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Entries in Conscience (2)

Thursday
Oct062016

Society under Siege: Social Activism

Mt. 28:18-20; John 13:1-8.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on October 2, 2016.

What is social activism?  It is the tactic of creating social upheaval, and thereby pressuring the government into changing laws and policies.  Ultimately it is about changing society.  The idea of manipulating the people of a nation for political purposes has been around for ages.  However, in the last 2 centuries the fine tuning of changing society has led to books like the anti-Semitic, propaganda text in pre-revolution Russia called “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”  Another book would be “Rules for Radicals” by Saul Alinsky.  We have reached a point where multiple, competing agencies are trying to manipulate society to their own ends.  In the midst of this environment large parts of the Church have been seduced to employ this same tactic in order to achieve a “godly” purpose.  Is this what Jesus wants?  Is it our job to force society to adopt and live by the truth of God?

No godly person ever used this tactic

Technically this first point is made by the absence of Scripture.  I must give credit to the late Dave Hunt who made this point back in the 1980’s.  The absence of godly people organizing a community to cause social upheaval and the approval of God should be glaringly obvious.

We do see many cases of civil disobedience.   So let’s look at some of them.  In Exodus 1:15 and following we have the Pharaoh of Egypt telling two midwives to kill any Hebrew boys who are born.  These midwives were Hebrew themselves and in good conscience could not kill these baby boys.  Thus they lied to Pharaoh.  They basically claimed that the Hebrew women had their babies too quickly for the midwives to intervene.  Notice that in this case there is no organizing of a large group to create social upheaval.  These women aren’t even operating to change the laws of Egypt.  They simply refuse to kill the baby boys out of deference to the commands and nature of the One True God.

Several other cases are seen in the book of Daniel.  The three Hebrew boys refuse to bow down to an image when commanded to do so by the king.  Under threat of death they make the statement that they believed God would save them.  But if not, they still wouldn’t bow down to the idol.  Daniel himself faced a law that commanded the citizens to pray to no one but the king for a period of time.  Daniel refused to obey this law and prayed to the God of Heaven anyway.  Notice that none of them create riots and marches.  They make no attempts to change the laws of the land.  Rather, they obey the dictates of their conscience, regardless of what might happen to them.

Lastly, we see the same thing with the Apostles Peter and John.  They had been preaching about Jesus, when the Sanhedrin commands them to stop. Of course they make the statement that if they have to choose between obeying man or God, they would choose to obey God.

All of these examples are all about individual conscience before God.  The godly of every generation have not necessarily obeyed all the laws of mankind (basically the evil ones).  However, they are not leading protests and social upheaval in order to change society.  They are simply trying to please God over man.  So what should godly people be doing in our culture today?

Our mission is people not societies

This leads us to our first text.  In Matthew 28 we see Jesus explaining that he had been given power and authority over all nations and all heavenly principalities.  With this authority he could have commanded anything.  Yet, he does not give us the mission of taking over the nations of the world.  This may be what Islam teaches.  It may be what communism teaches, but it is not what Christ taught.

Instead he sends his disciples to all the nations in order to preach the Gospel of Jesus and disciple the individuals that respond to it.  We must never forget that our main aim is to disciple those who become Christians.  Our goal is not to take over the governments of this world and neither is it to build crystal cathedrals.  Rather we are called to build people.

So if we get caught up in trying to change or “save” societies we can be in danger of losing the individuals that we were sent to reach in the first place.  What do I mean by that?  When the church focuses on society and trying to change or perfect it, then our focus looks for those tools and things that “work” to change society.  When we focus upon the system instead of the people, then people will end up getting crushed.  The mistake is not just in trying to perfect society.  Even our churches can be guilty of trying to build little perfect societies within our church walls.  Evangelism typically ceases to be about discipling a new believer to become more like Jesus, and becomes about forcing an individual to fit into our system.  “Be a good cog.”  This path is dehumanizing, uncaring, and anti-Christ.  There are multiple generations of people who have been crushed by Churches and Christians who are more concerned about a perfect system (i.e. don’t rock the boat) then they are about following and obeying Jesus.  So what would Jesus do if he were here today?

Jesus shows us the way

In John 13:1-8 we see Jesus the night before he is crucified.  It is clear from his actions here that Jesus would not be rioting in the streets and leading a revolution against the government.  It is also clear that he would not be using millions of dollars to subvert the political process.

In these verses we see that Jesus knew that society had it out for him.  He knew that things were only going to get worse politically.  Instead of throwing a temper tantrum and using his power to force change in society, Jesus accepted the reality on the ground and focused on what really mattered.  Is it possible that we could learn to accept the reality that this world will give us difficulty if we want to follow God?  And, can we accept the reality that it will not give us justice?  If a nation dissolves and reforms, or is taken over by another nations, it is not the end of the world.  How many nations today have taken the place of others before them?  Most of the nations fit this parameter.  Now weigh this against the reality that if an individual goes into eternity lost, it is the end of their world.

