In less than three months, the Christian community has lost two giants in the faith: R. C. Sproul, Sr. (Dec. 14, 2017) and Billy Graham (Feb. 21, 2018).  R. C. Sproul was probably one of the (if not the) greatest theologians in the Reformed community.  Billy Graham was the greatest evangelist that has lived since possibly the Apostle Paul.  Both will be sorely missed.  There is no doubt that these men leave behind quite the legacies.  They left the reformed and the evangelicals stronger and greater than when they found it.

While neither of these men sought fame, it sought them.  And they both dealt with such an intrusion well.  The fame, the spotlights, the lectures, sermons, teachings, etc. were not an end in themselves.  Christ was the end.  That was what both these men sought more than anything: Jesus.  Because of Jesus they would endure through the good and the bad, the hard and the pleasant.  I am sure they could have indulged themselves if they had wanted, and yet they refused.  Like Moses, “[They] considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of [America], for [they were] looking to the reward,” (Hebrews 11:26).

I cannot help but think of all of us “rank and file” Christians.  Most of us will not have the fame that these two men did.  When we die our funerals will not be simulcast across the world, and we will probably not be interned at the Capitol building in Washington, D. C.  That’s okay.  The question is simply, will we leave our legacy behind with those who did know us?  That’s simple, of course we will leave a legacy behind.  The real (and more difficult) question is, what kind of legacy will we be leaving behind?  Each one of us affect the lives of those who know us: children, parents, friends, church members, a person we stood next to at the DMV.

Most of us are not really looking at our legacy too closely.  I know it isn’t all about us; it’s about Jesus.  But our legacy will shape the way people view Jesus.  If our legacy is one of peace, and people know how attached we were to Jesus, they will likely view him differently than if our legacy was one of anger or lust or deceitfulness.  We often get too caught up in the here and now rather than the legacy that we are in the midst of developing.  All too often we are seeking instant gratification rather than delay it for something greater.  That greater reward that Moses, Sproul, and Graham all sought after.  Have you ever wondered why?  I have.  I have come to the conclusion that when we do not delay our gratification, but accept instant gratification it is for one or more of the following reasons:

  1. We do not truly believe that what is promised in the delayed gratification is real.
  2. We do not truly trust the Giver of that promise to give it to us.
  3. We are not attracted to the promise.

If we are not convinced of the promise, then we will take whatever we can get.  We will simply not be patient enough to collect on the promise.  Since we are not convinced, we will simply be willing to forfeit it for something of lesser value.  I will take $10 today guaranteed than take $1,000 next week.  Why?  Because I don’t believe there is a $1,000 with my name on it.

Or it could be that I don’t believe that the guy offering the $1,000 will make good on his promise.  I’d rather have that $10 because I can see it, smell it, and hold it in my hands now.  I don’t have to trust in that which I cannot see.

Or it could simply be that we don’t want the $1,000.  It doesn’t appeal to us.  The $10 will due.

We aren’t talking about $10 or $1,000 though.  We are talking about heaven and the rewards in heaven.  How often do we forfeit the rewards in heaven for lower, baser pleasures on earth?  Our brothers, R. C. Sproul and Billy Graham, showed us what a life could and would be like by keeping the future in mind at all times.  They showed us what keeping the end-game does for the soul and the legacy of a Christian–not the fame, but the faithfulness and poise and influence in spite of the fame.

What will your legacy be?  You are already in the midst of building it?   It’s not too late to reevaluate and take a look at the end, to determine how the life will build toward that end.  “For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it,” (Luke 14:28, ESV).  The Christian legacy is all about the end, counting the cost, and finishing well.


If You Can, Must You?

I recently saw “Black Panther” and I must admit that this is probably the best Marvel Movie in my humble opinion to date.  Many are praising this movie, and to be honest, I haven’t read one article or review by others.  These are just my thoughts that the movie brought to my mind.  I am not that deep of a guy, so I would say that this was the main question the movie was asking: If you can, must you?

The plot of the movie involves the Wakunda nation of Africa. They have a mountain of vibranium which allows the people to have advanced technologies, and the king to have the strength of a panther.  The question that continues to be asked is if the country has the obligation to help others less fortunate that they.

