Living God-Centered, in a Self-Centered World

In the beginning, God created…everything. And at the height of His creative work, he chose to make mankind in His image (Genesis 1:26). God plans to make a human race, patterned after his own being, to oversee the rest of creation, and to enjoy Him forever. As the first humans, Adam and Eve lived in God’s likeness, in perfect harmony. They lived in a magnificent garden, where God himself walked. There was no divide between creator and creation. And there were no divides between the human race either- specified by scripture with the phrase found in Gen 2:25, ‘They were both naked, and they felt no shame’. This was unity. Nothing clothed them, because there was nothing to hide. No barriers at all.

And at the center of this unity, was the human purpose: To live for the glory of God. His glory was the purpose of mankind’s creation (Isaiah 43:7). God had existed for all of eternity as Father, Son and Spirit, in perfect love. And out of His kindness, he invited mankind to share in His joy. Humans, living and working side by side, for God’s glory. Increasing in number, filling all of the earth with God’s image. Enjoying God, together. Adam and Eve were without dissension, because they were God-centric, as all of creation was made to be.

big dealOf course we know that the world we live in today – is not the world described in Genesis 1-2. The human race is not in unity; we are far from it. And the origin of every division and conflict we can imagine is found in Genesis 3. The enemy of God arrived in the picture with a singular temptation for the human race: to trade in their God-centric lives for ones that focused on themselves. God had given Adam and Eve all things to enjoy, except for one tree. That tree, God said, was not for them. And for a human race living to enjoy God and to find His glory precious – this was not a harsh prohibition. But Satan’s tactic was to shift their focus: Why must YOU not eat of these trees? Why should YOU be deprived? God knows YOU will be like him if you eat from it – because YOU will then have a knowledge of good and evil. And with that, the human race forsook God to place themselves at the center of their own affections. And immediately, division came. Barriers were put up as Adam and Eve clothed themselves with fig leaves, hiding from each other out of shame. Harmony was lost, not just between the human race – but also between humans and God. He came to walk in the garden, and the human race ran to hide. And the conflict grows as Adam and Eve began to blame each other, along with God, for their rebellion. Adam says, ‘I did this because of the WOMAN, YOU put here with me’. Eve responds, blaming the serpent that God had made. Mankind was now a self-centric, distorted image of God, divided and in conflict. And this bitter root of self-centeredness, would be passed to every human generation. People who love themselves, and so become boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient, ungrateful, unforgiving, slanderous and without self-control (2 Timothy 3:2-4).

I often tell the moms and dads going through the Families Count program, that parenting is the toughest challenge you will ever be given. And what makes the task so hard, is that we must live through the complications intrinsic to a self-centric world. And to compound this problem, both we AND our children are dealing with the nature we have inherited; a nature that is bent toward self. The good news – and there is good news in all of this – is that Jesus Christ has come to ‘destroy the devil’s work’ (1 John 3:8). God the Son stepped into His creation in order to reverse the effects of our rebellion. His work would make way for the human race to be restored to the Image of God and the harmony of living in His likeness. The night Christ was born, the Angels praised the Heavenly Father in song, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests’. This PEACE is the good news to a world filled with hostility; people drowning in conflict with themselves and with God.

Jesus is our only hope to live as God-centric people, reflecting His glory and enjoying Him forever. While our families must live in a self-centric world, we take heart at the words of Christ, ‘I have overcome the world!’ (John 16:33). Our hope and peace is found only in the centrality of Jesus! Look to Him and Seek Him with all of your strength!

So Now, We Are His Children

FathersI believe that I can say, without fear of exaggeration, that the process of adopting a child taught me more about the Gospel than any other experience I have had in my adult life. I have come to believe there is a specific understanding of biblical salvation that is graciously and uniquely granted to families who adopt. When Alyson and I brought our son home from Hong Kong we had been married for 15 years and had 4 biological children. And at the time, I thought I understood what it meant to be a dad. But, adoption drew out aspects of fatherhood which I had never seen before. It is like viewing stars from my home in a central Alabama city versus viewing them from the Gulf Coast. The sky is the same, but it is the different vantage point that allows me to see and appreciate the stars in a completely different way. Specifically, there are three facets of fatherhood that adoption has allowed me to perceive far more clearly and brightly than I did before: Belonging, Identity and Significance.

So first – Belonging. My biological children have always belonged to a father. From the moment they entered the world, I was there to embrace them and claim them. But for my adopted son, Jack, his father was gone long before he was born. And for the first years of his life he had no familiarity with a dad and no idea what it meant to belong to someone. He had never experienced simple joys we take for granted, like climbing up into a father’s lap just to be with him, or having someone look at us with pride and say, ‘That one is mine’. Fatherhood means belonging.

And belonging brings Identity. We live in a culture that teaches us to earn our identity by what we do. But in truth, identity is established by who we are. Immediately upon entering the world my first four children were known as son or daughter, brother or sister, niece or nephew; they were recognized as grandchildren or cousins. They had a family name, a place, and a heritage – granted not because of hard work, but because they belonged. And it was the lack of belonging that caused my adopted son to be born without a firm identity. He was not born into a family. He was not a son. He was not a brother. He did not have a heritage. But when he came to belong to us through adoption, all of that changed. He was granted a new identity. He was no longer who he used to be. He now belonged to a new family with sisters and brothers and aunts and uncles – marked by a new name. Fatherhood means identity.

And this belonging and identity has a cumulative effect – a Significance. I often find myself looking at our adopted son and wondering, ‘How different would his life be if he had never been adopted?’ For Jack, everything has been radically changed. His future will be immeasurably shaped by this reality of belonging to a family and the identity he has received. Fatherhood means significance.

And seeing these truths by way of a different vantage point, I have new insights into the magnificence of my own adoption. The bible uses adoptive language to describe the Gospel – the very salvation of our souls. God our creator, chose to adopt us (Ephesians 1:5), and so we – who once had no identity as a people – now belong to God the Father in his family (1 Peter 2:10). How amazing! The act of human adoption, is merely a shadow of the divine, greater adoption that the Father above has bestowed upon us. The bible teaches that God sent his only son, Jesus Christ, into his creation to take upon his shoulders the penalties due our sin. And if we have faith in Jesus’ work we will belong to the same Father as He does (1 Corinthians 3:23); we will receive the same identity he has: a ‘Child of God’ (1 John 3:1). Our belonging is proven by the name we now carry. We are not who we used to be. We now belong to a Father, in a new family with sisters and brothers from all times, cultures, and languages. We have not earned this identity, but have received it all because of Jesus! And the significance of this cannot be overstated, because now if God is for his children, who can be against us (Romans 8:31)? Our future is shaped entirely by this Fatherhood. Through faith in Christ, we now belong to the King of all the Universe. We carry His name. Once fatherless, we are now sons and daughters with a heritage. So now, we are His children.

