Tuesday, June 28, 2016


A political election year gives rise to much debate regarding the present state and future of our country.  Given the vast array of contrary opinions on a host of matters, the climate of tension and uncertainty in our country is palpable.  People align themselves with various causes and work to vocalize their sentiments.  In an “end justifies the means” manner, political debate is generally accompanied by ugly tactics including insults, character assassination, and prediction of doom if the opposing side gets its way.  A cultural war is taking place in America and we, as believers, need to be careful how we engage in it.
The believer in Christ enjoys a dual citizenship, as a citizen of both Heaven and America (Philippians 3:21).  But the value and responsibilities associated with the one far outweigh the transitory benefits of the other.  My citizenship in Heaven is eternal.  My citizenship in this country is for as long as I’m here on earth, or until such time that America is no more.  Our country is a physical entity in which I enjoy certain freedoms and rights and a degree of earthly protection.  The Church is the blood-bought bride of Christ.  It is destined to eternal glory.  Its mandate since its inception has been to bear witness of Jesus (Acts 1:8).
Just before His ascension, Jesus had these parting words for His disciples: “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:8).  These parting words of our Lord represent the marching orders for His church.  But Jesus addressed the matter in terms associated with our limitations—the fulfillment of the mission is dependent on the empowerment of the Spirit.  Jesus had previously spoken of such things, “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness of Me, and you will bear witness also” (John 15:26-27).  The Spirit works to bear witness of Jesus and He bears witness through us.
Peter wonderfully illustrates the truth of this dynamic.  We read in the gospel accounts of Peter in his three-fold denial of His Lord (Luke 22:54-62).  He denied even knowing Jesus (Luke 22:57).  He denied Jesus to a slave-girl.  Before that, when Jesus was laboring in prayer, submitting Himself to the Father’s will (Matthew 26:39), Peter and the disciples were sleeping.  Jesus responded by saying, “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41).  The truth of Jesus’ words was borne out in Peter’s experience.  The flesh was indeed weak.  Jesus was arrested.  Cowardly Peter denied ever knowing His Lord.
But it is a different kind of Peter, a courageous one, which we read about in Acts chapter 2.  As Jesus had promised, the Holy Spirit was poured out on the disciples.  And Spirit-empowered Peter responded by boldly bearing witness of Jesus before a great multitude of people.  There was no shrinking back or fear or timidity in that first sermon; instead, he did just what he was told to do, He bore witness of Jesus.  And if you examine the second half of Peter’s sermon (the first half was an explanation as to why the disciples were speaking in tongues), you will find that that sermon was all about Jesus—His life, His death, His resurrection, and ascension (Acts 2:22-36). 
The gospel message of salvation through faith in the One who died for sins and rose from the dead is there in that first sermon (Cf. 1 Corinthians 15:3-4).  And after the message was preached, people were Spirit-convicted of their sin.  Three thousand souls were saved and the church was born.  What happened on that day established a template for what God expects from us, His ambassadors here on earth (Cf. 2 Corinthians 5:20).  We are here for a short while to bear witness of Jesus by our lives and with our lips.  But we can only do that as we are led and empowered by the Spirit of God.  There is no suitable substitute for the inner working of the Spirit.  As Jesus said, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing” (John 6:63).  That doesn’t mean, of course, that we won’t try to fulfill our mission mandate through fleshly means.  Entertainment, church growth methodologies, and various techniques have all been tried.  But God has made the matter very simple—we are to bear witness of Jesus and we do that through the leading and empowerment of the Holy Spirit.  By that God-approved means, the gospel has spread from Jerusalem, to Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.  It has spread in spite of suppression, opposition, threats, and persecution.  People have made great sacrifices and, sometimes, suffered martyrdom that they might take the gospel message to people who needed to hear.
Those folks understood these realities.  They had a godly worldview through which they gauged the affairs of men.  God is our creator.  Sin is the problem.  Jesus is the Savior.  These truths stand whether they are believed or not.  They stand today.  We sometimes have difficulty getting to the root of a problem.  There is a debate ongoing whether we should call the terrorist threat we face “radical Islam.”  And some argue that we need to clearly identify the threat.  But at the heart of that threat and every other threat and problem is the problem that besets us all, sin.  Sin is the universal problem that is at the root of every problem. We are born into this world with a heart to sin (Romans 5:12).  And from that heart of sin flow a host of problems.  As Jesus said, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders” (Matthew 15:19).
