Life With the Unbeliever

There are two passages in the New Testament that, on the surface, appear to be contradictory. Well truthfully I find more than two, but for this issue we'll deal with just two. We must know that any verses or passages we think are in conflict with each other is only due to our misunderstanding. The Bible promises that the Word of God is perfect (Psalm 19:7), flawless, (Ps. 12:6), and trustworthy, (Ps. 33:4). So we must acknowledge our misconceptions of scripture are just that – misconceptions –  wrong-understanding.

The two passages which we will address are; 2 Corinthians 6:14-17, "Don’t team up with those who are unbelievers. How can righteousness be a partner with wickedness? How can light live with darkness? What harmony can there be between Christ and the devil? How can a believer be a partner with an unbeliever? And what union can there be between God’s temple and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God said: “I will live in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they will be my people. Therefore, come out from among unbelievers, and separate yourselves from them, says the Lord. Don’t touch their filthy things, and I will welcome you." (2 Cor. 6:14-17 NLT)

And, "When I wrote to you before, I told you not to associate with people who indulge in sexual sin. But I wasn’t talking about unbelievers who indulge in sexual sin, or are greedy, or cheat people, or worship idols. You would have to leave this world to avoid people like that. I meant that you are not to associate with anyone who claims to be a believer yet indulges in sexual sin, or is greedy, or worships idols, or is abusive, or is a drunkard, or cheats people. Don’t even eat with such people. It isn’t my responsibility to judge outsiders, but it certainly is your responsibility to judge those inside the church who are sinning. God will judge those on the outside; but as the Scriptures say, “You must remove the evil person from among you.” (1 Cor. 5:9-13 NLT)

It would seem as if Paul is clarifying a passage from his second letter with a passage from the first. Verse 9 presupposes there had been previous correspondence, of which we have no record, addressing this matter.

The NIV and NKJV renders the opening verse in our first passage as, "Do not be 'yoked' together with unbelievers". An understanding of the concept of being yoked really puts a brighter light on the teaching. When two draft animals are yoked together they have no options to separate leanings. They are in lock-step with each other – where one goes, so must the other, regardless of the incentive. Their incentive may be the greener grass at the side of the road or the sting of the master's whip. Our incentive to follow may be promise of greener grass, or a misguided commitment to be the whip that draws our unbeliever back onto the right track.

One verse seems to say that we must be very vigilant lest we become involved with unbelievers in wrong ways, and the other seems to say that you shouldn't take that approach to extremes. So the question may be asked, "What sorts of being yoked together with unbelievers is wrong? What sorts are encouraged or necessary or right?" Who am I to avoid – to separate myself from?

1 Corinthians 7:39 makes marriage clear, but what about a business partnership or a bowling team? What about a neighborhood HOA?  Do I ostracize myself from my co-workers, my next door neighbor? How then am I to be obedient to the Great Commission? (Matt. 28:19)

Paul is not promoting a separation from the world here. The people described in our first passage may include the posers who claim a relationship with Christ yet live a life contrary to Biblical teaching. But the crux of the message is the danger of an ongoing relationship with a person steeped in a sinful life and uninterested in repentance, redemption, or reconciliation. We should avoid relationships with unbelievers in which your relations may endorse the unbelief or consequent sins, and avoid the kinds of relationships with them that involve the interweaving of deep personal values (like marriage).

As for those who profess to be believers yet live in blatant sin or teach serious false doctrine Paul seems to promote a more vigorous ostracism. Beyond the warning to not associate with them he says we are not even to eat with them. "You must remove the evil person from among you" (vs 13). That seems a little harsh, even unmerciful given today's bent toward universal tolerance. But God is not universally tolerant nor does His Holy Word teach us to be. We are to be loving yet discerning, forgiving but wise in our relational choices, tolerant yet not blind to worldly (secular) alibis.

He says, "…separate yourselves from them…Don't touch their filthy things, and I will welcome you". I take this to mean that if a person has been disciplined in the appropriate way and yet chooses to continue living a sinful life, then we are not to continue socializing with him as if nothing were wrong.

