Monthly Archives: July 2018

Bob Dylan said “You’re Gonna Serve Somebody”

“Lord, teach me to be generous. Teach me to serve you as you deserve; to give and not to count the cost, to fight and not to heed the wounds, to toil and not to seek for rest, to labor and not to ask for reward, save that of knowing that I do your will…”

So prayed Saint Ignatius. To live completely devoted to God, to be a God-pleaser. To put yourself totally in His hands and be pleasing unto God, whether pleasing unto men or not.

“…not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as bond-servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart” – Ephesians 6:6

A God-Pleaser is a bond-servant- doing the will of God from the heart. Doulos is the Greek for bond-servant. As Paul wrote:

(He) made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bond-servant, and coming in the likeness of men. (Philippians 2:7)

Paul, Timothy, Peter, Jude, & James all referred to themselves as doulos; the bond-servant of God. This refers to Old Testament times when people would work as servants for a time to pay off a debt, and they were then set free. A bond-servant  however was one who’d made a conscious choice, though free, to stay and not leave. His lord had become family and a friend, his house had become home, no longer a servant, he became a part of the family…

“But if the servant plainly says, ‘I love my lord, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free,’ “then his lord shall bring him to the judges. He shall also bring him to the door, or to the doorpost, and his lord shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him forever.”  –Exodus 21:1-6

As we seek to live lives devoted to Father-God we do as St. Ignatius did and cast ourselves completely to the care of the Lord as a bond-servant, and rightly so, for as Peter wrote: “Cast all your cares on Him for He cares for you” -1 Peter 5:7

Psalms 27 says:

Though an army should encamp against me,* yet my heart shall not be afraid; And though war should rise up against me,* yet will I put my trust in him. One thing have I asked of the LORD; one thing I seek;* that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life; To behold the fair beauty of the LORD* and to seek him in his temple. For in the day of trouble he shall keep me safe in his shelter…

As we commit our way to The Lord we realize that He has also committed Himself to our care and we find God’s provision in spite of circumstance or trouble. The sermon on the mount tells us we’re blessed even though these terrible things happen to us. I take this literally. Others may curse you, say unfair or untrue things about you, but at the end of the day you belong to Father-God and He says you are, and will be blessed.

“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… He cares for you.

An old Bob Dylan song says “your gonna serve somebody…” Commit everything, to your last breath to The Lord and become His bond-servant. Belong and become family.

Conviction, Love, and Activism

The Gospel of Jesus Christ spread throughout the culture of the Roman Empire much because of the identifying characteristics that the culture saw in the early church.

The early church was misunderstood by Roman Culture: Now on the one hand believers were suspect to the culture that day. They had practices like a secret supper where they supposedly ate the  flesh and drank the blood of some man named “Jesus”; so the Romans asked if they were cannibals? They called each other “brother & sister”; did that insinuate  incest? They didn’t worship the Roman  gods; so were Christians atheist? Though there was confusion and distrust, and even false accusations about the Christians, and persecution from the establishment, there were also observations and a growing admiration for the early church as well.

In AD 112 a letter written from the Governor of Asia Minor to the Emperor Trajan states:

“many of all ages…every level of society…male & female… (free or slave) in towns & villages…& throughout the country…” Were becoming “Christians” and he feared; “the shrines of the Roman gods were becoming deserted”

As Paul said in Galatians 3:28 There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Because of the dignity and equality expressed in the early church, Christianity appealed to women, to the poor and to slaves, but also to some who had means. The message that Christ came and died for all of them spoke with significance. The Christians also treated all with dignity and love. So we see these characteristics within the Ancient Church:

High Convictions, High Love, and Practical Expression-

1. High Convictions: They actually believed in something. They believed enough in something that often they were willing to die for what they believed. They believed that THE EVENT had happened, that the God of the Universe had invaded space and time, that God came down from heaven and became man. He had come powerfully to redeem men from sin, evil, and darkness-

“Let me illustrate this further. Who is powerful enough to enter the house of a strong man like Satan and plunder his goods? Only someone even stronger–someone who could tie him up and then plunder his house.”- Mark 3:27

As St Ignatius (2nd century) summed up “The son of God became a man so that men could become the sons of God.” He had come to make all things right, He’d begun this process and would one day soon complete it. As 2nd Corinthians 5:19 says “For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them…”

They actually believed in something, and they believed enough in something that often they were willing to die for what they believed. The early church was known for their high convictions that guided their life and actions, even to the point of going to the arena, being burned alive, or thrown to the beasts.

 

2. High Love: God’s grace and love directed the believer outward to the needs of his fellow men, or in Jesus’ words-

“You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless.” –Matthew 5:13 And also “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” –John 13:35

Tertullian wrote, in the early 2nd century “The pagan’s remark ‘See how the Christians love one another’…” Oh that it were true now,  it can be, but we must reorient our hearts.

The high convictions and high love we see in the ancient church produced a practical expression of love within the community of the day.

3. Practical Expression: They took the words of Jesus, and of the disciples, seriously and lived them out in practical expression-

“I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.”- Matthew 25:36,

They took seriously James’ exhortation of caring for the widows and orphans in James 1:27. So, in the early church we see an activism which took care of widows and orphans, which visited the sick and the prisoners, that loved the poor and the slaves, that took children in who had been left on the street to die, that buried the discarded dead because they were the image of God, and they were known for their open-handed generosity.

