Three days into 2017, are your New Years resolutions still intact? I’m not one for making such resolutions, but I do strive (however feebly) to live by the Scriptures every day of my life. The very end of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians gives us some good things to shoot for as believers in Jesus in 2017 (and beyond, should the Lord tarry). His last three statements (prior to the “amen”) are powerful:
- “Our Lord, come!”
- “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you.”
- “My love be with you all in Christ Jesus.”
If we could wrap all of that into one resolution for the new year, it would look something like this: Long for the Lord’s return while living in the light of His grace and loving one another.
Can you imagine how transformed the Church of Jesus Christ would be if our lives were so defined? Can you imagine the focus we would have? Can you imagine the trivial things that might fall by the wayside in our lives as the things that really matter rise to the forefront? Can you imagine the impact we might make for Christ?
Dear Fellow Evangelical Christians:
In the eyes of man, I am a nobody from nowhere. I pastor a very small church. Some of you host small groups in your homes that are larger than the congregation before which I stand each Sunday. Some might thus consider me unqualified to write what is something of an open letter to evangelicals. Well, sorry, but I have something to say that I think needs to be said about the way many of us are responding to the culture that is changing rapidly around us. I speak from an American perspective, but these principles apply across all cultures and time periods. Here goes.
Liberals are not our enemy. Muslims are not our enemy. Homosexuals are not our enemy. Transgenders are not our enemy. Atheists are not our enemy. Some from among these groups and others may hate us, but they are not our enemy. And to be frank, some of us hate some of them, which is not our right to do, given who our Lord is and who we are apart from Him.
You may think you are better than people in the groups I have listed, but you are not, nor am I. Viewing people as our enemies tends to puff up our pride and give us a sense of superiority, which is hideously unChristlike.
So who is our enemy? If you know your Bible, you should not have to think very hard to answer that one. But just in case, here’s a hint: Ephesians 6:12. Look it up. It says we do not wrestle with flesh and blood. What are liberals, Muslims, homosexuals, transgenders, atheists, and others? Flesh and blood! I don’t think I have to spell it out, here.
Now, of course, if we embrace the Bible as God’s word (which is essential to evangelicalism), we will disagree with many things espoused by these various groups. Some things with which we disagree we will even call sin because the Bible calls them sin. Disagreeing is not hating, nor does it require hate. We may be accused of hate for disagreeing, but we cannot control what people think of us. All we can do is respond as Christ would have us respond. If our response is good with Him, then it is good, period. And so what should our response be? The apostle Peter gives us good instruction on this:
“. . . in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame” (1 Peter 3:15-16, ESV).
Notice those words “gentleness and respect.” Do we respond that way? I hear a lot of us not doing so, and there are times when that includes me. But even when we are imperfect in this, we must not justify our bad behavior and somehow view it as sanctified. Rather, we must repent and purpose by the grace of God to respond properly the next time. We may even need to humble ourselves and apologize for how we said something. Apologizing doesn’t mean you have to surrender the point under discussion. You can simply say something like, “I do hold to the point I was trying to make, but I was out of line in how I made it, and I’m sorry.” Gentleness and respect.
Notice that Peter’s comments above refer to speaking of the hope that is in us. In our cultural and political discussions with unbelievers, I wonder if that hope is often not even part of the conversation. While we are certainly going to have political and cultural opinions and engage in conversation and debate about those things, ultimately, the Lord would have us stay on message. And what is that message? Our hope in Christ.
We are ambassadors for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20). Sometimes, a country’s ambassador may be nice and respectful and well behaved yet still be hated simply because the country he/she represents is hated. We represent Christ, who is hated by the world. His word is rejected, and His cross is an offense to the world. But our calling is to represent Him well in a world that is not our home (Philippians 3:20-21). This calls for us to don the armor of God (Ephesians 6:10ff) so that we might stand against our true enemy–the enemy of our souls–and speak the truth, yes, but the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). Because, after all, Christ has not called us to drive people away from Him, a sad consequence that sometimes follows our attempts to maintain a culture that is to our liking, one with which we are comfortable. He has called us to serve in His rescue mission to the very people we sometimes treat like enemies.
I am going to be very transparent here, not in a passive-aggressive attempt to gain anybody’s sympathy but in the hopes that someone might be helped by my experience.
I have this calling from God to preach His Word. He brought the calling to me so strongly one night that I had to fall on my face and surrender. That moment was phenomenal, but the calling has been difficult for me over the years. I have always been a self-doubter, and I struggle with the idea that I could ever do anything that really matters. Don’t get me wrong; I envision myself in more great moments than Walter Mitty, but when it comes to reality, I am more like Winnie the Pooh’s pal, Eeyore.
And so, all these years later, I find myself at the stage of life where it seems most pastors who have pastored as long as I have pastor churches of at least an average size. I, though, pastor a little church that not many people attend. The people who do attend are dear to me, and I love being their pastor. But honestly, we could all fit into two or three of the church’s pews. I sometimes wonder if we will ever be even an average sized church. But visitors are rare, and even my friends and family in the area choose to worship elsewhere. This leads me into periodic moments of confusion, wondering if anyone likes me, and sometimes questioning whether I heard my calling correctly. (Like I said, just being transparent). Those moments can become quite dark and debilitating. However, no sooner do I question the call than the Lord reminds me of the night I fell face down in surrender to Him, and I am reminded that I do not deserve to pastor even one person. And so I press on, doing the only thing on this planet that I want to do and that which gives me joy like nothing else, even though I have questions that remain unanswered.
But that’s how we shine the light of Christ; we press on in faith. Whether you’re a pastor or a plumber, a missionary or a manager, pressing on with Christ is no big deal if everything is lining up nicely for you. Even as I type this, thoughts of confusion begin to swirl in my head. “Why, Lord? I’m faithful to teach Your Word. I’m not asking for a mega-church. Maybe 150 or 200 people. Even just 5 or 10 new families would make a huge difference. Is that asking too much? Am I doing something wrong? Did I mishear the call to preach all those years ago? Etc.”
My fear is that a lot of the people I hear about who are walking away from ministry (and even from the Lord) might be doing it because of questions like that. The confusion I have expressed is about ministry, but maybe someone is confused over other matters in their walk with the Lord and is growing tired of asking the “Why, Lord” questions and is on the verge of throwing in the towel on ministry or faith. If that’s you, I hope you hang in there. It really is worth it, and there are eternal benefits to doing so. Your questions may not ever be answered. Mine, either. We may be in the company of those mentioned in Hebrews 11:32-40, who suffered and pressed on and endured much more than we may ever endure, all to reach the ends of their lives without tangibly receiving what they were pressing on toward. But it was never the Lord’s plan to fulfill in their earthly lifetimes the promise they pursued. Their involvement with the promise was as links in the chain that would one day lead to the promise’s fulfillment. Eternity will show that their faithfulness was worth the cost and that God did keep His promises.
And so it is for us. Eternity will show that pressing on through the waiting and the disappointment and the confusion was more than worth it. Such will be the case for you and for me if we press on in faith, faithful to our calling, no matter its difficulties or the fact that it bears no resemblance to what we had expected when we began the journey. Over time, we learn that the Lord knows just what He is doing. And the end of the journey–in the presence of the Lord where we will know as we are known–will tell the true tale of what the Lord was doing through us.