Sowing Seeds of Life

Sowing-SeedsMy wife and I recently had a student recount to us a literal life or death moment that she experienced in the midst of a difficult season. We serve in a local ministry to precious men and women who like all of us are dealing with sin; but for them, the issues have reached the point of threatening their ability to be able to provide a safe, loving environment for their children. This young mom was facing the common difficulties of life, like overdue bills, medical issues, busy schedules, and responsibilities. But this was coupled with the struggle to overcome the powerful effects of addiction as she strives to stay with the child that she so desperately loves. And in a moment of weakness, with all of the stress of life seeming to pile up – the thought came: Just end this. End the struggle. This battle is too much. You are not going to make it. But she shared with us that as the thought of destruction was raging in her mind, another more powerful thought entered. She heard the words of a verse that we had read together in our class just a few days earlier: Genesis 1:27 ‘God created man in his own image’. For this young mother – that scripture was just as the Psalmist described: ‘a light to my path’. The darkness told her that giving up was the answer. Yet the light had broken through to give her hope. And as she looked at us crying, she said with determination, ‘I am made in the image of God, and I know I have a purpose. I am going to keep going’.

The language of light and darkness is a theme that is found throughout the bible; the description of a battle that has been raging long before any of us were born. The bible describes God, as the ‘Father of lights’ (James 1:17) from whom every good and perfect gift comes. And in darkness is the enemy of God that has opposed Him from before the creation of the world- ‘the thief’ who comes only to steal and kill and destroy (John 3:19). And I would submit that all of us have found ourselves in the midst of this battle and many of us carry scars from it. The fight rages for us and for those we love. The battleground being thoughts, affections, and allegiance. Everyone faces choices of darkness and light– clashes between deception or integrity, hatred or reconciliation, lust or faithfulness, idolatry or sacrifice. Those conflicts are continual; the outcome of each one is not of little consequence. Because even if the choice seems insignificant at the time, the aim of darkness is to entice us toward that which will bring chaos and destruction. And in this war our hope is not in ourselves, but in God the Father who has sent His light physically and spiritually into the world. He has sent the greatest gift, Jesus Christ, who came to ‘shine on those living in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace’ (Luke 1:79).

In Christ alone is found freedom from the thief’s power. Our safe haven in this conflict, is to abide with Jesus. Our first and most pressing priority is our relationship with Him. We are all hard-pressed daily with life and responsibilities, but we cannot let good things become the enemy of the best thing. We must press into Jesus and listen for his guidance. Through Christ, in the smallest of thoughts or the gravest of actions we can choose light and the peace that comes with it.

And by His grace we can help others who have been wounded in this battle, by ‘sowing seeds’ of light into people’s lives (Psalm 97:11).  If you have ever had a garden, you know that even the smallest of seeds planted at the right time, and with the right nutrients can yield a healthy and bountiful crop. As a parent, there is no greater distress than being separated from your child. And so I rejoice in the many men and women who are giving their resources to family ministries. Workers who are sowing seeds of light in parents and children surrounded by darkness, praying for a harvest of salvation, reconciliation and healing. And opportunities like this are all around us if we look. Perhaps it is giving of ourselves through service; opening our hearts to the potential of bringing light to darkness in a new and challenging way. Or perhaps it is as simple as giving an encouraging word to the grocery store clerk who appears to be having a hard day as they scan our items. In this great cosmic battle, even the smallest of actions can be used by our Father – the Father of light – to yield life in others.

Truth and Love: Two Groups of Error

Changing or suppressing truth out of desire not to wound or offend is not love, but indulgence. Truth spoken in love is always more gentle and kind than compromise and is also always more beneficial and instructive than truth that lacks any sort of warmth, compassion or care.

Broadly speaking, there are two major groups of errors in the American church today: the Compromise Camp and the Pharisee Camp. In the Compromise Camp, we find those who, in the interest of not offending or challenging the culture, water down the truth of the Bible, bend/change – or even outright deny it. They value love above all things, and correctly point out that God is love. What is missing, however, is that God is also Holy and Jesus identifies Himself as “THE Truth.” Love without truth may seem sweet, warm and inviting….but like a hamburger made out of doughnuts, is ultimately unhealthy and lacking in nutrition. You can’t live off of love that is not intermixed with truth. You might think that you are called to balance the church’s historic “harshness” in a sort of affirmative action/balancing way….but you do not have this call or duty. NOBODY does. The world does not need love that lacks truth – love without truth might be temporarily comforting, but it is not capable of rescue/salvation. Love accompanied by inaccurate truth or compromise is even more dangerous. Merely love is NOT the Jesus way. Jesus was crucified NOT because of His overwhelming kindness, but because of His uncompromising truth (spoken in love…)

In the Pharisee Camp, we find church members who are frighteningly quick to point out the error in others and correct them with truth. You find people writing extensively about this or that false teaching; this or that false teacher; and this or that false doctrine. Individually, Pharisee Campers have a tendency to skillfully be able to diagnose the splinter in somebody else’s eye, while missing the log in their own eye. They are absolutely correct in their knowledge that the church is the “Pillar of truth,” and that we are called to “expose the darkness,” and admonish and rebuke when necessary (see 1 Tim. 3:15, Eph. 5:11 and Col 3:16). The issue is that these directives must be absolutely slathered in LOVE. Not in a compromising, permissive way…but in a kind, gentle and humble way (See 2 Timothy 2:25 and 1 Thess. 2:7)!

Truth delivered without mercy and love is harshness, and only beneficial to the degree that a drill sergeant’s barking is beneficial. Yes, it gives helpful information, but it builds significant resentment over time and ultimately alienates the listener, much like the church has done with homosexuals and others that sinned in a way that was not fashionable at the time (ignoring the fact that we are all sinners called to repentance by the glorious gospel of Jesus). You might think that you are God’s drill sergeant and that your tone or method of delivery doesn’t matter as long as you are spouting truth. Unfortunately, there is no such position in the Body of Christ. We are all called and REQUIRED to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15)! Truth unaccompanied by love is NOT the Jesus way.

Love without truth is indulgent compromise, truth without love is merely the cold delivery of information. One without the other is not the Jesus way; one without the other cannot rightly be called “Christianity.”

Ephesians 4:15 15 But speaking the truth in love, let us grow in every way into Him who is the head—Christ.

Chase A. Thompson
Agape Fellowship

Be Fearful of Immaturity

This article is based on the sermon ‘Fearing Immaturity‘, given on December 7, 2014 from the Hebrews series, which can be found in its entirety here.

God has prepared us to face the ever changing, ever challenging, ever glorious expedition with Christ, by giving us His Word and His Spirit. I am not sure if there is a book in the NT that deals with the potential and the pitfalls of life’s journey – the way that Hebrews does. This sermon / letter builds upon the biblical mandates that teach us to ABIDE, WALK in and OBEY Christ, by giving us promises of rewards IF we do these things (see 3:6, 3:14 and 4:11). and Hebrews challenges us to these mandates by giving us warnings (see 2:1 and 3:12).

