Category Archives: Witness

What Smokey Says to Churches

What’s the worst thing about church?  Ask ten people that question and the chances are most of them will say something about hypocrisy.  Too many church people robe themselves in the look and sound of Christian-eze, while on the inside they struggle like all the rest of us.  Sound familiar?  

If so, you may be intrigued to know how Jesus taught his boys to act when they began to attract great adoring crowds of followers.  He did not tell them how to greet people with spiritual sounding phrases.  He did not tell them to raise their hands during the praise choruses, or to look pious during prayer time.  He taught them to watch out for trying to act all holier than thou just because they were His disciples.  

In the meantime, when so many thousands of the people had gathered together that they were trampling one another, he began to say to his disciples first, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops.  (Luke 12:1-3)

Boys, He said in effect, it’s so easy to put on airs when you see how many people have showed up, to start acting like you are better.  Watch out!  Be real.  Don’t be hypocrites!

Of course, in our day, the same caution applies to the folks who show up at church, not just to the leaders.  There is an awful lot of pretending that goes on in the lobby.  Words and expressions that don’t match what we really think and feel.  True, that stuff frequently goes on in many other places – not just at church.  But Jesus knew hypocrisy is cancer in a church.  Because, if people feel judged, they will never get to know the One Who did not come to judge them but to save them.

And the way to fix it begins with you.  Like what Smokey the Bear says: “Only you can prevent…”

Think for Yourself

You never hear about a “lynch person;” it’s always a mob.  There’s a reason for that.  Mobs do things individuals would think twice about.  Even the individual driver in the recent assault in Charlottesville was motivated by the mob.  When Jesus confronted a mob about to stone a woman caught in adultery, he broke it up by speaking to individuals, not the whole group.

When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”   (John 8:7)

Conversely, when the priests wanted to get rid of Jesus, they did it by inciting the mob.

Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate, knowing it was out of self-interest that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have Pilate release Barabbas instead.
“What shall I do, then, with the one you call the king of the Jews?” Pilate asked them.
“Crucify him!” they shouted.   (Mark 15:9-13)

It would have been interesting to interview people who shouted those words, individually, after a couple of weeks had passed.  My guess is it would have been hard to find anyone who admitted being there.  Because mobs do things individuals wouldn’t.

Be careful.  Back then, the mobs gathered in response to a bunch of loud-mouths.  These days you can gather a mob with a Tweet, a TV news story, or a post online.  As a result, we have way too much angry shouting.  Not enough listening.  Don’t join a mob if they are doing something you would not do on your own.

Condemned to Hell?

“Yes, I do!”

That is what Russell Vought should have answered.  But, he can be excused for trying to deflect the question, because it was outrageous and unconstitutional.  Bernie Sanders, asked the nominee for deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget if he believed non-Christians are condemned to Hell. When Vought replied that, as a Christian, he believed Jesus was central to salvation, Bernie said he therefore was unfit for the office, that he was “not someone this country was supposed to be about.”

Leaving aside the issue that the Constitution forbids such a religious test as a qualification for office, and the question of whether he would have asked a similar question of a Muslim, it is troubling that Sanders implied Christians would discriminate against those who are so condemned.  We are called, instead, to love, serve, sacrifice and possibly die for them.  Perhaps Bernie has seen the John 3:16 signs behind the goal posts, but he obviously has no understanding of the heart of Jesus, revealed in what He said.

Here are Jesus’ own words:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.  Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.   (John 3:16-18)

Jesus stood before a government official who grilled Him about His fitness – not to serve in government but to live.  In that setting, Jesus said this:

For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the worldto bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”  (John 18:37)

Do you believe Jesus spoke the truth?  Bernie won’t be the last person to misunderstand or accuse.  How would you answer?

His Own Words

Time Magazine will tell you nobody really knows much about Jesus.  They and other print and broadcast media use skepticism about Jesus to pump up their ratings just before Resurrection Day.  They may not know Who Jesus is, but He does.  Here is some of how He described Himself:

John 6:33-35

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.

John 8:12

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

John 8:23

He said to them, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world.

John 8:24

I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.”

John 8:58

Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” (Note: “I Am” is the Name of God.)

 

John 9:39

Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.”

