Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Christ in Crisis

But you, dear friends, must build each other up in your most holy faith, pray in the power of the Holy Spirit, and await the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will bring you eternal life. In this way, you will keep yourselves safe in God’s love. And you must show mercy to those whose faith is wavering. Rescue others by snatching them from the flames of judgement. Show mercy to still others, but do so with great caution, hating the sins that contaminate their lives. 
~ Jude vs 20-23 (NLT)

Autumn slips into Hogsback as subtly as always. First a few leaves change from deep summer green to the earthy jewel colours of this mild season. The pineapple sage has started to flower. Bringing with it the sun birds and giant Monarch butterflies. The vegetable garden slows down and dwindles to a few persistent spinach shoots in the hard soil. Then a wind snaps the washing on the line and the first falling leaves from the Silver Birches are tossed across the deck. I look up surprised and delighted. I love Autumn. So much, that I am tempted to forget what is going on beyond our little paradise. But it seems to hang like a permeating stench over our country, and over the world - and one cannot escape it. Not on this hill, not anywhere.

What do we, children of the living God, lambs of the Good Shepherd, followers of the Saviour Jesus, do in such times? And what not? It is a question I ask myself first of all. And in the process of trying to find the answers, I hope to share some of what my heart is being convinced of. By looking at what God is saying to us in the Bible, and what the Holy Spirit is helping me to put into straight forward, simple words.

I trust that in the process of learning what I "should do", it will not be necessary to spend much time on what I "should not do". When sheep listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd, they are hardly tempted to drift into the wrong fold.

On Sunday, we got a taste of what it feels like to be despised by someone of a different skin colour. Our dogs happened to bark at a group of people walking on the same path in a leafy park not far from our home. A big Xhosa man lashed out verbally, in a very threatening manner. Our boys ran to hide behind the trees. This may have defused the situation somewhat, and fortunately they decided to move on. However, when we returned to our car a little later, there where mean, deep scratches etched down the entire driver side and a few more on the rear of the vehicle. Those marks have marred our family car somewhat, but they have also cut into my heart. I wanted to be angry, but just felt a deep sadness instead. It is just a car. But to me it represents the stench, the grating sense that people are looking for reasons to justify their resentment of each other. Based on something which may seem "skin deep", but is stirred by something much deeper and much more malignant.

Most Christians are very familiar with Ephesians 6:12 "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms." Perhaps too familiar. What does it means not to struggle against flesh and blood? It should be self explanatory: flesh and blood - people, all people of all nations. We are shown not to fight/battle/get into arguments with - people. Even in our thoughts, prayers and attitudes. It may feel good at the time, but it has no purpose for the Kingdom of God. Jesus left us all we need to "struggle" against the powers of this dark world and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms, although "spiritual warfare" should also be done in line with God's will and Jesus' example to us in His Word.

The first thing I realised when I started thinking about all this was: I am part of the problem.

There are areas of my own life which I have to look at:

  • Is my own walk "blameless" before God - has the gospel message changed my character, my personal integrity, my attitude? "Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will." ~ Romans 12:2
  • Am I salt and light?  "You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven".~ Matt 5:13-16
  • Am I a witness in word and deeds? “You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, “and my servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me". ~ Isaiah 43:10
  • Do I see corruption as a threat to my personal and loved ones' safety, financial security and the state of my country? Or as a threat to world evangelism? (In the sense that it closes people's hearts to receive the gospel and be saved for eternity and changed for this life.) "For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life." ~ Galatians 6:8
  • Do I do unto others as I would have them do unto meSo in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets ~ Matt 7:12
  • Am I accountable to God in all I doSo then each of us shall give account of himself to God. ~ Romans 14:12
  • Do I live out the virtues of a true Spirit filled believer? Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Bear with each other and forgive any complaint you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you... And over all these virtues put on love, which is the bond of perfect unity. ~ Colossians 3:12/14
  • How do I stand in relation to the government of our country? And what should my attitude towards the rulers of our country be? I looked at Romans 13 to find some answers to the last question: "Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgement on themselves. 3. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. 4. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.
    6. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing.7. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honour, then honour."
    As always some of this will be interpreted differently by different people. But what is quite clear is that 1) God ordains government, 2) God monitors government, 3) God raises them up and brings them down at his time - not us at ours. 4) Every human government is accountable to God - whether they accept it or not.
  • Do I worry about the current situation, do I have fears about the future?  Corrie ten Boom said: "Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength." "Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them (enemies or threats) , for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you." ~ Deut 31:6
  • Do I really still trust and believe that God is sovereign despite the "madness" in the world? "Trust in the LORD with all your heart And do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways submit to Him, And He will make your paths straight." ~ Prov 3:5-6 "The LORD has established His throne in the heavens; And His sovereignty rules over all." ~ Psalm 103:19
  • How do I pray for our government and our country? Christians are not given the option of letting their disagreement with their political leaders prevent them from praying for those leaders. The apostle Peter wrote that believers are to "submit yourselves to every human authority for the Lord's sake, whether it be to the king, as supreme, or to governors, as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and to praise those who do right. ... Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king" ~ 1 Pet. 2:13-14, 17.

