In this volatile political climate, many Christians face some uncomfortable dilemmas. Is party line a salvation issue? How do we handle seemingly irreconcilable differences? What do we do going forward?
Rather than delving into those questions, I’d like to focus on the attitude of the early church, which faced internal division–Jew/Gentile controversies like in Acts 15, opinions over cultural matters as seen in I Corinthians 8 and Romans 14, and external pressures.
In keeping with the spirit of the early church, let’s focus on the following list.
We must focus on and grow our own spiritual culture, independent of our earthly nationality (while observing Romans 13).
We must be faithful Christians who value being righteous, no matter the cost.
We must manage our concerns and worries by spending MORE time with each other and developing our faith.
We may need to see ourselves less as Americans and more as Christians. If we remember that our kingdom is the church first, we will be far more united.
Be awesome citizens. When outsiders hear about us, it should be that we never cause trouble, we are loyal to each other, we are selfless, we help people, we have strong families, we rely on each other, we are pleasant to be around, we are dedicated to our faith, and we love people who treat us poorly.
We must remember that priority number one is heaven. Everything else is second.
We must avoid talking or posting on social media about non-salvation issues that can and do create division or offense, out of courtesy and respect for each other (Romans 14.1-4; 13ff).
If these are the things we worry about and focus on, no political division or any other heartburn-inducing unpleasantness can affect us. Besides being happier, we’ll be a stronger church!
Judges 12 details a civil war between Ephraim and the Gileadites of Manasseh. God used Jephthah and the Gileadites to humble Ephraim. The haughty Ephraimites felt they could bully Jephthah and the Gileadites as they had previously bullied Gideon (Judges 8). Jephthah and his men ended up slaying 42,000 Ephraimites. One of the keys to the Gileadites’ lopsided victory was seizing the fords over the Jordan River. And when fleeing Ephraimites tried to cross, they were asked for a “password.” The password was “shibboleth.” Various commentators have offered different definitions for the word, but its meaning is not necessary to understand the text. Here is what we need to know: The Ephraimites could not pronounce the word “shibboleth,” as the Gileadites. Thus, they replied, “sibboleth.” Having been betrayed by their dialect, the Gileadites then slew the Ephraimites.
Wordsmiths know that, beyond its Biblical source, shibboleth has come to mean any word or practice separating one group from another. Christians should have shibboleths, correct? They are called upon to transform themselves from the world rather than conform to it (Romans 12.1-2). However, while perusing several online dictionaries, I noted that they also tended to look upon a shibboleth unfavorably, calling it an “old-fashioned” or “outdated” idea still clung to by some. In the example sentences provided by those aforementioned dictionaries, shibboleths seem connected with “conservative-thinking” people. So, evidently, “progressives” must not be hampered by them. Frankly, it is hard to keep up with the self-righteousness of progressives. Their mores change so swiftly that sometimes they snare even themselves when a past tweet or video surfaces. It reminds me of the foolish man building his house upon the sand (Matthew 7.26-27).
God is aware of the mindset that mocks established standards. Jeremiah records God’s words: “Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is, and walk in it; and you will find rest for your souls.” (6.16) Not unlike those living today, Jeremiah’s contemporaries replied, “We will not walk in it.” (ibid.) To borrow modern parlance, those in ancient Judah found the old paths “shibboleth.” But who gives such persons the right to esteem something as antiquated? Honestly, it seems like it is the “right” of the squeakiest wheel, those with the largest echo chamber. Those of us with our shibboleths abandoned the arena of popular culture, education, and media. Hence, we can only blame ourselves for allowing the castigation of truth as incompatible with temporary society.
But lest we forget, the victors from the source material had their shibboleth while the defeated had their sibboleth. As someone has said in summation of the book of Revelation, the message is that in the end, God wins. That is applicable here as well. God brings victory to those with the shibboleth, not sibboleth. No, it is not a superior concept because it is older. We can find new ways to do something that is “old.” (e.g., We may use new mediums to teach the “old Jerusalem Gospel.”) The shibboleth is what was given by God in His inspired word. Sibboleths reflect the precepts of men (cf. Matthew 15.8-9). We must not drop even one consonant sound (cf. Deuteronomy 4.2; 12.32; Proverbs 30.6; Revelation 22.18).
When I eventually cross the Jordan River ford, I want to find life, not death. Don’t you agree? To safely cross, an obedient life is our “password.”