There is only one God-approved and tried-true remedy for sin, and that is the gospel.  Politics, education, psychology, economics, social engineering, peace-initiatives, interventions, and any other human effort to resolve that which ails man cannot work to resolve what lies at the heart of man’s problem. The gospel alone can do that.  We are born sin rebels, thinking that we can somehow get along fine apart from our Creator, but that’s not true.  Something must be done to save sin rebels from their doomed cause.  The only thing that can do that is “the glorious gospel of the blessed God” (1 Timothy 1:11), which is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16).  This matter of first importance (Cf. 1 Corinthians 15:3), the message of Christ’s death for sin and resurrection from the dead is “of sin the double cure,” cleansing both of “guilt and pow’r” (“Rock of Ages”).
In this regard, I’m concerned for myself and my fellow Ambassadors for Christ.  Amidst all the rancor and insults, I wonder how effective we are in fulfilling our mission mandate.  I’m pretty sure that no souls will be saved as a result of anyone’s complaining about the current state of affairs.  America is as needy as it has ever been, but the problems are not mainly political or economic—they are moral.  We live at a time in a country that bears responsibility for the murder of 60 million of its most innocent and vulnerable citizens.  Truths regarding our Creator cannot be taught in school classrooms by and to those who were created by Him.  We are so bold as to attempt to redefine God’s definition of what constitutes a marriage.  And we are so prideful and arrogant in all of this, that we believe we will face no evil consequences for such things.  These are all symptoms which speak to the reality of sin, the consequence of the Romans 1:18-32 dynamic.  The gospel alone can work to rescue anyone out of that downward spiral. Secular politicians have no heart to address a moral problem that they themselves don’t understand.  The only God-approved solution for what ails us all is Jesus.
We are prone to fight the wrong battles with the wrong weapons.  If “our struggle is not against flesh and blood,” why do we fight against flesh and blood (Cf. Ephesians 6:12)?  We are engaged in a spiritual struggle for souls—ours and our fellow man’s.  If “we do not war according to the flesh,” why do we attempt to engage the wrong enemy and in our human strength (Cf. 2 Corinthians 10:4)? Would it not be better to utilize the weapons which are “divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses” (2 Corinthians 10:4)?  Faith in God, the Word, and prayer are weapons empowered by God Himself.  They are “nuclear-bomb-like” in comparison to the humanly-wimpy weapons we so often prefer.  Slander, insults, and character assassinations will not work to win any of God’s battles.  They are not in His arsenal.  They will not work to move the hearts of men to look to Jesus.  They can do nothing to resolve what lies at the heart of man’s problems.  God forgive me in my foolhardy efforts to utilize them!
We have a problem in the modern day church.  We like to point the finger at some human entity and say, “Therein lies the problem.”  But as our Moms taught us, we need to be careful when we point the finger at someone, because there are three more pointing back at ourselves.  It is time for the church to take personal responsibility for things.  According to His mission mandate, Jesus has purposed to use us, His ambassadors, to bear witness of Him until the time of His return.  The church of the living God is “the pillar and support of the truth” in this world (Cf. 1 Timothy 3:15).  It is not the government.  It is not the school system.  That privileged position is not invested in the worldly rich and powerful.  The church is that.  The church is here now to have an influence for good in this world, to be, as Paul put it, “children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life” (Philippians 2:15-16a).  If society is slipping, it will do no good to point to lost souls and put the blame on them.  They are no different than we once were and how we are still prone sometimes to behave.  They are lost.  To expect lost people to lead and behave as saved people is oxymoronic.
