We sometimes describe people as being open minded or close minded; willing to listen to other positions, or refusing to hear any other. Some Christians are accused of being closed minded fundamentalists condemning others, and there certainly are these, unfortunately. But the question is not how strictly one holds to a position, but how they seeks to share that position. For Christians, the divinity of Christ, and salvation by faith in Him are central. These truths cannot be given up, and are worth dying for. But how we share them is of prime importance. They are first shared by a life that is lived in sacrificial service. It is only the love of Christ through us that will draw others to Him. It is being open to others, and allowing them to see that we care, that will show them there is something better in Jesus. Christianity is a faith worth dying for, but more importantly it is a faith worth living to the fullest.
St. Paul wrote in Philippians 1:21 “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” I attended a funeral this past Friday of a pastor in our community. Bud had been in this area for almost 50 years. There was no one else I know that could be called the town’s pastor. He had a local church, but he knew, and had ministered to, most of the business owners and many others in the town. He didn’t have an easy life. He and his family always lived on a very tight budget, faced a number of family problems, and had been driven from one church by internal conflict. Yet for him to live was Christ. It was a joy to meet and talk with him. The name of Jesus was in his heart and on his lips. The packed church testified to the impact the Lord had on many through his life. And the funeral service was glorious! For him to die was truly gain. Paul’s words are not just for preachers. He was writing to a normal Christian congregation. What he said is a witness for us all. Life is not easy. Trials abound. Yet Jesus Christ is in the midst of life, and by His Spirit He is in the midst of us. To live is Christ, and death is not feared. It can only be gain.
All through the Scripture, both Old Testament and New, God’s people are called to be different. In the Old Testament, Israel was not to mix with the foreign peoples and accept their idolatrous practices. In the New Testament we are told not to follow the immoral practices of the prevailing culture. God wants all people to be saved. Christianity is not an exclusive sect, but we cannot show the world that there is something wonderful that they need, if we already look just like they do. Through Jesus Christ, God is inviting all people to come up to a way of life that is far better than anything they might gain in the world. But people need to see that “far better” lived out in the lives of His people. That is why we are called to be different. This is not a legal requirement of God, but a life lived in relationship to Him, that is reflected in our lives.
John records the response to Jesus’ teaching saying that “many even among the leaders believed in Him. But because of the Pharisees they would not confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue.” (12:42) To be sure, being put out of the synagogue was an extremely serious punishment. It meant the loss of all social contact, including ones livelihood. There are many today being asked to pay a very high price for their witness. We may not face such serious consequences, but do we hide our faith at times for fear of what other might think? We don’t have to be “in your face” with our witness, but to believe in Jesus Christ means that we seek to consistently live by His values, and His love in every situation. If we do this, God will see us through whatever the consequences, and honor will be brought to His name.
We’ve all heard the saying Ignorance is Bliss. We’ve also heard “what you don’t know can’t hurt you”. Both of these sayings run contrary to Scripture which teaches us to be aware of what is happening around us, and guide our lives by the truths of our Lord. The Prophet Hosea warned, “my people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.”(4:6) Jesus lamented over the city of Jerusalem, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace–but now it is hidden from your eyes.”(Luke 19:42) We live in a world that is vastly and fundamentally changing. Many of those changes, particularly in sexual mores, where unheard of a generation ago, and run counter to the clear teaching of Scripture. Christians must clearly understand all that is happening in our world. This is where ignorance is not bliss, and we can be drastically hurt by what we don’t know. Many issues are complex. We are not opposed to anyone, and must speak with compassion, but we must also stand firm in our witness to the truth of God’s revealed Word. In Paul’s words we must “no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching… Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.”(Ephesians 4:14-15)
The government is running totally amuck in efforts to be inclusive. A Washington state coach was suspended for praying on the football field – after the game was over and all the players had left the field. An Alabama Teacher of the Year with 21 years elementary school experience chose to resign rather than be forced to pay more fees and take more tests to prove that she was qualified to teach. A Chicago school district was overruled by the U.S. Department of Education in wanting to use a privacy screen in a girls locker room so a transgender male could use it. The Department rejected the argument that boys and girls should not see each other naked. An Ohio couple lost their business when they declined to host a same-sex wedding. If one looks at synonyms for amock they find berserk, batty, nuts, and even demoniacal and possessed. It is right to treat all people fairly, with respect, and seek to understand their needs and struggles in life, but at the same time we do not abandon the God-given values established for our good. I don’t have an answer, and the next election isn’t going to change much. I do know the values our Lord has given, and the need to stand on those values regardless of the cost. This is the witness we have to the truth and goodness of our Lord.
Yesterday I used an illustration from the creation account in Genesis three. People are all to quick to write off those early chapters of the Bible as myth, lumping them them in with Babylonian and other creations stories. But there is a lot of solid God given truth here. A large part of our trouble and confusion today comes from ignoring what God has taught us for our good. I don’t see the world all of a sudden accepting these basic principles of life. However, we who believe them, and seek to live them in our own lives and families are His witnesses. We share this life with one person, one family at a time. Having fellowship with our Lord, living in and honoring a covenant marriage, seeking to be obedient to God’s Word, abiding in the peace that Christ gives, these are things that speak loudly to others. Maybe then they will want to learn about the source from which this life comes. The Book of Genesis is really good stuff. Perhaps others will see it through us.
Over my years of wood working I have made a lot of signs. When I’m riding around I tend to look at the style of the signs I see. There are a lot with fancy lettering and various designs. They make nice pieces of art work, but are really pretty useless in convey information. A sign that can be read quickly at a distance has plain, bold, and clear lettering. The same is true for our witness to Jesus Christ. A witness that is clearly seen doesn’t need a lot of fancy words and theological trappings. It simply need a heart that is in love with Jesus, and a life that shows the joy of His love. It is a heart that has the desire for others to have that same joy. If this is the content of our life, then it can’t help but be read by others, even when we are not aware of it.
Paul had an encounter with the Apostle Peter which must have been pretty strong. Telling of it in Galatians two he says, “when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned.”(vs.11) The issue of accepting Gentiles into the church had been settled, but there were groups of Jews who still wanted the new Gentile converts to conform to Jewish law. Peter knew what was right, but apparently he drew back from a group of Gentile Christians when the Jews objected. Paul opposed him because he wasn’t acting sincerely according to his beliefs. We can sympathize a bit with Peter. We’ve all been in that position. “What? You want me to pray in a public restaurant?” “I really need to be careful what I say around my unbelieving neighbors. I don’t want to offend them.” etc. etc. But Paul is calling us to stand firm on our faith. We don’t have to be ‘in your face’ Christians, but we do have the greatest message in the world that all need to see and hear in the love of Jesus. That should not be compromised.
Sometimes one line in an article will catch my attention. I was reading about a network news organization where one correspondent said, “When there is an ‘accepted truth’ out there and you’re the only ones challenging it, providing alternative perspectives, it can be heard.” She was talking about a particular spin on the invasion of a country, but it can be quite true for our witness to God’s truth in our secular world. To hold a view of the world that is governed by the truth of Scripture can be difficult when much of society has a vastly different view. We find this in dealing with the concept of creation, the nature of man, eternal life, the way of salvation, and so forth. In Sunday’s epistle lesson St. Paul wrote, “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”(I Corinthians 1:18) Most people don’t even like to consider the dichotomy of saved and perishing, seeing God only as a God of love who saves everyone. But there are truths from our Lord that are contrary to the ways of fallen man. We hold to those truths because they are our life.