Friday, July 3, 2020

Retaining Religious Liberty

These last few months have seen rising tensions in terms of liberty.  And in some states the infringement on liberty has been more directed towards the church.  In our state, the Governor has tried not to infringe upon the religious liberties of the people. 

As I think about religious liberty issues and how we subtly lose liberties, I have reflected back on some things that have cost Americans various liberties.  And in general I have simply asked, why does the government tend to regulate and mandate things?  The answer to that question is complex.  To fully answer the question, we would have to examine many different decisions which the government makes. 

Many government regulations seem to be put in place because unregulated individuals make decisions that are harmful or at least less than helpful for the majority.  For instance, individuals who do not think about the long term effect of their choice on the environment may cause the government to step in with regulations. On the other hand, there are times when the government makes suggestions which are not followed by the populace which results in government leaders stepping back and mandating what had previously been a suggestion. 

As I lead our church I don’t want the government to make laws that require the church to do anything.  But I can also see in this pandemic that if the church does not willingly submit to a government recommendation then the government may well come back with a requirement or some other mandate.  

As such I think one major way of retaining religious liberty is by submitting to government recommendations – recommendations which will pass as the pandemic passes.  Recommendations are a lot easier to change months from now than mandates and laws will be. 

I am thankful for a nation that provides us with many liberties – including our religious liberties.  But it seems to me the best way to retain our liberties is to live in a way that is bigger than our own personal interests and desires. 

Friday, June 26, 2020

Considering Others More Important

These last few months have been a time of trial for Americans.  Along with the rest of the world, we have dealt with a health crisis pandemic.  We have watched our nation explode in unrest.  Some of that unrest seems to be aimed at the injustices of our justice system.  Some of that unrest seems to be aimed at tensions between ethnic groups. 

This can be an unsettling time for Americans. 

But it is a time of opportunity for Christians.  Mordecai’s words to Esther are no less relevant today, “And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14).  It is no accident in the providence of God that we live in this moment.  And the unrest of our time gives us the opportunity to live what we believe.  And what we believe is how we will live. 

In these moments of wrestling with government guidelines and recommendations, we have an opportunity to “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4). 

As Americans we might be able to stand on “our rights.”  But not as Christians.  As Christians we are called to die to self.  As Christians we are commanded to regard others as more important than ourselves. And as we do so, we want to be careful not to pass judgment on other Christians who disagree with us or who have a different opinion from us (c.f. Romans 14:1-4).  As Paul asks there, “Who are you to judge the servant of another?”

Some might say I am being na├»ve.  Giving in.  Selling out.  To which I would say, actually I am just trying to follow in the footsteps of my nail-pierced Savior.  I am sure I am not following perfectly.  That’s why I need the Savior.  But when I came to the Savior, I agreed to set “my rights” down at His feet.  I live as a citizen of two kingdoms – the city of man and city of God. My citizenship in the city of God teaches me to live in the city of man.   

What an amazing opportunity that we have!  We get to live out our faith in the midst of people who disagree with one another – and who at times, disagree with us. 



Thursday, June 11, 2020

Evangelism Lessons from Jesus

Within Christian circles evangelism is the idea of sharing the good news of Jesus.  And of course the purpose of sharing the good news of Jesus is so that other people will look unto Jesus and be saved.  One of the aims or goals of evangelism is to see other people become Christians. 

In Mark 10, Jesus has a conversation with a young man which can help us take a faithful approach to evangelism. 

This first thing that stands out in this particular event is that the man initiated the conversation.  Some evangelistic encounters will be started by others.  But, like Jesus, we must be ready to give faithful and true responses to the questions of the people around us. 

The second thing that stands out is that Jesus was not distracted by the man’s flattery.  The man comes up to Jesus and kneels before Him.  And as he does so, he says, “Good Teacher ....”  Both the man’s posture, kneeling, and his adjectival choice, good, suggest a level of respect.  But it is a level of respect that could easily distract Jesus.  But Jesus did not allow Himself to be distracted by those things. 

The third thing that stands out is Jesus’ use of the 10 Commandments in His evangelism.  Jesus knows that the law is God’s expectation of mankind.  Jesus uses the law to try to get this man to see his need before God.  But interestingly, in this man’s case, the law does not bring conviction.  For this man thinks he has kept the law. 

The fourth thing that stands out is that Jesus doesn’t argue with the man.  When the law does not pierce the man’s heart and the man says in essence, “I’m good too,” Jesus tries another route.  Jesus does not belittle the man.  Jesus does not attack the man. 

The fifth thing that stands out is Jesus’ love for the man.  The Bible is clear that Jesus felt a love for him.  How much more impactful would our evangelism be if we were provoked to love the people to whom we speak! 

The sixth thing that stands out is Jesus presses the man on his particular sin.  In this case, the man’s sin was his love for money.  This man was an idolater.  He loved his wealth and he was not willing to give it up for the sake of the gospel.  Jesus pushes the man at the very point of his greatest need. 

The seventh thing that stands out is Jesus’ clarity to the man.  As Jesus presses the man with his particular sin, Jesus also gives him the clear steps to take.  In that man’s case, he was to sell all that he had.  But that’s not all, the man was to come and follow Jesus. 

The eighth thing that stands out is Jesus’ willingness to let the man go.  After Jesus points the man to the truth, Jesus then lets the man make his choice.  Jesus does not try to manipulate the man.  Jesus shows him respect.  And when the man decides to walk away, Jesus lets him.

Seeing these observations reminds us of some of the other purposes of evangelism.  Evangelism is not just about seeing other people become Christians.  Evangelism is also about being faithful and true to God.  And evangelism is about relying upon God to bless our proclamation to the salvation of a soul.  For we cannot save anyone.  But God can.