The Sin of Retaliation

Decorative Scales of Justice in the Courtroom

This was originally published at The Biblical Recorder.

The natural mode of our hearts is expressed well in the Latin phrase lex talionis, which means “the law of retaliation.” When someone crosses us or makes demands on us our initial reaction is to respond in the same way. Why not? This is the way we’ve heard that the world works. Right? Retaliation is sinfully seductive and bitterly sweet.

However, as Christians we operate by the laws of a different world, the Kingdom of God. This is why in Matthew 5:38-42 Jesus says, “you have heard it said … but I tell you.” What does he tell us? Jesus demands that when someone insults us, we should not respond in a way that escalates violence. Instead, we should respond in love towards our attacker, in a way that prevents further attacks or stops the progression of violence.

Moreover, when someone takes your possessions, Jesus calls us to respond in the way of love, namely, to go the extra mile, to give freely to those in need. In many cases, those who pursue our possessions have an actual need they are trying to meet.

Doesn’t Jesus call us to give to those who are truly in need?

Now, we can split hairs on this passage and develop numerous scenarios where helping can hurt. Or we can think of many modifiers to these words in order to show how these things may or may not play out. But I think that misses the point of the passage.

In fact, the initial response of counting the costs to respond this way shows that retaliation is our natural desire.

However, Jesus calls us to think differently. Moreover, His Spirit enables us to respond differently.

In a unnatural way – better yet, a supernatural way – our need for retaliation and personal justice is not bound by the “pay out” on this earth.

If our self-esteem is found in our stance before God, we can lovingly stand in the face of sinful insults. If our treasure is found in the inheritance we have as children of God, we are not devastated when our earthly belongings are taken. This is the power of the gospel.

Love Your Enemies

Love Your Enimies

This was originally published at The Biblical Recorder.

The election season is a good time to gauge fears of our fellow citizens. Politicians are experts at exposing and exploiting the suspicions of our culture. Right now, many people fear Middle Easterners because they merely resemble their religious extremist neighbors. Some candidates have proposed that we respond to entire people groups with fear by shutting them out.

However, Jesus calls us not to respond in fear, but in faith. To open our hearts to those who are different that we are. Even to our enemies: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).

It is easy to love those who are like us, but what reward is there in that? Is God not sovereign over all things? Does He not allow His sun to rise on the evil and on the good? Does He not send rain on the just and on the unjust?

We know from scripture that God hates those who are resolutely and unrepentantly wicked. Those who do, and intend to do harm against us will face the judgment of God. In most cases, even those who resemble the enemy do not intend harm. Without reservation, we are called to reflect the grace that we so commonly enjoy.

Doesn’t God show grace and care for all of His creatures? Absolutely. Therefore Jesus’ disciples are called to imitate God and love both neighbor and enemy. I recently heard International Mission Board President David Platt say that “Only an Americanized Christianity would prioritize security over the proclamation of the gospel.” We must remember the power of Satan is limited by the prerogative of God. When we face the enemy, and the perceived enemy, our initial response should be love: pray for them; love them; open your hearts to them.

The power of the gospel dissolves fear and empowers us to act in faith. Perhaps the most poignant way to apply this text is to remind us of Christ’s command to love your neighbor as yourself. In other words, love others with the same amount of energy and tenacity that you would for your own well-being. How would you want to be treated?

Is Sunday School Still An Effective Ministry?

I recently sat down with The Baptist State Convention of North Carolina to talk about the role of Sunday School in church ministry. Here is one short video from our time together.

Do 20% of the people do 80% of the church work?

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This was originally published at The Biblical Recorder.

We have all heard of the economic law labeled the Pareto Principle. According to Vilfredo Pareto, for many events, roughly 80 percent of the effects come from 20 percent of the causes. This principle has been applied to the fields of business, science, software and even criminology. In church life, it is usually said that 20 percent of the people do 80 percent of the work.

In other words, 80 percent of the congregation remains passive when it comes to living on mission for God.

While it may not be true of all congregations, I think it is safe to say that large portions of the body of Christ do treat church like consumers. For the 80 percent, as theologian David Wells has reminded us, the church is a place to come and receive religious services and goods. If their needs are not met, they begin church shopping.

However, in 1 Corinthians 12, the apostle Paul is clear, the body does not consist of one member but of many. And the apostle Peter is even more explicit, “… As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (1 Peter 4:10). This is how God designed the church. And God calls each and every individual to serve the body with the gifts they have been granted.