Thus, we are told that Jesus loved them to the very end.  Can we choose to love people to the very end of our earthly life?  I know that this passage is about Jesus with his closest disciples.  Yet, one of them has surrendered to the devil and is about to betray him.  Jesus even loved Judas to the very end.  On top of this, it is impossible to see Jesus hanging on the cross and not recognize that he loved the world and paid the price for whosoever would believe.  If we sacrifice caring for individuals in order to build the perfect society (whether in the church or in the nation) then we are being foolish.  The Church was not established to create a perfect society.  It was established to provide a family for those who would respond to the call to believe on Jesus.  We are to be a family of imperfect people who have been redeemed and are being saved by Jesus.
Jesus said that the Truth will set you free.  Radicals like to talk about speaking truth to power.  But the truth is they are always heavy on power and light on truth.  Their methods look nothing like Jesus.  Jesus spoke truth into people’s lives.  He combated the lies of the enemy that held them spiritually captive with the love of God’s truth.  “Yes, if you remain in your sins you will die in them.  But, if you turn from your sins and believe me, then you will live eternally.”  Now this does not save everyone, but it is the only door to hope.  The only way to do what Jesus did is by getting down in the nitty gritty of a person’s life.  It takes time and investment to determine the lies a person has believed and counteract them with the truth of God’s word.  It isn’t a quick, easy, perfect process.

The problem with a pragmatic approach is that it rarely asks, “Should we do this.”  Yes, we could go to war against progressives and try to take our nation back for Jesus.  But should we?  At least should that be our focus?  If there is going to be another Spiritual Awakening in America, it will first start because Christians repent of being side-tracked and actually start following Jesus.  Even then, it will be because of the move of God.  It is He who raises up nations and He who puts nations down.  Let us start demonstrating such humility before God that even Jesus himself exercised.   He humbled himself and used his authority and power to accomplish what God asked.  If we will do this then we will hear from the Father the same words He says to His Son.  “Come, sit at my feet until I make your enemies your footstool.”  When Jesus comes back he will take up the governments of the world and hand them over to his saints.  Until then we must humble ourselves and focus on sharing the Gospel, and discipling those who respond in repentance.  Some tools may be powerful.  But at what cost do we use them?  Our country will be torn apart by these competing, social powers unless God has mercy on us.

Social Activism audio

Tuesday
Jan082013

The Problem of Suffering I

As we continue through the book of 1 Peter, we are now at a point where Peter speaks to the area of suffering.  Many believers were encountering suffering on a personal basis and often throughout a whole region.  Eventually, Caesars such as Nero and Diocletian would promote a persecution against Christians throughout the whole Roman world.  Thus these words from Peter were timely. 

In our own day and age, we still see large parts of the earth where persecution of Christians is the norm.  Even in America, where we have been sheltered for so long, we see a growing animosity against believers, along with incidents of clear persecution.  Thus these words are timeless and we need to pay attention to what God is saying to us.  Let’s look at 1 Peter 3:13-17.

What Kind Of Person Harms Those Who Do Good?

In verse 9 we are told to not pay back wrong for wrong.  However, this brings up the area of when others repay my good with wrong.  No matter how right and good you try to do things, there will always be some who resent you for it.  What kind of person does evil to those who do good?  That is the question that Peter puts forth in verse 13.  The main intention is to remind them that only evil people who do not belong to God will do such things.  God is against those who do evil and has gone on record that he is going to judge them.  Thus we need to remind ourselves, when we are suffering from wrongs that others do to us, that they are not doing what is right and God is against them.  That may not make you feel better, but suffering tends to get in the head of an individual.  We can begin to question all manner of things, even God’s favor for us. 

Another aspect to this question is that the answer is not just an evil person, but is the fact that they are only a human.  They are NOT God, even if they do command the power of government like Caesar.  Even if the whole world worships him as a god, he is only human.  He will stand before the true God and give account for the evil he has done.  That is why Jesus reminded his followers in Matthew 10:28 that they should not fear those who can only kill their bodies.  Rather we need to fear God who is able to destroy both body and soul in hell.  When people persecute us we can be tempted to accept it as God’s punishment upon us, especially if it is ongoing.  We wonder where God’s blessing is and look for the reasons why we are so wretched to deserve this.  Thus in verse 14 Peter moves to another point.

