A Christian Rationale For Resisting Unrighteousness

Confused over what to do and how to live in the Brave New World that is being engineered in America almost over night? Join the club. When change happens as swiftly as a presidential edict in the night it’s hard for our thinking to keep up with the pace of change. But here are a few thoughts on what we can do.

We can realize responses based on power do not work. They do not work for a number of reasons. Boycotts and the ballot box depend on having a majority. Recent polls say a majority of people now favor such things as gay marriage. We shouldn’t be surprised. If we believe Jesus, Christianity is a minority movement. “Narrow is the way that leads to life,” he said, “and few are they who find it.” In addition, Jesus says when we are faced by an evil person we are not to resist whether the evil comes in the form of a personal insult (“if someone strikes you on the cheek”), a legal action (“if someone sues you for your tunic”), or a governmental intrusion (“if someone forces you to go one mile”). Why? When we resist our reason for resisting is usually about power. We are trying to gain, or regain, power over others. In doing so people become enemies. Our goal becomes to win, not serve, or love. Jesus warns us away from this temptation.

But there is another way, a time honored Christian way, to resist unrighteous demands. When told not to speak in the name of Jesus, the early church refused to comply. When told by white pastors not to trespass in certain areas or violate other racially based unjust laws Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. refused to comply as well. Why? And what is the difference? This: true Christian resistance is not about gaining power over others or getting power back. It’s not seeing people as enemies and trying to beat them. It’s done in love, love even for those who attempt to force us to do their will. Dr. King said on many occasions that his struggle was not about civil rights for blacks. The struggle, he said, was for the soul of America. Black people were being sinned against and needed to be freed. But those who were sinning against them needed to be freed from the sin of oppression too. One of Dr. King’s lieutenants said, “What we were trying to do in those days was to save black men’s bodies and white men’s souls.”

My point is that noncompliance and resistance against unjust, unrighteous governmental or even religious dictates is allowable if done for the right reason. Jesus told us to love our enemies and pray for people who persecute us. If our actions are, at the deep level of our hearts, for people rather than against people we are obligated, out of love, to follow the dictates of our consciences and resist in the hopes that oppressors will one day be released from oppression themselves. Whatever you do, do it in love for those who do not love in return. No other kind of resistance deserves the name “Christian”.

What Happens At Prayer Meeting Doesn’t Stay At Prayer Meeting

If you haven’t been at Wednesday Evening Prayer Meeting in a while, you might want to rethink your life. You’re missing something. What happens?

We meet in the fellowship hall. We pull tables together and sit in a big circle around the round table. Bibles sit beside coffee cups. Between sips we pick up the content of the past Sunday morning’s message and try to probe a little deeper into the truth of it. We try to apply it. We ask “what difference would it make if we believed this? If we did this?” The answer is it would make a lot of difference.

And we tell stories of how it has already made a difference. This past week for instance. Sunday morning had been about how, if the Lord is our shepherd, we have assurance our needs are met. Round the table people told stories of how God had met needs. How an eight inch long metal spiked soil probe needed in Peru made it through airport security twice, in Orlando and Panama, without raising an eyebrow. How, in New York City at 2 a.m. a cab driver with a southern accent, playing gospel music on the radio, found one of our women who had gotten lost in an alley, and rolled down his window and asked her if she needed help. She certainly did. She thinks he might have been an angel.

We tell the truth. Some freely talk about their struggles. Others listen and offer understanding, compassion, and their stories of having been there, done that.

We laugh. We tell the things we are grateful for. We thank God for being so good to us when we don’t deserve His goodness. We learn to look for the ways God is at work around us.

We pray, of course. Maybe not as much as we should, but we pray. We ask God to meet our needs, heal hurts, raise hopes, reach others with the Gospel (all of which relate to the purposes of the church). We need to pray more. We need to be better at simply being with God and loving on Him a fraction as much as He loves on us.

We need help with that. We need you to help us. If you haven’t been with us, you’re missing what to me is the best part of the week. Maybe you’ll find a way to rethink your life and be with us soon.

You Are Living In a New World

This changes everything. We have marked and mourned the crucifixion. We have celebrated the resurrection. Everything is now changed. Easter is not just a date on our calendar, the unofficial beginning of Spring, the one time a year you go to church wearing your fanciest duds. It is the turning point in the history of the world. It is the day the new heaven and new earth leaped from last pages of the Bible and landed squarely in the middle of it and in the middle of time. We are living in the first day of the new world. What does that change for us? Everything.