In taking responsibility, we need to get back to basics.  We’ve been given a mission and we err when we lose track of it or of the resources that have been availed to us that we might fulfill it.  Years ago, noted theologian Francis A. Schaeffer spoke to this: “The central problem of our age is not liberalism or modernism, nor the old Roman Catholicism or the new Roman Catholicism, nor the threat of communism, nor even the threat of rationalism and the monolithic consensus which surrounds us.  All these are dangerous but not the primary threat. The real problem is this: the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, individually and corporately, tending to do the Lord’s work in the power of the flesh rather than of the Spirit. The central problem is always in the midst of the people of God, not in the circumstances surrounding them.”
The central problem is not “them” or our circumstances, the problem lies in our midst.  And our attention, energy, and struggle should be directed towards resolving this particular problem.  In looking towards a solution, it is again wise for us to look back to our roots.  For the early church, in fulfilling their mission mandate, soon met with fierce opposition.  The same Peter who boldly bore witness of Jesus in his first sermon was arrested with John by a group of powerful religious leaders.  He would not be moved from proclaiming the truth and said to them, “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).  The religious leaders marveled at their confidence (Acts 4:13), but nevertheless, commanded them to “not speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus” (Acts 4:18).  After threatening Peter and John further, they let them go and Peter and John returned to their companions.
And do you know what they did?  They didn’t instigate an insurrection.  They didn’t hold a sit-in or political rally.  They didn’t plan a boycott.  They didn’t hurl insults at their oppressors.  What did they do?  They prayed.  And their prayer was not what we might suppose.  They praised God, the Creator of all things (Cf. Acts 4:24).  They quoted from Scripture in prayer, reminding themselves that God has spoken beforehand of the circumstances they were facing (Cf. Acts 4:25-26).  They praised God in His sovereignty over the affairs of men and how He even used evil rulers to accomplish His divine purposes (Cf. Acts 4:27-28).  And what did they ask of God?  Did they ask for God to deliver them from these evil rulers?  Did they ask that God would keep them from adversity?  Did they ask for God to somehow straighten out this mixed up world?  No, they only asked that they would be emboldened and that opportunities would be availed to them in the witness of the gospel.  And what happened?  God shook the earth and God emboldened them by the Spirit (Cf. Acts 4:31).  And the church was encouraged and the church progressed and was ultimately used by God to turn that part of the world upside down (Cf. Acts 17:6).  A careful examination of Scripture will reveal that all of that which God has given for us to do is to be done “by the Spirit.”  In His Christ-glorifying ministry, the Spirit mediates Jesus to us, in us, and through us (Cf. John 16:14).  He keeps us focused and in love with Jesus.  He fills us with love, joy, peace, hope, and a host of other supernatural virtues (Cf. Galatians 5:22, Romans 15:13).  He burdens us with compassion for lost souls and a willingness to sacrifice of ourselves in love in Jesus’ name.  We are led and empowered in all these things—and much more—by the Holy Spirit.  The formula, then, is pretty simple: by the Spirit, we bear witness of Jesus; apart from the Spirit, we cannot--at least not in an effective way.
It’s time to pray.  It’s time for each of us to pray.  It’s time to pray in our church gatherings.  It’s time to join with other like-minded believers in other churches to pray.  And what should we pray?  Should we pray only for our health and safety and for a political situation that meets with our approval and is to our earthly advantage?  As heavenly citizens and ambassadors for Christ should we not pray for ourselves, in our walk with Jesus, and for our marriages and families and for our churches?  Should we not pray that we might be led and empowered by the Spirit to continue on in the legacy of our forebears who bore witness of the gospel amidst far more difficult situations than our own?  Should we not, before the throne of grace, join with our persecuted brethren who pray, not so much for their personal safety, but instead that they might be faithful and courageous in bearing witness of the Risen Christ? Should we not pray for lost souls?  Should we not pray for the church, the pillar and support of the truth?  Nehemiah heard of the broken down walls of Jerusalem and “wept and mourned for days…fasting and praying before the God of heaven” (Nehemiah 1:4).  Look there, beloved, the pillars and support of truth in the church in America are cracked and crumbling.  Grieve over it and take the matter to the Lord in prayer.  There are souls in danger.  We’ve got the truth the lost need to hear lest they face eternal judgment.  We cannot do what needs to be done in our own strength.  The mission is too big.  The opposition is too strong.  We are too weak.  We need power from above.  It’s time to pray.

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