When I was 19 years old, I found myself in the midst of one of the deepest spiritual crises of my life. I had professed Christ with my mouth as a seven year old, and has spent many of my early years growing up in that profession. As a teenager, I fell into a trap of immorality that would consume my thoughts, behaviors and heart for the next 10 years. I spent several of those years with no signs of spiritual life, no interest in God apart from times of want or need. But at 19, I fell under a cloud of great conviction knowing my life was no longer lined up with His word; and that sin had consumed me. And I fell under great despair and fear about my own soul. So I began reading my bible and praying – begging and seeking for God and His assurance. And I remember one day in particular before work, I was trying to read my bible – and as I thumbed through my eyes fell to a passage of scripture – Hebrews 6:

‘1 Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity…And this we will do if God permits. 4 For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. 7 For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. 8 But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned’.

In the midst of great concern about your salvation – THIS is not the text you want to come across. Because this passage – at face value – indicates there can be people who experience Christ and His Kingdom, yet fall away from it with no opportunity to return. THIS is frightening. And reading this passage that day, I cried my eyes out; I cried harder at reading this passage, than I cried over the death of my father.

Many people, good people who love Jesus, have different interpretations of this text. My intention is not to go through all of those interpretations; nor answer all of the questions surrounding it. 17 years after reading this passage for the first time, I still wrestle with what it says. But I do want us to make some observations that I pray will be beneficial for our souls & that will point us toward truth:

Observation 1: God is Greatly Concerned with Our Spiritual Maturity

More than any other aspect of our life – God is concerned with our growth in Christ. This section really begins back in Hebrews 5:11, where the writer tells the readers that He has many deep things to teach them about Christ, and the Gospel – but He has ran into a difficulty, the readers have become dull of hearing; This literally can mean ‘LAZY in UNDERSTANDING the message’ or SLUGGISH in INSTRUCTION. 5:12: For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. Surrounding this text then is the issue of spiritual immaturity: which is a failure to grow in learning and applying the Gospel; these people were bored, uninterested and lazy in the things of God – which is why 6:1 starts off with a cry, imploring them to ‘GO ON TO MATURITY’.

Observation 2: You Will Mature in Christ or You Will Fall Away from Christ

Immediately following this cry to go on to maturity, is the warning beginning in verse 4, of the impossibility of restoring someone who falls away to repentance. So, implicit in the text is that there are 2 options: Maturity or Destruction. You go on to maturity, or you risk falling away. To become a disciple of Christ is the most glorious, gracious gift of God. And it is a pathway that will be filled with ups and downs; Times of intimacy and seasons of trial. God is kind and compassionate and patient with us. But your discipleship is purposed in your salvation. You will be a maturing disciple or you will be a child of destruction.

Observation 3: This ‘Falling Away’ is Characterized by an Inability to Repent

I believe this is a key observation for us, because I think it is fairly common for people to read this passage and wonder ‘Have I fallen Away’? That was my fear 17 years ago when I mourned over this passage; And it is not my point to smooth over a Godly-fear, a Godly-sorrow that leads to repentance. But, so many of our testimonies involve a struggle with flesh; and seasons of our lives where we leave church; or leave intimacy with Christ; or find ourselves drowning in immorality. And so, is that the falling away described here? Notice verse 4, It is impossible in the case of those who have once been enlightened..go to verse 6, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance. This falling away ends with this individual unable to bring them self to repent. Repentance is a turning from sin; toward God. It is more than sorrow (feeling bad over what you have done) – it is sorrow that leads you to seek God’s presence. The individual who has Fallen Away in the Heb 6 sense, has lost the ability, maybe even the desire, to seek God and His forgiveness.

Observation 4: Maturity is Characterized by the Fruit of the Holy Spirit

Jesus teaches in Matthew 7, that you can distinguish the godly from the ungodly by the fruit of their lives – what their lives produce. ‘You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes. Every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit’. Later in places like Gal 5, this good fruit is called the fruit of the Spirit and examples of it are listed out. And in Eph 4, we are given more insight, when maturity is defined as ‘attaining the the fullness of Christ’. So the maturity we are being compelled toward is Christ-like character (which is the fruit of the Spirit); So see this in Heb 6:7, ’For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. If it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned’. This compares and contrasts the spiritually mature from the immature. The mature OFTEN hear the Gospel (the rain), they receive it continually in their life (drinking it in) & the result is Christlikeness, spiritual fruit (which is the crop). The immature, don’t produce fruit. There’s no crop, just thorns.

Observation 5: There is No Mention of the Mature in Christ Falling Away

In Matthew 13 Jesus tells a parable of a farmer spreading seeds (the gospel) that he throws or rains down if you will, on the soil – the land. Same picture as in Hebrews 6. In this parable, the good soil receives the gospel and indeed bears fruit and yields a crop. That is obviously the mature in Heb 6. But Jesus says there will be those who hear the word and immediately receive it with joy, 21 yet he have no root in themselves; they endure for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises they fall away. So here is the spiritually immature. The gospel comes down, they joyfully receive it; they start a journey with Christ. Maybe they join a church; maybe they start serving; maybe they attend or host bible studies; go on a mission trip, – experience community, see miracles – raise their hands in worship – as Hebrews 6 says – taste the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come. Maybe they do this for YEARS and YEARS. But what they never do is mature in Christ-like character; they do not bear the fruit of the spirit. And at some point a trial will come, something will happen – they have no root to hold them into place and they fall away; just as Jesus says they will and just as Hebrews 6 describes. I believe these passages show us that it is possible to have an experience with the Gospel; a tasting of Heavenly things – that falls short of true saving faith. And when these people fail to move to maturity, at some point (maybe years and years down the road) they fall away – and based on Heb 6 may find it impossible to come to repentance. But the mature in Christ, those who have been drunk in the gospel, producing Christ-like character, Gospel-fruit – they are saved, and I believe they are persevered by the Lord; there is no mention in this text of the mature falling away; not in the Heb 6 sense of being unable to come back to repentance.

I realize that passages like Hebrews 6 are not on the surface encouraging and hopeful; but, we do not always need encouraging – sometimes we need to be warned. When I was 19 years old, failing to move to Christ-like maturity; steeped in sinful immorality; uninterested in the Christ I claimed – I did not need someone to pat me on the back and say IT’S ALL OK. DON’T FEAR HEBREWS 6. I needed the Spirit of God to take Heb 6 & warn my soul with the fear of judgment to GO ON TO MATURITY. A good, loving Father encourages His children & warns His children; & today I am so grateful for the blessing of the fear of the Lord, which is the beginning of wisdom.

IF today you are immature in Christ, yet hearing His voice, then do not harden your heart. Run to Christ. Run to Him right now. Cling to Him. And even if you are the most mature Christian reading this article – Run to Christ, cling to Him and ask for more maturity.