The obvious first. You can never die. Jesus promised that. “Whoever lives and believes in me will never die,” he said. Does that mean you will not experience a transition to heaven? No, it does not. It means that you will still be real. Alive no matter what happens. Most people in Jesus’ time believed resurrection would come at the end of time. People would die, and as God told Adam, return to the dust from which they came. Then, some distant day, God would remember them (literally), and they would live. But remember what Jesus said to the thief on the cross? “This day you will be with me in Paradise.” The news was the thief, on that very day, would still be, no matter what happened. Of course the resurrection of the body is coming, too.

Jesus’ resurrection means you are no longer living in the old world in which sin and failure was inevitable and death ended everything. You are living in the new world in which sin’s power is broken, and the Spirit is freely given. No longer is religion about knowing you must and trying to do your best and never succeeding. It’s about being empowered. Moved to follow, love, serve, and bless. It’s about discovering you are indwelt by a new presence, a new power. It’s about the fact that if anything is inevitable it is victory.

So what do we do? Paul closes his I Corinthians 15 sermon saying, “Stand your ground. And don’t hold back. Throw yourselves into the work of the Master, confident that nothing you do for him is a waste of time or effort.”

And you can because the world you now live in is not the old world. All things have been made new and you are a new creation, too.

Forty Days is Only Just Beginning

It’s anything but over. Our Forty Days have dropped one by one from the calendar but they are far from over. Why? Because Forty Days of Community was not an end in itself. It was not a program to run that had a beginning followed by a termination date. It was more. It was a change of mindset, lifestyle, and how we do ministry. It’s not over. It’s only beginning. Here’s how.

The deepening connections and relationships our groups have formed will continue. It’s amazing how people who know each other long and well can know each other, and love each other, more deeply. But it’s happening. It’s kind of like a good marriage.

The ministries that our groups were challenged to do together are only beginning. As I’m writing this in my office outside in the hall people from one of our groups are putting together care packages for the needy. In each one our card that says “You Are Important To God” is being placed. Yesterday one of our groups gathered information from people in our church about the kinds of service to others they can do. That is being compiled and out of that list hundreds of acts of service will flow to people within our church and without it, too. We want those without to know they can be within. One of our groups has dedicated themselves to helping with our Friday night Respite ministry. They showed up last week and will continue to show up every month. Their presence was hailed by the few who have carried that ministry from its inception as a real answer to prayer. And Tabitha’s Place will be blessed too. One of our groups is coming alongside them to help with that ministry to the hungry. You’ll be asked to help keep Tabitha’s Place’s pantry stocked. And you’ve probably been asked to buy a BBQ plate or Boston Butt. That is financing a regional youth rally that will be held here that another group is organizing.

The groups will also continue to meet, to study, to pray, to serve. With this emphasis we have tripled the number of people involved in Sunday evening activities. More people are being taught and more people are serving than there were when we simply had activities here. That will continue as it should.

Forty Days will go on. And with God’s blessing will never end.

I Belong

We are winding down our Forty Days of Community emphasis and I have seen, and still see, changes for the good. More than a hundred people are participating. People are meeting in homes. They’re praying together. Studying together. Planning outreach projects together. Enjoying one another more. When the forty days conclude, I’m betting our home groups continue and that we see continuing deepening of what it means to belong to First Baptist.

I’ve been thinking about the use of that word belong to refer to church. I think of other ways, other contexts in which we use it. My house belongs to me (and to the bank, to be honest). My dog. My wife? Maybe. My car. The word has to do with possession. Ownership. I, in some way, own these things (pretty sure now that wife can’t go on this list). What, then, does saying “I belong to First Baptist” mean? It suggests that I am owned, that a level of authority and responsibility have been given by me to the people around me. They, my brothers and my sisters, have a right to expect commitments and fidelity from me. I belong to them. But there is another way the word is used that is closer to the very root of the meaning.

To belong is to stay; literally to be long. Permanence. Stability. Commitment. In our world people too easily and too often move. Hit a rough patch and we move on. We don’t stay. We don’t be long. And that damages us. We never experience the benefits of sticking it out. We don’t learn the contentment that comes with being rooted. Like Cain we become restless wanderers on the face of the earth which was part of his curse. We also don’t face ourselves and the rougher, needing to be redeemed places of our souls. When others discover those places it’s easier for us to project blame or rationalize away our issues and move on to find something else. We do this with relationships, careers, churches.

Belonging has benefits. It makes us better at relationships. Deepens us. It even makes us healthier. We live longer. We’re happier. This forty days has benefitted us. We have grown together. We have grown wiser. We’ve looked in but we’ve also looked out to see others who need what we offer. We’ve grown more loving.

And I think we’re going to continue. I think we’ll be long here.

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