The Stigma of Faithfulness

“I  am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires.” (2 Peter 3:1-3, ESV)

If you’ve been following Christ for any length of time, then there is no doubt you have experienced some form of resistance that has tempted you to draw back and turn away from His leadership. You may have been mocked, cut off, ignored, or pressured to quit by those you love, but you are not alone. Looking at the examples of many before us, we can be sure that from the moment we begin to pursue a wholehearted life of faithfulness to God, we will also begin to carry a stigma or mark of disapproval from those who aren’t pursuing the same thing.

“After these things and these acts of faithfulness, Sennacherib king of Assyria came and invaded Judah and encamped against the fortified cities, thinking to win them for himself.” (2 Chronicles 32:1, ESV)

After king Hezekiah of Judah “did what was good and right and faithful before the LORD his God,” he was immediately faced with ungodly resistance (2 Chr. 31:20). The Assyrian enemies of that time aimed to not only conquer the people of God, but they sought to terrorize them into forsaking all trust in God. They would stand outside the city shouting, “Who among all the gods of those nations that my fathers devoted to destruction was able to deliver his people from my hand, that your God should be able to deliver you from my hand (2 Chr. 32:14)?” The Assyrian army made it a point to speak in a language that all of the LORD’S people could understand, so that the fear would spread rapidly behind Judah’s defenses.

“And they shouted it with a loud voice in the language of Judah to the people of Jerusalem who were on the wall, to frighten them and terrify them, in order that they might take the city.” (2 Chronicles 32:18, ESV)

Fear is the Trojan horse of the Devil. Being the chief opponent of faith, it often comes into our hearts disguised with words that sound like wisdom, but it only brings doubt. In the Garden of Eden, the Serpent’s deception wore this same disguise causing Adam and Eve to doubt what God had really said. You see, the moment we lose trust in what God has truly said and done, we become vulnerable to the seeds of fear that thrive in insecure environments. The strength of our faithfulness is determined by how full we are of faith. The enemy won’t hesitate to speak in your language in order to deceive you with words that sound like your own reasoning.

“Thus says Sennacherib king of Assyria, ‘On what are you trusting, that you endure the siege in Jerusalem? Is not Hezekiah misleading you…?” (2 Chr. 32:10-11)

When you choose to be faithful, another fiery dart of the enemy will try to cause you to doubt the godly leadership that has been placed in your life. The enemy wants you to feel like it’s their fault for the assault on your faith, and like it’s their fault that you aren’t seeing the fruit of your faithfulness, when in reality, he is deceiving you. He knows that if he can remove your respect for leadership, then he can prey on your pride and postpone your destiny.

“Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to your elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you…” (1 Pet. 5:5-6)

People are mocked and praised everyday for committing time, money and energy into things they enjoy or value. Anyone can be scoffed at for investing their lives into anything out of the ordinary, but the Christian investment is not only out of the ordinary, it is mostly unseen and eternal; therefore, it is that much easier for people to discredit. But take heart, for the commitment to walk faithfully before the Lord is a commitment to a good and noble life full of genuine blessings and eternal rewards.

“Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.” (Matt. 7:6)

“Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.” (2 Tim. 3:12-13)

Don’t be afraid of the stigma, but rather expect and embrace it. For in the same way they rejected Jesus Himself, many will reject you. The authentic and mature Christian will surely agree that the road to life is truly narrow, but worth it. It’s not a hard road in that only the strong and elite can walk on it, but it’s hard in that it requires humility in a culture of pride, self-abandonment in a world of self-absorption, and faith in the face of resistance. So if you’ve ever suffered for doing what is right in the sight of the Lord, if you’ve been mocked for choosing meekness, or if you’ve been rejected for standing up for His truth in love, then let this encourage you dear brother or sister of faith. Keep standing, keep pressing, keep trusting, keep waiting, keep hoping, keep praising, keep loving, keep doing good, and keep doing right!