The simple truth of the matter is that Christ came to seek and save the lost so that the saved would serve one another and seek the lost. In fact, it is very clear from the New Testament that by the fruit of ones life, others can observe the genuineness of their salvation. Church consumers attend church to have their needs met.

True members of the church have been served to deeply by Christ, that their needs are abundantly met, and that flows over into their desire to meet others needs. The church body is just that, a body. And a body needs all of its parts functioning in order to be healthy. The question is, if you have been saved, are you being a good steward of God’s gracious gifts?

Every Believer Equipped For Ministry

Body

This was originally posted at The Biblical Recorder.

There is a strange idea in the American church, namely, that the church is a body of believers with a gifted pastor or pastors equipped to do the ministry. At first glance, one might not see the error in this ministry philosophy. Certainly, the pastors are gifted. However, according to Ephesians 4:12, the pastors are called to equip the saints for the work of the ministry. Therefore, it is more biblical to conclude that the church is not just a body with gifted pastors, but also a body of supernaturally gifted believers.

God has uniquely gifted each person in the church to serve Him. No one pastor has all the gifts necessary to fulfill the ministry of the church. In fact, Jesus Christ is the only individual who ever walked the earth that embodied all of the spiritual gifts. This is why the church is referred to as the body of Christ.

A body is made up of different parts, each one fulfilling its specific purpose for the health of the whole.

In 1 Corinthians 12, the apostle Paul reminds us that there are a variety of gifts and services. The common thread that holds the entire body together is the same God who empowers each one. And each one is empowered to work together in order to bring God the glory. In fact, if only one person were gifted in the church for ministry, it would be hard for that individual to not receive the glory for their service. This is the root cause of the error that Paul is addressing in this passage.

The Corinthians church had begun elevating certain gifts over others, and thus, the body was not functioning properly. We are all called to use the gifts God has given us for the common good. Valuing the various gifts God has granted the church helps guard against the natural envy, rivalry and superiority that comes with elevating certain gifts over others.

Let us remember, the church is a body of supernaturally gifted individuals to bring God glory through collected ministry. It is God who has gifted each one according to His sovereign will.

Evangelism Training with Dr. Alvin Reid

Alvin Reid

Live around Raleigh?

Join us for an evangelism training event titled “Sharing Jesus Without Freaking Out” with Dr. Alvin Reid from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Alvin Reid is the author of dozens of books including Evangelism HandbookIntroduction to Evangelism, and the forthcoming Share Jesus Without Freaking Out.

This is a great opportunity for individuals and church groups to consider Dr. Reid’s call to “move from gospel presentations to gospel conversations, from specialists to normal people living for Jesus in gospel-focused ways.

The training will be from Friday, March 11th from 6:30-8:00pm to Saturday, March 12th from 9:00am-12:00pm at Fairview Baptist Church in Apex, NC.

Free childcare will be available for those who register. Sign up today! 

Strengthened by God’s Power

soldier-backpack

This was originally published at The Biblical Recorder.

When we read the theologically rich letter to the church in Ephesus, we get the sense that these early Christians needed gospel encouragement. Like us, this church found herself in a world of hostility toward the Christian faith. One of the great themes of Ephesians is that Christ has given powerful gifts to His church to, among other things, stand against the onslaughts of the defeated one and his allies.

The Christian life is war. In Ephesians 6:12 we are reminded that we wrestle with the cosmic powers of the present darkness. If we are honest, this is a tiring thought. But the Good News is, we will not be overdone.

God does not leave us on our own but empowers us through His Spirit. We war with the power of God’s strength. And on the cross, Christ defeated the powers of evil. In the resurrection, their defeat was sealed. In the gospel, we have an announcement that it is finished, Christ has won!

So, while we may be weak in body, we are strong in spirit. When we are brought to our knees in fatigue from the war, we find that we are in the appropriate position for prayer. For this reason, we pray “… according to the riches of his glory,” that God would grant us “to be strengthened with power through his Spirit” in the depths of our souls (Ephesians 3:16).

The Good News is that God is able to “… do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us.” Though we are weak, He is strong. This juxtaposition of power and weakness, shows that victory is a gift of grace. When we realize this truth, we can triumphantly proclaim, “to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen” (Ephesians 3:20-21).

What gives us the power to fight when there is no fight left within us? We are empowered by the spirit of God. We are also encouraged to endure, when the Spirit reminds us that Jesus’ victory is our victory.

