The Spiritual Battle

Lessons at South Boone: The Spiritual Battle We are involved in battle every day. This battle, however, is not one over resources, freedoms, representation, or any of the other numerous reasons people may wage war in this life. It’s not a battle where artillery, drones, body armor, or any other physical means of offense or […]

“Liberal” Is Not a Bad Word

credit to npr.org
credit to npr.org

What do you think about when you hear the word liberal? I was raised to equate the word with all sorts of negative qualities, and I imagine many of you were too. It was a word that denoted an enemy of truth: “His views are too liberal.” It was a word to discredit political enemies: “Don’t vote for that liberal candidate.” It was a word to identify those congregations: “We can’t visit there. That’s a liberal church of Christ.”

When we use the word liberal, we create all sorts of negative imagery fostered by the past twenty or so years of political culture wars. But this post is not about politics or political philosophy. It is not about sound doctrine or church institutionalization. It’s not about church daycare or charities. It’s about individual Christians being liberal the way God is liberal.

Take a look at a portion of the Sabbath law in Deuteronomy 15:12-15 (NKJV):

If your brother, a Hebrew man, or a Hebrew woman, is sold to you and serves you six years, then in the seventh year you shall let him go free from you. And when you send him away free from you, you shall not let him go away empty-handed; you shall supply him liberally from your flock, from your threshing floor, and from your winepress. From what the LORD has blessed you with, you shall give to him. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God redeemed you; therefore I command you this thing today.

Under the Law of Moses, if I owed you a huge debt, I could indenture myself to you as payment. Then, every Sabbath year, those who owned these indentured servants were to let them go free, but it didn’t stop there. The masters were to liberally supply their former servants from their own blessings. The servants in no way earned this favor; their service was paying off a past debt. Instead, this was supposed to remind both servant and master of God’s blessings to His people. As God was generous to His servants, so His people should be generous too.

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.

– James 1:2-5 (NKJV)

God is liberal with His gifts for us today as well. Not just in the knowledge of His word, but God is liberal in grace, in forgiveness, and in goodness. All good things are from Him, and He pours His grace and forgiveness on us when we cannot earn it or deserve it (see Romans 5). Like the servant in Deuteronomy, we are undeserving of the gifts He bestows upon us. We have a debt of sin we cannot possibly pay, but God liberally grants us grace and redemption in His Son. We should, therefore, be as liberal with our own gifts.

This means we forgive when we don’t feel the other party deserves it. This means we show kindness and goodness to all around us. This means we assume the best when someone is at their worst, and it means we give of our time and resources to benefit others. The first and easiest way we can practice God’s grace is to give — to individuals, to families, to churches, to charitable causes. We can give our money. We can donate food, books, clothes, and other blessings. We can donate our time. If we cannot liberally give of our physical blessings, how will we ever share our spiritual ones?

I’m a conservative Christian, and I seek to conservatively practice the faith brought by Jesus and practiced by His disciples, but we cannot allow conservatism to become a stumbling block. While we seek to conservatively preserve God’s way and prevent worldly influences from corrupting the gospel of hope, let’s also take note of the ways we should be liberal — in our giving, in forgiveness, with grace, with goodness.

Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; m he who teaches, in teaching; he who exhorts, in exhortation; o he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.

Romans 12:6-8 (NKJV)

Freedom We All Hold Dear

In 1942, the population of the United States was still reeling from the infamous attack on Pearl Harbor in December of 1941 that led to our country becoming more active in World War II. In 1942, the Wannsee Conference in Berlin concluded to pursue a “final solution” to the perceived “Jewish question.” In 1942, the war that had already been ravaging much of Europe suddenly seemed much closer to home. Schools practiced bomb drills. The idea of an air raid became reality. Gasoline rationing began in the United States. And, in the midst of all of this, a composer by the name of Robert Emmett Winsett published the well-known hymn “Jesus Is Coming Soon.”

I’m not personally fond of the song being used in worship because of its strong pre-millennial overtones in verse two:

Love of so many cold, losing their homes of gold,

This in God’s word is told, evil’s abound.

When these signs come to pass, nearing the end at last,

It will come very fast, trumpets will sound.

In fact, I suspect (though cannot conform it) that Winsett was one of many Christians who believed that World War II was a sign of the end times, and that the war would only end with Christ’s return. This is one of those hymns that is strongly influenced by the culture in which it was written – much like you can pretty reliably spot songs written around the time of the Great Depression – and that cultural influence is evident from the first couple lines of the song.

