Note the curious disparity here. God’s people are very much trying to behave like God’s people. They “delight to draw near to God”. They aren’t just religious; they’re downright spiritual. This isn’t self-imposed, legalistic drudgery; these people are sincerely - joyfully, even - seeking an encounter with the living God. Yet God is not pleased. The apostle James says that if we draw near to God, He’ll draw near to us (James 4:8). Well, Israel is, and it’s not working.
Thankfully, the answer isn’t shrouded in mystery; it’s provided plainly. God’s people, for all their spiritual enthusiasm, are a quarrelsome group of miscreants who have oppressed and neglected the poor. Loving one’s neighbour as oneself is, evidently, not a priority. Under such circumstances, the Lord refuses to be responsive to prayer and supplication, no matter how sincerely and fervently such petition may be offered.
If there is a clearer biblical picture of western evangelicalism today, I don’t know where to find it. Enter any number of evangelical churches and you’re bound to find enthusiasm, dedication and spiritual fervour. If it’s an experience you seek, it’s an experience you will find. But ask yourself, within such churches, do we really love our neighbour - our Christian neighbour, let alone anyone else?
If someone loses a job or falls ill in your church, is any real help rendered beyond some half-hearted promises to pray and a few casseroles? Are we behaving as “one body” (1 Cor 12:12-27), or as several bodies pulled together once or twice weekly for some mutually agreeable religious activity?
If we want a genuine encounter with the Living God, we had better be able to answer this question confidently.
I believe that the more we grow in faith, the harder it will be to tolerate the ignorant speech of mockers. Harder to love the lost? No, that’s not what I’m saying. Rather it will be more difficult to take it when people deliberately target our Lord with ignorant scorn and derision. We want to protect the dignity and reputations of those we love; the more we love God, the more protective we become.
Recently my oldest daughter, who is ten and was just recently baptized, became angry with a child on the school bus who was deliberately taking the Lord’s name in vain. The angrier she became, the further he pushed the boundaries, realizing that this was an excellent way to get under her skin. I told her afterwards that while it’s good she is unhappy with such talk, she doesn’t benefit anyone by getting upset. “Our Lord is a big boy”, I said, “He can take care of Himself. Your job is to love people like this and be a good witness for Jesus”.
Oh, how easy it is for me to give advice like this, how hard for me to take it when my Lord’s name is being targeted and blasphemed! What does the bible have to say in such circumstances?
The Lord mocks the mockers but is gracious to the humble.
- Proverbs 3:34
"But those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. "
- Matthew 23:12
We are encouraged to remember the end-game here. Our Lord does not, in fact, need our protection (though I’m certain He is honoured by our devotion). He reminds us that He has the last say, and those of us who have chosen to honour Him with our hearts and mouths will receive honour in return.
Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God?
- James 4:4
"God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way.”
- Matthew 5:11-12
"Don’t imagine that I came to bring peace to the earth! I came not to bring peace, but a sword. I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. Your enemies will be right in your own household!"
- Matthew 10:34-36
We are reminded that we’re not supposed to be friends with the world. If we are Jesus’ disciples, we are to expect enmity. We are living in territory that is unlawfully and diabolically held by Satan himself. You are surrounded by his subjects. Why does Jesus command us to love our enemies? Because we have them.
God’s enemies are your enemies. And while you are under instructions to love your enemies, your enemies are under no such orders. On the contrary, they break faith with the Devil when they treat you kindly. Remember that.
"If any household or town refuses to welcome you or listen to your message, shake its dust from your feet as you leave. I tell you the truth, the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah will be better off than such a town on the judgment day."
- Matthew 10:14-15
"Don’t waste what is holy on people who are unholy. Don’t throw your pearls to pigs! They will trample the pearls, then turn and attack you.”
- Matthew 7:6
While we are never permitted to “turn off our love”, we are permitted, instructed in fact, to cease throwing God’s pearl’s before swine and take the message to more receptive ears. Discerning this, of course, takes the wisdom of the Holy Spirit in our lives. I’m reminded of Nabeel Qureshi’s amazing conversion from Islam, and how it took place thanks mainly to the persistence of his friend David, who ministered to him for years. But noticeably absent from this story is Nabeel persecuting his friend David, heaping scorn and derision on his head.
Why? Because it didn’t happen. They had fights, of course, and ignorant things were said, but there is little mention of David having to endure a consistent barrage of blasphemy for his efforts. Had that been the case, I think, he would have been well advised to walk away. The bottom line? If those we are witnessing to insist on ignorance and blasphemy, unless we feel specifically called to keep at it, there are more receptive audiences to whom we can and ought to go.
