God Has Not Called Us to Be Silent… or Vague

Standard

“If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” I don’t know where this saying came from, but many of us have heard it as children and probably shared it (or at least wanted to share it) with others. I generally like to keep things positive online, sharing something funny or helpful or posting something from my studies. However, lately I’ve spoken out quite a great deal about the recent issues that are bombarding us from every media outlet: the gay marriage SCOTUS ruling, Bruce Jenner, and most recently, Planned Parenthood. I know that people generally would rather read positive, encouraging things on Facebook. I certainly get more likes and comments when I share “nice” things online. I’ve even been unfriended for the things I choose to say and share (this isn’t persecution, by the way). So why so serious? I’m glad you asked.

There are generally two extreme responses from the church concerning these kinds of issues and I’m sympathetic to both to a degree. One is to become angry and use the pulpit as a sounding board against the evils of society. This approach does little good. It generally abandons any Great Commission emphasis and only serves to calcify those already convinced of their view. It is a blowing-off of steam that accomplishes next to nothing. The other response is one of minimalizing at best and ignorance and avoidance at worst.

Many churches and pastors have reacted against the political activist response to the point that they don’t even want to deal with issues that are perceived as “political.” I get it. I really do. However, evil is evil, even if it has political baggage. Sometimes the refusal to speak to these issues comes from a less conscientious motivation. Some churches heavily rely on corporate excitement and momentum. Calling gay marriage a sin harshes the mellow. Demonstrating the evil of abortion doesn’t generate excitement. The pastors that lead such churches generally try to connect with their congregation with an abundance of funny stories and culturally relevant illustrations and it would be difficult to tackle these issues in their typical manner. Such churches and leaders will typically shy away from cultural issues because they want to remain “true to the mission” or they want people to “know what we’re for, not what we’re against.”

We expository preachers don’t get a pass here, either. Preaching verse-by-verse through a book or a through a large section of Scripture is in my opinion, the most faithful way for a pastor to preach to a congregation. However, it is sometimes easy for us to continue in our exposition on Psalm 23 rather than prepare a specific sermon for such a time as this. We boast that expository preaching declares the whole counsel of God, but “a word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver” (Proverbs 25:11). Sometimes, it’s just time to speak specifically to what is at hand. Also, it is difficult to sufficiently tackle contemporary issues with a strict verse-by-verse model. There are no texts specifically on abortion or about internet pornography. Sometimes these sermons have to be crafted with special care.

But why tackle these issues? Why not remain true to the mission and not get involved in politics? Shouldn’t we just try to win people and stop ostracizing and polarizing with our political stances? First, let me say that marriage and sanctity of life were theological and moral issues long before they became politicized. The fact is, we aren’t invading the government’s territory, the government is encroaching on the church’s territory. I’m all for less political involvement by the church, but sin is sin and the truth is the truth. This isn’t a partisan issue, it is a gospel issue.

Secondly, we have a responsibility to speak concerning these issues. John Piper recently tweeted “They weren’t martyred because they were vague.” I love this. John the Baptist baptized thousands in the river Jordan. He called individuals to repentance and was beginning a spiritual revolution that was upsetting all of Judea. But it wasn’t until his message of repentance got very specific toward Herod’s unlawful marriage that he was imprisoned and subsequently beheaded. We have a responsibility to serve as a prophetic voice to the culture around us. If the church does not set forth God’s perspective on the issues at hand, who will? We also have a responsibility to serve as a voice of perspective to the congregations that God has entrusted to us as pastors. Any Christian minister that has not provided his congregation with a biblical perspective on these issues in light of the times is not a faithful minister and is more concerned with the bodies in the pews than the souls in his care. Those who sit in the pews not only need assurance of the truthfulness of Scripture and what Scripture says to these issues, but they also need help to process what is happening around them from a biblical perspective without erring into panic or apathy.

May God grant us as pastors and believers in the inevitably difficult days ahead of us to speak with prophetic voice both to the opponents of truth and to the believers reeling from the many voices on both sides of the argument. May we not lose sight of the Great Commission and may we commit to evangelism and missions with a laser focus, knowing that we are calling people to repent and abandon the sin and philosophy of this present world order.

 

 

Habakkuk: A Message of Faith

Standard
Habakkuk is a unique prophet with an equally unique message. Rather than speaking to the people for God, Habakkuk speaks to God on behalf of the people. Habakkuk lived in a day when Judah was following her wicked rulers and living in rebellion against God. The king of Judah during Habakkuk’s ministry was most likely Jehoiakim. Jehoiakim is characterized as a bloody and wicked king consumed with the expansion of his own kingdom (Jeremiah 22:13-19). The apparent injustice of the day caused Habakkuk to struggle with questions of God’s holiness and sovereignty and Habakkuk comes to God for answers. This dialogue between the prophet and God makes up the majority of the book. Habakkuk is a good example of how we should wrestle with the hard questions where God is concerned.


In Habakkuk’s first prayer, he asks God why He doesn’t do something about the wickedness of Judah (1:2-4). God responds by telling the prophet that He will use the Babylonians to destroy Judah (vs. 5-7). God often utilizes ungodly people and nations as instruments of His will (Romans 9:14-24). Habakkuk prays a second time and questions God’s choice of the Babylonians since they were more wicked than Judah (1:12-17). It seemed that God was passing over Babylon’s sins in order to punish Judah. After his prayer, Habakkuk resigns himself to wait on an answer from God (2:1) which God then supplies. God says that in time He will also punish Babylon for their sins as well (2:8). God’s promise of judgment assures us that although God may delay judgment for a time, He will not allow sin to go unpunished forever.