The whole premise of both passages as I can determine is that Satan is alive and well and ruling this world we live in. If we permit an ongoing relationship with one of his minions we are at risk of being drawn along just as if we were yoked to the unrepentant sinner. Our commitment and obligation to the Great Commission not withstanding He says "Be Holy as I am Holy". Keep yourself 'set apart' as God is set apart.

Be Blessed.

Delivering the Good News

"How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, "Your God reigns!" (Isaiah 52:7 NIV)

In Paul's letter to the Romans he zealously declared that salvation is by faith in Christ and that the Mosaic Law upon which the Jews were so desperately dependent for salvation was null and void. He states, "How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!" (Romans 10:14-15)

Both passages evoke a notion of someone bringing good news – not just good news, but life giving, great news. In Isaiah the messenger proclaims God's promise of redemption, a return of the remnant in Babylon to His holy city, promise of peace and tranquility, and above all the sovereign rule of the Lord God to protect them. How beautiful are the feet of that messenger. Watch now, going forward into verses 8 and 9; we see the watchmen, who have heard the good tidings 'lift up their voices. . .[and] sing for joy'; and in verse 10, the promised 'salvation of our God'. (Is. 52:8-10)

To the  Romans Paul has stated that all are saved by the Calvary event – but all aren't aware of that event – and there is a cry for someone to preach the salvation message. Some messenger must go. And again, how beautiful the feet that bring that message.

There are many obstacles to the messenger's feet. A world view would ridicule the message and vilify the messenger. The evil one will place many a stumbling block in the way of the messenger, enticing him with pleasurable side paths, bright lights, and worldly treasures. Our Lord Jesus taught us from the Sermon on the Mount, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 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." (Matt. 5:9-12)

But God provides the true bright light for the messenger – a lamp unto his feet and a light for his path – His holy Word – and a true Guide in the person of the Holy Spirit.

We, my friends, are called to be the messenger today. Just as the people of Jerusalem were watching and waiting for the message of God's return with his remnant and just as Paul exhorts us to take the message to those 'have not believed' because 'they have not heard', there are those who are waiting for a message; a message of salvation, of love, and peace, and joy; that they too can join us in rejoicing in God's favor. They are waiting for us. Waiting for you.

I once heard in a sermon that there is someone in your realm of influence that will never hear about Christ unless you tell them. When I first heard that statement I was a little skeptical – thought it a little far fetched. "Really? I am their only source for the word of God?" But upon deeper reflection I thought – "What if?" Do I dare deny such a premise?

And then there was this from an atheistic comedian; "Who do you hate so much that you would keep secret from them your message of salvation?" Do you really hate your next door neighbor that much? Do you really hate your co-workers that much? Obviously the list could go on and on. A favorite worship song says "They will know we are Christians by our love".

On that last night in the Upper Room, Jesus told His apostles, "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:34-35 emphasis added)

So in conclusion we might declare that the beautiful feet of the  messenger will be recognized by our love for another.

"Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us? And I said, "Here I am, Send me!" He said, "Go and tell this people…" (Isaiah 6:8-9a)

"Let it be so. Or in Hebrew, "Amen".

Be Blessed

I often close the Weekly Witness with the quote “May the Lord bless you and yours, and may you be a blessing to others.”. I wonder how many of us really make a concerted effort to, in fact, “be a blessing” to someone.  When was the last time you went out of your way to do something or say something that might be referred to as a blessing?  Conversely, how many times has someone been a blessing to you and you took that blessing for granted?

God blesses each of us, hour by hour, every day, the saved and unsaved alike.  Jesus tells us, “He (God) causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matt. 5:45)  He also said we should “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:36)

We are exhorted to love our neighbors as ourselves and I’m sure most of us try to do just that – but from a distance.  When I do reach out to encourage or lift up someone, I confess I too often extend my hand only to people I know; people withing my circle of Christian friends.  I fail to be the salt and light we are all called to be in a world of hurting and lonely people.  When we look at the fuller context of the verse quoted above such practice is contrary to our Lord’s message. “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?  And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?  Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt. 5:46-48)

Do you remember the last time you received an unexpected call from someone who just wanted to wish you a blessed day?  They didn’t call for any reason except to ask how you were, to let you know they were thinking of you, praying for you, and wishing you a blessed day.  I do and I recall how uplifted I felt that someone would be so mindful of me.  It just makes my day, and I know it makes yours too.