Were you ever in the 4-H Club in school? It is an organization teaching skills you might not learn at home, urging you to get involved in your community, and helping you with a wide variety of life skills from public speaking to caring for animals. The acronym stands for “head, heart, hands, and health.” Their slogan was that you learn by doing.
In Matthew 23, Jesus gives His harshest barrage of condemnation in the Bible. He didn’t aim it at godless, irreligious heathens, but to religious leaders. They were faithful churchgoers who professed faith in God, but Jesuscalls them on some glaring problems that made God reject them .
THEY WERE HYPOCRITES (3-4)
They told others to observe things but they didn’t do them (3). They laid heavy burdens on others but were unwilling to life a finger to move them themselves (4). While hypocrisy can be defined as being a spiritual chameleon, acting one way with the righteous and another way with the world, is also hypocrisy. Seven times in this chapter, Jesus says, “Woe unto you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites.” The world sees double standards and a person who says one thing and does another as a hypocrite. It doesn’t necessarily make them bitter or angry. It makes them not care. They are conditioned to expect that all Xians are hypocrites. Being hypocritical only reinforces and heightens the stereotype. But the Bible calls for us to have a sincere faith (1 Tim. 1:5). We are to possess pure and undefiled religion, which is objectively measured (Jas. 1:27). We have an opportunity to blow the stereotype by being the genuine article who reflects the attitude and speech of Christ each day with the world.
THEY WERE HOLLOW (5)
If there’s anything worse than beauty that’s only skin deep, it’s religion. Jesus condemns those who did all their deeds to be seen of men. The world is repelled by professed Christians who don’t take time to see them as people. Often, they feel as if their only importance is as a potential convert or as a sinner to be judged. If we’re not careful, we fail to see every person as precious to God. That includes the immoral, the edgy, the rough, and the square peg. They see us doing or saying good things, but it’s hollow. We may do it be be noticed as a good, godly person, but we miss the opportunities to actually do good and be godly with those we interact with. Paul says, “Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person” (Col. 4:5-6).
THEY WERE HAUGHTY (6-12)
They wanted honor, respect, and recognition. Jesus diagnoses their problem as one of self-exaltation (12). 2. It was the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable on prayer who thanked God for his perceived superiority over other people (Lk 18:10). The world sees smug, self-righteousness as a total turn off. Jesus later says that these folks were like whitewashed tombs, beautiful outside but full of dead men’s bones (27). This is not the religion and life Jesus calls His followers to live. He describes greatness as service (11) and self-denial (16:24). The world will never be won to Christ by proud Pharisees. It takes humble hearts and helping hands to point people to Christ.
THEY WERE HARSH (13-15)
Christ says, “But woe to you, scribes & Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from people; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in” (13). This is how the world sees all Christians, as Judge, jury and executioner. They don’t see the love of God and the grace of Christ. They see exclusive, isolated people who have written off everyone else. Jesus suggests that those they reach are those likeminded (15). Some people are drawn to harsh and hateful rhetoric, but they don’t make good converts of Jesus—if they stay that way. Jesus told His disciples that their identifying mark should be love (John 13:34-35). This world is an unloving place and so sincere love will reach people. At first, they may not believe we could be the real thing, but persistent compassion and grace will ultimate reach the honest heart.
The world doesn’t need Christians who compromise the truth. But they do need to see transformed disciples (Rom 12:1-2). We can be righteous without being self-righteous; We can be courageous without being callus. Matthew 23 shows that this is a must, if we will practice true righteousness.
Once I preferred laptops, but since the advent of Android and Apple tablets, I migrated back to the desktop PC. When attempting to accomplish work, there is something to be said for sitting at a dedicated workspace to help productivity. Even so, I usually choose desktop wallpaper to reflect my interests from the religious to whimsical. My capricious nature typically ensures that wallpaper is changed frequently.
One day after having selected an artist’s rendering of the Christ wearing a crown of thorns for my wallpaper, I noted how I had allowed the desktop of my PC to become cluttered with icons and files. Though they made finding things more manageable, they obscured the image I had chosen for my inspiration. I had to do some cleaning so that I could once again see Christ!
Spiritually, I feel as if we sometimes equally “mask” the presence of the Christ in our lives. It is not our intention to do so, of course. We are just going about our regular business. Yet, there comes the point in out lives in which we begin doing what we feel is most convenient, despite what this “convenience” does to the presence of the Christ in our lies. Soon, others are unable to readily see the Christ in our lives since He has become obscured by our ephemera. If this persists, others will be unable to see Him at all.