Troublesome times are here, filling men’s hearts with fear,

Freedom we all hold dear, now is at stake…

Last time this song was led at our congregation, I found myself wondering what freedom the composer was writing about. Galatians 5:1 tells us to hold onto our spiritual freedom and to avoid the yoke of slavery, but, continuing through that passage, it’s clear that the slavery Paul has in mind is one that enslaves the heart and mind. It is a slavery that we can only enter if we willingly walk into it – either by binding unscriptural traditions to the gospel of Christ or by returning to slavery in sin. Along these same lines, Peter draws a contrast between those who are free and those who are slaves of corruption. Finally, Both Paul and Peter – in Galatians 5:13 and I Peter 2:16, respectively – warn us against using our freedom in Christ irresponsibly, causing others to stumble.

In all of this, there is no hint that external forces can come and rob this freedom in Christ from us. In fact, Paul asserts his confidence that nothing can separate us from God’s love (and, by association, the freedom found in Him) in Romans 8:37-39:

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The freedom we have in Christ can never be at stake unless we put it at risk ourselves, through our own rejection of His teachings. It seems, like many of us, that Mr. Winsett is making the error of placing the secular freedoms we take for granted on the same level with the spiritual freedom we have in Christ. We feel a deep attachment to our freedom of speech, to our right to protest, to our freedom of religion, to our fiscal freedoms, even (for some reason) to our right to carry tools of violence. We feel the rights granted to us by our Constitution and Bill of Rights are granted to us by God Himself, and we revere them as penitently as we do our freedom in Christ.

Our secular rights and freedoms are not unalienable in God’s eyes. We should be grateful that we have them, for, with them, our mission of seeking and saving the lost is far easier than if we were living in a more oppressive culture. We must remember, however, that losing those freedoms could never change our relationship with our God. Only we can do that. We must not idolize our freedoms, nor can we afford to re-enter spiritual slavery under the pretense of preserving or upholding those secular freedoms. While it is appropriate to be thankful for these freedoms, and we may even feel a need to celebrate those freedoms and the individuals who helped lay their foundation, we must remember that the only freedom we should truly hold dear is the freedom from sin found in Christ.

And that is a freedom no one can take away.

Losing Our Taste for Sin

Ever since we became parents, my wife and I have been trying to eat and live in a more healthy manner. We’ve cut most snacks and junk food from our diet. We’re more active with our daughter, and we’re eating much more home-cooked, unprocessed, and organic fare. It’s been a good change overall, but I’ve noticed something unexpected lately when I’ve let myself slip back into bad eating habits – I simply don’t like the stuff I used to eat.

It’s hard to eat healthy, at least it is when you first start. The junk is so much cheaper, so much more available, and, quite frankly, the junk is addictive. Unprocessed food lacks the sheer amount of sugar, salt, and other additive that make your body crave those french fries, that bag of chips, that Big Mac, or that breakfast cereal. It’s not addictive. Once you adapt, though, it’s rough going back.

Case in point: Our daughter was having a very rough Sunday morning recently and fell asleep on the way home from worship. We decided to take “the long way home,” but we were also hungry, so we stopped by a Wendy’s to grab a couple of sandwiches and drinks. Now, relatively speaking, there are far worse places to eat than Wendy’s, but that didn’t matter. We both felt pretty miserable the rest of the day. More than losing our taste for this type of food, our bodies simply rejected the junk.

The same needs to be true of our taste for sin. In I Corinthians 6:9, Paul begins to list some fo the sins filling the past of those Christians in Corinth, but he concludes verse 11 by writing:

But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

At one point, our souls subsisted upon spiritual junk food. We lived in sin, but, upon joining Christ in baptism, we made a promise to reject that past life. Paul goes on in this chapter in I Corinthians to draw a contrast between how we should conduct ourselves and how we may want to conduct ourselves. Starting in verse 12:

“All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be enslaved by anything. “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food” — and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.

Paul is arguing against the idea that these past sins may have been seen as permissible, even beneficial, by their society, but they are not how the spiritual man lives. See also how Paul speaks to the addictive nature of sin: “I will not be enslaved.” Just as additives and sweeteners in unhealthy food can enslave our cravings, so too can the fleeting pleasures of sin ensnare us.

In the end, it comes down to the habits we make for ourselves. My wife and I have reached a point where those unhealthy eating choices make us feel miserable. Sin should do the same for anyone walking in the word of Christ. If we can acclimate our bodies and our minds to spiritual living, those times we slip and fall will be distasteful to us. They will make us feel miserable. Such experiences should only drive us to stay away from sin all the more diligently. I can assure you that Wendy’s will no longer look as appetizing to my family. Likewise, sin should lose its appeal to a Christian.

Put simply, we have to lose our taste for sin. Only then can we avoid returning to it.

 

 

Esau’s Spiritual Struggles

In Jeremiah 49:8, Jehovah promises to bring the “calamity of Esau” upon Edom, and, a couple weeks ago, we looked at that calamity in Genesis 25 and the implication in Esau’s rejection of his birthright. In Genesis 25:23, the Lord calls these two children separate nations who would strive with each other, and we see that bear out in the lives of the peoples descended from these two. Likewise, in I Corinthians 3:1, Paul categorizes people as either spiritually minded or carnally minded; again, two opposites destined to strive with each other in eternal conflict, and the case can be made that Esau – and the nation that descends from him – typifies worldly thinking in his life.