An additional blessing comes with our knowledge that we have brightened someone’s day.  Just as we nearly always feel more blessed by charity or outreach opportunities than those we serve, so is that blessing given to us when we lift up an unsuspecting neighbor, friend, or co-worker.

How many bridges do you imagine could be repaired or built if you turned right now to someone not expecting your kindness and let them know you honor, respect, and care about them.  So what if you have had issues or conflicts with them – you must become bigger than the obstacle.  Did not our Father dismiss conflicts He had with our sinful ways?  You know, God may have put this person in your path to grow your faith.

I can promise you, that as you show kindness to someone with whom you may be at odds, your differences become less important.  As you lift them up your esteem for them increases.  They will automatically become more honorable and more loveable.  It is impossible to continue to dislike or even be aloof with someone you reach out to bless.  As we practice the art of loving our neighbor I am confident that our Father in Heaven, through the Holy Spirit, touches our very souls with His love and blessings.

This week let us all find ways to bless someone – someone who isn’t necessarily expecting your kindness.  Ask them if there is something in their life that you can pray for them about; share with them how important they are in your life; let them know that you thank God for putting them in your path.  Bring them a cup of coffee,. tell them how nice they look, or that you appreciate their contributions to the job or the neighborhood.  Call someone (emails just aren’t as personable) – “Just thinking of you my brother, my sister.”

I pray our Father God’s abundant blessings for you and yours, and that you may be a blessing to others.

Believing God’s Promises

“Blessed are all they that put their trust in Him.” Psalm 2:12

How is it that Abraham, the father of all who worship the one true God, first encountered Him. The city of Ur of the Chaldeans was a Hammite city founded by Ham, the brother of Shem and Japeth, sons of Noah. Tradition dictates that these Shemites were tent dwellers and would not therefore have been resident of Ur but would havve pitched their tents in the vicinity of that pagan city. That area, even today, is a green verdure bound by a sea of lifeless desert.

Joshua tells us that Abraham’s father Terah worshiped the pagan idols (Joshua 24:2), so it isn’t a stretch to deduce that along the line of four hundred years following the great flood, not only were the Hammites worshiping ‘other’ gods, but so were the Shemmites. Where did Abram encounter the one true God?  Scripture doesn’t reveal that, but it is again no stretch to propose that Abram had some access to  the history of his clan and chose to believe in the God who had allowed mankind to survive based on the faithfulness of his grand patriarch, Noah. Just as God sought out Noah to be the champion of mankind at that time, He now chooses Abram to parent His chosen nation.

There is again much left to imagination and supposition, but putting particulars aside, we are left with the truth that, per scripture, God reveals Himself only to Abram since Noah. Just as God was silent from Malachi to John for 400 years, so now once again has come the time to choose His ambassador. And so the question mght be asked – Why Abram? Given his surroundings, the contemporary ideology, the religiosity of his family and  peers – how did Abram ever come to not only know God, but to trust Him completely?

We don’t know – but we do know that when God lays His Holy hand on you there is no capitulation – there’s no “I’ll think about it” attitude.

When God calls you there is no negotiation. We do not ask how or where. We do not ask – we only obey.

As we surrender ourselves to God, He instills in us a trust beyond measure. When Abram’s father, Terah, died in Haran, he moves blindly on to Canaan. Abram comes to where he is not welcome, but he is not conquered. Have you ever found yourself resident in a neighborhood where you felt unwelcome? Did you find that your workplace is  in Samaria?

As we trust in the Lord we find that we are able to anticipate that He will take us through all the valleys we face. All He asks of us is that we TRUST Him.

Where Abraham found his faith in God we aren’t told. It could be just as mysterious as the faith you found, but just as profound. Scripture promises again and again that as we trust God, as we put our ultimate faith in Him, He will reward us with a home in heaven with Him.

Seems to me like a no-brainer bargain.

May the Lord God bless you and yours, and may you be a blessing to others around you.

Unholy Pride

One of the greatest problems that we men struggle with is our pride. I have often thought that God perpetrated a really cruel joke on the male of the species, implanting in our DNA such an insidious obstacle to Christian humility, and by extension, obedience.