God then gives Habakkuk three assurances to give him a divine perspective on the situation. First, God tells Habakkuk that “The just shall live by faith” (2:4). Even though we don’t always understand situations around us, we are called to have faith in God. Second, God tells Habakkuk that “the earth shall be filled with God’s glory” (vs. 14). Although wickedness is rampant in the world now, God promises a day to come when all wicked nations and individuals will be judged and the curse of sin is forever lifted (Romans 8:20-21). Third and finally, God reminds Habakkuk that “The Lord is in His holy temple” (vs. 20). Although wicked Jehoiakim may sit on the throne in Jerusalem, Yahweh our God sits on the throne in Heaven. God is not dead, but He is alive and sovereign over the affairs of men.
After receiving God’s answer, Habakkuk recognizes God as the righteous judge of the nations (3:2, 12-13) and ends with a song of praise to God (3:16-19). Although the news of God’s judgment was overwhelming and fearsome, Habakkuk could have peace because God would cause him to “rest in the day of trouble” (3:16). Habakkuk realizes that he may suffer as a result of God’s judgment but declares that he will rejoice in God no matter the circumstances that surround him (vs.17-18). Habakkuk ends his song with an assurance that God will provide grace to the righteous in difficult times (vs. 19). As the deer scales the heights of the mountains without slipping, God will cause Habakkuk to endure the difficulties that would come with the Babylonian overthrow of Judah. 
It is normal for our faith to be challenged during adversity. Many times we struggle to reconcile our beliefs with our experiences. We should learn from Habakkuk that it is good for us to bring our questions and struggles to God in prayer and seek the answers that only He can give. We also need to learn to trust God’s sovereignty and submit to God’s plan even if it brings hardship to us. Only then can we find joy and strength to endure and overcome in the midst of difficulty.
This post was originally published in the Baptist & Reflector, January 8, 2013.

Nahum: A Message of God’s Judgment

Standard

            It seems that everyone knows the story of Jonah. He disobeyed God’s call, was swallowed by a whale, and then preached to Nineveh and they repented. The story of Nineveh doesn’t end with Jonah, though. Nahum gives us the rest of the story about Nineveh, the capital city of Assyria. Nahum prophesied approximately 150 years after Jonah preached to Nineveh. Although Nineveh had repented under Jonah’s preaching, they had become very powerful and very wicked by the time of Nahum. The Assyrians had conquered the northern kingdom of Israel in 722 BC and had been oppressing the southern kingdom of Judah. God graciously gave them the opportunity to repent through the preaching of Jonah, but their repentance was short-lived and it is now time for judgment.
           
         In chapter one, God declares His judgment on Assyria. It is important to understand that the term “Nineveh” is used to refer to the entire Assyrian nation since Nineveh is the capital city. Why must God judge Assyria? The same reason He judges any nation or people; God is righteous. We know that God is willing to judge the Assyrians because of His jealous and avenging nature (vs. 2). Verse 3-5 illustrate God’s awesome power and tell us that He is capable of judging the Assyrians. Not only is God willing and able, but God is also ready to judge the Assyrians because Nahum states that His wrath is about to be poured out (vs. 6). In all this, however, God gives Judah reason to rejoice because He is about to punish one of her greatest enemies (vs. 15).
           
       In chapter two, God describes His coming judgment on Assyria. The nation would fall in 612 B.C. under the army of Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, but Nahum foretells the event in vivid detail (vs. 1-7). Nineveh was situated near the Tigris River and two other smaller rivers and there were dams built to minimize seasonal flooding. Verse 6 suggests that the Babylonians opened these dams to flood the city and destroy the walls. Verses 8-10 foretell the plundering of Nineveh. Assyria had plundered many other nations, but now the Babylonians would loot the city of Nineveh. Verses 11-13 predict the total desolation of Nineveh. Assyria is about to receive the same destruction they have caused to others; an example of the principle Jesus would teach centuries later, “For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you” (Matthew 7:2).
           
          Chapter three shows us why Assyria deserved judgment from God. Assyria was a cruel nation that profited from the massacre of other nations (vs. 1-3) and was characterized by moral and spiritual depravity (vs. 4-7). Pagan idolatry and immorality were rampant in Assyria. God then declares that Nineveh will be like Thebes (or No-Amon), a fortified Egyptian city that Assyria had captured (vs. 8-10). If God could allow the Assyrians to capture Thebes, He can cause the Babylonians to destroy Nineveh. Verse 19 states that all that hear of Assyria’s destruction shall “clap their hands” for joy when they hear of the righteous judgment of God.

The book of Nahum bears a message of condemnation for those who disobey God and a message of consolation for those who obey Him. God must judge the wicked because of His righteousness, because of human wickedness, and for the relief of the afflicted. It was in this type of situation that Abraham rhetorically asked, “Won’t the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” (Genesis 18:25). We can be comforted knowing that the righteousness of God will not permit tyranny and oppression forever. Assyria is just one historical example of God’s judgment on a wicked nation. Eventually, God will bring true justice to every wicked empire, nation, city, and individual. 

This post was originally published in the Baptist & Reflector, January 2, 2013.