Bottom line, it’s tough to take it when people joyfully mock our Lord; but it’s a part of the deal. Fortunately, we have scripture, prayer, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, to see us through. Amen.
“For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.” If I believe the remedy to this is to perfect my speech, I should think again, for “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.”
We are condemned or acquitted on the words that come out of our mouths not so much because of what those words say, but because they serve as evidence of what’s in our hearts. And on the judgement day, I’ll either have Jesus in my heart, or I won’t.
I can test myself on this. Is Jesus in my heart? No human being speaks exclusively good or bad things, each one of us has the tendency to lift up at one moment and tear down the next; but is the love of Jesus shining through in my life? Would those acquainted with me say there is something good that shines out of me, that comes through in my words and in my deeds? If not, what to do, again, control my speech, pull up my bootstraps? Nope, that won’t work.
No human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
- James 3:8 (emphasis mine)
Taming the tongue is beyond my capabilities. So what is the remedy?
Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!
- Romans 7:21-25
I am brought once again to the mercy of the cross. Self-control is a biblical virtue, and I ought to practice it as long as it’s within my capability to do so. But long-term change is impossible without Jesus in my life, working through the Holy Spirit.
So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.
- Galatians 5:16
Once again I must throw myself on the mercy of the cross, the mercy of Christ Jesus, and cry out:
Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
- Psalm 51:10
All praise and thanks be to God who is merciful, who is gracious, and who certainly will answer this prayer, changing us from the inside out. All we need do is ask.
Beware the prophet who speaks peace to your sin. There is a heresy out there – fast becoming a consensus – that because we are saved by grace we are free to revel in our sin. No! What biblical prophet ever preached against repentance? Not one.
But, don’t miss the point! Is Micah, in the above verse, preaching the evils of beer and wine? Of course not! This is merely an illustrative example. What he’s saying is that this people has become so perverse, so disobedient, that they would be far more hospitable to a soothsaying liar than to a truthful prophet.
Where are these people at when this is written? They enjoy a comfortable lifestyle marked by plenty of wine and song; but, meanwhile, those in power “covet fields and seize them, and houses, and take them. They defraud people of their homes, they rob them of their inheritance” (Micah 2:2, NIV). The people eat and drink the profits of injustice and misery; and they will not escape His terrible judgement.
We ought never to be at peace with our sin. Our flesh constantly wars against the Spirit (1 Peter 2:11, Galatians 5:17), and we must fight back. But, to war against the flesh we must be in the Spirit. To war against the flesh while in the flesh is to become a noxious white-washer of tombs; someone who foolishly subscribes to the notion that a cup cleaned only on the outside is clean enough. The Christian wars against the flesh while in the Spirit (Galatians 5:16).
What does this mean? We earnestly confess our sins (Romans 10:9-10, James 5:16, 1 John 1:9, Psalm 32:5); we cleanse ourselves in the waters of baptism and eagerly accept the promised gift of the Holy Spirit. We recognize that our cup can only be cleansed from the inside out (Matthew 23:26); and the Holy Spirit, who has entered our lives by the miracle of the Cross, is the only one who can complete this critical task. We cannot. Our work is to confess, repent, petition and pray; His work is to remake us in our Master’s likeness.
And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns (Philippians 1:6, NLT).
I don't have anything against Twitter. No, that's not quite right, I don't have anything against Twitter in principle. In principle it's a useful forum in which people can engage one another minus the verbal diarrhea to which people like myself are prone. And to be clear, there are many people using the platform that I've come to admire deeply. These are people who understand the narrow path, who refuse to be categorized by political or denominational stripe because Scripture, not the culture around them, is their final word on matters. You know who you are; it's been a tremendous blessing to know you.
In practice, however, Twitter is where some of humanity's most ungodly characteristics come out to play. It's where people, in direct opposition to the above admonitions from our apostolic fore-bearers, are slow to hear, quick to speak, in a rush to become angry; it's where foolish arguments seem to be the norm, rather than the exception.
I wish I could say that I haven't been a part of this; but I have. Despite the fact I know in my head and heart that such behaviour is both stupid and wrong, here I go again admonishing complete strangers for opinions that I can't possibly grasp in 280 characters or less. And to what end? Has God asked me to correct peoples' theology or political proclivities? Has Jesus said to me "the plank in thine eye is removed, go ahead and remove the motes in the eyes of others"? No, of course He hasn't.