The Light in the Darkness (John 1:1-5, 9-14)

 

Man Walking Towards Cross

This was originally published at The Biblical Recorder.

We live in a spiritually dark world. There is a lurking darkness not only in the world around us, but also deep within our souls. The bad news is, there is no escape. No political or moral agenda can rescue us from this darkness.

Even worse, there is no way for us to rescue ourselves from the darkness of sin in our own lives. When G.K. Chesterton was once asked, “what is wrong with the world?” His response was personal and profound. He simply said, “I am.”

The Good News is, Jesus came to earth to rescue us. He came to rescue us from the sin that plagues the world we live in. Jesus also came to rescue us from us.

Jesus entered into the darkness of our world, and there was light.

The Good News of the gospel is that Jesus, the light of the world, “… shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).

Jesus is our only hope. And just like in Genesis, when God spoke into the darkness and there was light, the light of the spoken gospel shines in our hearts and saves us from the darkness of sin. This light of God’s love gives us warming comfort in the cold darkness of the world we live in.

As God’s people, we are called to be a light to the nations, a city on a hill. In this sense, God calls us out of the darkness into the light, and then commissions us to go back into the darkness with the light.

The Good News of the gospel is a light to everyone groping around in the darkness of sin. Jesus, the light, is our salvation. And the Good News gets even better. Those who come to the light will one day forever dwell in the radiant glory of God.

The New Jerusalem is described as having “… no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk” (Revelation 21:23-24).

Our Sin and Our Savior (John 8:2-11)

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This was originally posted at The Biblical Recorder.

All Christians have a deep problem of the soul. We are wired by nature towards self-righteousness. We tend to view our own sin in a therapeutic way. “Well, at least I am not as sinful as most people.” However, if you and I could solve our problems with sin, what difference does it make that Christ was crucified?

Ignoring the reality of sin leads to ignoring our need for a savior.

This is the problem with the religious leaders in John 8:2-11.

Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”

The Pharisees saw themselves as sufficiently righteous. In fact, their self-righteousness was so great they were ready to murder a woman who had been caught in adultery.

They had failed to see the purpose of the law. For them, God’s law was a means of earning salvation. By their own standards, they were not only righteous enough to achieve God’s acceptance, but also to exact God’s punishment on those who hadn’t.

If we think we are good enough to fulfill the law ourselves, we tend to look down in judgment on others. However, Jesus looks at the Pharisees and declares, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her” (v. 7).

After an honest assessment, each Pharisee dropped their stones and walked away. An honest assessment of sin brings forth a good sense of humility. We realize that the law is not meant to be a means of salvation, but a means to reveal the holiness of God and our own need of salvation from the sin deeply embedded in our hearts.

Jesus’ initial coming into the world was not to cast stones of judgment, but to cast himself towards the cross for the payment of sin. Salvation is not based on our righteousness, but His. However, he will come again one day to judge.

If we believe in Him now, we are able to go and sin no more, not as a means of salvation, but in a Spirit-filled and worshipful response to His salvation. We must realize that self-righteousness is just another sinful way of rejecting Jesus as Savior.

Adopted Into God’s Family (1 John 3:1-10)

This was originally posted at The Biblical Recorder.

dsc02697I will always remember the moment that Laura and I received Solomon into our care. We were in the city of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Our driver came and picked us up from the guest house and drove us through the city into the hills and up to a gated house full of orphaned children. Laura and I stood outside the gate while one of the agency case workers went inside, and after a few moments, our agency worker opened the gate and walked out into the street and handed us our son.

We turned and got back into the van and got situated. As the van pulled off Solomon started screaming and crying frantically. This little child had no clue what was going on. We were pulling baby Solomon away from everything he had ever known. But after a few minutes, he reached his little arms around Laura’s neck and tightened his grip and held on for dear life.

It was moving to see Solomon hold onto Laura, but what really mattered, was Laura holding onto Solomon. Laura and I knew where we were going. We also knew that he was our son.

Solomon came to understand this reality as time went on.

Since that moment, I have never been able to read passages like 1 John 3:1-10 the same: “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.”

As J.I. Packer once said in his classic book, Knowing God: “If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much he makes of the thought of being God’s child, and having God as his Father.”

As we live the Christian life, we must realize that years may transpire before the believer who is adopted by God may know that he is adopted, have a deep sense of feeling of it. We live in the comfort and hope of our loving Father’s arms. And as we grow, that reality shapes us more and more as we head towards eternity.