In our time the culture will have a problem with the church’s high convictions which should go against the grain of the culture whenever the culture is against the grain of Jesus’ teachings, and what God has revealed in the Bible, for God has not been silent.

But the church’s love and activism and expression, not divorced from its convictions, should also be such that bear witness to a world in need of hope.

(kudos to Bruce Shelley’s Church History in Plain Language, and Robert Webber’s Ancient Future Faith)

The Age of Deception

There are different times in history, in reality-all the time, that the church is challenged to live true, and not be deceived by lies and deception. Just in the past century one of the best and saddest examples of this is Nazi Germany. The question “How could people have ever believed Hitler?” is glaring, yet then we must also ask what lies permeate our own society, and how can we be the church in an age of deception?

People believe a lie because they want to: 

Malcom Muggeridge, English journalist, author, WWII soldier and spy, and advocate for Mother Teresa said:

“People do not believe lies because they have to but because they want to.’ Looking back to Nazi Germany we may ask “How could they have bought the lie” but the lie was gradual, consistent, insistent… In Hitler’s own words “Make the lie big, make it simple, keep saying it, and eventually they will believe it…It is not truth that matters, but victory…How fortunate for leaders that men do not think.”

How can I know truth?

In a world of no absolutes what is absolute? How can I know truth, and not be deceived? Proverbs instructs- “Get the truth and never sell it”

Look at the Bereans in Acts chapter 17: “…they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”

Jesus points us to scripture as  truth revealed to us by Father-God in John 17:17. “Make them holy by your truth: teach them your word, your word is truth.”

And also in Matthew chapter 22- “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.”

Francis Schaeffer speaks about how the early church was able to live in a world of deception:

“(God gave) absolutes which enabled the early church to withstand the pressure of the Roman Empire. Without a strong commitment to God’s absolutes, the early church could never have remained faithful in the face of the constant Roman harassment and persecution.”

This remains as true today for the church as it was in the first century. The church fails to be the church when it fails to have absolute truth, a solid foundation of truth as has been revealed to us. Schaeffer said that the Bible speaks to us and gives us guidance, if we’ll let it. Paul said “I know what is right & what is wrong because of the law” (Romans 7:7)

The church can make a right stand in whatever society, if they stand on truth as it has been revealed. This requires not picking and choosing what suits us, and disregarding the rest, but wrestling with, and engaging scripture.  We must honestly read and study, like the Bereans in Acts, and then submit our opinions, preferences, and values to God’s truth first, as best we can.

To pick and chose, or disregard altogether, is exactly what the early church had to stand against with the early heresies. Huge sections of the gospels or Paul’s letters had been left out by those  who fell into dangerous teachings. Paul, writing to the Thessalonians:

“…stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.”

 

The End Of Christendom

When I was in high school and college I often said I felt I was living in a time similar to the Fall of the Roman Empire.

Malcom Muggeridge, British soldier and spy, later journalist and author, came to faith well into adulthood. Afterwards he authored The End Of Christendom, a lecture along with Q&A, in which he said:

Christendom began with the emperor Constantine. Christianity began with the incarnation…

This clarification is necessary in 21st century America. It is also the angst I was trying to verbalize several years ago as a student. America has been changing. I would argue that though the United States does not have a “state religion” in that there is no preferred denomination, the state religion of America up until the past 50 years was a “christendom”  almost synonymous with “cultural christianity.” Christendom,  is not in all actuality Christianity, it is similar in many ways but not in all. The wars in the middle ages accentuate this point in that God does not pick sides between warring Christian Kingdoms, Jesus said “My Kingdom is not of this world.” Christendom however has slowly been rejected by our culture over the past decades as is evidenced in our social mores; from rejecting prayer in school, or display of the Ten Commandments in courthouses to the current scrutiny of evangelicals, and the many other social changes we are witnessing. Many once nominal Christians no longer claim to be so as there is no longer a social advantage in doing so.

As we are now full swing into the new millennium we have to readjust our vision. Muggeridge clarifies for us:

Christendom, however, is something quite different from Christianity, being the administrative or power structure, based on the Christian religion and constructed by men. It bears the same relation to the everlasting truth of the Christian revelation as, say, laws do to justice, or morality to goodness, or carnality to love—if you like, as Augustine’s City of God to the earthly city where we temporarily live.

The founder of Christianity was, of course, Christ. The founder of Christendom I suppose could be named as the Emperor Constantine. I believe…that it is not Christ’s Christianity which is now floundering. You might even say that Christ himself abolished Christendom before it began by stating that his kingdom was not of this world—one of the most far reaching and important of all his statements. Christendom began with the Emperor Constantine. Christianity began with the Incarnation.

— Malcolm Muggeridge, from The End of Christendom, p. 13

The disciples went to make disciples, not necessarily to ensure that the state and the church were always symbiotic. Some would argue that any time the state sponsors the church then you have something compromised, other times the state has tried to suppress the church, as in the former USSR, and yet the church did abide with fiery devotion and integrity.