The Legacy of Esau

First, we return to Genesis 25:29-34 where Esau forsakes his heritage, his inheritance, and his responsibilities as the firstborn for the sake of a meal. He is said to despise that birthright, with all of the rights, responsibilities, and promises attendant to that heritage. He knew the importance of this birthright, but he treats it as worthless because it could not satiate an immediate physical hunger.

Genesis 26:34 reveals this same Esau then marries into a Hittite family when choosing a wife. These were an idolatrous people who did not honor God, and verse 36 says this family makes life bitter for Isaac and Rebekeh. In chapter 28:8, when Esau sees his wife does not please his family, he seeks to rectify things by taking more wives – not because he was concerned for his spiritual health but because he hoped to please his parents.

II Chronicles 25:14-16 then records a king of Judah bowing down before the idols of Edom, those descendants of Esau. The precedent Esau had set down during his life set up a nation that did not know God, did not honor God, and bowed down before idols that were unable to deliver them. These same descendants, generations before in Numbers 20:14-21, despite Moses’ appeal to ancient family ties, refused passage to the children of Israel over the King’s Highway during their pilgrimage to Canaan. They set themselves against their brothers.

Edom’s Fate and Ours

Terrible judgment is proclaimed against Edom in Isaiah 34:6-7, from the greatest to the least, for their mistreatment of God’s people. They were founded in spiritual emptiness, and they persecuted those who sought to live in the spirituality of God. As their father was uninterested in God’s promises, so are his descendants invested too heavily in this world. From birthright to marriage, Esau invested in this world, and he set up a heritage without foundation in God’s promises.

Likewise, we can be spiritually dead. We can marry ourselves to the things of this world. We can reject our Father’s heritage for the temporary blessings here. It doesn’t have to be this way, though. We can accept our birthright; we can become heirs of Abraham as in Galatians 3:27-29. We can choose to be spiritually minded. We can invest in things above. We can choose redemption and walk the King’s Highway and create spiritual heritage that we can pass on to our children and grandchildren, passing on a spiritual birthright of our own.

So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.

For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, Abba! Father! The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

– Romans 8:12-17

lesson by Tim Smelser

 

Wish List

Tim Archer just posted a very self-reflective post on his blog about wish lists. I can’t think of a better way to open this post than with his words, so here they are:

Some web sites let you create wish lists, items that you would like to have from that site. I’m thinking in particular of Amazon.com, but I know there are others that do the same. They encourage you to publish these on your site so that friends and benefactors can know what to purchase for you.

He then proceeds to list some things in his life he knows he needs to work on, things he knows could use improvement in his own spiritual walk. Reading it made me feel spiritually reflective as well, and, instead of posting my reaction as a comment, I thought I’d make my own list here in hopes of encouraging you to engage in some self-reflection as well.

Here goes.

  1. Patience. Ecclesiastes 7:8 says, “Better is the end of a thing than its beginning, and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.” Often, when working with my brothers and sisters in Christ, I grow impatient that they are not as mature and level-headed as I obviously am.  I want things done succinctly and now, but the problem is that I may be willing to cause others to stumble in my desire to simply be done with something.
  2. Compartmentalizing. I’m pretty good at this when it comes to work and home. Where I stumble is in separating the physical from the spiritual. II Timothy 2:15 admonishes, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” Paul goes on to warn against vain arguments, which I let myself get pulled into at times because I allow my personal views on some things to interfere with my spirituality. I need to compartmentalize better, pulling the secular agendas from my spiritual walk.
  3. Prayer. I Thessalonians 5:17 simply states, “Pray without ceasing.” My prayer life is pretty abysmal. We often hear, in sermon illustrations, of those who only pray to God when in trouble. Those imaginary people make my prayer life look good. How successful can I be in pursuing a relationship with God when I refuse to talk to Him? Sure, I’ll listen, but I have a hard time reaching out. Perhaps this is merely a symptom of some skepticism I’ve never been able to eliminate from my faith.
  4. Initiative. This is the same as brother Tim’s fourth point of promptness. Proverbs 20:4 states, “The sluggard does not plow in the autumn; he will seek at harvest and have nothing.” I’m good at putting things off until too late; I’m good at getting a whole lot of nothing done quickly. I need to take better initiative in the things that are most important.

You don’t have to spend much on me; just, if you happen to have any surplus of these qualities laying around, could you throw some my way? In seriousness, though, I think it’s important to self-reflect upon the type of Christians we wish we were. The next step is the tough one. It’s wanting it badly enough to actually do something about it. What kind of Christian do you want to be? What qualities would populate your wish list? More importantly, what are you going to do about it?