Now I am sure I will hear from some of the ladies that they too are troubled with prideful tendencies and I don’t argue that, nor do I minimize or trivialize their burdens in this respect. It’s just that in a man I believe it’s more prevalent. It is, more often than not, part and parcel to his nature.

One thing is certain; the prideful characteristic in a man makes him rebellious to God and unforgiving, unloving to mankind. Pride is a learned attribute that has often been pressed on us by our culture. How often have we heard a complimentary “He was (is) a very proud man”?, or a disdainful “Have you no pride?”, as if he were flawed or incomplete without it.

So today let’s dissect pride and discuss how we will deal with it. Definition: ‘A company of lions.’ Oops – that’s the wrong one. Definition: 1. too high an opinion of one’s importance or superiority; 2. arrogant behavior; 3. gratification arising from one’s possessions or accomplishments; 4. conceit; 5. disdain. I’m sure we could take out the Thesaurus at this point and expand on that short list ad nauseum.

Muhammad is supposed to have said, “He in whose heart there is as much as an atom of arrogance will not enter paradise,”  and Thomas Aquinas wrote that “inordinate self-love is the cause of every sin.” Of the seven deadly sins pride is considered the greatest. In his Poor Richard’s Almanac, Benjamin Franklin wrote of pride, “To be proud of virtue is to poison yourself with the antidote.” Elbert Hubbard, an early twentieth century satirist, wrote, “There was one who thought he was above me, and he was above me until he had that thought.”

The characteristic of pride in a person sets us apart from God like no other. In my view it is sort of the CEO of a company of sinful characteristics; those being intolerance, impatience, and being judgmental and prejudiced.

I am intolerant of you when I tell myself that I don’t care about your needs, your wants, or your purposes. I have no respect for you and I hold you in contempt. As I am impatient with you I am saying that you are of less value than me and your time is less valuable than mine. As I judge you I adorn myself with importance and worthiness. In my arrogance I assign you in to an inferior category, to a class less honorable, a person less worthy than I.

In my pride I crown myself with lordship over you and view myself as either more worthy of respect, more honorable, or more valuable. As a Christian, my self appointed lordship is not consciously planned, intended, nor even realized. It is often the product of a subliminal fear of inferiority or desire to elevate our own self image.

So how do we overcome this tendency? How do we combat this most natural obsession for one-up-manship? From a logical point of view we must have a plan. One of my wife, Judy’s oft repeated clichés is “When you fail to plan, you can plan to fail”. From a biblical point of view we must make God’s Holy Word part of that plan. It does not matter if our prideful temptations are of Satan or of our own inherent sinful nature.

In Ephesians chapter 6, Paul tells us our struggle is “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (vs12) That’s Satan and his minions, and somewhere among those rulers, authorities, powers, and forces I expect is our sinful nature. As Paul lists an array of armor for our defense, (the armor of God), the one weapon he points out is the “sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God”. (vs17b)

That my friends is our weapon against pride. As I have shared with you previously I have made 2 Corinthians 10:5 my life verse, my maxim, my mantra. It is my weapon of choice to combat the evil I encounter every day. “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” We don’t find “WWJD” written in the Bible – not in those exact words but 2 Corinthians 10:5 is about as close as I find; particularly those last ten words. “Take captive EVERY THOUGHT” and do what with the captive thought? “Make it OBEDIENT TO CHRIST” WWJD Pauline style.

Now obviously the scriptural verse that works for me may not be the same one that you lean on in that time of need. A few others I think of are Romans 12:2, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…” or maybe Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things”. or Psalms 101:5, “Whoever slanders his neighbor in secret, him will I put to silence; whoever has haughty eyes and a proud heart, him will I not endure”. There are many more.

A few weeks ago I wrote about loving the unlovable and how as we do not love those we might consider unlovable, we then become the unlovable. Unholy pride makes us unlovable. I suppose I should state the obvious, that there is righteous pride that God honors. We can certainly be proud of friends and loved ones for hard won accomplishments. I believe we can feel proud of God using us as His tool to achieve something for His Kingdom as long as we acknowledge that it was by His will and His grace that we are used.

Let us all pray that God’s Holy Spirit will awaken us to our prideful inclinations, that we may turn away from those demonic and unloving propensities, and instead look for something positive in everyone we encounter whether they are near to us or far away.