“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.” (John 15:18, ESV)

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.” (Eph. 6:10-13)

“In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one…” (Eph. 6:16)

Blessed Are The Peacemakers: Contending For Biblical Unity in the Church

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” (Matthew 5:9)

DIVIDE AND CONQUER

The enemy’s strategy to take down the church is still the same as it has always been: Divide and Conquer. For centuries, he has gone about doing this in many different ways, but his end goal is still the same. Wherever a significant portion of Christ’s body begins to come together in an uncommon glory and believe for breakthrough in a region, the scheme of our adversary is always to magnify every difference of opinion no matter how small or insignificant they might be. It’s in this environment of disagreement that he can begin planting seeds of disunity that will quickly grow in the soil of our envy, bitterness and insecurity. (Luke 11:14-23)

We often give up on kingdom relationships because the enemy is more convinced of our potential as a united church than we are. He understands our impact on society is directly related to our connection to God and one another. The world today desperately needs the witness of the united church of Jesus Christ, and I believe God is looking for peacemakers who will boldly and compassionately confront the societal, racial, cultural and generational divisions among His people, helping to bring a lasting unity that isn’t based on compromise, but on our humble agreement with Him.

THE WAY OF CAIN

Jude warned of those who would walk in the way of Cain within the church, following their own ungodly passions and causing divisions (Jude verse 11, 18-19). Looking at the story of Cain and Abel we see that Abel kept the sheep while Cain worked the ground (Gen. 4:2). Abel gave the first and best of his flock; Cain gave only an offering of his fruit (Gen. 4:3-4). Abel made a living out of taking care of living creatures and giving the best of what he had to God as an end to that means, while Cain made a living out of working the ground (which was cursed) and giving some to God as a means to an end.

The way of Cain is the way of covetousness, envy and greed that stems from an unwillingness to surrender our full heart to God. It’s about seeing what you can get out of others, rather than what you can give (i.e. King Saul, Judas Iscariot). Its a way that many within the church have fallen into, leading to anger, bitterness and even hate. At the end of the day, do you see people as an end to a means or a means to an end? There is joy and lasting fulfillment in putting others before ourselves, but there is always jealousy and strife when we only work to please ourselves.

Cain was cursed to wander and never receive the strength from that which he planted (Gen 4:11-12). Similarly, those who go the way of Cain will always be wandering, from church to church, job to job, city to city, relationship to relationship, and never finding the fruit they’re looking for.

FRUIT CHASERS VS FRUIT MAKERS

As Christians from different church organizations or denominations, we often look at other ministries with either an overly negative or an overly positive perspective. We can see a measure of fruit, but what we can’t see are the roots. It is easy to see the outward appealing fruit of another ministry and then compare it to the ministry that you are currently apart of and be left feeling like your church is not doing something right.

The truth is, you will never see the fruit you’re looking for if you’re not willing to be apart of the roots. I’m not saying that joining yourself to people who bear good fruit is wrong, but if you are only looking to chase fruit instead of make fruit, then you will never go through God’s intended process for your life.

Roots are dirty. They are mostly found beneath the surface, unrecognized and unseen. They are in each other’s business, and they don’t seem like much at the start, but if they stay connected, they become a strong, fruit-yielding tree. Let the Lord deal with the fruitless branches, but you prioritize staying connected to the Vine. How do we stay connected to the Vine? Obey His commandments. What are His commandments? Love one another! (John 15)

    OVERCOMING PERSONAL OFFENSES, DISAGREEMENTS AND MISTREATMENT

How can we be qualified to love the people of this world if we can’t love our brothers and sisters in Christ? “Loving” people who we have no relationship with is easy, but genuinely loving people within the context of relationship brings tremendous difficulty. The enemy knows this and exploits it, but if we are willing to “bear with one another,” we have the potential to truly become the light of Christ to this earth because we carry a love that has been refined in the fires of Christ-centered relationship.