What the Bible Teaches about Race and Ethnicity

Whose Line Is It Anyway?
What the Bible Teaches about Race and Ethnicity
by Immanuel Marsh

Many believe that the racial, ethnic, and cultural lines that divide us have biblical origins.
Three things have contributed this fallacy. One, people simply do not know what the Bible says. Two, people lack an understanding on what Scripture means and how it works. And three, Christians, or those claiming to be Christians, have used the Bible to justify misguided ideologies and misdeeds. This essay seeks to dispel some of these fallacies by examining what the Bible really teaches about race and ethnicity. The first three sections provide a biblical foundation. The remaining sections deal with specific charges against the Bible and Christianity.

The Inherent Value of Humanity

The creation account in Genesis attests to humanity’s value. The Bible begins with God creating order from chaos, vegetation and animal from void, and man from dust. Mankind is created in the image of the Trinity, given dominion over the rest of the created order, and animated by the very breath of God. Man was created good. The psalmist provides further evidence of humanity’s significance, describing mankind as being created “a little lower than the angels” and being bestowed with “glory and honor.” Along with God’s desire to create, we see his desire to bless. God blesses the man and woman. This blessing extended to all of humanity, not just the first couple. Then follows the command to “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it.” Any discussion of the biblical position on race and ethnicity has to begin here with the divine image, the divine blessing, and the divine command.

Sin: the Root of All Division

If God created mankind in his image, and blessed mankind, and everything God created was good, then why do we treat each other so poorly? The answer to this question also resides in Genesis. Adam and Eve’s disobedience thrust all of creation into a state of sin and death. Sin separated man from life, man from each other, and man from God. Outside of Eden, sin wreaked havoc on human relationships. Cain kills his brother Abel. Lamech kills a man for hitting him. Sin spreads until “the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” Sin incites the creatures commanded to subdue the earth to subdue one another. Racism, tribalism, jingoism, and the like, are products of human sin, and not a biblical mandate.

The Rise of Nations

Genesis presents two events instrumental in the fracturing of mankind into people groups: the proliferation of Noah’s sons after the flood, and the confusion at Babel. Genesis records the genealogies of Noah’s three sons after the flood. Japheth’s offspring spread (ד ַרָּפ) to Asia Minor (Turkey) and Europe. Ham’s descendants inhabited Canaan (Israel and Palestine), Egypt, other areas of Africa, Mesopotamia (Iraq), and the Arabian Peninsula. Within Ham’s genealogy we have the first mention of a kingdom, established by Nimrod, Ham’s grandson. We are also introduced to the Canaanites who disperse (וץּפ) to their settlements. Shem’s descendants settle in northern Mesopotamia, Syria, and Arabia. In his genealogy we are told that Peleg lived in a time when “the earth was divided (גַלָּפ).”

Each genealogy concludes with the formula “by their clans, their languages, their lands, and their nations,” further evidence of cultural, ethnic, and national demarcations being developed. The genealogies end with the phrase, “from these the nations spread abroad (ד ַרָּפ) on the earth after the flood,” forming an inclusion with v. 5. The rise of nations is due in part to God’s command to Noah and his family to “be fruitful and multiply.”

Genesis 11:1 describes a world in which “the whole earth had one language.” The
picture is that of a people united by language and location, two prominent cultural markers. God thwarts the peoples’ sinful ambitions by interfering with those two markers. He confuses their language; and he disperses “them from there over the face of all the earth.” Essentially, a people (one language and locale) became peoples (many languages and many locales). The rise of nations is partly due to man’s sinful nature. So we see that people groups resulted from both God’s blessing and God’s judgment. Many people believe that the Bible teaches racial separation, or at least promotes it. This simply is not the case. The rest of this essay examines several prominent fallacies concerning what the Bible teaches about race and ethnicity.

Fallacy #1: The Bible Teaches Racial Superiority

Israel’s status as God’s chosen people has given many the impression that the Bible approves of racial superiority. While it is true that God chose Israel, this is only part of the story. God’s covenant promises to Abraham were for the benefit of “all the families of the earth.” God’s election of Israel does not represent a rejection of other nations; rather it is a means for the redemption of all nations. The Bible does not paint Israel as a superior nation. In fact, Scripture highlights Israel’s insignificance among the nations. Deuteronomy states that Israel was not chosen because it was a great nation, or because it was particularly righteous. Other nations were “more numerous and mightier.” God’s love and faithfulness alone secured Israel’s election. Israel is not a special nation; it is a nation that receives special grace.

For some, Israel’s brutal conquest of Canaan represents ethnic cleansing. A few things
must be understood to view these events correctly. First, the conquest of Canaan was an act of divine judgment against the wickedness of the inhabitants. Furthermore, these nations had over four hundred years to turn from their iniquity. It should also be noted that this was a unique judgment, carried out by a unique nation (a true theocracy), at a unique time. The Bible does not present it as a model. Second, Israel was not exempt from judgment. The potential existed for them to suffer the same fate as the Canaanites. They too could be “vomited” from the land and “devoted for destruction.” Third, deliverance was possible through allegiance to Yahweh, judging by the accounts of Rahab and the Gibeonites. The conquest of Canaan was not about the race of the inhabitants; it was about the righteousness of God.

Fallacy #2: The Bible Promotes Racial Segregation

Some charge that the Bible condones the separation of the races. They see Israel as a segregationist nation, hostile to foreigners. This belief appears to have merit. However, a careful examination provides evidence to the contrary. The truth is the Israel was never a homogeneous nation. When Israel was freed from Egyptian bondage, the Bible says that they left as a “mixed multitude,” meaning more than just the descendants of Jacob were represented. They lived in harmony among the Israelites. The Mosaic Law even contained instructions on how to treat the foreigners who lived among them. Israel was forbidden to “wrong” or “oppress” the foreigner. Not only was Israel instructed not to oppress foreigners, they were also told to love the foreigner because God himself loved them. Solomon even envisioned the temple as a place where foreigners would come to worship.

There are nations which the Mosaic Law specifically barred from the assembly of the
Lord, namely the Ammonites and Moabites. The exclusion of these nations was twofold. First, these nations were the product of an incestuous relationship between Lot and his daughters. Second, the Moabites had not treated Israel well after leaving Egypt. So the status of these nations had to do with behavior, not ethnicity. Even so, there were people like Ruth, a Moabite, and Rahab, a Canaanite, who displayed belief and trust in the living God. They became instrumental in Israel’s history, both being named in the genealogy of Christ. An oft-cited example of Israel’s segregationist tendencies is the Mosaic Law’s ban on intermarriage with other nations. The prohibition appears to validate this charge. But the truth is the commandment was intended to prevent the worship of foreign gods. Idolatry was strictly forbidden under the law, and had dire consequences. During the lawless time of the judges, Israel’s intermarriage among the Canaanite tribes caused them to “forgot the LORD their God and served the Baals and the Asheroth.” King Solomon began as a devout servant of Yahweh, but his love of foreign women eventually eroded that devotion. In his old age “his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the LORD his God.” Solomon begin to worship the gods and goddesses of the Sidonians, the Ammonites, and the Moabites. The very man who built the temple of the living God built high places to the abominable gods of his foreign wives. Nehemiah uses Solomon’s exploits as a cautionary tale when Israel’s intermarriage in his day caused them to forget the Sabbath, an observance they were specifically told to remember.