I am not going to spoil any more of the movie for the readers, but I want to think through the answer biblically, or at least present a biblical response.

This response flows out of Proverbs 3:27, “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it,” (ESV) .  of course, this raises the question as to whom does our food belong.  Context dictates that those to whom it is due is to our neighbor.  The very next verse says, “Do not say to your neighbor, ‘Go, and come again, tomorrow I will give it‘–when you have it with you,” (Prov. 3:28, ESV: emphasis mine).  The neighbor is to whom it (the good) is due.

The next question then is: who is my neighbor.  If you’re a believer, you know from where this answer comes. Jesus made it clear that everyone is our neighbor, or at very least, everyone in need is our neighbor.

The only question that is left is to ask if what is true for the individual is true for a nation.   This is a bit trickier, but I believe that the Bible, though not explicit, shows yes.  There is at least precident for saying it is true.

When Joshua was leading the Israelites into Canaan, the people as individuals(and as a whole) were instructed not to take anything. Scan however did take some items. An individual did the deed, but the nation was responsible  “But the people of Israel broke faith in regard to the devoted things, for Achan the son of Carmi, son of Zabdi, son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took some of the devoted things. And the anger of the LORD burned against the people of Israel,” (Joshua 7:1, ESV).  One individual, one nation.

Another thought is that an individual must follow after Yahweh, but the nation’s are as well.  We see this in the Psalms, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, the people whom he has chosen as his heritage,” (33:12, ESV).  This verse comes on the heels of verses 10-11 that clearly juxtaposes nations who reject the LORD and those that do not.  Likewise, we as individuals are to receive Christ as Savior and Lord, but we are called to make disciples out of all nations.  (Cf. Matthew 28:19)

I am not so naive as to think that the answer (or at least the implementation of the answer) is so simple.  However, I still would argue for the necessity of a people doing what they are able to help those who are not: their neighbor.  These abilities must also take other factors into consideration.  A person should not be the surety of another, “Be not one of those who give pledges, who put up security for debts, (Prov. 22:26, ESV).  A nation should not go into debt for another nation.  However, should one sacrifice for the good of others?  Though we are not under Israelite law, we can learn and apply principles from it.  The landowners could not harvest from the edges of the field and could not pick up anything that was dropped in the field. It was left behind for the poor and hungry.  They had to sacrifice their abundance for those in need.  Should we not as well?  There are still more things that need to be factored in as well.  More than any of us I am sure could imagine.

Let’s say a nation was overtaken by famine and the people were starving. The British Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs received the report, but ignored it.  The U.S. Secretary of State received the same report, and thus ignored it too. But North Korea’s minister received the report and sent aid to help fill the hungry people.  Which one of these is the neighborly nation?

I simply go back to Proverbs 3:27, “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it,” (ESV) .

Judgment Without Condemnation

We tend to live in a day and age where “judgment” is a bad word.  If someone used the word, those around seem to have a proverbial bar of soap ready to wash their mouths out.  Yet judgment happens all the time, and judgment can be a good thing.  We judge books by their cover.  We’re told not to, but let’s face it, if we see a book with bright colors and an intriguing picture we are much more likely to reach for it and read it than a book that looks to have lost it’s jacket.  We judge candy bars. I can tell you right now that if a candy bar has coconut on or in it (or pineapple) I will deem that candy bar a product of the devil.  (People tend to think that Adam and Eve ate an apple; I think however it was a pineapple.).   We judge styles and what we will wear.  This shirt or that shirt?  These boots or those sandals?  Judgment happens a million times a day.

Yet, when judgment comes against a person, then suddenly we have that word deserving of a good disinfectant soap.  After all, didn’t Jesus say, “Judge not, and you will not be judged,” (Luke 6:36, ESV)?  But the question is really, what does it mean to judge?  Does it mean that we can’t ever make decisions about right and wrong?  Surely not, because we cannot exist in a world without decisions being made.  So what does this mean?