    Similarly, Paul wrote to Timothy, "Therefore I exhort first of all that you make supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings for everyone, for kings and for all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceful life in all godliness and honesty, for this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior" ~ 1 Tim. 2:1-3.

    Who was emperor when Peter and Paul wrote these words? None other than one of the most notorious political leaders of history, Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, known generally simply as Nero.

    What kind of ruler was Nero? He murdered his mother and both of his wives, for starters. But his grotesque brutality far transcended his immediate family. According to the Roman historian Tacitus, after fire had consumed roughly half of Rome and his popularity was in free-fall, Nero decided to blame the fire on Christians. Tacitus records that, among other things, the early Roman followers of Jesus "were covered with the skins of wild animals and then torn apart by dogs, some were crucified, some were burned as torches at night" (The One Year Christian History, p. 322).
So we are certainly not the first or last country or people to be ruled by a "corrupt" leader(s). What we can learn from history and from Scripture is that people do not and can not and should not try to alter the course of history by bending it to their own sense of justice. God's ways are not our ways (Is 55:8). He can and will and has victory over and through evil. For us to think that we can "remove" evil from our country or from the world, is as unrealistic as a child who wants to throw his food on the floor because he does not like the taste of it. God is the one who brings about justice and judgement. For everyone, especially his own beloved. His church.

There is still so much that can be said and so many more scriptures that can be quoted. But this is a very personal and very sensitive matter. I trust that God will search the hearts of each one who wants to trust Him and wishes for His will to be done. It is not comfortable. The church no longer exercises the authority to hold earthly rulers accountable to God. But we still have authority in Jesus to stand in God's sovereignty over evil, rather than trusting the solidarity of men.

"A Christian can never rise higher than his experience of God. God is infinitely profound. As one hymn writer has written, he is an immeasurable sea without a shore, a blazing sun without a sphere. When engulfed in his presence, whom thousand and tens of thousands of angels worship day and night, the soul can only lie in the dust in adoring wonder. This profound knowledge brings eternity to bear on the soul of a believer, so that everything in his life is judged from eternity’s perspective. How I spend my time and money, how I enjoy my recreation, how I relate to the government and other believers and unbelievers, how I handle my work—all these are subjected to eternity. The great Day of Judgement is never far from mind." Pastor Conrad Mbewe

We continue working out our salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who works in us to will and to act on behalf of His good pleasure.… (Phil 2:12)

And ... "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus." ~ Phil 4:6-7

The reason why I have used so many scriptures today, is because we are so inundated by requests, inciting messages, opinions and persuasions of anonymous people on social media. Therefore, I wanted to confirm for myself and share with you, where we stand in relation to the bible on some of these issues. There are many more, but I am confident that on each of the issues that you and I struggle with in our faith walk - there is an answer in our Bibles, God's living Word. We do not have to be swayed by public opinions or pressures. We have our Rock Jesus, who remains steadfast - even if everything else sinks or stinks.

This is more than sufficient reason to be hopeful without being ignorant. To be joyful without being callous against suffering. To have grace and compassion without accepting what is wrong in the eyes of God. To fear God, but be closer to my Redeemer than my own skin. To rest beside quiet waters while the Shepherd stands watch, but not to be ignorant of the threat of the wolves nearby.

To sing in the dark and dance on the dew of the new morning. For each moment is precious, and even if times get much harder still, we are f r e e - and for this reason alone I shall praise until I have no more breath. And on that day, seeing Jesus face to face, I will understand it all. And it will not matter anymore. For there would be Him, every moment of every day - f o r e v e r!