Friday, October 21, 2016

What's coming?

Look at the nations and watch--
     and be utterly amazed.
For I am going to do something in your days
     that you would not believe,
     even if you were told.
               ~Habakkuk 1:5

This is a verse that people often use erroneously, even pastors and missionaries.  They quote it to prove that God is capable of doing amazing things.  They use it as a great encouragement:  "God has wonderful plans!" they exclaim.  "We cannot even imagine what He has in store for us!"  I suspect that sometimes they even feel a little bit proud of themselves for having found such a glorious verse of promise in the Old Testament, in the Minor Prophets of all things, in Habakkuk.

Unfortunately, if they would read even one sentence further, they would see:

"I am raising up the Babylonians," proclaims the Lord, "that ruthless and impetuous people, who sweep across the whole earth to seize dwelling places not their own."

This verse is about impending judgment.  God, who had been patient for generations, was finally executing His promised judgment on Israel (Judah, to be exact), and allowing them to be conquered by an enemy kingdom--Babylon--because of their continual unfaithfulness to Him.  God warned about such a consequence all the way back in Deuteronomy 28, and He had issued many more warnings through the prophets over years and years.  This should not have been a surprise, but God's people were so steeped in their sins, they had lost all sensitivity to their Lord.

At the beginning of chapter 1, Habakkuk cried out against the sins of his people, asking God how long He was going to tolerate all the wrong.  God answered in verses 5-11, explaining that He had a plan, and it wasn't at all what Habakkuk would expect: He was going to send in the ferocious Babylonians to teach His people a lesson.  Habakkuk, in essence, responds to this news in horror, asking, "Really?  Seriously?  The Babylonians?  They're even more evil than we are!"

God judges sin.  Like Israel, our nation may have reached the point where the stench of our sin demands purging.

Let me be clear: I do not think that the USA is or ever has been "God's Chosen Nation."  It seems that many people assume that America is God's nation, and that the Constitution and the Bill of Rights are addendums to His Holy Scripture.  I do not agree.  Yes, our nation was founded on Biblical truths and principles, and much of the structure of our government was patterned on Biblical wisdom.  However, God never made any promises specific to America.  Furthermore, the rights claimed in the Declaration of Independence are never guaranteed to anyone in the Bible (seriously: The right to the pursuit of happiness?  When did God ever even make an allusion to anyone having the right to pursue his own happiness?).  Fighting for our rights is an anti-Biblical idea.  Jesus did not teach us to demand our due.  Jesus taught us to give away our coats, to turn the other cheek, and to go the extra mile (Matthew 5:39-42).

The entire teaching of the New Testament encompasses the idea that we are not of this world, we will be hated and persecuted, and those who walk by faith, persevering under trials and persecution, will be rewarded in heaven.

"Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way, they persecuted the prophets who were before you."  (Matthew 5:11-12)

"All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved."  (Matthew 10:22, also see Mark 13:13, Luke 21:17)

"If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first . . . I have chosen you out of the world.  That is why the world hates you . . . If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also . . . " (from John 15:18-20; the whole passage of John 15:18-27 pertains)

"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble, but take heart! I have overcome the world."  (John 16:33)

The book of Acts tells the story of the beginning of the church, the people who believed in Jesus and walked lives of faith in God.  Throughout that story, we see persecution.

"The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name." (Acts 5:41)

In Acts 7, Stephen was stoned for preaching the good news of Christ.  Following the stoning of Stephen, we read:

"On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria."  (Acts 8:1)

Paul lived a life of persecution and imprisonment, which he detailed in 2 Corinthians 11:16-33.  His letters contain a steady stream of encouragement for believers undergoing persecution.

"For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all," (2 Corinthians 4:17).

"For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for Him," (Philippians 1:29).

"Therefore, among God's churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring.  All this [how they flourish in spite of persecution] is evidence that God's judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering," (2 Thessalonians 1:4-5).

Peter talks about it, too:  "Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trials you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.  But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed," (1 Peter 4:12-13).

Suffering is also a major theme of the book of Revelation.  God gave us many words to prepare us and help us stand firm in suffering.  We should expect suffering and persecution.  It is normal, not something strange.

