Posts tagged ‘Evil’

It’s Time For A Change

Credit: Mateusz Stachowski

Credit: Mateusz Stachowski

Periodically, I receive email solicitations encouraging me to “take a stand.” I need to “take a stand” against abortion. I need to “take a stand” against sexual immorality. I need to “take a stand” against poverty. There is a whole myriad of things against which I need to “take a stand.”

Now, on the one hand, it is important to stand for truth in a world full of lies. The apostle Paul makes this clear enough when he writes of the armor of God: “Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist” (Ephesians 6:14). Indeed, I have written about the importance taking a stand elsewhere. On the other hand, if all we’re doing is standing against sin in our world, we are falling woefully short of our calling as Christians.

When Martin Luther sparked a reformation of the Church by posting 95 theses for discussion to a church door in Wittenberg, Germany in 1517, his first thesis described the heart and soul of what it means to be – and for that matter, to become – a Christian: “When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said ‘Repent,’ He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”[1] The Christian life, Luther asserted, is grounded in repentance.

In Greek, the word “repentance” is metanoia, which is made up of two parts. The prefix meta means “to change” and the noun nous refers to the mind. To repent, then, means “to change your mind.” For instance, if a husband wants to divorce his wife because he is no longer happy in his marriage, for him to repent would mean that he stop thinking his marriage is all about his happiness and instead see it as a reflection of the commitment that Christ has to His bride, the Church. Repentance requires a shift in one’s worldview. It asks a person to stop thinking the way he used to think.

When Christ launched His ministry, He launched it with a message of repentance: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Matthew 4:17). Christ’s desire was not just to take a stand against sin, but to change people’s minds about sin. He wanted people who looked at infants as disposable entities who could be left outside to die – which many in the ancient world did – to change their minds and believe that every life is precious to God. He wanted people who believed it was fine to sleep around – as many in Jesus’ day did – to change their minds and instead be faithful and tender to their spouses. He wanted people who looked past the impoverished – as the rich man in Jesus’ story about the beggar Lazarus did – to change their minds and offer what they could in Jesus’ name.

I have heard many a discussion about the sins that beset our culture and how the Church should respond to these sins. Sadly, more often than not, people want the Church only to “take a stand” while ignoring the fact that, first and foremost, the Church is to help “make a change.” The Church is to call people to repentance.

How can the Church do this? By making two shifts.

First, we must stop looking at people who are far from God as merely evil and start looking at them as lost. Looking at people who are far from God as merely “evil” incites our indignation. Seeing them as “lost” arouses our compassion.

I heard a story last week at a conference I was attending about a man who was at the deathbed of his brother. His brother was a recalcitrant non-believer. He refused to trust in Jesus, even as he was drawing his final gasping breaths. As this man stood by his brother’s bedside, trying to comfort him, the thought passed through his mind: “This is the last time my brother will ever experience any comfort. After this, it will only be eternal separation from Christ.” If that doesn’t break your heart, I don’t know what will.

There are millions of people headed for the same destiny as this man’s brother. How can we only get angry at them as evil without caring for them as lost?

Second, we must stop playing only defense when it comes to evil and start playing offense. I get the impression that some people think if we could just outlaw certain evils, our problems would be solved. But legislation against evil only defensively curbs it. It doesn’t offensively change people’s mind about the fundamental nature of right and wrong. This is why legislation passed in one Congress is so easily reversed by the next Congress. As Christians, our legislative efforts need to take a backseat to our desire to understand and empathize with how our culture thinks so we can winsomely respond to what our culture thinks. If you need a good place to start learning how to do this, I would recommend reading The Reason for God by Timothy Keller. I would also add that changing people’s minds takes time. Sometimes, it takes lots of time. So be patient! A mind changed is worth the wait.

“Taking a stand” may reveal the sin in our world. However, “making a change” – repentance – conquers the sin in our world because it leads people to Christ. And I’d much rather win against sin instead of just complaining about sin.

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[1] Martin Luther, “Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences,” (October 31, 1517).

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September 22, 2014 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Tornadoes and Satan

Moore TornadoCrises have a strange way of calling people to faith.  In a day and age where many are bemoaning that our nation is becoming increasingly secular, the devastating EF 5 tornado that struck Moore, Oklahoma on May 20 gave rise to an abundance of prayers and cries to God.  Ed Stetzer paints the scene well in his article for USA Today, which is worth quoting at length:

Times of grief reaffirm our identity as a religious nation. Shortly after the horrific news of the tornado devastation in Oklahoma, “#PrayforOklahoma” quickly rose to the top of Twitter’s trending list as millions shared their prayers for the people who lost loved ones and had their homes destroyed.

In times of prosperity, far removed from tragedies, many people in our culture reject expressions of faith. In the moments of hopelessness, however, the desire to reach out to a higher power is an instinctive reflex.

Some may say, “But that’s Oklahoma – it’s the Bible Belt.” Yet, after the Sandy Hook tragedy, I was struck by the comment made by Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy referencing our collective religious heritage:

“In the coming days, we will rely upon that which we have been taught and that which we inherently believe: that there is faith for a reason, and that faith is God’s gift to all of us.”

Many are embarrassed by this national identity – until it is time to grieve.  Then, politicians, celebrities and reporters can unashamedly say they are praying for those affected.  News networks will show church bells ringing in memory of those lost.  Nightly news shows feel the need to broadcast excerpts from sermons delivered by pastors in the area.  Journalists interview religious leaders about how God can help us through.

And yes, that is where the discussion often begins. We consider why this would happen. Some people representing faith groups may speak quickly (and unwisely), assuming they can connect the dots between something in our culture and the most recent tragedy.

