With the passing today of one of my sports heroes, Arnold Palmer, I got to thinking about the privilege I once had of attending all four rounds of the 1976 US Open golf tournament in Atlanta. Arnie was my golf idol, and I was following his group when lightning flashed, thunder cracked, and the horns signaled a rain delay. Arnie was whisked off through the trees on the left side of the fairway to wait out the delay.
My friend, Randy, then said to me, “We didn’t come all this way (from Tampa) for you not to meet Arnold Palmer. Come on!” We headed off through the trees and found Arnie sitting in a golf cart by (as I recall) a press tent. Some guys were standing around talking to him. One guy told a joke. And Randy led me, in all my shyness, into the presence of the man they call “the King.” I remember telling him he had made a nice birdie putt a few holes back (it was all I could think of to say). He smiled and said, “Thank you,” and sounded very genuine. He gave me an autograph, and I’m pretty sure we shook hands (it’s funny that I can’t remember for sure). But I do remember this: Arnold Palmer made me, an 18 year-old kid, feel like he was glad to meet me.
I just preached a message today from 1 Peter 2:11-17 about being good representatives of Christ. Peter calls in that passage for believers to give a good testimony for the Lord by how we handle fleshly desires, how we respond to authority, and how we treat people. I talked about how, if people are going to hate God, let’s not have it be because of anything we have done.
I don’t know what Arnie’s spiritual condition was. But tonight, Peter’s message to believers converges in my mind with my memory of having met Arnold Palmer, and I can only hope that I make people feel about Jesus the way Arnold Palmer made me feel about himself.
Who defines evil?
The book of Judges in the Old Testament contains an oft-repeated statement: “And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the LORD.” In fact, the story of the book of Judges is one of Israel turning away from God, God delivering them into the hands of an enemy, Israel eventually crying out to God for deliverance, and God raising up a leader–a judge–to lead Israel to victory and into a time of walking with God. This cycle runs throughout the book.
God never applied His hand of discipline to Israel for doing what was evil in the eyes of their culture. He never did so for their doing what was evil as determined by polling data. Nor did He do so for their doing what was evil per the influential pundits of the day. Israel faced discipline from the hand of the LORD for doing what was evil in the sight of the LORD.
Mankind does not have the luxury of defining what is evil, nor do countries, regions, states, cities, communities, social groups, or individuals. If God considers something to be evil, then it is evil, even if only one person out of seven billion would agree with God. In fact, even if NO person agreed with God, His definition of evil would still stand. Man may decide to call evil good, but it remains, in fact, evil, for the One who will judge everyone considers it so. We all stand before God on the basis of HIS standard, not any standard of our own. Mankind may try to vote God out; they may try to storm the castle; they may try to let the Supreme Court decide. But if God calls something evil, it is evil.
The beautiful thing, though, is that we who have a proclivity for evil (i.e., sin) are made perfectly righteous in the sight of God when we trust in the sacrifice made for our sins by Jesus on the cross–in other words, when we receive Jesus as our Savior–when we believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. He bore our sin so that we might take on His righteousness, even though, in practice, we still sin. Wonder of wonders, if not for this salvation that comes only through faith in Jesus, we would all have no hope at all, for we are so quick to run to what God calls evil. Have you received Jesus as YOUR Savior?
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.
MIRACLES: Pastor Saeed is suffering in an Iranian prison, but he’s also leading inmates to Christ. Here’s the latest. (My conversation with his wife, Naghmeh Abedini)
The love of God toward the Iranian prisoners is seen in His placing his servant, Saeed, in prison with them to tell them of Jesus. I have been expecting a blessing from God all day. I may have just gotten it through this article. Even as the Apostle Paul saw his imprisonments for the gospel as opportunities to reach people who otherwise would not have heard the message of salvation through faith in Jesus, so Saeed sees his imprisonment. We pray for him often, as well as for his family. But perhaps we need prayers that we would be so faithful to God’s call on our lives.
On Tuesday evening, I had the opportunity to talk by phone with Mrs. Naghmeh Abedini. She is the wife of Pastor Saeed Abedini, who has been in prison in Iran for converting to Christianity, preaching the Gospel, and helping the underground house church network inside Iran.