For many years in the USA, we have enjoyed religious freedom and the opportunity to be respected and allowed to assemble, to participate in government, to openly express our beliefs.  I believe that, unfortunately, this freedom has often resulted in a fat, complacent, self-justifying, self-serving, unloving church that is neither pleasing to God nor reflective of His character to those around us.  Because we have the "right" to worship, we also seem to feel that we have the "right" to be accepted by the world, to be mainstream, to be esteemed, to be considered appealing and relevant and trendy.  None of these presumptions can be found in the teachings of Christ.  Jesus never said that we have the right to assemble and worship without fear.  Jesus said that we would be hated for His sake.  When we courageously stand firm for Jesus during oppression, this proves the genuineness of our faith.

It may be time for the Lord to sift, winnow and purify His church.  It may time for Him to teach us what it really means to walk by the Spirit, to abide in Christ, and to love.

Rather than fighting for the right to refuse to sell cupcakes to a homosexual couple, perhaps we should prepare the prettiest, most delicious cupcakes we can fashion, and then offer them at a price where we barely break even.  Maybe showing some radical love would be a better way to fight for the kingdom of God than stubbornly provoking a lawsuit.  Maybe this is what Matthew 5:42 is about.

Rather than fighting for laws to restrict abortion, maybe we should seek ways to love people away from abortion: shower grace on single moms, help parents of children with disabilities, and adopt children who need good homes.  Laws have never helped anyone's heart, anyway.  God already proved that centuries ago; He knew we were utterly unable to obey His law without His Spirit in our hearts (Ezekiel 36:27).  In a democracy, laws are merely a barometer of where the hearts of the people are.  When people's hearts change--through the power of the Holy Spirit--then people will change the laws, or even render them irrelevant.  The other way around simply does not work.  This is an especially hard one, because lives are at stake; but ultimately, to be effective, we must change hearts, and passing laws does not change hearts.

Rather than freaking out about the horrors of the sins that are in the world--sins that other people do, the ones that don't particularly tempt us--maybe we should take a look at the planks in our own eyes.  Someone close to me recently remarked, "They point the finger at homosexuals all the time, but when was the last time you saw people organize to rally against pornography?"

We are called to love, to abide in Christ, to walk by the Spirit.  "Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. . . Love does no harm to its neighbor.  Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law," (Romans 13:8, 10).  These are huge things.  If we would actually dig in and work on them, we might not have so much time to go around pointing the finger at other people's sins.  If we figured out how to love as God asks us to, we might have more compassion for people who haven't yet found the remedy for their sin, who are seeking the living water, but drinking sewer water by mistake, a gruesome substitute.  If we approached people with love, compassion, willingness to give and share and sacrifice, maybe more of them would be able to see Jesus in us and respond to Him.

This election, American Christians may lose some of the religious freedoms that have been historically granted to us through our earthly government and man-made Constitution.  Perhaps we deserve to lose them.  Perhaps we have not wielded them well.  Perhaps we have loved our Constitution more than we have loved God's Holy Scripture.  Perhaps we have worshiped freedom more than we have worshiped God, whom the freedom was supposed to enable us to worship.

I still pray for God's mercy.  "In wrath remember mercy," I plead, returning to Habakkuk (3:2). Perhaps our Lord will do a miracle.  Maybe He will enable a third party candidate to achieve something that has never before been achieved, and bring decency back to our government.

Or, maybe the Lord will give us a ruler who seems wicked beyond imagination, like the Babylonians, and we will be humbled and purified through persecution.  Take heart, for God directs the heart of a ruler like a watercourse, wherever He pleases (Proverbs 21:1).  If God could accomplish what He accomplished through Nebuchadnezzar and Cyrus, He is certainly capable of using anyone who is elected as president of the United States.

No matter what happens, I think we need to stop trying to "spread our faith" by imposing Christian values on non-Christian people through legislation, and start bringing the Kingdom of God through life changing acts of sacrifice and love to individuals, one at a time.  The enemy has no power against love.

We need to stand firm for Jesus, faithful to His name.  He is our hope, and we must trust in Him alone.

"Some trust in horses, and some trust in chariots, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God." (Psalm 20:7)

We trust Him not to grant us earthly justice, riches, freedom and happiness.  We trust Him for eternal joy, the opportunity to stand humbly before Him in paradise and hear Him say, "Well done, good and faithful servant."


Most of the scripture quotes are NIV, or loose NIV from my memory, where they may be scrambled with KJV.

I do not know how I dare to say what we should be doing, as I am not the least bit accomplished at doing these things.  If ever there was a stay-at-home and don't-dirty-your-hands Christian, it is me.  So the challenges I write are as much to myself as they are to anyone.  We have not arrived, but may Jesus help us, at least to head in the right direction.

1 comment:

geocentre said...

Profound! Thank you!