When this happens, it is time to clean up or bring order to the chaos. One needs to put things in their proper place so that the image of Christ becomes accentuated rather than obscured (cf. Matthew 6.33). It may take a bit of work, but the effort is worth more than anything else in this world because of its eternal implications.
Dear reader, are others able to see the Christ in your life? If not, perhaps it is time for spiritual cleansing. The only thing equal to the task, great or small, is the blood of Jesus Christ. For the one having never clothed him or herself in Christ (Galatians 3.27), baptism brings about the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2.38). For the immersed believer, the blood of Christ continuously cleanses us as we walk in fellowship with Him and fellow Christians (1 John 1.7).
Check your image in the spiritual mirror (James 1.22-25). If you cannot see the Christ, rest assured others cannot see Him either. Let us always strive so others can see the Christ in us.
Nothing is worse than washing your hands only to find that there aren’t any more paper towels. A paper towel roll with no towels is completely worthless. You can’t dry your hands with the roll (trust me I’ve tried), and you’re left feeling grumpy as you wipe your hands on your clothes.
In Matthew 5:13, Jesus tells us that we “are the salt of the earth.” Why are we given this description? The Greek word for salt is “halas” and its definition will blow your mind…it means salt. Jesus is talking about literal salt, so why would He tell us that we are a high sodium white crystalline substance? Salt adds flavor, it preserves food, and in small amounts can fertilize land. The Christian is salt because we add flavor to the world in the form of the gospel. We are able to preserve people’s souls through Christ. We help people grow with the help of God’s Word. That’s our job. We are the salt of the earth.
But what happens if we lose our flavor? We become worthless. Salt loses flavor when it comes in contact with moisture. If we become exposed to the world and let it take away our Christianity, what are we good for? We can’t add flavor, preserve, or even be fit to throw on some dirt. A paper towel roll with no towels does nothing. It can no longer be used for the purpose it was made for. The Christian who doesn’t live for Christ is deserting their purpose, and God sees them as worthless.
What are we showing the world? Are we carrying out our duty as followers of Christ? Don’t let it be said of us that we have lost our flavor. Don’t let God look at our life and say it is worthless to Him.
When Harry Procter first marketed his Ivory soap in 1891, he used the simple slogan, “It floats!” Within a few years, however, he conceived of a new angle he could use to peddle Ivory to the masses. He decided to have an independent laboratory analyze his soap along with Castile soaps also available on the market in the 1890s. The laboratory’s conclusions were used by Procter to declare that Ivory was “99 44/100% Pure.” And that was Ivory’s new slogan. 1
The problem with that slogan is that there was no standard for comparison. Who defined what “pure” meant? Was it the independent laboratory that Procter paid to do the analysis? That does not pass the smell test. If paid to find a particular result, are you going to maintain your integrity and admit that there was no litmus test for soap purity? Thus, when you look at a package of Ivory soap today with its vaunted claim of being “99 44/100% Pure,” remember that is a subjective statement based on a clever marketing ploy. In other words, Ivory is pure only because it proclaims itself to be so.
If we are not careful, we can be guilty of doing something similar spiritually. That is, we might puff ourselves up, stating we are superior to those around us when we have no objective basis for our statement. Jesus cautioned us against such behavior. He told us not to do things to be seen of men in His Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6.1-6). He gave the parable of the Pharisee and the publican to caution us that we should not seek to justify ourselves by looking upon others with contempt (Luke 18.9-14). The sobering truth is that even when we have done everything commanded of us, we are to say, “We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done” (Luke 17.10b NASB). Indeed, Jesus calls us to second-mile service (Matthew 5.41).
Regarding the final judgment, Jesus warned that there would be some who would stand before Him and laud those works (of their devising) they had done. His response for them will be, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness” (Matthew 7.23 NASB). It is not as if the desires of God are unknown. He has declared them to us. And this constitutes the criteria for our judgment (John 12.48). Indeed, we must do the will of the Father (Matthew 7.21). As such, we have an objective standard by which to compare our lives. Beyond that, we are to show mercy. We must walk in the same love as Christ had for us (Ephesians 5.1-2). That was a generous love putting our interests ahead of His own. In like manner, we must avoid allowing the abuse of our Christian liberty to cause another to stumble (1 Corinthians 8.9). Only when doing such, can we begin to say that our righteousness is not like filthy rags (Isaiah 64.6).
