why we don’t shut up (about our faith)

…we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.

Acts 4:20b

First off I want to say I’m thankful to live in a nation in which I am not persecuted for my faith, and I would say, for the faith. Unfortunately persecution of Christians worldwide today is on a scale perhaps worse than ever. I’m grateful to live in a nation, the United States, which maintains freedom of religion. Of course there may be subtle ways of persecution here, but not the kind in which one’s property or life is at risk. So I’m blessed to live in freedom in that regard. Our persecuted family in the faith are blessed, in the words of our Lord, to face persecution as they continue on in the faith (Matthew 5:10-11). And we need to support them with our love and prayers (see Open Doors, one of the ministries working to help such).

The words of Peter and John quoted above, before the religious authorities who were persecuting them, are instructive, and actually enlightening as to why we Christians persist and won’t let up in our witness. Maybe it’s especially true for those set apart for ministry, but actually all Christians are called by God to be a witness. We are witnesses first of all in the change of our lives and how we live in love for others, and in what we say about our faith and the faith.

The apostles saw the Lord, witnessed his life, his words, deeds, and just who he was. As well as witnesses to his resurrection from the dead, the point in the narrative above after a man over forty years of age and lame from birth was completely healed. The apostles found something that was not just life changing for them, but amounted to good news for the world no less, in God’s grace and kingdom come in him. And we follow in their train.

I am personally not only convinced intellectually, but by what I’ve seen. Changed lives yes; lives for the love of others, including enemies. Rational argument is good, and actually there’s a convincing rationale for Jesus’s resurrection, which has turned one skeptic after another into a believer. I don’t deny others have abandoned the faith. All I can say is there’s one thing that keeps me going on and wanting to be a witness: what I continue to see and hear. I see the difference it makes day after day, or at least over shorter and longer spans of time in my own life. And though I often don’t understand well enough what Scripture is saying, the words are compelling and point me to God’s Word himself: Jesus.

This is personal to me, but it’s more than that, it’s for the world. The gospel, which is the good news of God in Jesus is for the world. It will never be the center of any nation state in this present age, but is always manifest only in the church scattered amidst all the nations. Part of this good news in Jesus is the promise and “hope” of his return, when he will be King of kings and Lord of lords, and God’s kingdom in him will be set up when heaven and earth are made one in him.

So we carry on. Yes, in the midst of difficulty, our own darkness, our stumbling, and so on. But we continue to follow. To show and tell the difference this makes in our own lives, meant for all others as well. In and through Jesus.

 

 

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a big gospel (not only about us)

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

Luke 2:8-14

The good news we celebrate this Christmas, and long to see completely fulfilled during Advent is God’s great salvation and kingdom come in Jesus. And it’s never just about God and I, and me getting right, and getting on okay in the world. Such a gospel doesn’t exist. It’s either for the entire world, including us, or it’s something man made up.

The gospel is as big as all the world since it’s for the world, for each and every part, the whole and all the parts. And Jesus longs for each person for whom he died, and that includes everyone. And it leaves no part of the world out. Period.

Too many Christian books and even churches give you the impression that the Bible is geared to you and your personal relationship with God through Christ. And over and over we’re inundated with that kind of teaching. So that by and by that’s how we see the gospel. It’s for everyone in a personal, individualistic way, and has little to do with anything else, except to touch, maybe even transform other matters in an indirect way through conversion. While there’s truth in that, it really is a distortion of what we find in scripture. God’s word is meant to bless us that we might be a blessing to others. Starting with Abraham (Genesis 12) and completed in Jesus. And it is no less than the new creation displacing the old.

No passion for the world, and for something other than one’s own salvation means no passion for the gospel. Yes, for you and I, but for everyone, for the world, and to be completely fulfilled someday, in and through Jesus.

 

 

holding on to faith and a good conscience

Timothy, my son, I am giving you this command in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by recalling them you may fight the battle well, holding on to faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and so have suffered shipwreck with regard to the faith. Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme.

1 Timothy 1:18-20

It would be nice to live in a world in which there were not challenges to one’s faith and conscience. For myself, I don’t mind doing the hard thing, going the extra mile, etc., although I realize I can be too easily tied into knots and worried about whether I did good enough, or even exactly what I should do. It’s when what I’m facing is up against what others are doing when it can be especially hard. Sometimes one doesn’t really know what to do, and you should always pray to begin with, and actually continue to pray. None of us will get it perfect, but we should try to do what’s right in God’s eyes, as best we can understand it. And remain in the peace God gives.

Fighting the battle well is how Paul frames it, written for us. A pastoral epistle written to a young pastor, so for pastors and Christian leaders today, but by extension for all of us, since we’re to follow their example, as they follow Christ. Just to realize we’re in a battle is helpful; it’s no cakewalk.

If we’re careless in regard to faith and a good conscience, we can suffer shipwreck with regard to the faith itself. In other words, we can lose out entirely. It is interesting though that when the Apostle handed over two who had done so, over to Satan himself, there was the potential that they would be taught not to blaspheme, or so it seems according to this scripture. That was what they were doing when they suffered shipwreck. For others of us it could simply be walking away and never returning without uttering a word.

Hopefully it would be hard for us to leave faith and a good conscience behind. Having a bad conscience is miserable enough. This may seem unrelated, though I think not. I have an interesting habit, especially when I’m at work, or out and about some, to pull out my little New Testament/Psalms and Proverbs, and pick up where I left off, a little metal clip making it easy to find. It reminded me last night of how people especially in times past, but probably more now then we might think, pull out a cigarette out of habit and addiction, and to calm them down, or whatever relief they get from that. For me, it’s a part of how I engage in the battle and in the endeavor to hold on to faith and a good conscience, come what may. God is good and gracious in all of this, understanding our weakness. Christ is right there with us to help us, knowing firsthand what it’s like.

