Thursday’s Column: Carlnormous Comments
Develop A New Mindset.
Make Decisions Based On This New Mindset.
Love The Sinner, Hate the Sin.
Build Positive Relationships.
Monday’s Column: Neal at the Cross
Nadezhda Khazina was born in Russia at the turn of the 20th Century. She met and married the famous poet, Osip Mandelstam, in Kiev, Ukraine, after the Russian Revolution and establishment of communism. The couple saw enough of that system of government to conclude it was destructive and harmful, so they railed against it as they had opportunity. Mandelstam had a wide audience through his poetry, and his 1934 epigram about Joseph Stalin was a work he called “his suicide note” and that has been described as his “sixteen line death sentence.” He was arrested, exiled, and died of exposure and neglect four years later. Nadezhda became even more active in crusading against the tactics used in the Soviet Union, then near the end of her life she wrote a two volume autobiography of her life and work: Hope Against Hope (1970) and Hope Abandoned (1974)(https://spartacus-educational.com/RUSkhazina.htm). What’s interesting is looking up the name “Nadezhda” or the more familiar form “Nadia”; the name means “hope.” In fact, Lois Fisher-Ruge wrote a book by that title in 1989.
Do you see the irony? Her name meant hope, but her life was full of hopes dashed and hopelessness in the midst of her struggle. But, she kept on working because of the hope she felt.
Peter writes 1 Peter to Christians who were going to see some seemingly hopeless situations in their lives. Some of them lived in Bithynia, a region whose governor, Pliny, famously bragged to the emperor Trajan at the turn of the second century about his pogrom of executing professed Christians for their faith. This was just about half a century after Peter writes this epistle warning of persecution.
Despite Peter’s warning about the testing of their faith in unfavorable circumstances, he frequently mentions not just the ultimate reward we see for faithfully serving Christ but also “hope.” Five times in the first three chapters, Peter mentions this hope. It’s a living hope caused by Christ’s resurrection (1:3), a complete hope (1:13), a hope in God (1:21; 3:5), and a reasonable hope (3:15). The world around them was hopeless; they lived without hope. They wanted to drag the Christians into that hopeless state, but Peter urges them to hold onto hope.
Our hopes are tested by times like these, by a world full of sin and iniquity. It’s easy to restrict our focus to this earth and this life. Peter’s words are for us, too! Do not be hopeless! You have Christ. Only those in Him have legitimate hope!
There is a passage that can be so disturbing because it is so adamantly clear. That passage is Romans 13:1-7. The early church fathers had a lot to say about this passage. They lived at a time when the government sponsored and led persecution and even execution of Christians simply for being Christians and sharing Christ with others. Nobody living in our country today has any experience with what this is like. Despite the pain and price inflicted by the Roman Empire on them, over and over the early Christians defended Paul’s words in Romans 13.
- Basil—It is right to submit to higher authority whenever a command of God is not violated thereby
- Ambrosiaster—Those who believe cannot play fast and loose with the law
- Apollinaris—To disobey rulers is condemned as a mistaken way of thinking
- Chrysostom—There should be rulers and ruled and…that things should not just lapse into anarchy is the work of God’s wisdom (Ancient Christian Commentary, Vol. VI, Oden, ed.).
Whether you long for the Obama administration or love the Trump administration, whether you love or loathe your governor, senators, and congressmen, Romans 13 applies to us today. Whatever your feelings about law enforcement or our judicial system, Romans 13 applies to us today. No one should be more conscientious about their relationship to the Civil Government than a Christian. What does this text reveal to us about “the earthly powers that be?”
- The government has a Divine source (1). They are “from God” and “established by God.”
- The government is a divine statute (2). Paul calls their ruling “the ordinance of God” and he warns against opposing such.
- The government is comprised of Divine servants (3-6). The term Paul repeatedly uses of those within such earthly institutions is “ministers of God” (“servants of God,” 6) bearing the sword, bringing wrath, and devoting themselves to maintaining divinely-ordained order on earth.
- The government carries Divine stipulations (7). God calls for Christians to render them what is due to them, namely taxes, customs, fear, and honor.
