Great in A Crisis?

Crisis? What Crisis?

I’ve been in and around churches most of my life. One thing I can say is that when people’s lives are turned upside down by a crisis, fellow believers are quick to rally-round and do whatever is necessary. I’ve seen families who’ve lost their source of income be supported temporarily by the church, people who’ve experienced a death in the family provided food and comfort – my family was blessed with this kind of ministry recently after my dad died. Rarely does the church have to plead with people to help in such situations, it just happens. Why? Because people see the urgency of the situation and see themselves as part of the solution.  As Christians we’re commanded to care for those among us who are in need. The desire to do that is, in fact, one of the marks of a Christian and the unwillingness to do so calls into question one’s faith (I John 3:17).

But, when it comes to other important things, like teaching a Sunday school class, working in the nursery or volunteering in some other capacity in the church it’s often a struggle to find people to help. Why is that? Why the difference between willingness to help an individual and willingness to help the church, the body of Christ? While there are likely many reasons, I believe it’s largely a failure to view the mundane, everyday tasks which facilitate the church in her calling with the same urgency as the personal crisis.

The church is God’s chosen instrument for the propagation of the gospel and the discipling of believers. There is no other plan. When she does not have the resources needed to accomplish those tasks, that is every bit as serious as a personal tragedy. And while I’m certain few Christians would say the work of the church is unimportant, if we don’t give of our time, treasure and talents we’re in essence saying we either don’t believe the lost will spend eternity in hell or that it’s not really a big deal if they do. We’re also saying it’s OK if baby Christians stay that way and never move from drinking the milk of the word to eating the meat of the word (Hebrews 5:12).

Every believer is given spiritual gifts and God intends for believers to use the gifts He’s given them in service of the body (See I Corinthians 12 for an extended discussion of this). When a church is missing an eye or a foot, metaphorically speaking, that is just as serious as when an individual is physically impaired – and Christians should be just as quick to come along side the body and pitch in as needed to alleviate the crisis.

So next time you’re asked to change diapers in the nursery or chaperon a youth event or teach a class, treat it as if you’re being asked to mend a brother’s broken limb or provide a meal for someone in need. For ministering to the body of Christ in these ways is just as important as meeting the physical and emotional needs of individuals in distress – perhaps more so.

A Tribute to My Dad

A Tribute to My Dad

My father died on January 15, 2013 at the age of 74, a little over a year after being diagnosed with cancer. I wrote this about him and used it as the basis for my tribute to him at his funeral.

I had a great dad.

When you’re young, every little boy thinks his dad can do anything. But, as I got older I realized that in my dad’s case it was true. He was one of the most talented men I’ve ever known.

The Lord gifted him with a mind that could figure things out and I never knew him apply himself to a problem or something that needed fixing or something he wanted to build where he didn’t figure it out.

The variety of things he learned to do over the years is amazing. And not just to do them, but to excel at them. He learned to repair watches and became the one at his office who fixed the mechanical time pieces they used during that era. After watching the farrier shoe horses at my grandparents’ barn, he thought “I can do that” – and he was right. And so he learned to shoe horses.

He also learned photography even winning a couple of contests. He built a darkroom in our basement when I was a kid and learned to develop his own film. He learned to build furniture. We still have a beautiful doll cradle he made for our daughter when she was small.

After he retired he pursued a life-long dream and learned to fly an airplane and most recently he learned how to reload ammunition. And every one of these things, with the exception of flying a plane, he taught himself.

Even more than his talent, however, was the way he used it. Sure he enjoyed all these things but there was more to it than that. He saw his skills as a way to serve others. In fact, I think that’s the way dad showed his love to others best – through acts of service.

I couldn’t begin to count the number of times I asked him to help with some project whether it was a home repair issue or a pinewood derby car for the boys, he would always make time to help.

Over the years we’ve installed at least two hot water heaters, two dishwashers, a stove, a microwave, a toilet, put up wall paper, painted, tiled a back splash and installed ceiling fans and crown molding.  In fact the last thing he helped me do was work on some crown molding for our upstairs bath. We needed some decorative molding boxes for the corners and he said “don’t go buy them; they’ll cost you $8 or $10 each. I’ll just make you some.” And he did and they were nicer than anything I could have bought.

And, not just for me. My sister could tell of the many times he helped her and her family as well. He also did this for people in the extended family, for friends, anyone who needed his help; he was willing to use his God-given talents to help others. This is one of the many ways he was a godly example for my sister and me and for his grandchildren, whom he loved dearly.

He was also a godly example in the way he treated my mother.  For almost 53 years he was a faithful husband, generous and loving, caring for her in sickness and in health until they were parted, just as he promised. His biggest worry in his final days was not for himself but for mom. He told me several times while he still could “look after your mother.”  And of course I promised him that I would.

So like I said, I had a great dad.

But more important than that, my dad had a great Savior.

Dad loved the Lord and he loved the Word of God and he loved to teach the Word of God. His hope was not in the things of this world but in Christ, the One who created the world. And because of that, even though we’re sad and we grieve, we don’t as the Apostle Paul said; grieve as those who have no hope.

The evening before he died, I was able to sit by his bed and read to him from the scriptures. I don’t know if he was able to hear me but my prayer is that he was and that he was comforted by the words he knew so well. The last passage I read to him is also one of the last in all of scripture – Revelation 21:1-7:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”  He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son.

