Our Role in Culture: Finding the Balance

Can believers make a positive impact on culture without being consumed by it? How can we avoid the dangers and find the balance?

Today’s Reading

Jeremiah 29-30; Titus 1

Selected Verses

But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. Jeremiah 29:7

This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you. Titus 1:5

Reflections

While it is true that in Jeremiah’s day the Jews went into exile under the disciplinary action of God upon Judah, life for those exiles was not put on hold as if it were meaningless or purposeless. They would not be coming back to Jerusalem soon. The elderly among them would die before the seventy year captivity ended. False prophets told them to expect a quick return to their native land. Jeremiah, by God’s revelation, commanded them to settle down, plant gardens, buy houses, have children, and seek the welfare of their land of captivity. In other words, God commanded them to do the regular activities of normal life and to be good citizens as much as possible. Indeed, Daniel exemplified this attitude and was a great asset to Babylon in both his personal life and public service. We’ll look at this when we get to the book of Daniel.

Paul wrote his letter to Titus whom he had left on Crete to organize the church under godly leadership. The Cretan people had a bad reputation in general, making it crucial that Titus adhere to the apostolic standards for elders so that the church would not be tarnished by scandal. The church in Crete had to have men above reproach to be their elders. They, like the obedient exiles in Babylon, would stand against the culture of their day and make a difference.

Think about it

There is an ongoing debate among Bible-believing Christians about the role of the Church in society. Should we seek to transform it or flee from it?  Both positions have a basis in the Scriptures.   It is hard to be completely on either side of this debate. God calls us to exercise wisdom that the Church not be consumed with changing society and lose the gospel.  Nor may we be so separate from the world that our gospel witness is lost.

Pray for wisdom to fulfill the role of salt and light, (Matthew 5:13-16) of being in the world but not of the world as Jesus prayed (John 17:14-19).

God’s Re-purpose Project

The Bible is the cosmic story of creation, corruption, and redemption. In the end, God wins because through Jesus Christ, He will re-purpose us for His glory.

Today’s Reading

Isaiah 16-18; Ephesians 1

Selected Verses

In that day man will look to his Maker, and his eyes will look on the Holy One of Israel. He will not look to the altars, the work of his hands, and he will not look on what his own fingers have made, either the Asherim or the altars of incense. Isaiah 17:7-8

In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. Ephesians 1:4-6

Reflections

Isaiah speaks of a day when man would look to the true and living God, the Creator, who is the Holy One of Israel. In looking to Him, man would turn away from his own feeble religious offerings, his own efforts to commend himself to God, his false gods and blasphemous altars. Only by looking to God will anyone find forgiveness.

Paul elaborates on this in the first chapter of his letter to the church in Ephesus. In a tightly packed paragraph-sentence, the apostle lays out in soaring words the purpose of God for the world and His means of accomplishing it. At the heart of His purpose is His glory. He calls us to live for the praise of His glorious grace. But in ourselves, we are not able or qualified to fulfill that grand purpose. We need redeeming from our corruption. God has done that by giving His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to bear our sin and guilt. Through Him we have forgiveness of sin, are adopted as His sons (yes, male and female both enjoy the privileges of sons), and sealed with His Holy Spirit while we wait for all this to be completed.

Think about it

To re-purpose means to change something so that it can be employed for a new end. Although, to be precise, believers in Christ have recovered God’s original purpose for us, it is not a stretch to say that we who were spiritually dead, and who were following the prince of the power of the air, have been re-purposed for God. What a glorious purpose! It is the only purpose worthy of all our life, all our strength, and all our love. May God give us grace to grow in fulfilling His every intention for our re-purposing.

Why Life is Not Vain

The gospel of Jesus Christ shows us that the earthly life of believers, while not complete as it will be in glory, is also not vain as Solomon thought.

Today’s Reading

Ecclesiastes 1-3; Second Corinthians 9

Selected Verses

All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return. Who knows whether the spirit of man goes upward and the spirit of the beast goes down into the earth?  So I saw that there is nothing better than that a man should rejoice in his work, for that is his lot. Who can bring him to see what will be after him?  Ecclesiastes 3:20-22

He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.  For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. Second Corinthians 9:10-12

Reflections

Solomon (who, we believe, wrote the book of Ecclesiastes) invested the time, money, and effort to pursue the meaning of life. But he came up with a rather bleak picture. After all his study and experimentation, he concluded that “All is vanity.” The best humans can hope for, he wrote, is   “To be joyful and to do good as long as they live;  also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man” (3:12-13).  Somehow it feels like something is missing, something that transcends this world. Certainly, Solomon grasps this too, as he says, “[God] has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end” (3:11).