The limit to this is if they command us (forbidding or making us) to do what would cause us to disobey God (cf. Acts 5:29). That is not the same as commanding us to do something that restricts our “rights,” “freedoms,” or “liberties.” There may be privileges we enjoy in a free nation which contribute to our comfort, happiness, and enjoyment. They may even be dubbed “unalienable rights” in our national constitution. May we never confuse earthly privilege with divine precept. The inspired Paul makes it clear that God is behind government for the reasons seen above. Peter, in a context about civil government, reminds us that we are “aliens and strangers” on this earth (1 Pet. 2:11; cf. 13ff). As we loudly, lustily sing, “This world is not my home, I’m just a passing through…” “For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men” (1 Pet. 2:15). May God give us the strength and wisdom to this end!
Will the day come when government attempts to shut down our Bible study and worship services? Looking back at history, particularly the books of Acts and Revelation, we know this can occur. Certainly, the current environment in our society reveals a trend toward greater intolerance of the biblical worldview. We are growing more secular and more sensual as a nation. Public symbols of Christian religion are disappearing from the public square, while public expressions of Christian religion have long since disappeared from public education. That said, we do not do service to Christ by manufacturing problems where they do not exist.
Isn’t it interesting that back when Christians were experiencing mistreatment, the Holy Spirit guided men and women to have a different attitude than that of a victim. From a prison cell he would never leave alive simply because he was preaching Christ, Paul sought to bolster a young preacher’s faith by saying, “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of the Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according tot he power of God” (2 Tim. 1:7-8). When Peter and John were beaten for their faith, “They departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name” (Acts 5:41). When they were mistreated and released earlier in this episode, the church gathered to worship and pray (Acts 4:24ff). Peter urged readiness (1 Pet. 3:15). John urged faithfulness (Rev. 2:10). Stephen showed endurance, boldness, and compassion as he became the first Christian martyr (Acts 6-7).
It is an incongruous idea to imagine the early Christians wasting precious time organizing email campaigns, seeking to draw sympathy from the media, picketing, and playing the victim. Instead, driven by their living hope (1 Pet. 1:3), they committed their lives to Jesus while they spent their days trying to spread the good news of Christ (Acts 8:4; Col. 1:23). Even as Christians were martyred (Stephen, James, those assaulted by Saul of Tarsus’ efforts, and those during the time of the book of Revelation and shortly thereafter), there is no hint of any of them roaming around with a martyr complex. Let us emulate their great example!
The two Sundays Kathy and I spent in Israel were with the church in Nazareth, about two hours north of where we are staying near Jerusalem. An interesting fact in a nation where an overwhelming majority of citizens are either Jews, the largest group, or Muslims, still a significant, but smaller group, is that there is a fairly small number of those professing to be Christians. The congregation in Nazareth, which has around 40 members, is comprised almost entirely of Arab people. As I spoke with one of the men yesterday, he said something that will stay with me a long time. He talked about how Arab Christians are viewed by their fellow-citizens. If Jews sees him standing beside a Muslim, they think he’s a Muslim. As most Arabs in Israel are Muslim, that seems logical. They see him as a potential threat and enemy. But, Arabs who find out he’s a Christian, and there are so many ways to readily see he’s not a Muslim–clothing, customs, etc.–see him as infidel or even a traitor. His remarks were in response to the sermon I preached from 1 Peter 2:21-25 on how Jesus handled persecution. He says that the Arabic Christians can tend to feel like people without a country.
Now, while you and I do not share the unique circumstance of Arab Christians in Israel, there is a similarity we see from earlier in 1 Peter 2. Peter tells Christians, “ Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation” (11-12). We’re going to “look” different, abstaining from fleshly lusts. We’re going to “act” different, keeping our behavior excellent doing good deeds. Whether we physically look like the people who observe us or we look different from them, our Christianity will be noticeable and observable. That’s not the same as doing your works in order to be seen of men (Mat. 23:5). Instead, living the Christian life–no matter what–will inevitably catch the attention of the people around us.
I’m grateful for the object lesson I received. Pray for our Arab brethren, men and women in a spiritual sense who are “without a country.” Pray for our brethren in places where their faith in Christ is scorned and more overtly persecuted. Pray for us, that we will be salt and light which stands out and stands up for Jesus in our daily places where darkness persists.
AD 30—Tiberius, who became cruel and mad, was the Roman Emperor when the church was established. Under his reign, right around the time of Pentecost, Rome was filled with terror after the murder of his once trusted advisor turned traitor, Sejanus (tribunesandtriumphs.org). Sanderson Beck comments that he was “preoccupied with sexual and sadistic perversions” the last several years of his life (he is believed to have been murdered)(san.beck.org). Jerusalem was directly governed by Rome. Acts, though probably written in the 60s, begins its historical chronicle around AD 30.