The Righteous Who Suffer Are Blessed

How can God tell us that when we suffer for doing what is right we are blessed?  How can persecution be interpreted as blessings?  We so often only see blessings that are material.  However, we are missing the more important, eternal blessings.  In verse 12 Peter had told them that the Eyes of the Lord are on the righteous.  You are blessed because God is watching over you with affection and care.  Secondly, you are blessed because his ears are open to your prayers.  Now clearly the psalmist was not trying to say God literally has eyes and ears.  Yet, the One who created the eye and the light that makes it work did it so that we can “see” what he “sees.”  The same is true with ears.  As an aside, let me just say that even this point becomes moot in the light of Jesus and his incarnation.  God didn’t take on flesh so that he could see and hear, but so that we can understand that he has always seen and always heard.  So when you are suffering praise God that he sees your plight and pray to him with your petitions and your praises.

Lastly you are blessed because your trust in God puts you on His side.  Here Peter quotes from Isaiah 8 when he says do not be afraid...nor be troubled.  Now if you go back and read this whole chapter you will see that God speaks to both the Gentile nations and the people of Israel.  God is a sanctuary to those who trust Him, but He is a stumbling block to those who do not trust him.  So, whether you are an unbelieving heathen or a waffling Christian, you are going to either come to faith in Jesus or you will trip over him.  When God doesn’t do things our way it is easy to stumble in our faith.  But if we trust him we are blessed because those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength.  God will bring them through every trial.

Those Who Suffer Should Do These Things

In verses 15-17 Peter lays out several things that we need to do especially when we are suffering for doing what is right.  The first is to set our heart and mind upon the Lord alone.  To “sanctify” means to set apart for a particular purpose.  We can’t make God holier or more sanctified.  But we can make our heart and mind a special place where God’s thoughts and his desires are set up as primary and special.  They are our sole focus.  This word is the same as is used in the Lord’s prayer: “hallowed be Thy name.”  The prayer is about God’s name (Jesus and all that he is) being set apart in the hearts and minds of people.  In Hebrews 12:1-2 we see this need again.  “Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross…”  If we are to run this race well we need to set our heart and minds upon the desires and thoughts of Jesus Christ.  If we are to run well we need to run in the footsteps of the only one who ran it perfectly, Jesus.

The next thing those who suffer need to do is to ready themselves to give reasons for their faith in Jesus.  Typically this verse is quoted to encourage people to study apologetics.  However the context goes beyond just defending the gospel.  This actually represents the suffering person going on the offensive.  When we do not pay back wrong for wrong it will open the door of the inquisitive.  We need to be ready to pour forth that inner communion of love and adoration of our savior to them.  We can only do this if we have been reading the Word, spending time in prayer, and meditating upon God’s Word and our life.  It is here that the Holy Spirit clarifies these things in our soul.  Why do you hope in Jesus?  Can you spend hours pouring forth why you hope in Jesus?  It is increasingly important in these days that we have a relationship with Jesus that is real and spiritual.  Peter also mentions the attitude we should go about giving those reasons.   Our attitude should first be meek.  This simply means to be gentle.  It doesn’t matter how strong you are.  Meekness is strength under control.  Sharing our hope in Christ should be done gently, but also in fear.  Not fear of people, but fear of the Lord.  I am representing him.  I need to have a healthy respect and speak out of pure motives rather than out of a hurt and embittered heart. 

Lastly we need to keep our conscience clear.  Improper motivations behind even good actions can cloud our conscience just as sure as if you through a clump of mud into your drinking water.  When we repent of impure motives and trust God that he forgives us and cleanses us from it, we will have a conscience that is clear.  Many believers today have a murky conscience.  Even when they repent they don’t fully trust the forgiveness of the Lord.  We need to stop such insanity.  Either God is a Truth teller or he is a liar.  But he is not both!

If we live through suffering in such a way it will cause some to be ashamed.  They will sense the guilt of their actions and perhaps repent.  But even if they do not “feel” ashamed, they are shamed nonetheless.  We need to keep the door open for the salvation of those who persecute us by responding in these ways.

Final Thoughts

It is better to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.  When we suffer for doing evil, we deserve it.  We need to suck it up, repent, and learn.  But when we suffer for doing right, we take our place alongside God himself.  We are able to stand next to Jesus and all the other saints who suffered with him.  We have the joy of having a bond with Jesus that others will not understand.  We’ve been through the same fire that he went through.

Also, remember that God’s will is never just about suffering.  It is about the ends to which that suffering will take us.  We not only will have a place next to Jesus, but we will be like him because we have faithfully traveled the same path as him.

Lastly, suffering in this passage is based upon the choices of others.  We need to remember that God is greater than the choices of others.  And, even though we may be caused pain because of their choices, God has promised to overturn the evil others do to us.  Let us keep our faith in Jesus to the end!

Probs Suffering I Audio