Dad has overcome. He has finished the race.

I love him and I’ll miss him – especially the next time something around the house breaks – but I’m so thankful for the years God graciously gave me with him and for the knowledge that one day, because we serve the same Lord, I’ll see him again – in a place where nothing is ever broken.

On Christians and Civil Disobedience

On Christians and Civil Disobedience

Most Christians are familiar with Paul’s admonition in Romans 13 to obey the government. But does this mean government is to be obeyed no matter what?

Periodically our church does something called “Grace Talk” where the pastors take time during a Sunday morning service to answer questions submitted by the congregation. When can a Christian, in good conscience, engage in “civil disobedience?” was a question I recently addressed in that forum. Here’s an overview of my response:

When Must a Christian Disobey the Government?

Christians must disobey the government when the government forbids something God commands or commands something God forbids. Some biblical examples of this are:

  • Hebrew midwives in Exodus chapter 1. They were ordered by the government to kill male Hebrew children at birth and refused to do so.
  • The Apostles in Acts chapter 4. They were ordered by the government religious officials to stop preaching in the name of Jesus. They also refused to do so, saying they must obey God rather than men.

A contemporary case would be if churches are told they must perform same-sex marriage ceremonies, obedience to Christ would require them to refuse such a command.

When May a Christian Disobey the Government?

When we may disobey the government is not as black and white as when we must. Let’s start with what the Bible says about government:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.  – Romans 13:1-4

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. – I Timothy 2:1-2

Thus says the Lord: “Go down to the house of the king of Judah and speak there this word, 2 and say, ‘Hear the word of the Lord, O king of Judah, who sits on the throne of David, you, and your servants, and your people who enter these gates. 3 Thus says the Lord: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place. – Jeremiah 22:1-3

These passages don’t just talk about the responsibilities of citizens but of governments as well. Government is ordained by God to:

  • Reward good and punish evil
  • Do no evil itself
  • Keep the peace so the church can flourish and the gospel be preached

The question then is, what should our response be when the government ceases to do these things or even worse, does the opposite?

As Christians, we believe right and wrong are absolutes, not dependent upon popular opinion or circumstances. If that is true, it follows that governments cannot make any laws they choose. There are such things as unjust laws. For example, the state cannot just decide one day that killing your neighbor and taking his belongings is legal. But, this is exactly what happened in Nazi German in the 1930’s and it’s what almost happened to the Jews in Persia during King Xerxes reign, but for the intervention of Esther – which we’ll come back to in a minute.

So, do we have to obey unjust laws? It depends.

In Matthew 23:2-3 Jesus tells the people this:

“The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice.”

Yet we know He engaged in what we could call civil disobedience with regard to the Pharisee’s stringent Sabbath-keeping laws. On more than one occasion, He healed someone on the Sabbath in direct violation of those laws (not in violation of God’s law, however).

Of course part of the reason for this is because of His authority as God and being Lord over the Sabbath, something we certainly cannot claim. But there’s another element at play as well.  In Matthew 12:9-14 we read this:

“He went on from there and entered their synagogue. And a man was there with a withered hand. And they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”—so that they might accuse him. He said to them, “Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And the man stretched it out, and it was restored, healthy like the other. But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him.”

In other words, human lives, health and safety are more important than the letter of the law.

Taking all this into consideration, here are the principles I came up with, recognizing that some Christians may disagree:

  • The default position is to obey the government, even if I don’t like the law, am inconvenienced by the law or am even wronged by the law. I can still oppose the law using legal means, however.There is nothing un-biblical in exercising my rights as a citizen. The Apostle Paul did that more than once. There’s also nothing wrong with publicly calling the government’s actions evil when they are. John the Baptist did this, losing his head as a result.
  • However, if necessary to protect and serve others, I can, in good conscience, insert myself between them and an unjust law, refusing to comply. For example, the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 legally required people who encountered runaway slaves to return them to their masters. Many Christians during this time refused to obey this law.

The trigger for civil disobedience should not primarily be indignation over personal wrongs but over harm or potential harm done to others. It’s the difference in running a stupidly placed stop sign because I’m in a hurry and don’t want to be inconvenienced and running it because I’m on the way to the hospital with a seriously injured person.

Back to Esther, she disobeyed the law that prohibited entering the king’s presence uninvited because the lives of her people were at stake. Key to this is that she was willing to accept the consequences of her ‘civil disobedience’ and we must be as well if we choose that route.


Top Posts for 2012

Top Posts for 2012

Since the blog began in July, 2012, it has been viewed approximately 1,600 times. Here are the top three posts, based on number of views, over those last six months:

How I Organize My Kindle Library, where I talked about, among other things, the number and type of book collections I’ve created on my Kindle.

The Test for an Unfaithful Wife. How are we to understand the stranger sounding passages in the Old Testament? Here I answered that question with regard to a particularly interesting set of instructions for dealing with suspected infidelity. This was also the post that generated the most views in a single day.

10 Ways to Be a Better Student of the Bible in 2013.  If you’ve never read the Bible all the way through, this should be your number one goal for the coming year. In addition to that suggestion, I listed nine other ways to improve your Bible study in the new year.

I hope everyone has a blessed and happy new year and I look forward to more writing and hopefully more readers in 2013!