In the New Testament, Paul’s admonition for Christians, “Do not be unequally yoked
with unbelievers,” carries a similar sentiment, although not expressly dealing with marriage. Paul explains this partnership would be just as irrational as the antithetical relationships of righteousness with lawlessness, light with darkness, Christ with Satan, and idols in the temple of the living God. Just as in the Old Testament, race is not an influential factor. The ban on intermarriage was a matter of religious purity, not racial purity.

Fallacy #3: The Bible Endorses Racial Subjugation

Perhaps the most heinous perversion of Scripture relates to the issue of slavery. The belief that the Bible advocates racial slavery arises from two interpretive issue. The first issue involves the “Mark of Cain.” The earlier description of Cain’s countenance, “and his face fell,” was translated as “and his face became sad” in the Syriac language. The Syriac word for “sad” is related to the word for “black.” Thus Cain’s mark become associated with blackness. It must be noted that Cain’s mark was given to preserve his life. It was an act of God’s grace.

The association of blackness with slavery arose from a tradition that erroneously saw Ham as black. Noah’s curse of his grandson Canaan (Ham’s son) to be a “servant of servants” became the “curse of Ham;” thus linking blackness with slavery. Since some of Ham’s descendants settled in Africa, the black Africans were seen as a cursed people. This amalgamation of unfortunate interpretations was used to justify slavery for centuries.

The references to slavery in the Pentateuch cause many to think that the Bible endorses slavery. Several things must be understood about slavery in the Bible. One, slavery in the ancient world was not akin to North American slavery. Slavery in the Bible was not based on race. Slavery in the ancient world was primarily the result of indebtedness or being conquered by another nation. In fact, the Bible forbids what would be analogous to modern slavery. For example, kidnapping a person (referred to as man-stealing) and selling him was forbidden under the Mosaic Law, and punishable by death. Also, the Law required slaves to be treated well; mistreatment of slaves had consequences. For instance, killing a slave resulted in death. Gouging out a slave’s eye or knocking out his teeth resulted in the slave’s freedom. The New Testament also decries slavery of the modern variety, listing “enslavers” in a vice list. Some consider Paul’s desire for Onesimus, a runaway slave, to return to his master, Philemon, detestable. But they miss the point that he calls for Philemon to receive Onesimus as a “beloved brother” in Christ, not as a slave. Slavery in the Bible, especially as it related to the people of God, was the result of economic factors, not ethnicity.

Conclusion: Unity, Diversity, and Division

To say that there are no divisions between people groups in the Bible would be untrue. In fact, the Bible very early on makes a distinction between two groups of people. Genesis 4:26 tells us that at the time of Seth’s son, Enosh, “people began to call upon the name of the LORD.” The prophet Joel says that in the coming day of the Lord, “that everyone who calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.”Paul affirms this by saying no distinction exists between Jew and Greek “for the same Lord is Lord of all…for everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” There is a line drawn between those who are holy unto God, and those who are hostile toward him. This is the only division than can be thought of as truly biblical. All other partitions are the result of being conformed to the sin-stained pattern of this world.

In the New Testament, we see the Gentiles formally grafted into God’s covenant people
through Christ. We see people of diverse backgrounds and cultures become followers of Christ: the Roman centurion, the Samaritan woman, the Ethiopian eunuch, Lydia from Thyatira. Paul’s epistles often concern themselves with preserving Christian unity in the midst of cultural differences. In Christ, Jews, Gentiles, men, women, slaves, free men, Scythians, and barbarians come together to worship the triune God. The kingdom of God is marked by diversity and unity; all nations and ethnicities are welcomed. The scene in Revelation 5:9 depicts a throng ransomed by Christ “from every tribe and language and people and nation.” Believers are baptized by one Spirit into one body, and worship one Lord, and one God. This is the unity the Scripture foreshadows in the Old Testament and fulfills in the New Testament. But this unity is not at the expense of diversity. Notice how the Revelation verse still mentions those factors we divide over. Why does the verse not erase those ethnic and geographical markers? It is because Christ does not remove our ethnicity – he redeems it.

 

Remedy for Rejection – pt2

This article was penned by Chase Thompson, elder at Agape Fellowship. The corresponding sermon can be found on this site under Messages / Singles / Rejection (July 6, 2014). Be sure to read the first part of the article, posted earlier.

rejection2Jesus’ Remedy for Rejection

Luke 18 “9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous,and treated others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a (THE) sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

The Pharisee and tax collector were BOTH looking for acceptance!  The Pharisee thought he had acceptance, because he was respected and accepted by men. The tax collector thought he was rejected, and was so eaten up by those feelings of rejection, that he couldn’t even look up to heaven. The Pharisee thanked God for a blessing he didn’t have, and the tax collector assumed he was rejected, because he was rejected by people.  HOWEVER – the tax collector was justified by God and therefore, he was ACCEPTED!! (As we will see shortly…justification is the ultimate acceptance and the great nullifier of rejection!)

The Marks of the Pharisee – he relies on what he has done, and how people view him. He fasts…he gives. He’s not like the pagan. He doesn’t do “bad things” and, although that gives him some level of temporary comfort, note that he is ultimately rejected by God. He is unjustified and unaccepted. EVEN THOUGH HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS WAS INDEED GREAT. Jesus gives no indication that his self assessment was wrong, that this particular pharisee was a hypocrite. On the surface, it appears that he was a good man in regards to his “good” works… He just wasn’t good enough. Note that he is praying by himself – away from the congregation. Withdrawn. Superior.

There are at least three major parables of Jesus where the one the Jews would have expected to be accepted by God would be rejected, and the one whom the Jews would have assumed to be far from God would be accepted.  The Tax collector and Pharisee. The Elder brother and the prodigal brother. The Rich man and Lazarus. All of those parables feature characters that the Jews would have thought would have been embraced by God: A rich successful man…a dutiful elder brother and heir, and a righteous preacher/pharisee. The Jews would have looked up to those men, but in fact, it was the younger brother (who had sinned so zealously) that was accepted by God. It was the poor, boil infected, Lazarus that spends eternity in Heaven and it was the traitor to his people tax collector that is justified by God. What a plot twist!!  

Scripture abounds with other examples as well: The tax collector and traitor Zacchaeus. The demon possessed and unclean Mary Magdalene. The rejected sinner Mary of Bethany – possibly a prostitute? The pagan Syro-Phoenician woman with the daughter in deadly peril. The children pushed away by the disciples. Over and over again, the story of the New Testament is the story of rejected people being called to repent and embraced by Jesus and the Father.

We see here in Luke 18 that a hated and vilified tax collector is justified and accepted by God while a respected and seemingly righteous Pharisee is ultimately rejected and unjustified by God. How is the possible? How can you trade in your rejection for acceptance? The answer is, ultimately, the Good News of Jesus…or, The Gospel.

The Good News of Jesus (The Gospel!)