My engagement in such fruitless debates has a word: sin. And as with most sin, one of the surest ways to overcome it is to remove the temptation altogether. I can't very well get into foolish arguments on Twitter if I don't have an account, can I?
Unfortunately, this takes away my ability to share my blog with an enormous community of believers, which is the only reason I signed on in the first place, and the reason I've justified staying connected for as long as I have. So if you're reading this today and you enjoy my writings, I'd invite you to submit your email address and opt in for future updates. From there any means you choose to share this site is very much appreciated.
My Yeshua our Lord bless you with His wisdom and grace.
If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion—how can God’s love be in that person? Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions.
And one of you should say to them, “Go in peace, keep warm and eat well” but does not give them what is necessary for the body, what is the benefit?
We ought to be challenged by these words, greatly challenged. Of the many biblical "musts" that are being ignored by much of today's North American church, the nature of the church herself is one. We are one body (1 Corinthians 12:12), family (Matthew 12:49-50), fellow citizens (Ephesians 2:19); we are to be utterly devoted to one another in love (Romans 12:10). This is more than a command; this is a privilege, a joy, a much-needed respite and comfort for those living in a world gone mad.
Ask yourself, believer, does this sound like the church you know?
Undoubtedly, a few will be able to answer the above question with a resounding 'yes'; unfortunately, they will be few. The majority are more likely accustomed to a highly individualized church, one that specializes in tightly monitored 'fellowship' programs and bible studies that almost seem designed to keep people a respectful distance from one another; one that is built around the personality of a pastor and is often just one staffing change away from total dissolution. Such a church is where we go to conceal, rather than reveal, our vulnerabilities; it's where we go to put on a brave face and assure those around us that everything is alright.
In such a church, the Holy Spirit is rarely invited to take part; and we are collectively invited not so much to Christian living (as the bible defines it) but rather an inoffensive lifestyle and a somewhat engaged theological discussion in which we congratulate ourselves on our shared convictions but do little with them. We are encouraged to share our faith as individuals in our own communities and workplaces, but rarely do we put together any sort of sustained effort towards sharing Christ with our neighbor: this is the pastor's job.
Families in such churches struggle as families often do with little more than a show of prayer support from those sitting around them. Congregants are often treated to multiple sermons per year on the importance of tithing, but rarely, if ever, are they called on to help the person sitting next to them; and when they are, it's often a one-off that does more to assuage the guilt of the participants than it does to relieve the suffering of the recipient.
This sort of church, it isn't church, not really. It's not what our Lord has asked of us.
Now, I know there are many Christians out there who feel the same way that I do, who will read this post and yell "exactly!" in a moment of excitement that soon dies out with the realization that the problem is larger than any one of us. No, you probably can't just stand up next Sunday morning and declare that things are going to be different from here on out; and your search for a church body that more closely resembles the biblical model is bound to be long, difficult, arduous.
Nonetheless, while you can't control the people around you, you can choose to be church in your church, the way church is truly meant to be. There's absolutely nothing stopping you. Believer in Christ: is there someone in your church who is in need? What do you plan to do about that?
My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.
- James 1:19-20
I once approached an elder at the end of a church service to seek prayer. I told him that I was struggling with anger, and that I wanted him to pray that God give me the power to knock down this stronghold in my life. Before praying over me, this man informed me that anger is childish, and that I needed to grow up.
I have no doubt that what this man said is true: my anger is childish, and I do have a lot of growing up to do. That notwithstanding, his “advice” (judgement?) was entirely unhelpful. In my walk with Christ, I’ve learned the hard way that simply “pulling up one’s bootstraps” and white-knuckling your way to holier living is ineffective. Moreover, it’s unbiblical. I don’t have space here (nor the expertise) to get into all the theological nooks and crannies of how sanctification works, but I know what has helped me immensely with this problem. Maybe it can help you too.
My path to recovery started when I recognized that I had been telling myself stories. These stories made me angrier and angrier until I grew fully out of my own control. Here are a couple of examples:
The baby wakes up crying at 3:00 AM for what feels like the 14th time. My wife, out of respect for my work schedule, typically handles the majority of these calls. In this instance, however, a gentle voice pops into my head saying maybe I should take this one. I ignore it, my wife gets up to take care of the baby. When she comes back to bed, I can feel the irritation oozing off of her. (For all I know, she’s not in the slightest bit irritated, but my conscience is wearing on me, so I assume she must be). I start telling myself stories to justify my behaviour. “I have to wake up at 5, she doesn’t”. “The baby would have slept better if she hadn’t let her nap for three hours today – she doesn’t respect my opinion at all”. That sort of thing. Pretty soon, I now need to justify not only my failure to help out, but also the fact that I’m now angry for no reason whatsoever. As my anger intensifies, I need to keep piling on the stories to keep up with the self-justification. On it goes until, pretty soon, I’m thoroughly convinced that I’m a victim, and my wife barely respects me at all; as a result, I’m furious. I try to keep my anger to myself, but at some point the following day, out it comes.
