.”
Didn’t Jesus command us to pursue peace and justice?
The Bible tells us that a heart for justice is a characteristic of Jesus and his people (Matthew 12:18, 23:23; 2 Corinthians 7:11; Hebrews 1:8). Jesus also said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9). And peace is one of the fruits of the Spirit by which all Christians should be known (Galatians 5:22-25).
So why then did Jesus say, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34)?
In another part of the New Testament the Bible is referred to as a sword. “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).
The word of God divides—the just from the unjust, the saved from the perishing, the children of God from the children of the world. And the gospel of Jesus Christ divides—those who have found true peace with God through faith in Jesus and those who still oppose God by trying to earn his favor in their own way.
Here is something else Jesus had to say: “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:13-14).
Don’t get caught on the broad road leading to destruction just because it sounds inviting and warm and comfortable. Only one road leads to heaven—the one that begins at the cross.
Two days ago I came home from a week-long writers’ conference. I left the peace and quiet of a beautiful redwoods setting where I had gone a week without turning on my computer or even watching a TV. I arrived at home in time to watch the evening news, which was still filled with the terrible images of the terrorist attacks in Brussels where at least 30 people had died and many more were injured.
A family appeared on the news, sobbing happy tears because they had just heard from their son in Brussels and he was alright. Other stories were told of Americans who were caught up in the attacks and jumped in to help others. I’m sure just seeing their faces on TV and hearing their voices gave great comfort to their loved ones at home. I thought of my own husband, in another country at that moment attending a conference. I thought of my daughter, living in New York City, where security around tourist and transportation sites had already been tightened. I wanted to know they were safe too.
In times of great distress, we find out what really matters to us. Our peace is shattered for a time, and we think, “If I just could know my husband is okay…” “If I just could see my child again…” “If I could just get through this and get home again….” We all have someone or something that makes us feel safe, or whole, or happy, and the thought of losing that person or thing terrifies us.
It reminds me of when my daughter was two years old and had to have a minor surgical procedure. She was so scared when they took her away from us to begin the procedure. Sometime later, a nurse came to tell us the procedure went well and our little girl was fine. She had woken up and started to cry, but then she saw the two stuffed animals we had brought along for her. She gathered one in each arm, smiled, and went back to sleep.
It reminds me of the words of Jesus, too. He warned his disciples that to follow him meant giving up a comfortable place to live (Luke 9:57-58). It meant walking away from family (Luke 9:61-62), walking away from work (Matthew 4:18-20), giving away our treasure (Mark 10:17-22). Not everyone who follows Jesus is called to walk the same path, but we are all called to hold lightly to the things of this world so we can hold tightly to the hand of our Lord and Savior.
Today is a good day to take inventory. What are you holding onto? What are you afraid to lose? What is it you think you need? Close your eyes for a moment, open your hands, and lift them up to Jesus. Listen to him say, “I am all you need.” Trust him in this moment. And the next time that terror or tragedy strike, reach first for Jesus. When disappointment falls like a shadow, reach for Jesus. When fear clouds your view, reach for Jesus. He really is all you need.
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What is my mission as an author? It's a tough question, but I believe the goal dearest to my heart is to help Christians think about what they really believe and then to act as if they really believe it. It all begins with understanding what it means to be a Christian. Then we have to learn to live like a Christian.