“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you were called., with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:1-3).

In our minds, the biggest hindrance to a relationship is the person on the other end of it when really it has more to do with us. You take a few contrary personalities, opinions and attitudes and throw them into the same bowl, then you add in our sinful depravity, and it just doesn’t mix. Especially within a community of believers, there is always going to be something that offends, some difference of perspective, some unmet expectation, or some degree of unfair treatment.

Similarly to the leading reason for divorce, I believe the number one excuse for church divisions are irreconcilable differences. But the truth is, Jesus never taught us to run from relationships, but to deal with them. How do we deal with them? The cross. If we have no understanding of the cross or a lifestyle of taking it up, then it will be extremely hard to walk in lasting unity as a church family. For the cross speaks of mercy, forgiveness, self-sacrifice, love, and trusting in God when we are wronged (1 Pet. 2:23). We must learn how to deal with our offences and differences by first bringing ourselves to the cross. It’s very hard to offend someone when they’ve already died to their self. The maturity of a believer can often be measured by how much of themselves they are willing to put on the cross for the sake of preserving godly relationships.

Sometimes we might leave a ministry because we feel that our leaders are somehow blocking us from moving forward in our calling, but the truth is that no one can hinder your ministry and calling accept you. Take it from King David,  though he was anointed to be king, he submitted himself to a bad leader for 15 years before he actually became king. God places authority in our life, whether it be a parent, a boss, a pastor, a president, to grow us into our calling not take it away, but it has less to do with the authority and more to do with our response to them.

Of course, I believe there are specific times when we must remove ourselves from certain covenant relationships when they are truly destructive, abusive or sinful, and there are times when we might have to leave a local church because of serious doctrinal compromises and practices among the leadership (this is not the same as having disagreements or differences of opinion, style or method). Regardless, we are still not excused from staying connected with the covenant community of God and contending for reconciliation and peace in our relationships.

“Let love be genuine, abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection…live in harmony with one another…If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Rom. 12:9-10, 16, 18).

CHURCH-LESS CHRISTIANITY IS NOT THE ANSWER

Christianity without community is an oxymoron. It’s contradictory to say we are Christians, but we isolate ourselves from the body of Christ. There is a modern trend in today’s Christianity that endorses this isolated, rules-free approach, called “Church-less Christianity.”

“Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment” (Prov. 18:1).

“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Heb. 10:24-25).

What this really comes from are those who want to be used by God on their own terms, apart from any form of accountability. It’s truly selfish and ultimately a major detriment to us because community is one of God’s primary tools that He uses to refine us, expose us, and mold us into the images He’s created us to be.

Paul calls the church to be joined and knit together. A dislocated joint can only be healed if it is put back in its place. Joints are visible in our body as the place where our arms and legs are able to move, but its the unseen muscles, ligaments and tendons that pull on each other to cause that joint to move.

Could it be that the church is stuck because we have too many people wanting to stand out like the joints in our bones, but not enough people willing to pull on each other inside of a community?

“Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Eph. 4:15-16).

PEACEMAKERS VS. PEACEKEEPERS

The main call of this article is that we would seek to be peacemakers in our relationships rather than merely peacekeepers. Peacekeepers seek peace by avoiding all confrontation to try and keep everyone happy while they actually grow more distant in their relationships beneath the surface. Peacemakers take the initiative to bring about temporal conflict in relationships in order to create a genuine, lasting peace.

“And the God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly” (Rom. 16:20).

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matt. 10:34).

“I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division” (Luke 12:49-51).

I talk about contending for biblical unity because there is a unity out there that is not biblical. It’s a unity that is not based on the plain truth of God’s Word, but it’s based on tolerance for sin and compromise with evil. Unity from this world says to join hands with everyone while we passively overlook our sinful issues, while unity from the Lord says to join hands while we aggressively deal with our sinful issues in love and humility. Much like the Tower of Babel, man’s purpose for unity is about building a tower to exalt humanity through pride and uniformity (Gen. 11). God’s purpose for unity is about building a kingdom that exalts Jesus Christ through agreement with His worth, leadership, justice, righteousness and love.