I work as a Human Resources Manager. One day a supervisor comes in and tells me that a senior manager has instructed him to disregard my advice and do something else instead. He tells me this two or three times in the span of a week. Pretty soon, I form a narrative in my head whereby this senior manager is going around telling his supervisors to disregard the advice that I’ve been doling out. I wonder: why is he doing this? Given the “facts”, it must be that this person disrespects me, disrespects my expertise, and evidently has seen fit to start disregarding my advice altogether. Stories in my head get piled on to stories in my head; soon, I’m so angry I could spit. Later, I find out that this senior manager hasn't disregarded my advice, he didn't know about it to begin with. This supervisor who approached him is “shopping around”. I.e. he's been soliciting his boss' opinion when he doesn't like mine, neglecting to tell him that HR has already chimed in. I find this all out, of course, after I’ve hauled the senior manager into the boardroom and raked him over the coals, making a perfect fool of myself in the process.
Can you identify with these examples? Have you done this before? Do you do this now?
As an HR Manager, I’m often called upon to help people sort out these types of problems, and I can usually tell if our efforts to help them are going to work based on what’s rattling around inside their heads when I speak to them. Employees who have behaved in an angry or antisocial manner almost always admit, after being hauled into my office, that their behaviour needs to change. They get that they need to stop losing their temper (or whatever). What they usually can’t or won’t admit is that their thinking needs to change. They demand the right to believe that their feelings about the situation are correct, even when those feelings are based on false assumptions - stories. My response, in such circumstances, is to tell them that I’m here to help them sort out the behaviour, but unless they change the way they’re looking at the situation, any resources I provide will be unhelpful. The behaviour will re-appear, and sooner or later, their job will be in serious jeopardy.
The key to sorting out an anger problem begins with challenging your assumptions, questioning the stories you’ve been telling yourself, and asking yourself questions instead: why, for example, would I assume that this senior manager has suddenly decided to initiate a program of ignoring HR when he’s never done so in the past? Out of all the reasonable explanations – his supervisors weren’t telling me the whole story, or didn’t adequately communicate the advice I had provided, for example – why did I automatically jump to the conclusion that rendered me a victim, and him a villain?
Though I think we ultimately do need to get to and understand “the why” – the wounds, false beliefs, the bad experiences that create the conditions for this sort of behaviour, I’m still working on that myself – getting to those answers isn’t the point of this exercise. (There’s a place and time for in-depth psychoanalysis, while enduring a tidal-wave of anger probably isn’t one of them).
No, the point of this exercise is to recognize that you have in fact been telling yourself stories, and that these stories are probably untrue and almost certainly unfair. When we do this, something happens: acknowledging that the foundation on which our current feelings rest is flimsy at best, we stop piling more stories on. This wave of anger reaches its zenith, and the amount of time and effort it takes to calm down is significantly reduced. As we practice this discipline, we get better at it over time, to the point where, most days, we can stop the wave before it even gets started.
Again, this won’t deal with the root causes of the anger – i.e. why we feel inclined to tell ourselves such stories to begin with. That’s still something I’m wrestling with, and something I highly recommend you ask your pastor about. There are Christian resources out there for this kind of thing.
It will, however, give you a biblical means of coping. Why do I call this biblical?
When we become Christians, we aren’t instantly fixed. Sometimes this is a shock to us. We expect an inner peace to come surging out of our conversion and put our inner conflict to rest; but this is isn't Christianity. The bible affirms that we will continually struggle against the flesh as long as we’re on this side of the ground.
We can take comfort in the fact, however, that the bible also assures us of progress. If we stay rooted in scripture and prayer, if we remain in communion with the Holy Spirit, and if we continue to practice humility and repentance, the Spirit takes hold and the flesh goes into retreat. There may be other perfectly rational and helpful ways to repent of one's anger; this is what has worked for me.
Try it out, let me know how it goes.
Colin McComb lives in Edson, Alberta with his wife, Gail, and their three lovely children.