If you are accepted by the Father – it doesn’t matter who rejects you. If you are rejected by the Father (and don’t dare think that He doesn’t reject…if the Bible is true – and it is – He will reject all who are not in Christ!), then it doesn’t matter who accepts you – you are ultimately rejected. In Galatians 2:15, Paul the apostle uses an incredibly powerful word – justification – to talk about ULTIMATE acceptance. We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16 yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.

Justification is the ULTIMATE acceptance – it is the ultimate NULLIFICATION of rejection. Justification is better than acceptance.  Acceptance merely means, “you can come into the party” Justification means, “you can be the KING of the party.” Justification means you’re not just allowed through God’s door – you’re the honored guest! You’re not just allowed to come inside, stand in the corner and see what the cool kids do – you ARE the cool kid. You’re the king of the prom, the queen of the prom – when you are justified by the sacrifice of Jesus.

BUT that justification doesn’t come through your activity or what you’ve done – it comes through grace by faith. Often those who struggle so much with rejection in general are those who are relying on themselves and are disappointed in themselves but are not looking to Jesus to be saved and approved. Rejection comes when you look to yourself to save yourself. (Do better, be cooler, look more attractive, lose weight, be funnier, etc) Acceptance and justification comes when you look to Jesus in faith!! It’s not your effort. It’s not like Jeff Kemp’s coach. He loved Kemp when he played well and rejected him when he didn’t.   We understand that – we understand acceptance THAT WAY. But the deeper acceptance is the justification by Jesus based on faith.

C.S. Lewis is one of my favorite writers. He has such a gift for words and weaving stories together. I find that much of his fiction is as impactful and as full of truth as his notable non-fiction works. There is a scene in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, where Lewis does a beautiful job of describing the Good News of Jesus and the power of the death of Jesus to OVERCOME rejection. If you aren’t familiar with the books, know that Aslan is a lion (who correlates to Jesus) and He has just given His life for Edmund, a boy with little character and little to recommend himself to anybody. Susan and Lucy, as followers of Aslan, are dejected that the evil White Witch has managed to sacrifice Aslan on the stone table. Here’s what happens next:

Susan and Lucy had just witnessed the horrific death of Aslan, and were now said to be “walking aimlessly,” unsure of how to proceed. At that moment they heard from behind them a loud noise — a great cracking, deafening noise as if a giant had broken a giant’s plate…. The Stone Table was broken into two pieces by a great crack that ran down it from end to end; and there was no Aslan.

“Who’s done it?” cried Susan. “What does it mean? Is it more magic?”

“Yes!” said a great voice from behind their backs. “It is more magic.” They looked round. There, shining in the sunrise, larger than they had seen him before, shaking his mane (for it had apparently grown again) stood Aslan himself.

“Oh, Aslan!” cried both the children, staring up at him, almost as much frightened as they were glad….

“But what does it all mean?” asked Susan when they were somewhat calmer.

“It means,” said Aslan, “that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backward.”

Similarly, when Jesus died on the cross for the sins of the world, it caused death and rejection to begin working backwards, and provided for salvation for all “traitors” who had sinned against a holy God. Jesus’ death and resurrection paid for our sins and paved the way for what Paul calls justification in Galatians 2. Justification means that Jesus PAID THE PRICE for our sins and PAID THE PRICE so that we could be as accepted by the Father as Jesus is accepted by the Father. This means that those who repent and turn to Jesus in faith are just as accepted and just as justified as Jesus Himself is. Not by works (so that nobody can brag about it…) but by grace through faith.

Once again I write: If you are accepted (justified) by the sacrifice of Jesus – it doesn’t matter WHO rejects you – even if all of the world does…the acceptance and justification of Jesus NULLIFIES EVERY OTHER REJECTION!! Likewise – if you are NOT justified/accepted via the sacrifice of Jesus – then it doesn’t matter if you are the most popular person in your school…if you have the most followers on Twitter….the most friends in all of the world – if you aren’t accepted by God through Jesus…then you are ultimately rejected!

How do we respond to this? More specifically How do we cast off rejection and walk in peace and acceptance? I’ll close very briefly with two ways to ultimately REJECT rejection!

1. LOOK to Jesus in faith, repent and believe the good news!  If you have faith in Jesus alone for your salvation, and are following Him…then you are justified. Not by works but by faith. The tax collector perhaps didn’t realize that he was justified, but he was. The Pharisee FELT like he was accepted by God, but he was far from it.  Feelings aren’t as important here as faith. Sometimes you will FEEL rejected. The ultimate reality, however, is that you are ACCEPTED and justified if you are in Christ! Want to drive this truth deeper into your heart and life? Meditate on Galatians 2 and Romans 3:20-25. Hide God’s Word deep into your heart!

2. Radically change the posture of your life so that you ACCEPT others in an obvious and tangible and deep way. Resolve to NEVER be an agent of rejection, so far as it depends on you. INCLUDE both the lovely and unloveable, knowing that Christ your savior gave His life on the cross for those who were still in sin. You cannot be BEST FRIENDS with everybody. (and don’t expect everybody to be your best friend!) But you can LOVE, SERVE, and ACCEPT everybody!! Remember Paul’s words in Romans 15:7 “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God”

Rejection is BOTH a spiritual problem AND a practical problem. Find your ultimate HOPE and ACCEPTANCE in Jesus, and, by loving and accepting other people, HELP them find their ultimate hope and acceptance in the Gospel of Jesus also.   

 

Remedy for Rejection – pt1

This article was penned by Chase Thompson, elder at Agape Fellowship. The corresponding sermon can be found on this site under Messages / Singles / Rejection (July 6, 2014)

rejectionLiterally everybody has struggled with rejection at one time or another. From supermodels, to frumpy moms…from quarterbacks to nerds…everybody has tasted the bitter bile of rejection. I still remember the day in high school when, after being goaded by my parents for a month to ask a particular girl out, I finally relented and walked into the drugstore where she was working. I had a good wingman with me, and was confident in my chances of success. First, because my parents (who were friends with her parents) had told me that she was interested and, second because, at that tender age, I had never been turned down by a girl. (Not because I was a Romeo…but because I was careful to ask out only girls that I knew would say yes…)  

Anyway, five minutes after walking into the drugstore, I walked out with a confused look on my face, and a hole in my heart. She had shot me down! I had been rejected. I still remember how bad that hurt…and how bad it hurt when my first serious girlfriend broke up with me to go out with another guy…and how bad it hurt when I had unrequited love for my third grade sweetheart. Rejection stinks, and keep in mind that I am only writing about my own rejection stories that are easy to share and not too embarrassing. I’m keeping the REALLY painful ones to myself.  

Rejection happens to all of us – the best and the worst of us. That rejection is a universal experience among humans, however, doesn’t make it any easier to bear….just know that you are not alone – and read on! Here’s one example: Jeff Kemp was the quarterback of the Seattle Seahawks in 1988. From his autobiography, he writes about one particularly stinging incidence of rejection:

“Coming out of the pregame meal, one of the offensive coaches put his arm around me and strongly affirmed his faith in me. “I want you to know how happy I am that you are the Seahawk quarterback. I’ve been waiting for this day.” On the day of the game, Kemp started out hot, but a pass that all-pro wide receiver Steve Largent dropped caused Kemp to lose confidence and it led to him having a terrible first half performance that all of the Seahawks fans lustily booed leading into halftime.