In the context, Jesus just stated, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful,” (Luke 6:35, ESV).  The mercy and the judgment are in contrast to one another.  Mercy is often described as not getting (or giving) what is deserved.  Judgment is giving (or getting) what is deserved.  Judgment, in this case, is similar to the second part of verse 36: “Condemn not, and you will not be condemned.”  It was part of Jewish culture to state something and then restate it in a slightly different way. It’s what is known as parallelism.  One of the easiest examples is from Numbers 6:24-26, “The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.”  These three verses essentially say the same thing (the parallel each other), but they each use different words to convey the same idea.  So when Jesus stated that we are to judge not, he was referring to condemnation.  Rather than give what is deserved (Luke 6:36), we are to be merciful (Luke 6:35).   It does not mean that we cannot call a spade a spade or a sin a sin.

The clearest example of this (and what led to this blog), is seen in John 8.  A woman has been caught in adultery.  The Pharisees and Scribes bring her to Jesus to trap him.  They ask what they should do with her since the law of Moses stated they should stone her.  Jesus knelt down and started writing on the ground.  When they had demanded over and over again for an answer, “he stood up and said to them, ‘Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her,'” (v. 7, ESV). Judgment (condemnation) would state that stones should be thrown.  Mercy says, “should I throw a stone as I too am a sinner?”

Here is the key ingredient that helped me out with this idea of judging but without condemnation.  One by one, beginning with the oldest, the accusers (condemners) all left.  It was just Jesus and the woman.  Notice these first three words : “Jesus stood up and said to her, ‘Woman, where are they?  Has no one condemned you,'” (v. 10, ESV)?  Jesus stood up.  He took the very same posture with the woman that he did with the Pharisees and Scribes.  He took the position of authority over both.  He taught one group about giving mercy, and the woman about receiving it.  But when she agreed that no one was left to condemn her, the only one who was able to bring condemnation against her stated, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more,” (v. 11, ESV).  No condemnation in that sentence.  But there is judgment.  She had sinned and Jesus said as much.  Jesus’ judgment was right; what this lady had done was sinful.  He rightly decided about her state of being: sinful.  But rather than condemn her for being in such a state, he was merciful to her.  He was merciful by not being a stone-thrower and by warning her to stop sinning.

Remember what Micah wrote so long ago:

“He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the LORD require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God,” (6:8, ESV).

A man who condemns, is a man so full of self-righteousness that he is not even able to do one of those requirements, let alone show mercy.

“Blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy,” (Matt 5:7, ESV).

Living Faith, Dead Faith

“For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead.”
James 2:26, ESV

What if someone came up to you and told you that they hadn’t eaten for days?  What would you do?  Would you help them get something to eat?  Would you say, “I hope you find something soon.  Have a good day?”  What if they came to you with their clothes all stained and ripped apart as if they had just gotten off a deserted island?  Would you try to help them out or would you say to them, “It’s going to be cold tonight; stay warm, now?”  Hopefully we would do everything we could to help feed or clothe the people who sought help from us.

Our love for Jesus come out in our love for people.  We say that we believe in Jesus, and if so, then that means we must treat people with love.  Our faith in Jesus causes us to act.    If we do not act because of what we believe, then do we really believe it?  James says that we don’t.  Belief always leads to action.

So he tells someone to prove to me that they have faith without pointing to their actions.  There is no way to do that.  Faith is like wind.  We can’t see wind.  We can only feel the wind as it moves.  When it is moving, it is acting.  We see the dust and debris, the rustling of trees, but the wind itself is never seen.  So it is with faith.  It is invisible.  The only way we know that there is faith is if the faith is in action.  If you were to step outside, and didn’t feel the wind blow on your face or through your hair, and did not see the wind blow through trees, you would say that there is no wind no matter what your friend may say.  You’d be right.  If someone says they have faith in Jesus, but they don’t live like it, you would have the same thought that you had with the wind: there is no faith.

James make it a point to say that the devils believe in God.  They claim a faith.  But do they act on that faith?  Yes, they do.  The devils believe that God is one and they shudder.  Even the devils cannot help but act on what they believe.

So our faith is at work.  It works within our works proving that it exists.  If faith has no action, its as dead a body without a spirit.