But God’s self-revelation continued with the coming of the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the announcement of the Kingdom of God. Paul writes to those in Corinth who have heard this message and who are trusting in God’s Son for salvation. He tells them that their faith expressed in generosity for the poor is actually sowing a harvest of righteousness that results in praise and thanksgiving to God.

Think about it

When God’s people use the resources He supplies to serve others, this action produces win-win results for all. Blessing flows to the generous and to the needy. God is glorified. Far from being a vain, useless enterprise, generosity and good works produces lasting fruit. Take opportunities to give today. May the eternal, triune God be glorified and may you be blessed! Life is not vain and neither are good works done for Him.

To My Dying Breath

Have you found a purpose for life big enough to captivate your soul to your dying breath? The Bible points the way for you!

Today’s reading

Psalms 145-147; First Corinthians 11:1-15

Selected Verses

Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord, O my soul!
 I will praise the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.  Psalm 146:1-2

All things are from God.  First Corinthians 11:12

Reflections

Those who know God well never lose their focus on Him whether in the pressures of life at its prime or the pain of life at its end. God is always foremost in the hearts and minds of His people.

The psalmist praises God for a host of reasons, but, besides that, he commits himself to keep praising God as long as he lives, as long as he has being. He could say, “to my dying breath.”   Even in a lifetime, one could never exhaust the things for which God deserves praise and adoration. There is no end to His works of creation and providence which reflect His glory. The psalms help us put words to our thoughts and thoughts to our observations. God in the psalms helps us see His hand in more things and proclaim His praise more clearly.

Paul deals with many difficult questions in his letter to the Corinthians. Now he turns to issues related to corporate worship in the church and the proper and distinct roles of men and women in the church. The passage raises as many questions as answers, but one thing is clear, “All things are from God.” Paul has already set this idea before his readers earlier in the letter (1 Corinthians 8:5-6). It is the principle around which he orients his thinking and instruction on the matters they are dealing with.

Think about it

The fact is that the purpose of our existence–as creatures made in God’s image whether male or female–is His glory. We fulfill that purpose in our actions, attitudes, thoughts, and speech.  I have been privileged to know a few fervent disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ who were using their final breath to give Him praise. That is my goal and desire, to praise Him while I have being, to my dying breath. How about you? This is our calling in Christ. Be sure you own it.

Purpose in Life: Unchanging and Unending

Why do we exist? Is there a reason for being that is great enough and noble enough to command our hearts, minds, and wills from cradle to grave? Yes!

Today’s reading

Psalms 103-104; Romans 14

I will sing to the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praise to my God while I have being.   Psalm 104:33

The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. Romans 14:6-7

Reflections

For the believer, there is one clear lasting purpose around which everything revolves, to honor the Lord in life and in death.  Circumstances change; that purpose never does.

The Psalmist’s heart overflows in praise to God. God is due all honor for His being, His attributes, and His endless acts of kindness and love to His people.  There is not enough time or words to express it all.  As Fredrick Lehman put it in his hymn “The Love of God:

Could we with ink the ocean fill, And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill, And every man a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole, though stretched from sky to sky.

Paul addresses matters that were apparently causing divisions between believers in Rome: the keeping of Jewish feast days, and the eating of meat previously offered to idols.  The Apostle points all of his readers to a place of common ground.  They are all concerned about honoring the Lord, or, at least, they should be.  That is the purpose of their lives.  They have been redeemed to glorify God.  The kingdom to which they have been called is not about what you eat but about “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (vs. 17).

Think about it

Are you focused on what really matters, honoring God?  We, who trust in Jesus Christ, can certainly agree that what matters most is His glory in and through our lives until He calls us home.  That will help us get along even when we don’t see eye to eye with each other on minor points. Let His glory keep you profitably occupied all the days of your life.

The Role of Government

What does God say about the role of government in the life of the Christian? Should a believer ever disobey the powers that be? If so, when?

Today’s reading

Psalms 99-102; Romans 13

Selected Verses

I will look with favor on the faithful in the land, that they may dwell with me; he who walks in the way that is blameless shall minister to me. No one who practices deceit shall dwell in my house; no one who utters lies shall continue before my eyes. Psalm 101: 6-7

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, for he is God’s servant for your good.  Romans 13:3-4

Reflections

The authority of government comes from God, so those who govern are responsible to Him to punish bad behavior and encourage good and those who are governed are responsible to submit and obey as to God.