I waded through the players to find the coach who had been so supportive before the game. I wanted to discuss some offensive strategies that might turn things around in the second half. As I approached him and began, “Coach—” he turned his back on me without a word. Then he called to another quarterback, put his arm around him, and began to discuss plays he would run in the second half.

Now, I understood that I was being taken out of the game. That made sense. I was hoping it wouldn’t happen, but I understood. But that coach didn’t say one word to me for the rest of the game, even though we stood next to each other on the sidelines. Nor did he say anything on Monday when we watched the game films. For about a month, there was complete rejection. He simply couldn’t deal with the fact that I hadn’t lived up to his hopes, that I hadn’t helped the team succeed. He rejected me relationally because my performance fell short.

Can you relate to that? I think we all can! We have all come up short in our performance in one way or the other, and have seen people, whom we thought liked us a lot, turn their backs on us or at least shake their heads in disappointment.

I like quotes a lot, and I stumbled upon one this week that surprised me. This one is from a prayer by pastor Walter Marshall, “May God bless my discovery of the powerful means of holiness so much as to save some from killing themselves.” What a strange prayer that is…until you hear the back-story.

That was a prayer at the beginning of a message, and a very odd one. Pastor Marshall had been faithfully teaching the Bible, but many of the people in his church were so struck with feelings of rejection and inability to please God or each other…that suicide and self mutilation were rampant! He was praying that his message would lead to people stopping the practice of harming themselves, and even save some from killing themselves.

Pastor Marshall well understood their feelings, as He too had been despairing until he had finally understood the remedy for the constant rejection and separation from God that he felt. I’m writing about that remedy today, because rejection is still a tremendous issue among us.  I say still because Walter Marshall pastored in the 1600s. Yes – they dealt with suicide and self harm/cutting and such even back then. Rejection is prevalent, timeless, universal and deadly painful.

Rejection is so painful perhaps because we are wired to deeply need approval. On Instagram –  people sometimes comment, “spam for spam,” In other words, “like my pictures, and I will like all of yours.” We relish “likes” on FB, and followers on Twitter.   We SO want approval.

Where did this longing for approval come from? We can trace it back thousands of years – all the way back to the Garden of Eden…where a man and a woman lived that were so assured of the approval of God that they were naked and unashamed and living in freedom.

When we, as humans, were absolutely certain of God’s approval – we lived in ultimate freedom – no clothing – no airs. We can’t do that now! Once humanity lost assurance of the approval of God (after Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit…) they covered up and hid. They put on clothes AND fled from the presence of God.   Prior to the fall, Adam and Eve knew and walked in a deep confidence of the approval of God, and it brought deep and radical freedom.   After the Fall,  a return to that level of freedom is not yet available – keep your clothes on! – but a STUNNINGLY deep level of joy and peace is available to those who are justified by faith in Jesus and are deeply permeated by that truth. 

Rejection and the Spirit of Rejection. How to know if this is a big issue for you?

We have all tasted rejection – but some people struggle daily and nightly with rejection in a deeper way than many others. Why do some struggle so much in this area? Is it because of past abuse? Insecurity? Is it a spiritual attack? Or, perhaps, are some people just that much more of a magnet for rejection than others? Read on to find out how to know if rejection is a giant issue in your life. (Note: it is a significant issue in everybody’s life)

Signs you struggle with rejection more than most:

1. A regular, nagging feeling that you don’t belong – that other people fit in much better than you do, and that you are always on the outside. “Other people always get together and hang out…but I always feel left out.”

2. Regular and disabling feelings of unworthiness and lack of value.  “I guess that I’m just not important enough to people for them to call me.”

3. Being quick to take offense for yourself or a family member. “Why doesn’t my son or daughter get invited over to other people’s houses? Why are the other children better liked than my children?” 

4. Feeling that no matter what you do, it’s not good enough.  “I’ve tried so hard to be a friend to other people, but they just aren’t returning the favor. Why won’t anybody be MY friend?” 

5. Friend hopping – skipping around to different friends and confidants, moving around to different churches/groups of people a lot. “This particular group of people doesn’t like me and will never like me. We need to leave and go elsewhere so that I can find that group of friends who will truly embrace me and make me feel at home.”

6. Having a tendency to take things that happen and words that are spoken as particularly negative. “His/her words were pointed at me, and were intended to hurt me.”

7. Having a tendency to get your feelings hurt by words or an event, but not speaking about it, or masking your real feelings. “I feel left out…but they will never know how hurt I am!”

8. Having difficulty recognizing when others reach out to you in loving or friendly ways. OVER-Emphasizing when people hurt you or don’t include you and forgetting the times when people have encouraged you and included you. “My friends don’t care at all about me…all they do is leave me out and hurt me.”

If the above are your common thoughts and feelings then it is possible that you might have a significant issue with rejection. It is possible that you are truly rejected more than others OR it is actually more likely that you are OVER-focusing on negative things and UNDER-focusing on positive things, which is COMPLETELY distorting your ability to perceive and receive love and warm friendship.

Is there a Spirit of Rejection?

I have heard pastors and church leaders speak of a specific “Spirit of Rejection.” With the implication that some people struggle so much with rejection because they are actively targeted by a demon or malevolent spirit that seeks to feed and breed feelings of rejection in that person. Is such a thing possible – or is it outlandish? Is rejection more of an emotional/psychological issue or a spiritual issue?  I believe the answer can well be BOTH! What does the Bible say about a “Spirit of Rejection?”

The Bible speaks of spirits of sleep/slumber/stupor, evil spirits, unclean spirits, spirits of heaviness, spirits of foolishness, spirits of prostitution, lying spirits, elemental spirits, deceitful spirits, demonic spirits, and more…  1 Cor 12:10 speaks of a spiritual gift of distinguishing between spirits (!) Quite clearly, the inspired Word of God seems to indicate that there are active spirits, with specific characteristics, that work evil against God’s people. Are these spirits actually demons or a different being altogether? That question is an interesting one, but is beyond the scope of this project.

Are these spirits personal, or simply feelings, thoughts, etc? In other words, when the Bible speaks of various spirits, is the Bible actually euphemistically referring to what we would call psychological issues today? 2nd Chronicles 18:21 AND 1 Kings 22:22 both speak of a personified, real,active and living deceiving spirit who had the ability to communicate and develop cunning plans. Other Scriptural passages seem to confirm that these evil spirits do indeed have a personality and intelligence. 

