Sunday, June 28, 2015

The world is on fire - and all I have are matches

Leviticus 19:14-18
Romans 14:14-21
Mark 9:42-50

“A tree is known by its fruits; a man by his deeds.  A good deed is never lost.  He who sows courtesy reaps friendship, and he who plants kindness gathers love.”  St. Basil

“Looking to The Lord rather than to any crisis at hand is a timeless principle in Scripture”, says one systematic theology professor (Norman R. Gulley, “Focus on Christ, not the crisis”, Ministry: a journal for pastors, July / August 2015).  As one only example, he cites Judah’s King Jehoshaphat (2 Chronicles 20) who was facing an overwhelming invading army.  Rather than make preparations for war, the king and all of Judah turned immediately to The Lord in prayer and fasting.  In part the king prayed: “If disaster comes upon us … we will stand before this temple and in Your presence (for Your Name is in this temple), and we will cry out to You in our affliction, and You will hear and save” (vs 9 NKJV).

Come what may, then, according to the prayer of the faithful, we will cast our gaze continually upon The Lord – in victory and in defeat, in success and in failure, in good times and in bad.  Come what may, O Lord, teach us to always look to You! 

This was the prayer of the faithful then, and it must become once again the prayer of the faithful now – because The Lord answered the nation’s prayer: “Do not be afraid nor dismayed because of this [approaching army], for the battle is not yours but The Lord’s” (vs 15).  Judah would still be required to face this crisis head-on, in faith, in person, and in reality; but they were also instructed, “Position yourselves, stand still, and see the salvation of The Lord, who is with you, O Judah!” (vs 17)

It seems lately we are jumping from one crisis to another, and Friday morning put icing on the cake.  The US Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-gender marriage, knocking down the last of the remaining 17 US states’ prohibitions; and Islamic terrorists entered into their holy month of Ramadan – which is supposed to be about fasting and repentance - with sweeping terror attacks around the world, urging the “faithful” to bring calamity on the “infidels”. 

It occurred to me, however, that as much as Christians are “accused” by unbelievers for being more about what we are against rather than standing up for what we believe in, actually trusting The Lord, crises have enormous potential for not only challenging our faith and our beliefs but also for refining our faith in daring us to draw closer to The Lord rather than to try and set traps of our own making for the wolves at the door – traps we and our loved ones could just as easily fall into. 

It may well be the “beginning of the end” as so many doomsday prophets are fond of saying, but that is not our business nor does it pertain to our mission and our purpose for being the Church.  Just as Judah was compelled by The Lord’s blessing to position themselves to face the impending crisis of invasion, they were equally compelled to “stand still” and let The Lord do what The Lord will do – not to their own satisfaction but to The Glory of The Lord.

The psalmist writes, “Be still, and know I am The Lord.  I will be honored by every nation, and I will be honored throughout the world” (46:10 NIV).  An interesting translation of that same verse in the New American Standard Bible reads: “Cease striving …” Another translation from the Holman Christian Standard Bible reads: “Stop your fighting …” Still another reads: “Let go [of your concerns] …” (God’s Word translation).

In the end the message is the same: Let Me be The Lord, let Me be the Almighty and Eternal, let Me be Large and in Charge.  TRUST ME.

St. Paul encourages us to “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.  Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:14-15).  In other words, our business is taking care of and looking out for our “neighbors”.  In this, then, the Law of The Lord is admonishing us to do those things that are within our power to do; but to those things over which we have no control whatsoever, we must not try to gain any measure of control – lest we end up doing more harm than good.

As in the case of Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the weeds (Matthew 13:24-30), the zealous and devoted workers can clearly see the “weeds” invading the good “wheat” and are ready and willing to go jerk out those “weeds” lest they spread.  The master, however, tempers their enthusiasm by pointing out that in the early stages of development, it is often hard to tell the difference between the good wheat and the weeds.  Once the wheat is fully grown, then the “harvesters” will take care of the weeds – when the time is right.  When The Lord declares the Time to be right.

It’s a pretty tall order for us to hold our tongues and refrain from actions we believe to be appropriate and necessary.  It is especially hard to “turn the other cheek”, “bless” those who mistreat us, and resist returning an evil act with yet another evil act – especially as we justify our aggressive responses biblically.  In our burning passion for righteousness, we do not often see this only perpetuates the cycle of violence and hatred we and our children and our children’s children have become all too familiar – and entirely too comfortable – with!

We must not ignore what is actually happening in our responses; not what we hope will happen.  To perpetuate the cycles of evil not only makes things worse instead of better, it also places that dreaded and cursed “stumbling block before the little ones” (Mark 9:42).  Not only the children but also the new Christians “young” in the faith who are watching us for direction and inspiration. 

Whenever we take strong and aggressive measures to fight against something – especially something over which we have no control and no right to control – we deny The Lord His own sovereignty over such overwhelming matters AND we teach the “little ones” that to “be still” and let The Lord be The Lord is not the American Way.

We face the “fires” of our culture with only more matches – and maybe a little gasoline for good measure ... and in so doing, our lack of faith is being exposed.

There can be no denying St. Paul’s writing is specifically referring to the issue of clean and unclean food; but we must also not deny that the principle to which Paul is appealing is much broader than its application toward what is fit to eat and what is not.  He is asking, What are we teaching people, believers and unbelievers alike?  What is it exactly that we are testifying to?

That terrorists are a threat to our safety and national security?  That same-gender marriage is a threat to the Church, to religious liberty, and to the stability of the institution of marriage itself?  Or can more be done by “standing still” and trusting The Lord to be The Lord?  Like, say, testify to the Truth of the Holy Scripture as it is written and as it is being revealed

Like when Jesus told His disciples the world would hate them, can we not see our Lord was telling the Truth?  Like when Jesus taught that His faithful would have a hard row to hoe, can we not now see that He was telling us the Truth?  Like when St. Paul said a time of apostasy and sacrilege would come to pass, when many will trade the Truth for a lie, can we not see that he was teaching the Truth?

I am not going to tell you we are living in the Last Days, my friends, for that is not my call … nor is it yours.  What I can tell you is that what we are seeing is what our Lord told us we would see.  We are now first-hand witnesses to The Truth which we can now easily prove to be True!  And if our Lord was telling us the Truth about these things which have come to pass, can we not also take Him at His Word that when the smoke is cleared and the sheep and goats are separated, that the faithful will find themselves on the Right Side of The Lord?  YES!

Our world is not falling apart, for this is not “our” world.  We are merely passing through on our mission.  Our Lord has shown time and again that He is good for His own Word.  While it may seem a hopeless and dark time for the Church, surely we can see now that something more is being revealed.  It is not now a better time for threats “before it is too late”. 

Rather it is time now to see that what is written in the Scripture is not some fairy tale!  More than threats to unbelievers is the Promise to all who would trust The Lord completely by taking Him at His Word!  We are seeing the Truth laid out before us, and it is a great and wondrous Gift to “be still, and see the salvation of The Lord” who will fight these insurmountable battles for Himself … and for us – if we will let Him!

It is time to put down the “matches” of our anger and the “gasoline” of our despair lest we burn ourselves and other innocent persons.  It is time to put on the “whole armor of God” (Ephesians 6:10-18) and stand firm in our faith and in His righteousness.  “For the battle is not yours but The Lord’s – who is with you” … even until the end of the age.”

It is time to “position ourselves and be still”; for the Truth is being revealed to us - one crisis at a time.

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