In Psalm 101 David sets high ideals for his reign.  He says he will praise God, a necessary activity for one who could easily lose sight of the true King over all the earth.  He acknowledges his need for the Lord’s help and presence and vows to bring justice to those who do wrong. Instead, he will create a favorable climate for those who do right.  David determined not to suffer deceivers in his cabinet.  He promises to act quickly in dealing with crime.  These noble goals describe a kingdom in which any upright person would love to live.

Paul continues addressing the Christians in Rome moving on to the issue of their relationship to the government.  The Old Testament era of theocracy in Israel is no more.  Since then and up to now, God’s people live under secular authorities who are under God whether they recognize Him or not. Often, they do not.  Yet Christians are commanded to submit to these officials, pay taxes, and show proper respect and honor.  The government is to encourage those who do good and punish those who do not.

We know from other Bible passages that this general teaching of submission is limited to those situations in which the government does not command citizens to do what God prohibits or prohibits them from doing what God commands (Acts 4:18-20;5:29).

Think about it

What is your understanding of our responsibility to the government?  Remember a ruler is “the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.”  Pray for your leaders, those who govern, and seek to encourage them when they fulfill their roles properly before God (First Timothy 2:1-4).

The Pompous Dead

A man, even a king, who lacks understanding of who God is and how one is saved from sin is no better than an animal. In today’s reading, we have an example.

Today’s Reading

Psalms 47-49; Acts 26

Selected Verses

Man in his pomp yet without understanding is like the beasts that perish.   Psalm 49:20

And Agrippa said to Paul, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” And Paul said, “Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am—except for these chains.”  Acts 26:28-29

Reflections

The Psalmist exalts God at every turn and is not impressed with the things that society holds of great value: power, prestige, wealth, and knowledge.  One does not need to read far in the Scripture before confronting this reality, but one may be far up the ladder of so-called success before discovering it is leaning against the wrong wall.

King Agrippa makes a perfect example of this truth.  Luke’s account shows that the society held him and his wife, Bernice, in high esteem.  They entered the audience hall with great pomp (Acts 25:23).  Paul is presented to them and he begins his defense describing his previous life and his conversion to Jesus Christ.  Festus discounts the whole story as one of a mad man, deluded through too much education.  Paul appeals to the king for confirmation of what he is saying.  Agrippa, at least, does not call Paul crazy and admits that what he is saying is more than a mere defense.  Agrippa understands that Paul is attempting to win him to Christ!

What makes Paul so bold as to turn his own trial into an opportunity to preach Christ to a king and queen?  He was not intimidated by all the royal fanfare.  Rather Paul was enthralled with the glories of his Lord Jesus Christ.  Whether or not he was consciously thinking about Psalm 49, it is safe to say that he was mindful that “man in his pomp yet without understanding is like the beasts that perish.”  The king lacked understanding like a mere beast.

Think about it

Are you prepared to grasp even the difficult moments of your life to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ?  Remember kings, queens, and all pompous humans without understanding of the gospel will perish just like beasts.  Be ready to warn them.

 

Cultural Collision Coming

There is no place for both the true God of heaven and earth and the idols of humankind.  The gospel and popular culture are on a collision course.

Today’s Reading

Psalms 19-21; Acts 19:21-41

Selected Verses

Be exalted, O Lord, in your strength!
We will sing and praise your power.  Psalm 21:13

“Men, you know that from this business we have our wealth.  And you see and hear that not only in Ephesus but in almost all of Asia this Paul has persuaded and turned away a great many people, saying that gods made with hands are not gods.  And there is danger not only that this trade of ours may come into disrepute but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis may be counted as nothing, and that she may even be deposed from her magnificence, she whom all Asia and the world worship.”  Acts 19:25-27

Reflections

The Psalmist exemplifies true worship as he praises God for all He is and has done.  He thanks the Lord for His mercy, grace, and goodness to His people and  prays for God to be exalted.  He commits to sing and praise God’s power.  And he desires that God be pleased with his thoughts and words (Psalm 19:14).

On the other hand, Paul was preaching in Ephesus,a stronghold of false worship and idolatry. His message threatened the lucrative business of the silversmiths and others who profited from the cult of Artemis.  One of the tradesmen, Demetrius, called a meeting to warn the community of the danger that would come to them if Paul should succeed in diminishing the worship of this false goddess.  Chaos ensued.  The crowd worked itself up to a frenzy until the town clerk quieted them.