Fortunately, we do not have to guess whether we are living lives pleasing to Him. Hence, even if we cannot quantify our purity with an exact number like 99 44/100%, we can still rest assured that the blood of Jesus Christ has us thoroughly cleansed (1 John 1.7). In the interim, we plead with David, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me.” (Psalm 51.10).
In a world facing ever-changing circumstances, we need to be reminded of some truths about God. A great text that can help us do this is found in the writings of the Messianic prophet, Isaiah. He tells us some exciting facts about God in Isaiah 33:5-6.In brief, Isaiah reminds us of God’s transcendence (“exalted…on high”), His trustworthiness (“has filled Zion with justice and righteousness”), and His treasure (“a wealth of salvation, wisdom and knowledge; The fear of the Lord is his treasure”).In the midst of upholding God’s perfect character, the prophet makes this reassuring statement: “And He will be the stability of your times.”
In part, here is what that means to us today…
There is no minimum distance we have to keep from Him under any circumstance (Jas. 4:8).
There is no restriction or limit on our access to Him and His blessings, on prayer or His Word (Phil. 4:19).
There is no chance that you will look for Him and He will not be there (Psa. 50:15).
There is no possibility that you will learn that what was true of Him yesterday is not true of Him today (or tomorrow)(Heb. 13:8)
There is no cancellation policy at the throne of grace for the child of God (Heb. 4:16).
There is no threat or danger that can keep you from the love of God (Rom. 8:38-39).
There is no earthly thing to nullify the truth that “the Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid” (Heb. 13:6).
The more we expose ourselves to Him, the healthier we will be.
There is zero chance that you will go to Him for healing and have it fail (Jer. 8:22; Luke 5:31).
Scripture calls Him the Rock (Deut. 32:4), the shield (2 Sam. 22:31), my protection (Isa. 27:5), my shield, stronghold, and protection (2 Sam. 22:3), and a strong tower (Prov. 18:10). As Nebuchadnezzar understood, “all His works are true and His ways just” (Dan. 4:37).
Take heart. Take on the day. Take comfort and refuge. “And He will be the stability of your times.”
Growing up, I heard my dad preach a sermon comparing different type of shoes to various people’s religious attitudes. You can imagine the application of such shoe types as the slipper, the loafer, the work boot, the Sunday shoe, the combat boot, etc. It was a clever illustration to encourage everyone to live a faithful Christian life and avoid a mentality that hurts the church.
Do you have a favorite kind of shoe? I’d venture to guess that you even have a favorite pair or couple of pairs of shoes. Usually, you’ll find me either in a pair of cowboy boots or in a pair of running shoes. What goes into why you favor a pair of shoes? Quality? Style? Comfort?
To make a spiritual point by referring to footwear is more ancient than my dad’s efforts to do so. No less than the apostle Paul referred to “having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace” (Eph. 6:15). Indirectly, Isaiah and Paul give attention to this very idea by complimenting the “beautiful feet” of those who bring good news of good things (Isa. 52:7; Rom. 10:15).
You would think, to borrow dad’s analogy, that some “shoes,” figuratively, shouldn’t be adorned as part of our Christian armor. Flip-flops aren’t good (Jas. 1:8). Neither are skate shoes (Rom. 12:11; Col. 3:23). Camouflage boots can be a liability (Rom. 12:2). It would seem counterproductive for a preacher or teacher to favor tap dancing shoes (2 Tim. 4:3), since our responsibility is to stand firm (Eph. 6:11,13,14).
Staying with the analogy, some shoes are excellent if used according to their design. Running shoes are essential to running the Christian race (1 Cor. 9:24,26; Heb. 12:1), but not to run in vain (Gal. 2:2; Phil. 2:16), run with sinners to sin (1 Pet. 4:4), or run after false teachers (Luke 17:23). Work boots can be misused in prioritizing occupation and career over the kingdom, but when used in the exercise of our talents and resources to grow the kingdom they are worn well (Mat. 5:16; 9:37-38).