Part of our learning and existence in this life in and through Jesus.

 

avoiding a destructive divisiveness

But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless.Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them. You may be sure that such people are warped and sinful; they are self-condemned.

Titus 3:9-11

Just open your mouth nowadays and you’ll be controversial. There’s not much room for discussion or taking into account the complexity of anything. It’s black or white; you’re either for or against. And that actually does push people into a corner to have to decide that way, when so many issues are complicated and open to different interpretations.

It’s hard to know when to speak out, and when not to. The church as a whole does well to stick to the gospel and avoid divisive matters such as politics, while being willing to address moral issues, but in a way which does not support one political party or another. And that takes plenty of wisdom, but it’s worth the effort.

I wonder, and am inclined to think that some Christians can and should speak out in ways which might tip their hand as to how they think politically, even though there should be no doubt as to where their prime allegiance lies. There were prophets in the Bible, and I’m especially thinking of the Old Testament, who decried what was happening in society, especially the evil being done by God’s covenant people against the poor and downtrodden.

One thing for sure: We need to avoid a divisiveness which detracts from the gospel. What we are about and here for is to see the gospel impact people’s lives, and hopefully the world at large. And the gospel itself is the power of God for salvation to all who believe. Any stands we take publicly as Christians, and especially as the church should be for the faith of the gospel. Anything less than that is detrimental to the gospel. For the gospel might include work done to influence or even undermine what is being done politically. But we should aim at it being a gospel work, not something that merely we ourselves do.

Much wisdom required; more than we ourselves have. But given to us preferably together by the Spirit in and through Jesus.

fighting the good fight of the faith

Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

1 Timothy 6:12

One of the basic tenets of the Christian life is that we’re in a fight, a spiritual one. It doesn’t take long to learn that, and especially if you’ve lived long enough as a Christian, to be reminded of it. The enemy will challenge us in any way at every turn, though usually in more subtle ways, now and then, here and there, with the intent of crushing us, or getting us to veer off path.

They do this according to our weak points. Basically challenging God’s goodness and promises, and whether or not God loves us, and loves others. They are always challenging that, just like the serpent lied in such suggestions to Eve in the garden.

It doesn’t matter what seems so real to us at the moment if it’s questioning God’s goodness and greatness as in God’s ability to see us through along with God’s willingness. Such a suggestion is patently false, a plain bald faced lie.

God is good, God’s plan for the world is good, and God has shown that in his Son, whom he sent into the world, that we might live through him. And the only way we overcome in this world, and even overcome the world is by faith. We have to believe God’s promises and trust in him. We do that through prayer, earnest prayer, as well as remaining in God’s word. Holding on to faith. So that in the end we might be able to say with Paul, the same one who told Timothy to fight the good fight of the faith:

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

2 Timothy 4:7-8

In and through Jesus.

continuing on in the faith

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3:14-17

These are troubling times. So much strife. It would be bad enough if this was confined to the world, but what makes it far worse is that we Christians are involved in it on all sides, with differing views. And often with a certainty as if we are the voice of God.

I have my own opinions and convictions, as well. But there’s a lot that I don’t know. The older I get, the more I realize that. I think one of the best answers to many questions is one that Eugene Peterson was said to have been accustomed to give: “I don’t know.”

But what we do know by faith, we hold on to, namely, the truth of the gospel, and veracity of God’s word. We don’t pretend to have all the correct interpretation, nor do we equate our theology with God’s word, at the same time believing in the faithfulness of God through the Spirit to teach the entire church the essence of the good news in Christ.

We continue on in what we’re convinced of. Even while we seek prayerfully to apply the truth of the gospel to all of life, and wisdom from the word, even for the hard questions that remain. And we do that best together in and through Jesus.

preach the word

In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.

2 Timothy 4:1-5

We in Jesus as Christians and churches are called to preach the word. And to do so with an orthodox understanding of what it means. Creeds have their place in reminding us what is central to the Christian faith, and the point of it all: the gospel. And the Spirit has spoken to the church as to what its meaning is. The Trinity: God is Triune, one God in three Persons; Jesus is fully God and fully human in one person through the Incarnation, God saves and will judge through Christ. Basic essential teaching.

Faithful teaching is required in churches, and should include matters that are often taken for granted with many of us, like the truth cited above. There was a time when the majority of churches did not hold to the Trinity, or Christ’s two natures in one person.

In my life I’ve seen the word preached and taught faithfully, but I’ve also witnessed what I might call preaching the word lite. The passage of scripture is almost treated like an aside, the stress being on what the speaker is making pertaining to one’s life, or felt needs. It is hard to describe, and I’m reticent to make such an observation since I really haven’t been a part of a church which didn’t preach the word. There’s no way I could have remained or participated in such. It’s almost by degree or grade when one can sense a tendency in that direction. But some churches are obviously there. In which scripture and Christian teaching is indeed secondary to what their message or way of approaching people is, week in and week out.

We shouldn’t take any of this for granted. If the Apostle Paul gave the charge to Timothy, and warned him that there would be a time when this wouldn’t be easy, then we need to make sure we shore up, and fulfill the trust we’ve been given. Christian leaders must be held accountable by churches, and Christian leaders must hold churches accountable to this. Until Christ returns. In and through him.