- Acts 2:41—“So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls.”
- Acts 4:4—“But many of those who had heard the message believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand.”
- Acts 5:14—“And all the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women, were constantly added to their number.”
- Acts 6:7—“The word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith.”
- See also Acts 12:24 and Acts 19:20,
AD 62-63—Nero, described as licentious, cruel, tyrannical, murderous, criminal, arson, vain, perverse (tribunesandtriumphs.org) and, by historian Donald Wesson as a “cross-dressing exhibitionist” (ancient.eu), spearheaded the first organized persecution of Christians (N.S. Gill, ancienthistory.about.com). Tacitus says he blamed the Christians for his own burning of Rome. Many are the accounts of the cruel ways Nero put them to death (eyewitnesstohistory.com). Eusebius reports that Nero put both Paul and Peter to death (Church History, Book 2, Ch. 25). Before his death, Paul would report of such rapid growth throughout Nero’s reign. Peter’s outlook could not have been brighter.
- Colossians 1:23—“if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, was made a minister.”
- 1 Peter 1:3—“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”
AD 90s—Domitian, best remembered as “the evil emperor who murdered thousands of Christians” (tribunesandtriumphs.org), reigned when John wrote his epistles and the book of Revelation. He was notorious for his cruelty and detachment from reality. John writes Revelation in large part to steady the Christians to withstand the onslaught of persecution caused by Domitian. His message to the Christians during the reign of Domitian was consistent:
- 1 John 4:4—“You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.”
- 1 John 5:4—“For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.”
- Revelation 1:6-7—“He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father—to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen. Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. So it is to be. Amen.”
How bad did things look, from an earthly perspective, during the reigns of evil rulers like Tiberius, Nero, and Domitian? The thing is, the early Christians did not look at things from an earthly perspective. As those trying to walk in the footsteps of New Testament Christians, will we imitate their faith and that perspective?
Chameleons are truly one of God’s most fascinating creations. Their tongue can be twice the length of their body! Their feet are climbing marvels. Their eyes can focus on two objects at once, and they have a 360-degree arc of vision. They can see both visible and ultraviolet light (information via Journal of Comparative Physiology, 2/98, PNAS, Vol. 107, No. 12, A Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles, et al). Despite all of this, what do we associate the chameleon with? It changes colors to blend in with its environment. From this alteration of appearance, we have come to use the word in a figurative sense. To be a chameleon has come to mean one who becomes like those around them in order to blend in with them. Often, the term is not used in a complimentary way.
Paul tells us that he was able to relate to people of different circumstances, adapting himself to peoples of different backgrounds in 1 Corinthians 9:19-22. Context and other passages would not lend support to the idea of compromising biblical truth in order to fit in with anyone. He would not sacrifice doctrine for fellowship with those in error nor would he sacrifice moral truth to accommodate those of a worldly mindset. Motivated by a burning desire to convert the lost to Christ, Paul went among the Jews, those under the Law, those without the law, and the weak and used his knowledge, experience, and familiarity with people in those circumstances “for the sake of the gospel” (23). But he did all of that, being under the law of Christ, in a disciplined way (27).
We are tempted to alter our speech, compromise our convictions, hedge our beliefs, and place ourselves in ungodly situations in order to fit in with people whose acceptance we seek. We may feel we have to put our lights under a basket (cf. Mat. 5:15) to appease a client, coworkers, non-Christian family, or others whose association or friendship we’ve made. It can feel more comfortable to blend in, to conform to them (cf. Rom. 12:1).
Peter writes to Christians faced with persecution, encouraging them to suffer in this world in order to gain unsurpassed joy and blessings in eternity. They were tempted to enjoy comfort and acceptance here only to forfeit God’s acceptance at the Judgment. It is so hard to see past what we’re facing right now, but we must ready to suffer with Christ (cf. 1 Pet. 4:12-19). Our challenge is to relate to as many people as possible, understanding and loving them without participating with them in what’s not right or making them think that they are right in living contrary to the way of Christ. Politicians may “go along to get along,” but Christians have a higher calling. Make sure your Christian light shows up in the crowd!