Think about it

Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father, except through me”  (John 14:6).  We may not impose the gospel by force on unbelievers. But the secular culture convulses when  we proclaim the truth and hearers believe.  We cannot settle for some benign multicultural coexistence because Jesus calls His disciples to tell the good news of life in His name.  They will teach, preach, explain, reason, debate, prove, and live by faith before the watching world.  Force can silence them, but they will not shrink back in fear nor shut up.

Are you prepared for the impact of the gospel on a culture which is increasingly hostile to the exclusivity of the message?  Prepare yourself.  Remember it is enough to please God with the words of your mouth and the meditation of your heart.

God or Government? Choosing Whom to Obey

God’s people understand that our secular rulers are servants of God who must be obeyed except when they command disobedience to the Lord.

Today’s Reading

Nehemiah 9-11; Acts 4:1-22

Selected Verses

Behold, we are slaves this day; in the land that you gave to our fathers to enjoy its fruit and its good gifts, behold, we are slaves.  And its rich yield goes to the kings whom you have set over us because of our sins. They rule over our bodies and over our livestock as they please, and we are in great distress.                                                                                       Nehemiah 9:36-37

But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”  And when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding no way to punish them, because of the people, for all were praising God for what had happened. Acts 4:19-21

Reflections

Nehemiah, the governor of Judah under King Artaxerxes, gives an eloquent analysis of the history of Israel from Abraham to the return from captivity. He sees how God has been gracious and good to them giving commands that, if obeyed, would bring them prosperity and security. Even after repeated episodes of rebellion, God showed mercy to them. Nehemiah reflects on their status in his day and sees that the people, although living back in Judah, are virtual slaves in their own land. They are not free to enjoy the fruit of their labor. They are controlled by a foreign power due to their disobedience. He calls the people back to faithful worship of the Lord and they make a covenant to respect the law. This is a wonderful example of a political leader proclaiming spiritual truth and actually facilitating the population’s obedience to God.

Fast forward to the time of Peter and John who in Jesus’ name heal a lame man in the temple. They face opposition from the authorities who prohibit their preaching in the Savior’s name. Peter says that they will obey God. Peter understands that the chief priests are under God’s authority and they will suffer if they prohibit what God commands or command what God prohibits.

Think about it

Are you aware that the powers of governments are granted by God? Officials must answer to Him as we all must. Are you ready to obey God rather than be complicit in disobedience if it comes to that? Be prepared with knowledge of His Word and trust in Him. God can give us wise leaders who fear Him, like Nehemiah. But, if He doesn’t, we will obey God rather than man.

Chaos: the old normal

Chaos is not the new normal.  It has happened before and it will happen again.  But there is a wisdom and guidance from God for His people.

Today’s Reading

II Samuel 19-20; Luke 21:20-38

Selected Verses

So all the men of Israel withdrew from David and followed Sheba the son of Bichri. But the men of Judah followed their king steadfastly from the Jordan to Jerusalem.  II Samuel 20:2

But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.  Luke 21:34-36

Reflections

After Absalom was overthrown, the kingdom of Israel did not simply pick up where it left off. David created a problem immediately by going into such grief over the death of his son that Joab had to sternly exhort him lest the nation reject his return to the throne. David wisely responded and warded off a dangerous situation. But then there was a conflict between Judah and the other tribes over who should reinstate the king. That resulted in another civil war. David named Amasa as a commander and Joab promptly assassinated him. The kingdom was coming unglued on every level. Chaos reigned. David seems to have held steady through all of this until his kingdom was restored.

That would not be the last time the world would see such turmoil. Jesus prophesied that there would be a time of destruction of the temple. This occurred in 70 AD.   He further indicated that there would be worldwide terror that would come upon all people. No one would escape the distress of nations, the cosmic upheavals.  This is yet to come.

Think about it

Chaos is really the old normal. It has always been with us.  How can we handle it? We can learn from what happened in the past, and we can learn from what Jesus taught us. He said, “Watch yourselves. Stay awake. Pray for strength.” He promised that if we did we will stand before the Son of Man. Jesus said, “Watch your hearts.” Take comfort in God’s Word. Get guidance from His Word. Hold to the Lord who promised that we who do will stand before Him. To the extent that faithful men and women know and believe the Word of God they are prepared for whatever may come their way.