Others simply ask the question, “How could God allow this to happen?”[1]

Tragedies of the sort that struck Moore, no matter how supposedly “secularized” our nation has become, call forth faith.  And, as Stetzer duly notes, they also call forth questions.  Most often, tragedies like the one in Moore call forth the question that Stetzer poses:  “How could God allow this to happen?”  But in the wake of the tragedy at Moore, I received another question that, though less common, is certainly worthy of a moment of our reflection:  “Can Satan cause a tornado?”  When a tragedy strikes, most people wonder about God’s power to prevent tragedies and His ultimate purpose in allowing them.  But it is also worth asking what kind of prerogative Satan has to wreak havoc in our world.

Satan does seem to have some power to cause trouble in our world.  One needs to look no farther than the story of Job.  In nearly an instant, Job’s life goes from riches to rags.  A quick sequence of four calamities, instigated by Satan himself, robs Job of nearly everything he has.  The fourth of these calamities is especially instructive for our purposes:  “Yet another messenger came and said, ‘Your sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house, when suddenly a mighty wind swept in from the desert and struck the four corners of the house.  It collapsed on them and they are dead, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you’” (Job 1:18-19)!  Notice that it is a windstorm that Satan sends to destroy Job’s family.  Satan, it seems, does seem to have limited power to incite natural disasters.

It is important to note that, as the story of Job clearly delineates, Satan incites calamities on a person not because a person is somehow particularly sinful or deserving of such calamities, for Job was “was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil” (Job 1:1).  No, Satan incites calamities out of depraved delight – he enjoys watching people suffer.

Certainly we cannot know, nor should we speculate on, the transcendental cause of Moore’s devastating tornado.  The most we can say is that natural disasters are part of living in a sinful, fallen world and Satan takes cynical delight in the effects of sin on our world.

But there is hope.  For even if Satan can incite calamities, his ability to do so is severely – and blessedly – limited.  Jesus describes Satan as a “strong man” whose fate is sealed:  “How can anyone enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man” (Matthew 12:29)?  Satan may be a strong man.  But Jesus is the stronger man.  And He came to tie up Satan by defeating his favorite calamity – death – on the cross.

Ultimately, then, no matter what the spiritual causes of the natural disasters that plague our world may be, in this we can take consolation:  no matter how much strength sin and Satan may have for ill, Jesus is stronger.  He’s so strong, in fact, that “even the wind and the waves obey Him” (Matthew 8:27).  He has things under control.  And He holds Moore’s victims in His heart and hands.  May we hold them in our prayers.


[1] Ed Stetzer, “We still cry out to God when tragedy strikes: Column,” USA Today (5.22.2013).

June 3, 2013 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Sermon Extra – True Treasure

The wise man of Proverbs reminds us, “A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones” (Proverbs 14:30).  Envy, the wise man says, is dangerous.  However, envy is also such a universal part of the human condition that God finds it necessary to warn us against it time and time again.  He even prohibits it in His Ten Commandments:  “You shall not covet…anything that belongs to your neighbor” (Exodus 20:17).

Part of what makes the sin of envy so dangerous is that because it can be engaged in privately, it can often go unnoticed and, even if people do spot envy in your eye, there are little to no repercussions.  Though you may get arrested for stealing, no such punishment exists for envying.  Indeed, we even have a saying that encourages envy:  “You can look, but you can’t touch.”  The under-riding premise of such a statement is that it although it is not okay to take something defiantly, it is okay to lust after it longingly.  It is okay to envy.

This past weekend, we continued our “Fit for Life II” series with a look at our hearts and how they are connected to our finances.  The message was based on Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:19-21:

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

As I mentioned in my message, when we read words like these, we can be tempted to think, “Jesus’ words don’t apply to me.  I don’t store up for myself treasures on earth because I don’t have any treasures!  This economy has hit me really hard!”  And so we dismiss out of hand Jesus’ words about how our hearts and treasures are connected.

It is important to understand that when Jesus spoke these words, He spoke them not to people who were well-to-do, but to people who were poverty-stricken.  The crowds who listened to Jesus were most likely comprised of simple Palestinian farmers and tradesmen who would have been making around a denarius a day, equivalent to about 20 cents in today’s currency.  Thus, Jesus is calling on people who must live on 20 cents a day not to store up earthly treasure!  These people hardly seem like a group who would need this kind of reminder!  But Jesus knows the sad state of the human condition.  Even among the poor, storing up the wrong treasure in the wrong place can become a huge problem.  At issue is not the amount of money that a person has, but the perception of money that a person holds.  A person can be greedy and poor all at the same time.  For a poor person, like a rich person, can envy those who have more money and earthly treasure than they.  This is why Jesus continues:

The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness! (Matthew 6:22-23)

The ancients believed that the eyes were a source of light that helped illumine the world around, thereby helping a person see.  When the light of the eyes went dark, a person would go blind.  Thus, Jesus says, “If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!”  But Jesus means to describe more than just physical blindness here.  He says, “If your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness.”  The Greek word for “bad” is poneros, meaning “evil.”  The eyes, just like any other part of the body, can be used for evil.  The eyes can be used to gaze and covet.  The eyes can be used to stare and envy.  Just because you don’t have a lot of money doesn’t mean you can’t you use your eyes to look at someone else’s money or lifestyle and secretly desire it for yourself.  And this, Jesus says, is poneros.

What is the solution to such envy and covetousness?  The apostle Paul says it is to “know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:2-3).  Rather than seeking and striving after the treasures of this world, we are to seek and to strive after Christ.  For in Him is true treasure.  So treasure Christ, for He treasures you.  In the words of C.H. Spurgeon, “So did Jesus Himself, at the utmost cost, buy the world to gain His Church, which was the treasure which He desired.”  You are Christ’s treasure.

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February 7, 2011 at 5:15 am Leave a comment


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