The ISIS beheadings so frequently in the news and readily available on the internet are terrifying to behold and consider. If terrorism is, as the Mac Dictionary defines it, “the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims,” such would be terrorist activity. The latest spectacle, involving 21 “Coptic Christians” (Egyptian Orthodox religion), seems to show the Islamic State organization is eager to isolate and persecute those seeking to follow Christ.
Do you ever wonder if there will come a day where New Testament Christians in this country may face the threat of death for standing up for Christ? It has certainly happened to God’s people in the past, especially when the church was first established. We read about the persecution that started with Stephen then extended to the saints at Jerusalem in the book of Acts. We read of individuals like Paul, who suffered for Christ on many occasions (2 Cor. 11). Then, there are the statements made to encourage Christians who might be rattled or scared at the prospect of such treatment. Twice, writing the Thessalonians, Paul was concerned they would be disturbed by trouble (1 Th. 3:3; 2 Th. 2:2). He wrote about how persecution was, at times, inevitable (Ph. 1:29; 1 Th. 3:4; 2 Tim. 2:3; 1 Pt. 3:14). Of course, Christ showed us His way includes suffering (1 Pt. 2:21ff).
The Bible also gives us great encouragement in the face of the disturbing prospect of suffering for our faith. Consider a few highlights:
- We can rejoice if counted worthy of suffering for Christ (Acts 5:41).
- Those who suffer with Him will be glorified with Him (Rom. 8:17).
- Suffering can give one a clearer perspective and priority (Phil. 3:8).
- Suffering is a plain indication of God’s righteous judgment so that we’ll be counted worthy of His Kingdom (2 Th. 1:5).
- It finds favor with God if we are faithful through our sufferings (1 Pt. 2:19).
- It is better to suffer for doing right than doing wrong (1 Pt. 4:17).
- We can entrust our souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right (1 Pt. 4:19).
- The God of all grace will comfort those who suffer (1 Pt. 5:10).
I don’t think any of us relish or welcome the thought of suffering under any circumstances. Yet, God has communicated these truths to us to help us decide in these potential trials. Perhaps it will help us be less disturbed and more determined to be faithful even to the point of death (Rev. 2:10).
Paul recounted his conversion on several occasions and spoke of his attitude toward Christianity before embracing it himself. Of the many ways he described his pre-Christian life, think about what he said in Acts 26:11. He describes it as being “furiously enraged” at Christians. He ravaged the church (Acts 8:3). He breathed out threats against them (Acts 9:1). He had the power and desire to punish them (Acts 22:5). He was a violent aggressor toward Christians (1 Tim. 1:13). What changed him?
The word of Christ did (Acts 27:14). Jesus taught that among the conditions of heart is the good and honest one (Luke 8:15). The teaching of Christ can change people’s minds and attitudes.
A changed view of Christ did (Acts 27:15). Though Scripture does not explicitly tell us his view toward Jesus before his conversion, His vicious reaction to “The Way” (Acts 9:2; 22:4) reveals that he was absolutely opposed to the view of Christ asserted by the disciples, that He is Lord (cf. Acts 2:36). Yet, on the road to Damascus, encountering Jesus, Paul immediately begins to acknowledge Him as “Lord” (see how Luke emphasizes the Lordship of Christ in Saul’s conversion in the account in Acts 9—1,5,10,11,13,15,17). A person will have a dramatic attitude adjustment toward Christ who comes to acknowledge and appreciate Him as Lord and Master.
A more profound life’s purpose did it (Acts 27:16-21). Christ outlines His purpose for Saul—a minister (16), a witness (16), opening people’s eyes (18) as his own were. Whatever the focus of a person’s life, it is not as meaningful as when Christ is in the center of that focus.
16th-Century Scottish historian, John Knox, wrote, “No one else holds or has held the place in the heart of the world which Jesus holds. Other gods have been as devoutly worshipped; no other man has been so devoutly loved” (Haythum Khalid). That is true for those who come to take Him as He is presented in the Bible. In the public marketplace where ideas are sold and traded, we will encounter people whose mindset toward Christ and His Way mirrors that of Paul’s before He was converted to Him. Our task is to live Him in our lives and, if possible, share His Word. If their heart is good and honest, the Word will change their view of Christ and their view of their life’s purpose. If that happened so frequently in the unfriendly environment of the Roman Empire of the first-century, it can happen in our current culture!