This Saturday will mark the third year since Pastor Saeed was arrested in Iran and sentenced to death. A prayer vigil for his protection and release will be held in churches all over the world this weekend. I ask you and your family and church to commit this weekend to praying for this dear brother in Christ and his precious family. I have been invited to speak that day at the Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C. and will address…
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I guess I shouldn’t really expect non-Christians to view the jailing of Kim Davis as religious persecution. I doubt that non-Christians in the Roman Empire thought the jailing of Christians for exercising their faith was wrong. In fact, many of them cheered at the spectacle of Christians being thrown to the lions.In Rome, sometimes persecution was as obvious as that. Other times, it was more seemingly innocuous, such as Christians at one point (as I remember learning somewhere in my past) being forbidden to own property.
In the Kim Davis situation, those who have no personal interest in freedom of religion may not care that a person’s religious rights have been trampled, especially when those rights were exercised in a way that hindered something such people believe in. And so, not only will they not be bothered by this jailing, but some will actually celebrate it.
We have crossed a line here, and, as these things tend to go, that line will be easier to cross the next time. And on it will go, with those who have no interest in religion or who view us Christians as party poopers and pests not being bothered by it at all, until the day comes when a line is crossed that butts up against some right about which they actually care. Have we really become a country in which the Constitution is important only in so far as it affects “me?”
As for Kim Davis, I would paraphrase for her what the Apostle Paul wrote of his sufferings for Christ in 2 Corinthians 4:17. This light, momentary affliction is preparing for you an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.
Yesterday, I saw some photos that were embedded into a news story or blog post that showed a gay rights parade in South America (Brazil, I think). Two of the photos were particularly sad and disturbing. One showed two women positioned side-by-side on a cross, making out. The other showed a man supposedly portraying Jesus on the cross, kissing another man. It is sad to see people thinking that they are somehow gaining a victory in such displays when they are really only heaping judgment upon their heads.
By attempting to mock Jesus (which, by the way, is what the people who crucified him did), these people are attempting to rub something in the face of Christians. They might not even think that they are mocking Jesus; their intent is probably to mock his followers. However, a very interesting Bible passage comes to mind that relates to this. In Acts 9, the risen Christ speaks to Saul of Tarsus about his persecution of Christians. In verse 4, Jesus says, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” The point is that Jesus identifies so closely with his followers that he considers persecution of them to be persecution of himself. Those of us who follow Jesus and are the intended targets of such mocking and persecution can rest in the fact that Jesus takes our persecution very personally.
Such public displays of mocking Jesus, no matter how triumphantly they may seem to be done, fail miserably, for “God is not mocked,” and “whatever one sows, that will he also reap” (Galatians 6:7). If you sow mocking of the only one who can save you from your sin and who will judge you in the end, then you sow eternal judgment upon yourself. Every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord (Philippians 2:10). Those who know Jesus by faith will bow the knee and confess him as Lord in joyous praise as they enter eternity in his presence; those who reject him will bow the knee and confess him as Lord while begging for a second chance that will not come as they realize that they are about to spend eternity in hell. The difference between those two scenarios lies in receiving Jesus as your Savior while you still have the breath of this life. “To all who did receive him (Jesus), who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12).
The pictures that I referred to at the beginning of this post were of people who were attempting to portray Jesus as sinning, when, in reality, he is the one who knew no sin and yet became sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in him (2 Corinthians 5:21). You do not have to do something so horrible as those people did to be facing the judgment of God in hell, for, no matter how good and nice you may seem to be, if you are not in Christ, you do not have that righteousness of God that comes only from being in him. When you stand before God at the end of your life, only having perfect righteousness will allow you entry into heaven for eternity. Since none of us are perfectly righteous in our behavior (or even in our thoughts or attitudes), you can only have that righteousness by having “become the righteousness of God” in Christ (2 Cor. 5:21), and you can only do that by asking him in faith to forgive you on the basis of his death on the cross having paid the penalty for your sins. If you’ve never done that, I urge you to do so now.