John 10:30

“I and the Father are one.”

John 10:36-38

“…do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’? If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.”

John 14:9

Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 

Mar 14:61 — Mar 14:62

But he remained silent and made no answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.”

There’s more.  Much more.  But, of course, none of that matters unless you are willing to accept that Jesus wasn’t lying.

No, Really!

Remember the movie, Oh God?  John Denver played a grocery store clerk chosen to have a personal interview with God, who looked a lot like George Burns.  The frustrating part for him was trying to get anyone to believe he wasn’t crazy.  Starting with his wife.  Funny movie and I just put it back on my Netflix queue.  As fanciful as that plot was, a similar thing happened to Peter when he witnessed Jesus’ transfiguration and heard God speaking.  And every time he tried to tell others about that experience there was always somebody at the back of the room, making a skeptical face and shaking his head.  Which is why Peter wrote these words:

For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.  For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain.   (2 Peter 1:16-18)

Maybe you can understand how frustrated he must have been.  Maybe you’ve had your whole life changed by an encounter with Jesus and have then tried to explain it to others who make that funny face.  Or who back away, slowly, saying, “Oh that’s nice for you…”  Maybe you’ve discovered if you have to say, “No, really…” the argument is over.  But don’t be discouraged or give up; it’s happened to me, too.

And Peter.

And Jesus.

For some skeptics, the best Peter could do was to say:

…you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts…  (2 Peter 1:19)

Civil Obedience

Is it right for whole communities to refuse to obey immigration laws?  What about for you?  Is it right for you to pick and choose which laws you will obey?  Consider these words from Peter:

Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme,  or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. 

Our first response might be to object, to bring up exceptions.  Are we supposed to be subject to an authority who is corrupt or wicked?  Nero was in power when Peter wrote this.  His wickedness and cruelty was the stuff of legend. And yet. Peter taught us to be subject to such rulers.

But, what if a ruler’s commands are contrary to the commands of God?  Peter faced that dilemma when he was ordered by the Jewish council not to tell people about Jesus.  His response is instructive:

So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 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.”   (Acts 4:18-20)

Although Peter and John could not, in conscience, obey the authorities, they still were subject  to them, honest about their disobedience and submissively ready to accept the consequences.  Being subject to the authorities does not always mean obeying them.

But why be subject to them?  Why not take action to weaken the authority of those in power who are corrupt or wicked?  Peter tells us:

For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.   (1 Peter 2:13-15)

Of course, Peter had a good Role Model in this.  Taking his cues from Jesus, he wrote:

But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God.  To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.  “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.”  When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.  (1 Peter 2:20-24)

We are subject to human authorities because we are subject to God, Who has told us to do so.  We do not take matters into our own hands but entrust ourselves to God, knowing that His plans will prevail.

Three Little Words

Christians are losers.  That’s what I used to think.  Uptight, repressed people, afraid to have fun.  So when my brother tried to tell me about Jesus, my responses were laced with sarcasm and scorn.  Maybe you can relate – either to my attitude or to how my brother must have felt.  If so, spend a moment or two considering an exchange between a man who had just met Jesus and his friend:

45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.”  (John 1:45-46)

You’ve seen those signs that proudly announce that this town is the birthplace of some famous person?  Nazareth apparently didn’t have one of those.  But I suppose Nathanael’s snippy response was about more than that.  I suspect at some point Nathanael had been burned by believing something that turned out to be a hoax.  He may well have thrown out that sarcastic remark as a way of defending himself against being fooled again.  That would have been why I said it.  No matter why he said it, it probably put Philip off.  He might have been tempted to say, “Well, just forget it; you’re probably right.”

But he didn’t.  His response was elegant in it’s simplicity and effectiveness.  He said, “Come and see.”  Check Him out for yourself.  No need to try to prove it to his friend.  All he needed to do was simply invite his friend to come, to come and see.  I’m going to have to remember that.  There have been many times when my response to a sarcastic doubter was to try and prove Who Jesus is.  Perhaps you know that’s a response that rarely works and usually left me feeling frustrated and inadequate.  Philip intuitively knew Jesus could do His own proving, that he, Philip, didn’t need to do that part.  His role was to simply invite his friend.

“Come and see.”