You get the idea, and you can no doubt add to the analogy with your own ideas. But, spiritually, what is your favorite pair of shoes? John the Baptist suggests that Jesus, like most all others of His day, wore sandals (Mark 1:7). John felt unworthy to even untie them. Yet, Peter, later on, would say “follow in His steps” (1 Pet. 2:21). Jesus’ shoes carried Him to Samaria to minister to the woman at the well. They presumably walked on water. They took Him to Lazarus’ tomb. He doubtless wore them as He ascended the mountain to preach the greatest sermon ever delivered. Was He permitted to wear them as He carried His cross to Calvary?
We aren’t qualified and worthy to be in His shoes, but, as the song suggests, we must be “trying to walk in the steps of the Savior.” Another hymn avers, “Where He leads me, I will follow.” Our favorite shoes should be the ones revealing the footsteps of Jesus. We follow Him and anyone can follow us (1 Cor. 11:1). They will help us walk in good works (Eph. 2:10), in a worthy manner (Eph. 4:1), in love (Eph. 5:2), and carefully (Eph. 5:15).
God’s people around our nation are praying for our brethren at the West Freeway church of Christ outside Fort Worth, Texas. Most congregations I know have long since devised church security solutions, including security cameras, personnel to watch at entrances, and procedures for handling potential threats. In likely every congregation, there are a number of individuals both with concealed and visible firearms. Though this is a politically divisive issue, the fact that a gunman disrupted the most sacred moment of worship makes this preeminently relevant. You likely feel very strongly about this matter, regardless of where you stand on it.
Whatever your position on the second amendment of the U.S. Constitution, did you know that the Bible commands us to be armed? Consider what the Holy Spirit through various writers has to say regarding something that transcends time and earth. Wherever we go, we must not be without these weapons for our spiritual warfare.
–“Be armed with the purpose of suffering” (1 Peter 4:1). This word means to take up arms. It is in the context of suffering righteously for Christ’s sake. In a world filled with people who are aimless, Christians have the ultimate purpose. In fulfilling that purpose, we will be opposed, threatened, and tempted to quit. Only by preparing ourselves for the Christ-life will we survive whoever or whatever attempts to destroy our faith.
–“Be armed with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and the left” (2 Cor. 6:7). Paul did not want Corinth to receive the grace of God in vain. That is, He wanted the sacrifice of Jesus and the hope of heaven to benefit these Christians. Part of that required them to live lives which didn’t discredit their ministry (3) and commended themselves as servants of God (4). One of several ways they could do that was by being armed with the weapons of righteousness. What are these? Well, Paul will address that in 2 Corinthians 10:1ff as well as in his writing to the church at Ephesus (6:10ff). In simplest terms, righteousness itself is a powerful weapon. We are made right (5:21) to do right (6:7). In a world of darkness, light stands out. In a world going wrong, doing right and being right is powerful!
–“Be armed with divinely powerful weapons for the destruction of fortresses … against the knowledge of God” (2 Cor. 10:4-5). Paul contrasts the flesh and spirit, identifying this as the ultimate battlefield. How do you win against such frightening foes and forces? Arm yourself with the only weapon that is divine and destructive. What it destroys is what stands against God. Don’t think fleshly (or bodily). This goes beyond that.
I fear that the gun rights-gun control debate will rage on in the culture of politics and the politics of culture. But, do not be distracted! There is an eternal war going on which requires every one of us to be equipped. Do not dare be unarmed for that fight!
I met him 20 years ago, the man with the twinkling eyes
He and his wife opened their home to me, and I could recognize
Their love for Christ and Christians, and how well they’d harmonize
Those loves in all their actions, it was there in those twinkling eyes
He shepherded me for several years, the man with twinkling eyes
He had a tenderness so deep, he’d often maximize,
His laugh infectious, his insight savvy, so tough to criticize,
He loved Bear Valley with all of himself, this man with twinkling eyes
I visited many members here with the man with twinkling eyes
Spent hours in meetings and planning, trying God’s will to realize
He was youthful and spry for his age, his resources he’d optimize
A steward of stewards in every way, the man with twinkling eyes
A servant’s heart with savvy hands, the man with the twinkling eyes
Involved and willing, helpful and hopeful, we couldn’t help but idolize
When hearing and memory faded, you still could characterize
This man of God, through ups and downs, by those twinkling eyes
I saw him last week, he greeted me with joyful, twinkling eyes
So hard to believe this morning he gained his heavenly prize
While his long life is fresh in my memory, I’ll try hard to memorize
As kind a face and heart as I’ve seen, the man with the twinkling eyes