Now – what about a specific “Spirit of Rejection?”  I note quite clearly that the Bible does NOT specifically list a Spirit of Rejection, but Paul writes to Timothy a very interesting warning that many biblical Christians do not take seriously in this modern age. 1 Timothy 4:1 Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons. Here Paul is very strenuously warning Timothy that a day will come when those in the church will be drawn away by the demonic false teachers AND will be devoted to deceitful spirits. I believe that one of the ways those deceitful spirits draw people away from faith is via the avenue of rejection. Put more specifically, you can’t make a biblical case for there being a specific “Spirit of Rejection,” but you can clearly make the case that there are deceitful spirits who lead people astray in the church. One of their primary tools, especially in this day and age, is the tool of rejection.

If I had to speculate – I believe that these “deceitful spirits” work on stirring up lies to separate believers and assault unity in the church. Whereas Jesus prayed in John 17 that His followers would be brought to “complete unity,” so that the world would know that God the Father sent His son…deceitful spirits endeavor to stir up lies to SEPARATE believers and DAMPEN the gospel through disunity. As Paul notes in Ephesians 6:12, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” I propose that one of the clearest and most painful ways that we wrestle against spiritual forces of evil is in the context of rejection! And therefore, I conclude that it is likely that there are spiritual enemies opposed to us that seek to attack Christians with overwhelming despair and rejection. While there may not be a specific “Spirit of Rejection.” it is quite clear that the Bible warns us about deceitful spirits, and I believe these deceitful spirits can and do constantly assault Christians with lies and attacks designed to make them feel so rejected as to withdraw from fellowship!

Be sure to check out Part 2 of this article.

The Church: Navigating Diversity

Minolta DSCTwo weeks ago I wrote to argue that the word of God compels the local church to seek to be diverse. When the surrounding community is able to see an uncommon group of people in deep fellowship, serving together in love & unity – it speaks to a greater reality than human engineering. While our flesh often leads us to relationships with people who best suit our personality and preferences, our good Father leads us to relationships with ALL people, regardless of exterior traits. Jesus is most glorified when He is seen as the common bond among an uncommon group; And when the local church is a beautiful picture of diversity, it is best reflecting the eternal picture of the church to come (Revelation 7).

This week we are speaking about how to navigate diversity. I think it is important for me to say first that I am not calling for diversity on issues that the bible clearly gives us a stance. In those cases, we must simply obey. Secondly, I am not just thinking of race, which is where a lot of our minds may go. Racial diversity is certainly a key component for us to best reflect the eternal church. But I am also thinking about diversity in backgrounds, economic classes, personalities, preferences and ages. Any of these issues can be used as a dividing line in a church, the exact opposite of what we are calling for in this article. A church that is building diversity must learn how to embrace and celebrate their differences. And this is often a hard task, choppy waters, at least at the outset. So how do we navigate diversity? Let’s consider a few scriptural principles in contemplation. We will not unpack these very much, but pray that the Spirit will teach us about each one:

First, let us desire to glorify God in obedience to His will more than we desire to be comfortable. Diversity is hard and we often find it much more comfortable to be around others like us. But God has appointed His church to exist in a certain form, which Paul argues is like a body with equal, yet different parts. The body – in order to function – needs the unique parts to operate in unison. The body of Christ – likewise – is designed by the Father to have no divisions, and for each unique part to compliment the others, so the whole body functions as He has chosen. (Please read 1 Cor 12:14-26)

Second, let us remember that God intends for us to learn from one another. Scripture calls for the church to be made up of people willingly ‘submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ‘. Mutual submission should lead us to gentle interactions even on points of disagreement. Living together in the wisdom of the Father, we will see that every person has something to teach us. We do not have everything figured out, and the possibility exists that someone else’s way is equally as valid as ours. Unique preferences and views on life do not have to be points of argument. The beauty of a garden in bloom is intensified with a variety of colors. (Please read Ephesians 5:15-21)

Finally, let us be willing to remain in relationship with each other, in loving toleration. How quickly could diversity be built (and how many church splits could be avoided) if we simply listened and obeyed scripture?  May God’s word, wash over our souls: ‘Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another,forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive‘ (Colossians 3:12-13).

Grace and Peace

David

 

The Church: Intentional in Diversity

country churchWhat should the church look like? Of course, I do not mean the building where you worship and in this instance I am not focusing on polity (the way we do church).  Rather, for today the question is more of a second commandment meditation – the way we relate to one another. Who should we seek out to make up our local church? To what backgrounds, ages, races, classes, and sociocultural groups should we focus our outreach efforts? I believe the word of God compels us to this answer: Be Diverse. Yes, I think a local fellowship should seek to reach the people in their community, and I would be shocked if that group alone is not ripe with diversity on many levels. But I, perhaps somewhat controversially, would maintain that a church should SEEK to be diverse, as an intentional part of their outreach efforts.

If I may paint with a broad brush, I believe many churches have fallen into a bit of a pit when attempting to answer this question. For the most part, people tend to make intentional relationship choices based on their personal preferences. We all have our own ideas and views on the world; along with our own way of doing life. In general, we gravitate toward people who share at least some of our main inclinations. We find it easier, if not more enjoyable, to be around like-minded individuals. The reasons for this, I think, are both practical and spiritual. My dad loved motorcycles. Riding and working on bikes took up a huge portion of his free time. So, very practically, most of his friends came from circles of people who shared his interest. Those were just the people he was around the most; the ones he met at the bike shop and those he could take weekend rides with. So, very practical. But, I also think this can be spiritual. We tend to elevate our preferences to an idolatrous level. Because we think so highly of our views, our person and our way of doing things, we consequently run with those who ‘get it’ like we do; people who are most like us. And conversely we steer clear from – even vilify – those who are different. What is the pit I think the church has fallen into? Rather than work against this paradigm, I think the church often attempts to take advantage of it in order to grow. After all, people will come to where they are most comfortable, correct? So the church works to make it easy. We separate the body of Christ into small groups, worship services and events – all based on preferences. We seek to be labeled as young or old, contemporary or traditional, family, liturgical, free-spirit, black or white, home-school or public-school, liberal or conservative – the list could go on and on. Rather than work against the dynamic, the church is tempted to use it as a strategy for numeric increase.

When it comes to our local fellowships, I do think there is a higher, better foundation than preference. And while this way represents something that is harder and perhaps creates growth at a slower rate – I believe it is the Jesus way. The very team Jesus put together when he walked among us shows this. He chose the small group of guys who would run with him, spend time with him, learn from him and then go change the world when He returned to the Father. Jesus’ team was quite a picture of diversity. These men differed vastly from their professions, to their upbringings, their political views, and their personalities. This is NOT a group that would have ran together on their own. BUT among this uncommon group was a common bond: Jesus. And it is that same diversity that will encircle the throne one day, and bring all glory to Him:

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” (Revelation 7)

My call for us to intentionally seek diversity in our fellowships is so that we reflect the intentional way Jesus is building His church. Man-centered development is fueled by taking advantage of our internal desire to elevate our preferences and be around people who share them. The Jesus way, I believe, is to intentionally seek out those who are different, join with them in fellowship and mission, and allow Him to be our common bond. This will not come easy and it will require that we are obedient to his commands on how we relate to one another; on how we treat one another. More on that next week, Lord willing…

Grace and Peace

David