The confusion on this issue is rapidly growing throughout the earth. We see people either fighting for a unity that is based on conformity with the government and surrender of our basic human rights for the “so-called” common good or a unity that is based on our tolerance for many different ways of life where morality is subjective and all roads lead to heaven.

The problem is that both of these forms of unity have their appealing points, but from a biblical view, they fall short of the unity that God wants us to fight for. Yes, God desires a unity without prejudice that welcomes everyone and anyone to believe in Him. He loves uniting a diversity of people that come from different backgrounds, cultures and races. He is pleased when we come together with our unique personalities, styles, talents and abilities to accomplish the purposes of His kingdom. It’s not the diversity of people but the diversity of blatant sin that should not be overlooked for the sake of unity (Rev. 2:20). Of course, we must not judge or be critical of other people who are pressing after God and struggling with sin, but we must still call an act of sin, sin. We do so with mercy, wisdom, clarity and love. There’s a difference between judging people and judging sin (1 Cor. 5). We all fall short because we all have sin in common, but it’s when we all have the cross in common that an indivisible unity is established. Our unity as Christians will only ever be as strong as our agreement with Christ. It makes us feel all warm and fuzzy to think that we could all have peace and sing We are the World regardless of our beliefs, but it would only be a temporal peace.

In reference to the verses above, Jesus’ statements about bringing division and a sword seem somewhat contradictory from the fact that He is supposed to be this Messiah who brings peace on earth, goodwill to man. But Jesus understands that the only way to bring about a true and eternal peace is to bring temporal conflict. God could not bring peace between mankind and Himself by simply looking past our sin. He had to pay dearly for those sins through this brutal moment of conflict called the cross. That’s why grace is free, but it’s not cheap. Light cannot coexist with darkness; therefore, the darkness was not tolerated but done away with (2 Cor. 6:14-18; 7:1).

Ultimately, Christ, the Son of God, is the great peacemaker who broke the power of sin, and He will soon return to judge and restore all things so that what He accomplished on the cross would be manifest for every eye to see. He will confront every injustice, and He will bring healing across the races and generations, that every people, tribe and tongue might come to know Him.

CLOSING POINTS

But until Christ does return, He has called the people of His church to be peacemakers, so that we might be identified with Him as sons of God. This article is not a charge to be intolerant of people or not to associate with those who do not believe the same, for to do so we would have to leave the world (1 Cor. 5:9-10). It is a charge to be intolerant of sin, to come to the cross and contend for a unity among believers that is real and eternal. It is possible to live separately from this world by our lifestyle choices, but not in isolation, for this world needs to be confronted by the light of Christ from His body of believers. Jericho won’t fall until we march together, and the church is needed in this hour to march together like never before.

Of course, there are many peripheral issues that we might disagree about, but this is a charge to stand on the foundations of our faith — the foundation of Jesus Christ and His glorious gospel — and press onward. We must learn how to walk in unity with with other believers who may have some differences or deficiencies, while still exposing the deceptions that can be destructive. We don’t have to agree on every debatable issue to be equally yoked, we just have to be willing to start at the cross and run together toward Christ,  proclaiming Him crucified and seeking first His kingdom and His righteousness. Our radical love and pursuit of Jesus will be what unites us AND what separates us. Though we are a piano with many different keys, if we are tuned to the same standard of the Word of God and stay attached, we can be used by the Holy Spirit to make a beautiful song that brings transformation to the world. When Christ is the standard, then the difference between the “best” of us and the “worst” of us greatly diminishes. In Heaven, it won’t be about who was right and who was wrong, but it will be about who humbled themselves the most. Who learned to love they way that God loves?

“…until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ…” (Eph. 4:13)

“By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn. 13:35).

“Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” (Psalm 133:1)

“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they may also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (Jn. 17:20-21).

The Vaccinated Christian

Something that I’ve observed throughout my very short lifetime is how we are creatures who quickly learn to adapt to our surroundings. We like routine, we like familiarity, and we like consistency. Anytime we change up our lifestyle, diet, environment, job, etc, it is only natural for us to immediately try and revert back to what we know until new habits are established. After being married for almost two years, I can tell you that both my wife and I have had to learn to adapt! And if you’ve ever been a parent, I can guarantee that you have had to get used to some new routines 🙂

Now when I first became a follower of Jesus Christ, I was thrown so far out of my comfort zone that I learned to embrace it. It was definitely a “born again” experience for me. Although everything was unfamiliar, there was something about the spontaneity of encountering and obeying God that awakened my heart. But over time, even the presence of God became an environment I could adapt to. It weighs heavy on mind to know that this is the case for so many Christians who started out full of fresh faith with rivers of living water flowing from within them, but now after years of building dams out of religious routines, all that is left inside them is a stagnate pond that is quickly drying up. Many church leaders often discuss the amount of young people who leave the faith after they leave the home, but could it be that just like our modern medical methods, we have vaccinated a generation with just enough faith to make them immune to the real thing?

Many of you might know about the garden of Gethsemane as the place where Jesus prayed while His disciples fell asleep before He was betrayed by one of them and sentenced to be crucified (Matt. 26:36-56; Mk. 14:32-42; Lk. 22:39-53). Something interesting though is that the gospels also tell us that this was a place where Jesus often met with His disciples (Jn. 18:2; Lk 22:39). If only His disciples knew that this would be the last prayer meeting they would have with their Messiah before He went to the cross, then they might not have fallen asleep. But just like us, these disciples became so over-familiar with their surroundings that they were immune to His presence and the urgency of the moment.

If you feel you are at this place, then don’t give up because there is still hope! I believe Jesus’ remedy for a Christian who has been immunized from having a burning heart is the same remedy that He gave His disciples in the garden of Gethsemane: “Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation.”  It’s not enough to be faithful if we are not FULL of FAITH. Of course it’s good and right to implement healthy routines into our life such as gathering with other believers, studying the Bible, eating healthy, going to work on time, and so on. Jesus Himself did things as was His custom, but even in keeping a routine, He modeled how to live in a spontaneous, living and breathing relationship with the Father. At the end of the day, His food was to do His Father’s will (Jn. 4:34).

To be watchful is to be attentive or actively engaged with what is going on around us. To be prayerful is to be attentive or actively engaged with what is going on within us. God is calling us to keep the internal conversation going with Him as well as the external conversation about Him. Don’t settle for a Sunday-only-faith or a crisis-only-faith. Don’t settle for being vaccinated with small doses of the presence of God and life of obedience to Him even if it means some people put you under quarantine.

Like I said about marriage earlier, I know my wife and I have had to make some post-honeymoon lifestyle adaptations, but I also know that what is going to help keep our love alive is that we’re making every effort to keep the conversation going! I have to be willing to walk through new experiences with her outside of my comfortable shell just like God wants to walk through new experiences with us. It’s the tension of faithfully remaining on the potter’s wheel, yet being consistently vulnerable to the potter’s hands. If you are spiritually bored and dull, it’s not as much about needing a change in scenery as much as it is needing a change in vision.

LORD, would you break our immunity to your presence today. Make us tender to your voice. As we draw near to you, would you fill us with a fresh faith. Break down the dams of pride that we’ve built up and let you rivers flow again. Help us to see the urgency of the hour. Help us to see how beautiful you are. Help us to take our focus off of familiar language and scenery, and revive our expectancy by placing our focus on you and what you are doing. Teach us how to raise our children and the next generation without vaccinating them from genuinely encountering and knowing you. In Jesus’ name, amen.